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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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!

1 Day Sale! 15%-50% off Saturday, November 17th

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Canna Lovers, Get all your Canna Nutrient and Coco questions answered at the Atlanta West Midtown location by a Canna Nutrients Rep, along with prize giveaways, and complimentary snacks and refreshments!

Web Shoppers, order Online and receive 15% off orders placed 11/17.

Use hydroponic promo code ILOVEHYDRO at checkout.

Accidental Discoveries: How One Mistake Can Save Your Garden!

How Someone Else’s Mistake can Save Your Garden

How Someone Else’s Mistake Can Save Your Garden

Humankind has benefited time and time again from chance insights made during scientific research.  Among the multitude of accidental discoveries are: champagne, crazy-glue, Post-it® notes, LSD, and penicillin.  Just think how much less fun life would be without champagne and penicillin! Today I will share a story with you that will help your hydroponic garden…and you guessed it, it is a discovery that was made by accident.

In a research laboratory at a large university a lowly graduate student had the unenviable task of mixing up the nutrient solution for the department’s experiments from scratch.  This meant individually adding chemical compounds one at a time to tanks of water to build the fertilizer specifically matched to the particular experiment.  Universities often use custom formulated fertilizers to allow for a higher degree of control which also save money by eliminating pre-mixed commercial fertilizers. The student accidentally used MgCl(magnesium chloride) when they were supposed to have used MnCl2 (manganese chloride).  A few months went by and the majority of the hydroponics systems in the laboratory developed severe Pythium infections.

Pythium is one of the most common pathogens hydroponic growers contend with.  It used to be considered a fungus but has more recently been classified as an oomycete (a group of fungus like-organisms.)  Pythium can cause severe root rot and poses a huge threat to hydroponic crops.   Pythium in its spore stage can move quickly in water and multiply, reeking havoc if left unchecked.

Due to the short duration of the university experiments (about 25 day cycles) the plants did not show visible signs of being deficient in manganese.  There was enough manganese from other sources to meet the minimal needs of the plants, but there was roughly a 15% reduction in yield.  It was not until later when they discovered the student’s mistake that they made the possible connection between the lack of manganese and the increased occurrence of Pythium infections, which led to experiments designed to verify that manganese had the ability to suppress Pythium.

It is well documented that copper is able to suppress microbial growth; however, copper in elevated amounts is toxic to plants.  To this point, manganese had not been examined to see if it too had any antimicrobial characteristics.  Manganese is an active ingredient in the well known commercial fungicide Dithane®.  So it was not a stretch when their research went on to reveal that manganese and zinc (as it turns out) demonstrated some level of microbial inhibition.  Unlike copper, slightly elevated levels of manganese and zinc in your hydroponic solution are not going to cause phytotoxicity, but they may prevent a costly attack of Pythium.

The moral of the story is that there are happy accidents in science and all we have to do is learn from them!  So add some extra zinc and manganese to your reservoir, sit back and sip some champagne.  You can rest easier knowing you have added a level of protection to your hydroponic garden (and you didn’t even need to use penicillin)!

How to Yield 30 Lbs. from One 600 Watt HPS Grow Light!!!

Hydroponic Black Krim Tomatoes

Hydroponic Black Krim Tomatoes grown with Canna Nutrients

Just to give you all a taste of what is possible, try growing 30 lbs. in 16 weeks from seed under only one 600 watt HPS light. This is not just theoretically possible but actually accomplished by Atlantis Hydroponics.

 The Set-Up:

From January 1st 2011 when the seeds were planted until the last of the fruit was ripe and picked Atlantis Hydroponics’ own, Scott from Chattanooga TN grew the Black Krim strain of tomatoes with ease using the Canna Aqua series of nutrients.
They tasted even better then they look!

A Bug Army For Your Garden

Last blog I wrote about controlling harmful insects using pesticides and an Integrated Pest Management approach.  A necessary part of any IPM program is the use of beneficial insects.  Think of them as your own little army fighting for a pest free grow-room 24/7/365.  Having released thousands, yes thousands of Hippodamia convergens (ladybugs) in my grow-room I will say I became more comfortable with insects crawling on me but 99% of the time they were on the job, on a search and destroy mission for any pest intruder attempting to sabotage my garden.  There are lots of beneficial insects to choose from but you must match the pest to the predator, although many predators are not picky and will eat a variety of harmful insects.  Using the chart below you can easily match the kind of insect problem you may be experiencing with the correct predatory insect.

Beneficial Insect IPM Chart

Some interesting facts regarding these insects are:

  • You never should worry about your beneficial insects eating your plants as they will only feed on harmful insects
  • One Lady Bug may eat 5,000 aphids in 1 year
  • Green Lacewings will eat 200 aphids a week
  • Spider mite destroyers will eat 40 mites a day
  • Predatory Nematodes will kill over 250 different types of insects

Orca Film

I have been testing new products and will soon have a bunch of new information to share. As for today I would like to talk to you all about is a product called ORCA Film. It is a reflective wall covering that is so far superior to all of it’s predecessors that it is light years ahead! (No pun intended) As the adage says a picture is worth a thousand words…

The picture above is of 2 identical boxes side by side, each illuminated by a single 150 watt HPS bulb. When the light output is measured inside each box the Mylar box (on right) measured 1210 Foot-candles, the ORCA Film box (at left) measured 1900 Foot-candles!!! That is 57% more Foot-candles from simply changing the reflective wall covering!!!! It comes in 25’, 50’, and 100’ rolls (54″ wide) & also has a sealing tape to join sections or cover staple holes. We pay so much for light for our plants it only makes sense to spend a few more dollars (it is a one time purchase as ORCA Film is 11 mills thick and totally washable) to get 57% more light!!! As an added benefit with ORCA Film more light is reflected and therefore it is not turned into heat. The above experiment resulted in a 3ºF temperature decrease in the Orca box (80ºF) compared to (83ºF) in the Mylar box.

Now because it reflects light across the full photosynthetic spectrum all photosynthetic pigments (such as chlorophyll) will be able to produce more energy and as such, your plants will grow that much faster.

– Doctor Dave

Nutrient Antagonism

Hello Readers,

After being asked the following question for the millionth time I decided it may be an issue that needed to be addressed.

Why if I am feeding my plant plenty of Magnesium does my plant show signs of Magnesium deficiency no matter what I do? 

 It is possible to be feeding an excess of most nutrients and still be deficient in one or more of them.  This is because sometime plants can suffer from “Nutrient Antagonism.”  Nutrient Antagonism is when an excess of a particular element BLOCKS the absorption of another element the plant needs.  This can happen with elements of a similar size and charge (+ or -).  Some of the most common antagonisms are:

 • Iron blocking Manganese (or the reverse)

• Magnesium blocking Calcium (or the reverse)

• Potassium blocking both Magnesium & Calcium

Another reason for a plant being deficient in an element that is being applied in an appropriate dosage is called “BINDING.”  Binding is when elements mix together and bond forming a compound that is insoluble (can not be absorbed by a plant’s roots.)  This is seen when:

• Concentrated acids or bases are mixed into nutrient solution and a cloud of precipitate forms (the precipitate or milky cloud formed is actually elements “binding” and becoming unavailable to the plants.)

• Also when Iron or Zinc are mixed in a solution of Phosphates (HPO4-2) and a mineral called Strengite forms.  This compound is completely insoluble and will make both the Phosphorous and the Iron or Zinc unavailable to plants.

A heavy flush with plain pH adjusted water followed by the application of fresh nutrient solution can usually solve both of these types of issues.  See the chart below for more common Nutrient Antagonisms.

Nutrient in Excess

Induced Deficiency

NH4, K, Ca, Mg, Na K
K and / or Ca Mg
Cl NO3, SO4
N K
Ca Mg
Mg Ca
Ca B
PO4 Fe, Mn, Zn, or Cu
Fe Mn
Mn Fe
Mo Cu
B = Boron
Ca = Calcium
Cu = Copper
Cl = Chlorine
Fe = Iron
K = Potassium
Mg = Magnesium
Mn = Manganese
Mo = Molybdenum
Zn = Zinc
NO3 = Nitrate
SO4 = Sulfate
PO4 = Phosphate
NH4 = Ammonium

-Doctor Dave