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.

Hydroponic Fertilizer Experiment: The Final Update

Back in February, we started our experiment to test how Heavy 16 fertilizers and APTUS additives performed compared to General Hydroponics’ Flora Duo. We have been growing Trinidad Scorpion peppers using 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. As a refresher, check out Update #1 and Update #2. After a little more than 3 months, we have had to end the experiment a bit early. While both fertilizers performed admirably, the experiment was hijacked by a massive number of aphids.

"Killer Aphids Invade Experiment"

“Killer Aphids Invade Experiment”

Final fresh weight results from the experiment

Final fresh weight results from the experiment!

Due to the fact that the aphids could not be controlled by organic pesticides, I have decided to end the experiment so as not to bias the results. The final results have been tallied, and the total fresh plant weight (weighing the stems, leaves, and flowers) is shown below. Thank you to all who voted for this experiment as well as those who have been following it diligently. If you have other experiments you would like to see performed, please email me at david@atlantishydroponics.com.

Spring Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening: A Guide to Organic Soil Amendments & Organic Fertilizers

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

The idea of planting a garden can be daunting. There is so much information and advice as well as countless products and additives to choose from, it might feel as if you need a PhD to grow a tomato. The fact is that everyone can easily grow an edible garden. Similar to buying real estate, the most important choice a gardener makes is location; you cannot grow sun loving plants (which most vegetables and fruit are) in dense shade. Most vegetables (excluding leafy greens like lettuce and cabbage) require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Most of us can find an area that gets enough sun, but what are you to do if the area with the correct sun exposure does not have healthy rich soil? The answer is simple: build a raised bed garden.

Raised bed gardens have several advantages over traditional in-ground gardens. First, raised bed gardens are constructed above ground, lending themselves to easier planting, tending, and weeding. Raised beds are little more than large container gardens and can be placed anywhere, regardless of the quality of soil underneath. Also, raised bed gardens are ideal for square foot gardening. You can build them out of wood (do not use pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the pressure treated wood can leach into your soil, and your plants), or buy a raised bed garden kit. Another option for someone that wants a raised bed garden but doesn’t have the time or tools to build one is to use a large fabric aeration pot. Aeration pots are fabric containers that come in sizes from 1 gallon all the way to 300 gallons. The benefit of aeration pots is that they prevent the plant’s roots from becoming root bound, while encouraging a more robust root systems with greater surface area in contact with the soil for improved nutrient absorption.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant's growth.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant’s growth.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant's roots from becoming root bound.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant’s roots from becoming root bound.

Once you have built your raised bed or purchased an aeration pot, now comes the all important choice of what to fill it with. I prefer a high quality potting soil like Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest which is loaded with organic fertilizers and micro-organisms. However if that does not fit your budget, another less expensive option is topsoil, which is sold by the bag at every hardware store or sold by the truck load. It can be used as base for your garden soil, but topsoil is not ready to use just yet. I recommend when buying topsoil to make sure it has been screened, ensuring that large pieces of organic debris and rocks have been removed. Plan on adding organic matter and organic fertilizer to the top soil; it will guarantee a bountiful harvest of your favorite fruits and vegetables.

The best way to add organic matter to soil is by adding a rich compost. Compost is decayed organic matter, and it is one of the best things you can add to any soil. You may have the notion that a compost pile is a big, ugly, smelly pile of leaves and lawn clippings, but that is not necessarily true. Today people have options of homemade compost piles, well constructed compost bins, and stylish compost tumblers. These provide everyone the option of making their own nutritious organic soil inexpensively. You can also improve the soil structure and improve the moisture retention and/or drainage of your garden soil with the addition of products like perlite, shredded leaves, peat moss, coconut coir, and composted bark sold as “soil conditioner.”

Aside from compost there are several organic fertilizers and additives that can be added to improve your garden soil. One popular option for adding organic matter to soil is to use composted animal manures. There are several kinds to choose from including: seabird guano, bat guano, cow manure, horse manure, and chicken litter. Generally, manures from animals that eat vegetation are preferred to animals that eat meat. Animal manures vary greatly in the nutrition they will provide your garden due to the different diets of the animals that produce the manure. When possible, it is best to use composted manures and guanos in your soil; fresh manure is best placed in your composter to age and breakdown before it is used or you risk burning your plants. An added benefit of animal manures and guanos is that they provide an excellent source of beneficial micro-organisms which add to your soil’s ecology. You also have the option of adding beneficial fungi and bacteria with products like Mykos and Azos.

Other options for amending soil include the following organic fertilizers and additives:

Rock Phosphate
A natural granular source of phosphorous and calcium in addition to several trace minerals. Rock phosphate is an excellent source of phosphorous which promotes cell division, photosynthesis and respiration. Also encourages the growth of earthworms and soil bacteria that enrich and aerate the soil. Slow release so it will not leach away like chemical blossom boosters. Apply 1-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. for gardens.

Blood Meal
A slow release organic nitrogen source. Excellent as a top dressing when extra nitrogen is needed. Stimulates bacterial growth. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft or as a top dressing.

Bone Meal
Steamed, finely ground bone provides phosphorus, calcium and nitrogen. Promotes strong, vigorous bulbs, healthy root systems and good blooming. Excellent for flowers, roses, garden bulbs, shrubs and trees. Use up to 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Greensand
Contains 22 minerals and helps loosen compacted clay soils. Highly recommended for conditioning pastures, lawns, orchards, fields, and gardens. Apply 2-4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Worm Castings
A pure all natural plant food produced by earthworms. Helps develop foliage in plants and improves aeration of the soil. Worm castings are also a source of nitrogen. Use in gardens and flower beds at rate of ½ cup per plant every two months. In potting mixes add 1 part earthworm castings to 3 parts soil. For roses mix 4 cups into soil around each plant.

Sulfur
Sulfur is excellent for lowering the pH of soils for growing blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid loving plants. Use according to soil test recommendations – do not over apply. Maximum use ¼ lb. per 100 sq. ft.

Micro Pelletized Gypsum
Pelletized calcium sulfate; supplies calcium and sulfur while loosening clay soils, aiding aeration and water penetration. Use when calcium and sulfur are needed, and pH of the soil is alkaline. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Garden Lime
A natural liming material which supplies additional calcium and helps maintain a near neutral pH in your soil. Apply 3-5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Once you have built your bed, added your soil, and amended it with lots of organic matter and fertilizer, it is time to plant your seeds or seedlings. Starting seeds is easy to do with a Viagrow™ Seed Starting Kit. Another option is to visit your local nursery and buy vegetable seedlings; ask them what varieties will perform best in your area. Water regularly (as needed) and top dress around the base of your plants on a monthly basis to ensure your plants have plenty of food. You will be eating your harvest in no time.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

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!

Gai Pad Krapow: Real Bangkok Style Thai Basil Chicken

Gai Pad Krapow

Gai Pad Krapow
Photo credit: avlxyz / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

This delectable recipe comes to us from Greg Richter at PurGro, the makers of the 1K4 Digital Ballast and the GroBot Evolution. Aside from spending his time designing cutting-edge environmental controllers and electronics, Greg is also an accomplished pilot, farmer, beekeeper, and chef. His business requires frequent travel around the globe, and the last time he was in Thailand he convinced a street vendor to teach him to make Gai Pad Krapow or Thai Basil Chicken. The following recipe is the “Bangkok Suk’vit Soi (11th Street) quick and dirty method”…not the haute approach that some elegant restaurants might use.

Gai Pad Krapow

4 cups fresh organic Thai basil; Italian basil or Genovese basil may also be used, but if using Holy basil (Thai hot basil) use only 2 cups
4 cloves garlic
6 green chili peppers
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1.5 lbs free range chicken (deboned) *thighs work the best
3 organically grown shallots
Oil for frying

Mix the fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a bowl and place to the side. Place the basil, garlic, chilies, shallots, and chicken into a food processor and using the pulse setting chop the ingredients until they are a fine chunky mush…if it looks like soup then you over-chopped.

Heat oil in a wok until the oil is almost smoking. Stir fry the chicken mixture, adding just enough sauce to keep it moist while cooking. When chicken is almost done cooking add the remainder of the sauce and simmer for 3 minutes or until sauce thickens a bit. Serve over rice or rice noodles.

Bangkok

Bangkok at Sunset
The Home of this Authentic Dish

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!