For about three years, I have been trying to operate a DIY aquaponics system. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, and I have yet to reap much from it – I got some Swiss chard off my first planting three years ago, and that’s it. I started doing water tests and discovered that I have a serious hard water problem: off the scale of the aquarium test kit. After adding over a pint of aquarium salt (which proceeded to grow its way out of the grow bed rather than staying dissolved in the water), I’m at a loss. As long as the water is that hard, it blocks nutrient uptake in the plants.
So while I continue to tweak that, trying to find a solution, I decided to try hydroponics. Again, I did a DIY setup, and it was a total failure: my seedlings that I started died almost immediately after being transplanted into the hydroponics tower.
At that point, I said to myself, “It’s time to get a commercial system from Brew’n’Grow and see if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong.” (Brew’n’Grow is a local brewery + hydroponics store, they’ve got an amazing assortment of equipment for brewing and for growing.) I spent over two hours in the store talking to the associates – it’s a job requirement there to have experience in brewing and/or hydroponic gardening – before deciding on a system. It was a little pricier than some systems I’d looked at online, but it gives me one huge benefit I can’t get online: local expertise from people who have used the system I purchased.
After getting the system installed and letting it cycle for a couple of weeks (to make sure there were no leaks or other problems), I started seeds. The system I bought came with a kit of nutrient solutions as well as a “cheat sheet” on how to use the solutions: how much, at what stage of growth, and how often to renew/refresh them. It’s really targeted more for cuttings from mature plants than for seedlings, but I used the same method for the seeds as you would for transplants (skipping the gel that protects the cuttings from drying out and disease). Most of the seeds took off – the broccoli was the only total failure, but I wasn’t particularly surprised about that one. That was about 10 days ago.
Yesterday, I added the nutrients for the transplant stage, intended to reduce transplant shock and encourage root growth. Doing that yesterday meant that the nutrients cycled through the system for about 24 hours, ensuring they’re well-mixed in the water before I transplanted the seedlings.
Today, I transferred the seedlings into the hydroponics system and set up the lights on an 18-hour timer. That ought to confuse Squeak for a while.
The two blue-labeled pots are where I’m going to do a couple of cuttings (or try to, anyway). They’ll be put into larger growing blocks and I didn’t have space to start them at the same time as the seedlings. That’s next week’s project, after the rain stops.