About 2 weeks ago, I posted a photo of my Hydroponic Tiny Garden. I’d just “planted it” by putting the rock wool cubes into the net cups (after starting them less than a week prior). So we’re about 3 weeks total into this. I’d also put in place one “transplant’ from the experiment with a Bag-O-Dirt in a tub as a lettuce grow. At that time it was about 2 inches across, all told.
Well, here’s an updated image. I’m very happy with the results so far.
In the front row we have (left to right) 2 lettuces doing nicely, 2 failed cups, a nice kale / cabbage cross using paper as medium, one of them that has failed. The failures were, IMHO, from my setting the cubes in the tub with zero “hardening off” time just before a sudden hot day and doing so with too little growth. These things were barely sprouted. This whole row is in 2 inch “net cups”. It gets the most sun latest into the afternoon as the shadow line starts on the other side.
Second row starts with the lettuce transplant, then several of what I think are the Senposaai oriental greens that are quite happy. (note to self, make more notes to self about what was sprouted ;-) These, and the back row, are in 3 inch net cups with the depth adjusted using canning jar rings.
In the back row is one pea plant (testing the viability of short bush sweet peas), then 3 more lettuces, and a senposai.
The image is a bit high contrast as it was a very sunny afternoon so lots of direct sun off of white styrofoam. Still, I think you can see that the lettuce in particular is doing great. The older transplant is nearly to the point where it can be harvested for a salad. It is being grown as “cut and come again’ so I’ll not be killing it in the process of a harvest, just trimming off some leaves. Note that, for scale, the rings around the back two rows of pots are 3 inch “wide mouth” canning jar rings.
The other “from seed in rock wool” lettuces are a bit bigger than the transplanted one was at the time of transplant, so that’s saying to me that I can get a LOT of lettuce in about 4 to 5 weeks total this way. Good normal harvest size in about 6 weeks. As an “Aw Shit Happens” need for emergency food supply, that’s just crazy fast compared to “dirt gardening” here. Admittedly, you will NOT be happy on just lettuce; OTOH, you will be a lot happier with a lettuce side salad with your dry beans and rice dinner ;-)
For comparison, here’s the prior image:
As you can see, the growth in 2 weeks has been quite impressive.
The Bag-O-Dirt lettuce has been doing very well also. We’ve had about 4 total salads from it. I’m talking full plate of “it is your dinner” Chef’s Salads, not dinner side salads. It is almost ready for another cutting. The last cutting did have some tiny bugs in the lettuce. Aphids I think. Little dots that fell off in the wash water soak. So growing in tubs has eliminated the very big bugs and snail issues, but not the tiny ones. I’ll likely need to set up an indoor lettuce grow on a “bread rack” to avoid all bugs.
For now, it’s easy enough to just toss the lettuce in a tub of water and let the little buggers swim for it ;-) They are not making holes in the lettuce (like the big bugs) and they wash off pretty darned easy. Better that than eating pesticide sprays (IMHO) as there isn’t a lot of time for any spray to degrade between harvests. We’ll see if my attitude changes as the complexity of the population evolves…
I’m running the Bag-O-Dirt as a quasiponics system. It IS a small bag of potting soil, just laying there; but I water it once a week or two with Miracle Grow and added some MgSO4 (Epsom Salts) to it. Most days I just sprinkle with fresh water and put about 1/2 inch in the bottom of the tub to soak in over time (through holes punched in the bottom of the bag). It is working quite well, but water consumption is much higher than the hydroponic system that has less exposed wet area.
In the future, I’m more likely to start seeds separately and only transplant about one every 6 inches into the bag, and that via one or two inch holes in the top side, not removing the whole plastic surface. that ought to significantly reduce evaporative water losses. Float a styrofoam cover over the area not covered by the bag to save even more water.
For easy set up (especially in a hurry in an Aw-Shit) the Bag-O-Dirt is very much easiest and fastest. IF you have time to prepare the hydroponic system in advance (so the styrofoam boards are drilled and ready, net cups in hand, etc.) the hydroponic system is just super fast to assemble and get running. Either one ought to work well indoors with LED Grow lights.
I’d GUESS that with some care and a bit of intensive operations you could keep a couple of people fed with a “grow room” of about 10 x 12 feet or about a “bedroom size”. Or, if your garage doesn’t over heat in summer or freeze in winter, in one car space in the garage. It would take a fair amount of capital investment for all the “bread racks”, LED lights, tubs, cups, etc. But I think it would be well worth it. Plus you can start with one tub and only add more as each one returns a “profit” in food.
That “grow room” would be dependent on continued supply of power and water, so not really useful in a complete collapse of the society. Then again, it can take a while to reach that point… when it might well be that “suddenly” a lot of dirt becomes available and empty… Look at Venezuela. Despite all the news about power failures, it was only a few days in a row. Mostly power has remained even while people had very low “rations” of food. Indoors, water use would be very limited as evaporation would be quite low too. When not in operation, it’s just a nested stack of tubs, a bag of hydroponic fertilizer, and a stack of cups and a “storage room” of racks. Nothing to see here, move along…
This is really the first time I’ve been successful at growing salad fixings. Mostly due to dryness issues of the soil and bugs / snails. I have grown some lettuce before, but only a few and often with leaves with holes in them. Yeah, I know, use a lot of sprays… but I don’t want to eat a lot of sprays…
So this has me very happy. Yes I CAN grow a salad after all. As we have been buying Bag-O-Salad at about $2 / week, this is a $100 / yr “win” for me. I’e got about 8 months of “outdoor grow” time all told before I’ll need to have some LED lights and a place inside for winter salad. Just the notion I can have DIY Fresh Salad year round it “worth it” for me.
Also, the spouse was ecstatic over the lettuce quality from the potting soil bag grown lettuce. No more soggy, wilty, sad salad from a few days old bag in the fridge. This had that wonderful fresh full flavor in butter soft leaves that you can only get on a fresh pick. I’m expecting the hydroponic salad to be the same. Even if every other plant I try fails, just the lettuce alone is worth it for me.
I’m not sure. I’ll be slowly improving my lettuce technique. I’d like to add some other kinds (Romaine in particular. The spouse likes butter lettuce soft, I like Romaine crunch ;-) Then there’s choy and other stir fry greens to add. It looks like the one pea plant is doing very well, so some “Little Marvel” peas at about 1 foot tall might be fun (lots of 2 inch net cups on close centers needed though…) It would be nice to demonstrate something with more protein and starch content for a more complete meal base.
Having also documented the failed cups, I’ll be replacing them with something else. Most likely some herbs. Oregano, Basil, etc. There’s one complication here that will arise eventually. Many plants put chemicals / hormones into the soil round them to “claim” the dirt. I need to review my “companion planting” rules to find out “who kills whom” and only put compatible things in the same tub. So, for example, I want to try some green onions with ‘a few’ in a 2 inch cup; but I know that “peas and onions” don’t get along so well in the dirt. That means different tubs.
Having shown that the basic system works really well, and fairly easily, I now need to move on from the “don’t waste a lot of time just throw some stuff at it and see what you think” rapid prototyping stage to the “plan carefully what you want and run this as a professional operation” stage. I can likely get 2 x the lettuce growth by putting a ‘bubbler’ in the tub, for example. In the short run, just a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide can keep the roots oxygenated, but in the longer run an air supply and bubble stone is cheaper.
I’ve still got enough styrofoam boards to set up two more tubs, so I’ll be doing that as I think of things I want to grow. There’s a small gap between the styrofoam boards and the tub walls on the long axis, I ought to make a cover for that so that algae doesn’t get light in the tub. Details to polish here and there. Algaecide to buy?
Eventually (in about a month? maybe two?) I’ll reach the point of needing to deal with “spent” solutions and how best to do that. I intend to just dump it on the dirt garden so no nutrient is wasted. Then wash the tub and set it up again. At that time I can also go to “just one size cup” in any given tub. I’m leaning toward 2 inch cups as my general standard. So far I’m not really growing anything that looks like it needs a 3 inch diameter base. So future tubs will likely be all 2 inch holes / cups. The 3 inch reserved for use in Kratky Method jars. ( I have two on my windowsill for experimental things at the moment). I’m not seeing any issues with that stage.
I’ll need to try some different nutrient mixes too. Find the most growth for the least cost and fuss. Even using the boutique liquid mix, this is a big win. The less costly dry mix will be essentially irrelevant as a cost basis.
I’m not quite ready to make the leap to pumped systems with PVC pipes in a “grow wall”, but I can see it in my future. Less total water and nutrient mix needed. Less weight. Better yield. Looks way cool too ;-) Between there and here I need to settle on what I want in my salad, which plants “play well with others” in the same solution, and just what my interests are in this. Daily salad? Peas and other ‘real food’ in an Aw Shit situation? Play Time for Me? Low cost year round garden? Maybe all of the above?
Frankly, THE biggest surprise for me has been how much labor savings are involved in this. No digging. No soil prep. No weeding. No constant daily water check and watering (especially on hot days, the squash in pots needs a lot of daily water). It has just been “set it up and walk away” so far. I did need to put about 1/2 inch of water in a few days ago. Compared to an inch a day for the other stuff in pots, 1/2 inch in 2 weeks is nothing for makeup water. (The Kratky Method tub doesn’t even need that…)
So there you have it. I’m happy. I’m sold on the method. I’ll be doing more and working on an inside (even if smaller) grow area for winter salad in the longer term.