2014 Fertilizer Experiment Poll Results: Mills Nutrients is the Winner!

2014 Fertilizer Experiment Poll Results

2014 Fertilizer Experiment Poll Results

The results are in and after 2 months of voting on the Atlantis Hydroponics fertilizer experiment poll all of you (our loyal readers) have spoken and I am happy to report that the winner of the January 2013 fertilizer poll is: Mills Nutrients bio-mineral fertilizer line.  We will run the experiment using Mills Nutrients side by side against  General Hydroponics Flora Duo using separate drip to waste reservoirs, feeding individual plants in the same 4′ x 4′ Botanicare grow tray. All of the plants will be lit by a single 400 watt High Pressure Sodium ViaVolt bulb.

Check back soon for pictures of the experiment and also for our next poll where once again, you will decide what products Atlantis Hydroponics tests. Thank you for your readership and your participation.

A New Year Means New Hydroponic Experiments!!!

2014 Fertilizer Experiment

Atlantis Hydroponics’ Potential Fertilizers for Testing in 2014

Although many of us are still reveling in the wonderful 2013 holiday season, I have already turned my attention to the upcoming year. I have been given the opportunity to test some great new hydroponic fertilizers designed to ensure that our 2014 crops are the biggest and best ever…and I would like to share this opportunity with all of you!

There is one dilemma: There are too many products from which to choose.  So I propose you, the readers, pick which products are tested in my experiment. The experiment will be conducted under a 600 watt HID light in a 4′ x 4′ side by side drip to waste hydroponic system. The potential fertilizers for testing are: Mills nutrients bio-mineral fertilizer line (a great Dutch organic/synthetic fertilizer), ROCK nutrients line of chemical fertilizers, Bio Tabs time release biological organic fertilizer line, Xtreme Nutrients line of fertilizers guaranteeing to produce a great grow, and last but not least the well known 3 part (grow, micro, & bloom) line of fertilizers from Humboldt Nutrients.

Vote for what you would like to see tested. Vote early. Vote often. Encourage others to vote. Vote for what you want and I will test, document and share ALL of the results.

Have a Happy New Year and thank you for your readership and participation.

The Rules of Growing

An Amazing Grow Room Built Inside of a Cave: Birds Botanicals

An amazing grow room built inside of a cave: Birds Botanicals

Most of us live a technology-packed, fast-paced life with push notifications influencing our behavior as we walk down the street, and our pockets constantly buzzing, dinging, and ringing as we sync our ever-busier schedules from phone to tablet to desktop. It is no surprise that we have lost touch with Mother Nature. Whatever the excuse for our lack of connection with the earth, the fact remains that sometimes what we need most is our hands in the dirt as a reminder that all of our scientific innovations and accomplishments still pale in comparison to the magic of a seed sprouting and growing into the very food that sustains our bodies. Gardening is for everyone. It is a reconnection with nature, a time where we can think in peace, pound our frustrations into the soil, and all the while regain a Zen state of being. No matter your schedule or living situation there is a type of garden that will fit your life!

Traditional Gardening:

The Backyard Garden – Simple and easy. Find a sunny spot in your yard and dig away. Any size plot will do, just stick your shovel in the ground and start turning the soil. Add plants or seeds and you have a garden!

The Raised Bed GardenFor the DIYer or those of us that have less than ideal soil, simply buy or build a raised bed, fill it with soil, and start your seeds.

The Square Foot GardenFor the space challenged, the urban gardener, or the balcony bound, a container or a few 3-5 gallon pots of soil along with a little planning and some organic seeds, and you are on your way to food self-sufficiency.

Urban / Modern Gardening:

 The Closet Garden – For anyone with a closet to spare. Protect the floor, reflect the light  (more on that in a minute), add a grow light, soil, and some seeds, and you can be a year round farmer.

A Great Example of a Grow Room: See Why Below...

A great example of a grow room

 The Grow Tent GardenThe simplest and fastest way to have a garden that meets your needs, as well as the needs of your plants. A perfect fit for every space (they come in lots of sizes), with all of the forethought already built in, it will make your garden a lush cornucopia in no time.

The Vivarium – This terrarium-style garden can be designed to meet the needs of more exotic plants, but for you “Type A” control freaks out there this might be what you are looking for. These little gardens are designed to be tiny working ecosystems behind glass. Attractive and compact, it is a perfect fit for your high rise apartment overlooking the concrete jungle, adding a bit of nature back to your brick bastion. Check out Orchid Karma for an exciting look at Vivariums.

A Vivarium is Like a Living Painting in Your Home

A Vivarium is like a living painting in your home

The “Out of the Box” Garden:

The Trailer Garden – Although not every gardener’s cup of tea, this type of garden is proving to be perfect for dooms day preppers and businessmen alike. It’s essentially a re-purposed  shipping container transformed into a cash cow or an end of the world Eden. Check out our friends at Podponics in Georgia for a more in-depth exploration of this contemporary take on farming.

A Shipping Container Makes a Great Garden...

An impressive garden built inside of a shipping container

The Cave Garden – I admit this one is a bit of a stretch as most of us do not have a vacant cave in our real estate portfolio, but this is really cool. What can you do when your mine shuts down, and you are left with a maze of tunnels winding inside the earth? Well if you are smart you may turn it into an underground farm. Check out Bird’s Botanicals to see how this gardener made an environment without sunlight into a horticultural oasis.

The Rooftop Garden – With a strong movement towards locally grown produce and a desire to reduce carbon footprint, many gardeners have transformed urban rooftops into productive and profitable farms.

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So what do these different gardens have in common? Basic needs. All plants require that five basic needs be met: Light, Air, Water, Fertilizer, and Substrate. Let’s examine how these needs are met by growers using the the various gardening methods above.

A Rose Grower Has Chosen To Use High Pressure Sodium Light to Grow Their Roses Indoors

A rose grower has chosen to use high pressure sodium light to grow his roses indoors.

Light:

Light provides the input of energy for the chemical process of photosynthesis that turns carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. Outdoor gardeners simply utilize the sun as their light source; after all it is free and effective on all but the cloudiest of days. Indoor growers like the closet gardener may employ a variety of light sources to provide energy to their gardens including fluorescent, HID, LED, and plasma lights. All mentioned will work for providing the energy necessary for photosynthesis, but some might be better suited to your needs. Talk to the associate at your garden specialty or local hydroponic store to find the best light for you.

Air:

Air is a category that encompasses several factors including carbon dioxide, temperature, and humidity. All of these are critical to plant growth and are all important to account for in any type of garden.

Carbon dioxide naturally occurs in the air we breathe (and ironically by the air we exhale), but the 400+ parts per million (PPM) in the air may not be sufficient if there is not enough air exchange or air movement in the garden. Outdoor gardeners have it pretty easy in that the natural movement of air ensures they always have enough CO2.

Indoor growers who have constructed rooms and grow tent gardeners must actively work to ensure their plants receive adequate CO2. For a grower just starting out a grow tent can be a good option. The grow tent manufacturers built in all of the same universal and necessary features of a grow room, affording a novice grower a well designed grow space without the years of experience necessary to design a grow room on their own.

A Well Designed Grow Room: Grow Tents offer all of the Same Features with Less Work

A well-designed grow room: grow tents offer all of the same features with less work.

One of the best things about grow tents are that the manufacturers, knowing that CO2 is necessary, have designed ventilation holes for both the intake and exhaust of air. Exhausting the air with an inline fan creates negative pressure inside the tent, and allows for the passive (or active if a second fan is also used) flow of fresh CO2 rich air from outside via the intake flaps. A gardener can also choose to supercharge their indoor garden by utilizing either bottled CO2 or a COgenerator to increase the available amount of CO2 in the room to 1500 PPM, but we’ll touch more on methods of adding CO2 to grow rooms in another blog post.

Achieving the Proper Temperature Inside The Cave Garden Took 6 Months: Now it is Perfectly Controlled With Just the Heat From the Lights & a Network of Fans

Achieving the proper temperature inside the cave garden took 6 months. Now it is perfectly controlled with just the heat from the lights and a network of fans.

Temperature requirements vary with the plant, and although most plants can survive for a short time outside of their ideal temperature range, longer exposure to extreme temperatures will slow growth and possibly kill them. Some orchids for example, like the Phalaenopsis (2nd most grown potted plant in the world) prefer a minimum of 65°F but prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50°F will cause severe damage or even death. That is why I must tip my hat to the ingenuity of David Bird, the cave gardener. He knew the ambient temperature of the cave in the mid 50s combined with HID lights would increase the temperature by 15+ degrees providing ideal temperatures for his tropical plants. Cooling is accomplished with fans pulling colder air from unheated areas deeper inside of the cave, while simultaneously exhausting the warm grow room air.

Humidity is sometimes overlooked by gardeners, but a necessary factor to be aware of and mitigate. Plants will grow in a wide range of humidity but some are more finicky than others. Humidity being too high can result in an environment that is overly hospitable to mold and bacterial infection, while low levels of humidity can stress a plant as it tries to replace moisture constantly lost to transpiration. The vivarium gardener must keep a watchful eye on their humidity as the small volume of air in the garden allows for rapid swings in humidity with slight increases in temperature. Often both a humidifier (to raise the humidity) and an exhaust fan (to lower humidity) are built into the design of a vivarium.

Water:

Water is necessary for all life, and one that all of our gardeners must supply. Fresh water can be provided from any number of sources including streams, reservoirs, ponds, aquifers, and wells. One of the simplest and best sources of water is rainwater. Using a simple rain water collection system and a rain barrel allows our rooftop gardener or square foot gardener to provide fresh water to their garden. When it comes to water, the question isn’t just its source, but how to use it. For plants growing in either soil or soilless mix, the best advice comes from a sage old orchid grower who said, “You can never water too much, only too often.” What he meant by that is if you water a little bit every day the growing medium will stay wet and the roots will rot. Conversely if you water a 1 gallon pot with 20 gallons of water the growing medium will be fully saturated but as long as you wait until the growing medium dries out appropriately your plant will not suffer. In fact heavy watering will help prevent fertilizer build-up in your growing media.

This Roof Top Herb Garden Relies on Rain Water for Irrigation

This rooftop herb garden relies on rainwater for irrigation

Fertilizer:

There are 16 elements that plants must have, although some would place that number in the twenties. There are many brands and formulations of fertilizer to choose from, and none of them are “the best.” That is because different plants, growing mediums, and growing environments all necessitate different fertilizer choices. So what do our square foot and back yard gardeners do? Many make their own fertilizer using grass clippings, leaves, and organic kitchen waste, by tossing it into the compost bin. It takes just a few months for free, supercharged, rich compost for their gardens that feeds the plants an organic diet rich in minerals and nutrients, while improving the quality of their soil.

Square Foot Raised Bed Garden

In a square foot garden, using rich organic compost helps improve the soil

Substrate:

The growing medium can have a significant impact on the success of any garden by determining several factors: moisture, pH, drainage, fertilizer retention (CEC), and oxygen content in the root-zone. There are many growing mediums to choose from: soil, soilless, LECA stone, diatomite, perlite, vermiculite, coconut, redwood fiber, sawdust, recycled glass (Growstone), volcanic rock, gravel, rockwool, and even air. Each of the growing mediums listed above (and by no means is it an exhaustive list) have attributes and differences that will make them more or less effective in a particular application. However, sometimes you just do not have many options, like the two inventive youths from Swaziland who took the limited materials they has access to (sawdust and chicken manure) and used them as the media for a hydroponic science experiment, winning $50,000 and the Scientific American’s inaugural Science in Action award.

Regardless of the type of gardener you are, the style of gardening you practice, or the crops you grow, the five basic needs of plants will always need to be addressed. The better you are at meeting the fundamental needs of your plants, the greater amount of attention you can devote to the details which differentiate a good gardener from a great one. With so many gardeners and innovative methods of farming coming into practice, remember the basics of growing remain the same.

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Genetic Modification of Flavor and Aroma in Fruits and Flowers: Is the Future GMO?

A Display of Grapples®

A Display of Grapples® That Lead To Exploring GMOs and Flavor

My mouth watered, my eyes grew large, and my mind drifted off thinking about how amazing it was going to be to bite into that giant red apple- all crisp, sweet, juicy flesh with the surprising flavor of a Concord grape. I salivated all the way home in a state of food induced delirium. While at the grocery store I had stumbled across the Grapple®: four perfect apples packed in plastic with a sign that said “Imagine the sweet distinctive flavor of Concord grapes combined with the crispness of a fresh, juicy Washington Extra Fancy apple.” I am sad to say my excited anticipation was far better than the Grapple®.

The Grapple® Label that Mislead Me

The Grapple® Label that Mislead Me

In the case of the Grapple®, it turned out that there was little if any actual modification of flavor. The company’s “patented process is complex, and the ingredient mix primarily includes concentrated grape flavor and pure water (USPP #7,824,723)… There is nothing but flavor being infused into the apple. A relaxing bathing process prepares our apples for you…” There was no earnest attempt to genetically alter the flavor. They simply used natural and synthetic flavorings and “infused” them into the apple.

My Grapple® experience left me jaded and disappointed, but my disappointment may soon have reason to subside. Scientists are currently looking at manipulating flavor and aroma (the two are inextricably linked) by means of genetic engineering. This work may lead to better tasting and more nutritious produce and increased pest resistance in plants. It may even have a profound impact on the entire commercial agricultural industry.

Trying to alter or improve the flavor and aroma of fruits, vegetables, and flowers has long been the realm of plant breeders. To begin a breeding program, one first must collect a diverse population of genetic plant material, then carefully select stud plants and make crosses with the singular goal of improving the flavor or aroma of a given fruit, flower, or vegetable.

This type of breeding is called selective breeding. Selective breeding, or artificial selection, is the intentional breeding of a plant with desirable traits in an attempt to produce offspring with similar desirable characteristics or with improved traits. There are several obstacles to this approach. It consumes massive amounts of space and time to grow up a speculative cross and divine if it has been successful at achieving one’s goal(s). Also, plants only breed with other plants of the same familial order, making the resulting possibilities limited, and because we do not yet fully understand the mechanisms that are responsible for flavor and aroma, we have been stumbling around in the proverbial dark.

Before scientists can modify flavor, first they must understand the complex matter of what flavor is. “Human perception of ‘flavor’ involves integration of a massive amount of quantitative information from multiple sensory systems…  Chemically, flavor is the total of a large set of primary and secondary metabolites that are measured by the taste and olfactory systems (Klee, 2010).”  Taste is the amalgamation of all of the sensory data from the 5 classes of taste receptors in the mouth: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (savory). Quantifying flavor is a challenge by itself, but as anyone who has ever had a cold will tell you, flavor is inextricably linked to the sense of smell. As mammals, humans rely greatly on the combination of senses (i.e. taste and smell) to form sensory experiences because our senses are not as developed as those of other mammals. Humans have 10 cm2 of olfactory epithelium compared to 169 cm2 of olfactory epithelium in a German Shepherd (which is why they are the preferred drug sniffing dog breed).

The flavor and aroma we experience from a given fruit is determined by complex mixtures of often hundreds of volatile compounds. A strawberry has over 300 compounds that contribute on multiple levels to make up the characteristic flavor we associate with a ripe strawberry (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). A tomato has more than 400 aromatic volatiles which constitute its aroma and flavor, but only 15-20 in sufficient enough quantity to impact flavor. The volatiles are composed of the metabolites of several chemical groups that include: acids, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, esters, sulfur compounds, furans, phenols, terpenes, epoxides, and lactones. Although the individual concentration of these substances vary from tissue sample to tissue sample, their concentration makes up 10-100 parts per million of a fruit’s fresh weight.

The compounds responsible for flavor are generally formed during the ripening stage of flower/fruit development when the metabolism of the plant changes and catabolism of high-molecular weight molecules such as proteins, polysaccharides, and lipids degrade and are converted into volatile metabolites (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn). Catabolism can be thought of as destructive metabolism, or the breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to form simpler ones, along with the release of energy. It is during this stage of ripening that flushing a plant’s growing medium (depriving the plant of nutrition) and forcing it to catabolize its stored metabolites can most impact the final flavor.

Prior investigations of fruit flavors focused on identifying compounds present in various fruit species (Honkanen & Hirvi, 1990). Along with the classification of flavor compounds researchers often identified the substances that were responsible for the unique scent we attribute to a particular fruit (methoxyfuraneol for strawberries and isoamylacetate for bananas). Current research on fruit flavor is focused on the genes that directly influence fruit flavor formation. Future success at manipulating fruit flavor hinges on the research being carried out today; gathering information about the genes and metabolic pathways that generate fruit flavors. Other avenues of research include experiments that use genes isolated from plants other than fruits, such as the leaves and glandular trichomes of various herbs to modify flavor.

Bio-engineering fruit flavor may seem like a waste of time, but there is a growing consensus among consumers that in recent decades the overall flavor quality of produce has declined. This decline has been attributed to breeders selecting for particular traits such as disease resistance, appearance, firmness, post-harvest shelf life, and yield. This focus on fiscally beneficial traits has resulted in less expensive, year round produce that frankly does not taste good. Genetically modifying flavor is not restricted to introducing “new flavors or enhancing existing ones but also includes the removal of undesirable metabolites that generate ‘off-flavors.’ Since most of the molecules that compose the flavor profiles of fruit may exhibit antifungal or antibacterial bioactivity, it is conceivable that manipulation of fruit flavor will not only influence the flavor profile of fruit but will also confer resistance to pests and pathogens (Asaphaharoni & Efraimlewinsohn).”

The first genetically modified tomato called the Flavr-Savr (also known as CGN-89564-2) was approved for commercial production in 1994. Using genetic engineering the naturally produced enzyme that generates an “off flavor” and mushy texture was turned off. The result was a vine ripened tomato that could be shipped with minimal bruising and spoilage. Due to poor flavor and mounting costs the crop was pulled from production in 1997.

The prevalent method currently employed to manipulate flavor is called transgenic genetic engineering. The transgenic approach refers to the modification of an organism by transferring a gene or genetic material from one organism to another. A gene is a segment of DNA that codes for the production of a protein; proteins determine particular traits.

For example, the gene for flower color. The arrangement of the nucleic acid compounds on a chromosome in one plant tells the flower cells to produce certain proteins that make the flower blue. On another plant, the nucleic acid compounds are arranged differently, instructing the plant to make pink…Some genes control regions of a chromosome. These regions are like a light switch or a thermostat. They turn the gene on or off, or regulate the amount of protein produced. While cells carry identical DNA codes, different cells have different functions. For example, the gene that makes a flower pink is not needed in the root, so it is turned off in the root cells and turned on in the cells of the flower. (Spears, Klaenhammer, & Petters)

An advantage of transgenic genetic engineering is that precise alterations can be engineered into cultivars that are already proven commercially. Two of the most common GMO crops in production are cotton and corn that have been modified with the addition of a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis. The resultant crops are toxic to caterpillars but safe for humans. A major obstacle of utilizing the transgenic approach is that the present regulatory environment makes it very expensive to gain approval for genetically modified organisms. Additionally, even if approval is obtained for a GM (genetically modified) crop, there is a growing social movement that vehemently opposes genetically modified produce.

We recommend if you want a great “old-time” tasting tomato, go visit your local farmers market once the tomatoes hit the stands, or you can pick up some organic heirloom seeds and grow them yourself! The day might be coming however, for better or worse, when commercial greenhouses will be packed with high yielding, disease resistant, flavorful genetically engineered tomatoes; if you choose to eat them will be up to you. To stay apprised of Farm Bill legislation in your state, get involved with a local advocacy group, and always try your best to know your food.

The Future of Fruit??? photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

GMOs…The Future of Fruit???
photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

The Kratky Hydroponic Method: A Simple & Effective Hydroponic Technique

When I first heard about this new method of growing from a friend, I thought he said it was called the “Cracky” method. After hearing his explanation of how it worked, I thought my friend was actually on CRACK! I was more than skeptical- I was incredulous. After some research my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to try this “revolutionary” new method of hydroponic growing. The style of growing was developed by B.A. Kratky at the University of Hawaii. His method contradicts traditional hydroponic theory on multiple levels: no active movement of water, no aeration of the reservoir, no change-out of nutrient solution. It is best for growing leafy greens, such as the lettuce shown here, and it has not been proven suitable for growing fruiting or flowering crops. All I can tell you is that although contradictory to my years of education and training, I cannot argue with the results in front of me…

Kratky Hydroponic System 1 Week After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 1 Week After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 2 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 2 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 3 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 3 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 4 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 4 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 5 Weeks After Planting

Kratky Hydroponic System 5 Weeks After Planting Ready to EAT!

The basic idea behind the Kratky method, as it has been dubbed, is that the plants start with their roots submerged in a mixture of water and fertilizer as seedlings. The growing container should be well sealed to minimize moisture lost to evaporation. The roots will then grow longer into the water as the water/fertilizer mixture is absorbed by the plants. As the water level goes down, the plant will make aerial roots able to absorb the necessary oxygen from the airspace between the top of the water and the top of the container. By the time the water is gone, you should have harvested your lettuce and can start again. No pH adjusting, no adding more fertilizer, no topping off the water/fertilizer mixture. I admit I am shocked, but I swear it works. Grow some in a Kratky Method Hydroponic System and see for yourself.

An Element Too Good To Pass Up: The Benefits of Silicon to Your Garden

Si on Periodic table

Si on Periodic table

Would you use a product that would increase your harvest weight by as much as eighty percent? What if it also provided increased tolerance to environmental stressors such as drought and high temperatures, provided resistance to insect attacks, and additionally had been proven to protect your crop from powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca fulginea), root rot (Fusarium oxysporum), damping off (Pythium), and grey mold (botrytis cinerea)? Now, what if I told you this product is real, that it is available, and that the above list of accolades does not even scratch the surface of what it has been proven to do?

This miracle product happens to be the second most abundant element on the surface of the earth: silicon. Although not regarded as one of the 16 essential nutrients that plants must have to grow, silicon may prove to be the best addition to your fertilizer regimen you can make. Plants have certainly been shown to grow in hydroponic solution devoid of silicon, but when the same plants are grown with silicon, tissue analysis has shown that silicon accounts for as much as 10% of the dry weight of the plant. Everyone wants bigger harvests, and using silicon could be the key. A study conducted by the University of Florida found that silicon responsive plants had “dry weight increases (which)…ranged from 6-80% depending on the species” (Chen et al, 2000).

So how does this “non-essential” element have such a huge impact on so many facets of your plants’ existence? Silicon performs its multitude of functions in two ways: by the polymerization of silicic acid leading to the formation of solid amorphous, hydrated silica, and by being instrumental in the formation of organic defense compounds (Epstein, 2009). To simplify, silicon is actively transported into the plant similarly to macro nutrients like potassium. From there it moves up the xylem and is distributed out to the growing shoots. There, the silicon forms larger polymer chains (polymerization) which allows plants to deposit silicon in the form of solid amorphous (non crystalline), hydrated silica which is then incorporated into the plant’s cell walls, thereby armoring the plant’s cells against rasping and sucking insects. If you are growing leafy greens think how much better the texture of the leaves will be when every one of the millions of plant cells has thicker cell walls from the added silicon.

Additionally, silicon is deposited in the trichomes of plants, according to Epstein; it “is the silica in trichomes that lends leaves and awns (stiff bristle or hair-like appendages in plants) the roughness and the toughness that impede the penetration of herbivores and pathogens through the cell walls. It acts as a physical barrier.”

The other mode by which silicon benefits your plants is in its ability to promote the synthesis of organic defense compounds. When a plant is under attack by insects or pathogens it sends out chemical messages which trigger the plant’s natural defenses. A study conducted on cucumbers yielded conclusive proof the plants were protected from fungal pathogens by the presence of silicon in the hydroponic solution (Cherif et al, 1992).

Another benefit of the use of silicon is that it balances the nutrient absorption of your plants. Silicon can balance nutrient elements in plant tissue through the suppression of Al, Mn, and Na, and by mediating the uptake of other elements like P, Mg, K, Fe, Cu, and Zn (Chen et al, 2000). When used with peat or bark based soil/soilless mixes, silicon prevents the over-acidification of the mix, which can lead to pH induced nutrient lockout, as well as inhibiting the absorption of toxic elements like aluminum. When anthuriums were grown in soil with available aluminum the tissue tested had 150 PPM of aluminum, while the plants grown in the same soil but fed silicon tested at only 41 PPM.

One bit of advice when introducing silicon additives into your feeding program: silicon products must be the first thing added to a fresh reservoir of water, even before base nutrients. By their inherent chemical properties silicon additives are alkali, and because most fertilizers are acidic they must be diluted before they are added to a hydroponic reservoir or any water fertilizer mixture. This will allow for the concentrated alkali silicon solution to diffuse, thus preventing localized chemical reactions from causing the formation of undesirable nutrient precipitates.

Silicon can be a cure, a booster, a medicine, and a messenger. It can counteract damage to your plants from extreme temperatures or prevent the absorption of toxins that would otherwise destroy your plants. It can send insects to more inviting hosts, and it can increase the weight of your harvest. Silicon truly is a multipurpose beneficial element that should be in every gardener’s toolbox. Think of it as the best and cheapest plant insurance you can buy!

Hydroponic Fertilizer Experiment Update #2

Fertilizer Experiment Update

Fertilizer Experiment Update
APTUS & Heavy 16 on Left / GH Flora Duo on Right

Time for another update! We started our experiment testing Heavy 16 fertilizers and APTUS additives versus General Hydroponics’ Flora Duo a little more than 2 months ago. We are growing super hot peppers called Trinidad Scorpions, and they have really taken off!

To refresh your memory, or if you’re just joining us for the first time, the experiment is set up with separate drip to waste reservoirs, feeding individual plants in the same 4′ x 4′ Botanicare grow tray. All of the plants are being lit by a single 400 watt High Pressure Sodium Hortilux SUPER HPS bulb. Here are some numbers for all of you keeping track:

Fertilizer Experiment Metrics

Fertilizer Experiment Metrics

And now for some more pictures:

All Plants in the Experiment

All Plants in the Experiment

GH Plants

GH Plants

Heavy 16 & APTUS Plants

Heavy 16 & APTUS Plants

Monster Branching on GH Plant

Monster Branching on GH Plant

Monster Branching on Heavy 16 / APTUS Plant

Monster Branching on Heavy 16 / APTUS Plant

Dr. Dave’s Quick Tip: How to Improve Sugar Content, Brix, and the Flavor of Your Harvest

Strawberry with sugar

Follow these tips for a harvest sweeter than this strawberry!
photo coutesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The devil is in the details, or so the saying goes, and harvesting your plant is no exception. You take so much time to meticulously fertilize your plants; pain-staking attention is paid to pH and PPM, but many gardeners get so excited around harvest time that they do not take the correct measures to ensure that they get the best harvest possible from all of their hard work. Here are two tips about harvesting your plants that will ensure that your fruits are as sweet and delicious as they can be:

1. Always harvest in the late afternoon (or slightly before the lights go out for you indoor growers). This is because plants make less energy during the Kreb cycle (a chemical process that takes place at night); as such they utilize some of their stored starch and sugar reserves, making the morning (or lights on) the lowest Brix/Sugar content time of the day.

2. Do not keep your planting media saturated for a few days before harvest. Scientific studies have shown that extended periods of precipitation (moisture in the growing medium) provide so much moisture to the plants that the Sugar/Brix level can become diluted. I am NOT telling you to allow your plants to become bone dry, but try to water sparingly during the days preceding harvest.

Try these tips for the sweetest fruit, and check back soon for more tips to make your garden great!

Control Your Plants by Controlling Your DIF: A Guide to Daytime and Nighttime Temperature Differential

Day Night Temp Differential

We have all had that friend that needs to control everything; from where you eat, to what movie you see…everything seems to be their choice. While that friend might need to loosen up (or maybe they need to seek professional medical attention), controlling all aspects of your garden will repay you in spades. Indoor gardening is all about control; control over photoperiod, control over temperature, control over plant nutrition, etc. By controlling everything from the photoperiod to the specific nutrition a plant receives, we effectively remove all barriers that may hinder our plants; optimally that control will allow them to reach their maximum genetic potential. An often overlooked environmental factor that can greatly impact your plants is the DIF, or the day night differential. DIF is the difference in the highest day time (lights on) temperature and the lowest night time (lights off) temperature. Control over your DIF will give you control over your plant’s height and internodal spacing without the use of dangerous or untested chemicals or plant growth regulators.

Research about DIF is not new to science; back in 1944, Went made detailed observations about the effect of the night time temperature (Tn) on the stem growth rates of tomato plants. He originally proposed the term ‘thermoperiodicity’ to describe the apparently greater rate of plant growth and development in diurnally fluctuating temperatures compared to plants grown at constant temperatures. Although his research was disproven in 1990 by Ellis et al, Went’s research was the beginning of our attempts to understand the impact of temperature on plant growth.

In 1983 while studying the effects of temperature on the Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum), it was observed that there was an interaction between day and night temperatures that affected the length of the floral stem. This relationship, coined DIF (Erwin et al, 1989), was used to describe the elongation of the stem in response to diurnal thermoperiod and photoperiod interaction. They noted that the magnitude and nature of the internodal elongation varied between different species and also between different cultivars of the same species.

Plant height or stem length is simply the sum of the lengths of each of the internodes. Therefore, to control plant height one must manage internode number, internode length, or both. The number of nodes and the length of each internode (the distance from one node to the next) are strongly influenced by temperature. As DIF increases, so does the internode length of most plants. It is important to understand that the effect of DIF on internode length is due to increased cell elongation, and not an increased number of individual plant cells. Plants respond rapidly to changes in DIF, with altered growth rates that are often observable in as little as 24 hours.

Although managing your garden’s DIF will afford you some control over your plant’s internodal elongation, there are factors that influence or compound the DIF response. The Average daily temperature influences internode length and thus the response to DIF in many plants. The quality of the light being received by your plants has been shown to influence the DIF response, presumably through effects related to phytochrome photoequalibria (Moe and Heins, 1990). While incandescent lighting used for photoperiod control can eliminate a plant’s response to DIF, fluorescent lighting has been shown to increase the response (Moe et al, 1991).

With the proven effects of DIF at controlling plant height, how do you exploit this information to grow a better garden? First, day time and night time temperatures must be controlled independently and excess humidity must be removed from the air by using dehumidifiers. Watch for significant increases in your DIF; a large swing between your day time and night time temperature will bring a marked increase in humidity. If the high night time humidity level is left unchecked it can lead to mold and disease on your fruits and flowers.

During the vegetative light cycle (18 on, 6 off), your target DIF should be 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to maintain a daytime or “lights on” temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and 80 degrees Fahrenheit when the lights are off. For the blooming or fruiting phase of your plant’s life cycle (12 on, 12 off), your target DIF should still be 5 degrees Fahrenheit; but the daytime “lights on” maximum temperature should be limited to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and your “lights off” temperature to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. By maintaining the DIF at 5 degrees your plants will exhibit the tightest internodal growth, lowering the overall size of your plants while building a tight network of branches. Remember that the temperature and DIF recommendations above are starting points as different species and cultivars (or clones) will react differently to a controlled DIF. Controlling your DIF could make all the difference to your garden!

Dr. Dave’s Quick Tip: Add an Air Stone to Blow Up Your Cuttings

Air Stone in Clone Tray

Air Stone in Clone Tray

When taking cuttings using organic super plugs, rockwool, or oasis foam, this simple and inexpensive tip will greatly enhance the root system of your cuttings and lead to a higher success rate. If you are using a standard nursery propagation flat and 72 compartment insert or one of our complete propagation kits to take your cuttings, place an air stone attached to an air pump in the bottom of the tray. Keep about 3/4 of an inch of water (and your favorite clone solution) in the tray, covering the air stone partially or completely, depending on the type of air stone that you choose. By bubbling air into the propagation water you will maintain an elevated level of oxygen in the water. Your cutting’s roots will develop more vigorously, and as an added benefit they will be able to stay in the tray a bit longer if need be.