Monday, May 25, 2009

Start of a new growing season

I learned a lot last year on using the Autopots hydroponics system. One of the challenges I want to find a solution to is standing water in the pots after a heavy rain. The basins need a way to drain.

Yesterday, I went to the hardware store and picked up a spigot, but after looking at the depth of the basin, I don't think it's going to work. I'll have some time to figure this out while the plants are still small. I'll be able to remove the plants from the water basins for several weeks (until the plants get too big).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tying up more branches from the tomato plants

Tying up more branches from the tomato plants. Becky took this just before we headed over to Lake Nokomis to get in our regular exercise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hydroponic Tomatoes in AutoPots are Growing Strong

I planted six tomato plants, all of differing type, into three Hydroponic AutoPots about 9 weeks ago. Initially, I was concerned that the water reservoir could not deliver enough water pressure to feed 6 plants. I was wrong. Well, sort of. I've raised the reservoir about 18 inches by placing bricks under it.

My tomatoes are growing strong. I've been getting ripe tomatoes for a couple of weeks now. My neighbor planted tomatoes about the same time I did. He still has not picked ripe tomatoes. Of course, I'm using high-quality nutrients in my hydroponic system, and he's gardening organically.

My plants are growing really tall, and, as I mentioned a few days ago, I've had to place a tall stake in the ground and run string to the branches that want to lay on the ground. I've got them all tied up.

This week, the aphids attacked one of my plants. I've been spraying them with soapy water. I also had a new beetle eating my asparagus, which you can see in the above photo. Soapy water spray seems to have worked on them as well.

I've found I'm using about 12 gallons of nutrient water per week for six plants. I need to clean the filter each time the reservoir empties. I also need to rinse out the reservoir between refills. I let it go bone dry before refilling it, but I keep a close watch, and it's never dry long.

I think this is how pod people got started

You've probably seen that movie "Pod People." I think this is how it got started. My buttercup squash really starting to plump up.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My mutant tomato

I ate this tomato yesterday. I think it was two tomatoes that fused at birth. It was huge, but oh so tasty.


Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm pole vaulting over my tomatoes

Click to enlarge the photo.

We had a bad storm here a few nights ago, and my tomatoes took a beating in the wind. Luckily, non of the branches broke off, but a couple of plants did turn over.

My mom was right. These cages Randy loaned me are not beg enough to contain the ever growing branches. So, I planted a couple of 6' poles and rigged a pulley system for the branches that want to lay on the ground. Now, as they grow, I can pull the string up a little to keep them all tidy.

The Squash and Cucumber update

On the non-hydroponic side of the garden...

My squash continues to get completely carried away with this whole growing thing. I mean, come on. How long does this thing need to be to pop out a couple of buttercup squash? You can see that the squash is not content to occupy one trellis, and is heading for the other.

My cucumbers are being much more reasonable. I now have cucumbers that look like strangely like pickles- hmmmmm....

My first hydroponic tomato

Here it is: My first tomato from my six hydroponically grown tomato plants. It's a little small, but it sure was tasty. I actually ate two tomatoes from this plant (Burpe Big Boy) over the weekend.


Jane's Orchid

This is an orchid that Jane gave to Becky, who wants Jane to see how lovely it's bloomed.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Trellis for squash update

Click on photos to enlarge.

Both my mom and my next door neighbor, Randy, whose house you can see in the background of the trellis photos, recommended that I not have the trellis facing each other. I buried a 2 x 4 behind the middle of each trellis, screwed the trellises to the board and buried the trellis' legs as deep as they would go. Hopefully, this will be enough to keep them from blowing over in a storm. I guess I'll need to plan on removing these in the late Fall.

I expanded the growing area out a few feet. The hoe gave me a dime-sized blister (yikes, that could be taken wrong).

Now, Chaz can rest next to the squash without fear of being grabbed by its inappropriately-touching tentacles. lol.

Behind Chaz (in the photo below), you can see that my asparagus is growing with vigor. Too bad I chose such a bad spot to plant it. Can it survive relocation?

My tomatoes are doing well. I've been pulling off the suckers, but I could have done a better job pruning early on. Here's an excellent article on tomato plant pruning that I wish I would have read a couple of months ago.

Below, you can see that some of my hydroponic tomatoes are already starting to turn yellowish-red. Will I have a tomato to eat next weekend?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Stand back, I'm not sure how big this thing gets.

Click to enlarge photo.

"Stand back, I'm not sure how big this thing gets." That's the punchline to a joke about Adam and Eve. You'll figure it out.

I need to figure out what to do with my squash and cucumbers. Remember, I'm a novice gardener sharing the lessons I'm learning. I decided to grow buttercup squash after watching a cooking show where they were baked in butter. Mmmmm sooo good.

I wanted squash. I had no idea this thing grows to the size of a giant squid that could eat Mobby Dick. It's coming into the yard, which I've not watered because I don't want the grass to grow around it. How big does this thing get? It's been in the ground for over a month and I think it's heading for my neighbor's yard across the street. It's reaching out and strangling everything within reach, and it's growing so fast! I told Chaz, my dog in the photo, to be careful. It would grab him. He bravely ignored the danger and plopped down beside it.

I went to Home Depot and purchased these two trellises. I'm not sure what to do with them yet. I'm going to show this photo to my mom and see what she says. What I think I want to do is to place one on each end of the growing monstrosities (facing each other). Then, put some twine between the two and allow them to wide up the trellis' in a couple of stacks. I've already got some squash growing (larger than a golf ball). I'm wondering if their weight will need to be supported.

Also, I think I'll dig out the grass around the garden so I can mow around the garden easier.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Clogged filter

Click on photo to enlarge.

Wow, I learned a hard lesson today. When I came home, I found all 6 tomato plants shriveled up and wilted over starving like Ben Stein's career.

I opened the float covers, and they were dry, even though my reservoir was half full. I pulled the tube off of the first T-fitting, and it barely dribbled out. There was obviously a clog some place.

I opened the filter that's on the end of the tube inside the reservoir. The foam piece inside the filter box was covered with a pasty slime. I cleaned the filter and replaced the water for good measure. This fixed the problem.

So, note to all Autopot users, clean your filter at least once per month. Just take it out and give it a good rinse.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Video update on plants - including the battle with the beetles

The photo of the bug below must of been a baby version of the adults that are just decimating my bell peppers and basil. Soap spray and neem oil have not helped. See what started working tonight. Plus, an update on the hydroponic tomatoes. Watch the video.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It was that bug eating my plants

I found that insect eating other plants nearby doing similar damage. Why can't it eat my weeds? So, I sprayed with an organic soap spray, and the problem seems to have abated. However, I'm keeping my eye on those bugs. I think they'll be back. They'll get another bath if so.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What's eating my bell peppers?

I found this beetle-looking creature nearby, but I do not know if it is the one eating my plant. Any ideas?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tomato Leaves Curling

The leaves on my tomato plants are starting to curl. I've read that this can occur if the plant is stressed (over or under watering). I'm worried that the plant's roots are sitting in water too much.

I received an email from Jason at the AutoPot factory, who was kind enough to look at my setup. He mentioned that they recommend good quality soil/compost mixed with 30-50% perlite. I'm not sure why I purchased these clay pebbles, other than I read some place they were perfect for hydroponics.

I think I need to pour out my clay pebbles and add the mix Jason has recommended. Please see my photo (above) and see if you agree.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Changing the pH of my water

I'm told that the pH level of my water for the plants should be between 5.5 and 6.5. Mine is around 8.0 right out of the tap. If I let it sit for about 3 days, it does drop to 6.5 to 7.0.

I need to replace the water in my reservoir because I want to change the nutrients I'm using. I decided to use some pH down acid to lower my pH before I added the nutrients.

The directions on the pH Down were not very helpful. It simply said to use it "sparingly" and "a little at a time." What does that mean? I'm mixing with more than 10 gallons of water.

I decided that "a little at a time" was about 1/4 of a cup for 10 gallons of water. If you've used this before, you're probably laughing at me right now. It dropped my pH level off the chart. The test was bright red.

I dumped out the water and started again. I decided to start with one teaspoon in 10 gallons of water. It was still too much. My color was still orangish red.

I dumped out half of the water and filled it up again. This time, adding no further pH down, the level was right on. So, it seems that 1/2 teaspoon is the right amount for 10 gallons of water when your pH level is 8.0 to start.

Expanding the AutoPot system

I've added four additional pots (two pairs of pots) to the original AutoPot system (see the previous post). I've learned a lot, and I think I have some interesting things to report for anyone else thinking of expanding the system. One thing you should know right away is that it may require more water pressure than you expect to reach the third pair of AutoPots.

Previously, I filled the main reservoir with 5 gallons of water (a little less than half full). This did not provide enough water pressure to reach the third AutoPot- at least not enough to achieve the water level needed to water the plants. I had to fill the main reservoir with 10 gallons of water before enough pressure was achieved. This means that I will need to use more nutrient in the main reservoir than I wanted (in case I need to change the water). It also means that I need to pay attention to the amount of water that is in the main reservoir more frequently. This defeats the advantage of the AutoPot watering itself. So, I'll probably get another reservoir eventually.

The other option would be to raise the main reservoir much higher than the AutoPots. However, I neither have an attractive enough base support for the main reservoir nor a sturdy enough support to do this.

Required tools:
  • Something with which to cut the tubing

  • A level

  • Shims

  • Tube clamps (see below)

To see how to assemble the AQUAvalve into the AutoPot assembly, review the previous post. One change in the expansion kit (from the previous kit) is that the tubing comes packaged with both ends of the tube pre-attached to the 6mm T-fitting. This creates a problem; because, you need to insert one end of the 6mm tube through the yellow screw-on collar. However, the end of the tube has been deformed due to shipping attached to the end of the T-fitting. Therefore, the first thing you have to due is cut off about 1/4-inch (about 0.6 cm) from the end of the 6mm tube. Otherwise, you cannot get the tube through the hole in the yellow collar.

In the photo below, you can see how the tubes arrive in the package. The manufacturer needs to change this packaging practice to keep the ends of the tubes from deforming.

In the photo below, you can see that the tube will not fit through the collar.

I used a pair of wire cutters to cut off the end tube. Make sure that you do not cut at an angle. If you do, cut again or use a knife to cut the tube.

Your next challenge is figure out how to connect all of the various systems together. The instructions show you how the system should be connected once you're finished, but it doesn't show you how to get there. It also doesn't tell you how to connect more than one expansion AutoPot to an original AutoPot system. This may be on purpose, as I discovered. It seems that two expansion kits added to a single reservoir is one more than ideal.

To connect even one expansion kit, you must cut the tube for AutoPot #1 and insert the T-fitting between the tubes as shown below (A). Next, connect the tube from AutoPot #2 to the remaining barb on the T-fitting (B).

In order to connect three AutoPot pairs to one reservoir, you must also cut the tube for for AutoPot kit #2 (B). Cut off a short amount of tubing from tube #2 and use it to connect both T-fittings together as shown below. I chose to cut tube #2 fairly close to AutoPot #2. The figure below does not show this well. The next image shows this better.

Unless you empty all of the water from your main reservoir, you will need to clamp closed the tube from the main reservoir. I used some office-supply paper clamps that are commonly available.

As previously mentioned, I needed to fill the main reservoir with about 10 gallons of water (nearly to the top) to achieve enough water pressure to reach AutoPot #3 with sufficient water.

Using a permanent marker, I marked the inside of the reservoir at the 5 gallon and 10 gallon mark.

After you've got water flowing to the system, I recommend making sure all of the AutoPots are level. If your pots are leaning one direction, one pot could be getting more water than the other. If the AutoPot is tilted front to back, the float may not activate correctly.

Use some common shims from the hardware store to shim up the AutoPots until they are level.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Organic Weed Killer

Here's a highly-rated organic weed killer I found at the following link:


* 4 cups white vinegar
* 1/4 cup salt
* 2 teaspoons dish detergent

Use it in the cracks of your sidewalk.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My hydroponic tomatoes - using Autopot system

As part of my quest for optimal health, I've decided to grow my own vegetables. However, in mapping out my plan, I encountered a few challenges. First, I've never grown my own food, so I have a learning curve. Second, I live in Minnesota, where the growing season is fairly short. My goal is to grow food year round. To do that, I need to learn hydroponics.

The above photo is my first attempt at hydroponic tomatoes. The plant on the left is a Burbee Big Boy and the other is a Heartland. It's day three, and they're still alive. Today is May 20, and when I walked out onto the deck this morning, it was only 42F outside.

"How are you guys doing this morning?" I said to my plants, which also include a few stalks of asparagus (not shown). I interpreted their stoic silence as a sign that I've not lost my sanity or my plants.

The AutoPot system is a no-brainer way to get into hydroponics. Well, there are a few things to learn, but much of the complexity is cut out. The kit includes the trashcan-looking container on the left (it holds the water), the reservoir that holds its two pots and a magic float valve. The valve lets in more water from the tank once the plants drain the water to a specified level that triggers the float mechanism to drop. A bottle of plant food is also included.

I've used clay pebbles instead of soil as a medium to support the plants. These are basically rolled up balls of clay that have been fired. Apparently, they pop like popcorn in the kiln, making them light but strong enough for support and drainage.

To assembly the AutoPot system, you first attach the tube to the float. The tube connects between the water reservoir and the AutoPot float valve (the blue item in the photo below).

Next, you remove the shipping restraint from between the float valve compartments (shown below).

Next, you press the float valve down onto the T-bracket in the center of the AutoPot reservoir. This is inserted into the half-moon-shaped portion of the valve (below).

Next, snap the cover over the float valve. You can pop this loose to look into the AutoPot reservoir if you ever wonder whether or not water is flowing to your pots.

Next, place the included black filters into the pots (see below) and the included gold and black filters (gold side up) into the AutoPot reservoir trays (see below). The filters keep debris from the plant side from contaminating your water. The gold filters keep plant roots from entering the reservoir, becoming entwined with the holes that allow water into the pots.

Next, I added about an inch of the clay pebbles to the bottom of each pot to keep the roots from resting on the bottom (see below). I felt this would provide better drainage under the roots.

Next, insert the tube and rubber plug into the hole in the bottom of the main water reservoir. Insert the plug until the oval disk is flush with the side of the tank. This will be the most difficult part. One tip is to moisten the rubber plug before insert it into the hole. Another tip is to reach into the reservoir and pull the plug through as you twist it in on the other side.

Next, connect the water filter to the end of the tube inside the water reservoir.

Next, put water in your main reservoir. I put 5 gallons. I plan on emptying any remaining water in two weeks and adding fresh, so 5 gallons may be too much. We'll see.

I'm told that I should test the water and make sure it is around 6 to 6.5 pH level. I purchased a kit from Bachmann's. My tap water seems to be around 7. A guy at the hydroponics store told me that if I let the water set for 24 hours, chemicals that are causing higher pH would evaporate. So far, I haven't seen much change. I think I'll buy a higher-resolution test and test again. If it's still high, I'll buy some pH down liquid at the organic store. Of course, my neighbor has been growing garden tomatoes for years with this tap water, and they seem to like the water just fine.

Below is what the pots will look like if the floats are working properly. The water comes up just high enough to reach the roots of the plants.

I added plant food to the water in the main reservoir according to the directions on the bottle.

Next, I gently shook the dirt off of the roots of plants and put them in the pots. I filled the pots around the plants with the clay pebbles. I may have used more pebbles than necessary.

The AutoPot system is expandable. I plan on adding several more pairs of pots to the same main water reservoir. I purchased the initial system locally at Interior Gardens:
1620 Central Avenue NE
Suite #115
Minneapolis, MN 55413

It's a really fun store to visit. They specialize in hydroponics, but any gardener would love the store.

The system can be expanded by adding more pots. The water line uses a T-connector to split the line between the pots. There is a point at which you need to add a larger water reservoir to feed the pots- if you really go crazy adding systems. Below is a photo from, the manufacturer's web site. The photo shows two additional pots, but you can add many more.