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bigbubbacain December 31, 2009 12:37 PM

Aeroponics trial #3
This thread is a follow-up to my two previous threads about aeroponics. I've made some improvements and I've got some step-by step details with photos. Also, I've resolved to follow this thread with photos so I can show the plants from germination to installation in the garden.

Two things I need to explain:

1.) I'm not a scientist, botanist, nor have I studied in any technical background. (maybe a mad scientist:twisted:)

Mostly, I'm just a human being who always had rotten luck at starting seeds using the conventional methods. I've grown frustrated with grow lights that wouldn't keep my plants warm enough, or heat mats that were too warm, and all the variables in between. I first became interested in aeroponics because of the hype and high price tag of the AeroGarden and other devices out there. It looked interesting, but I just couldn't get beyond the proprietary supplies that were required for some of these machines. The only things that insulted me more were the really expensive kits being sold at the hydroponic retailers that were nothing more than plastic 5 gallon pails with an aquarium pump, airstone, and sprinkler components. I started pricing some of these components and realized it would be a small gamble for me to piece some of these items together and just try it.

2.) Technically, my device isn't "true aeroponics" because I allow the roots to grow long enough to reach the water/nutrient mixture. A device that is "true aeroponics" keeps the root mass separate from the water reservoir, as it allows the the roots to be misted and aerated and then the excess moisture runs off. I guess my contraption is somewhere between "aeroponics" and "deep water culture".

Anyway, here come the photos.

bigbubbacain January 1, 2010 06:12 PM

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The basic supplies:

air stone, aquarium pump (not shown), ultrasonic mister([URL=""][/URL], 2" net pots (from hydroponic retailers), plastic "cheapo" wine glasses, hydroponic fertilizer, rolled gauze, and a rectangular storage tub. Just about any size tub will do, as long as it's deep. I wouldn't recommend a 5 gallon pail, however, because it's so small that the roots zone might be kept too warm.

Firstly, the container needs to be prepped for the net pots. I used a hole saw attachment for my drill to make it easy, though I did it free-handed so it's not perfect. I used a permanent marker to draw a grid over each column / row of holes for keeping record of what I'm planting: numbered on one size, lettered on the other. I also drilled 2 small holes for the air tubing and one for the power cord to the mister.

bigbubbacain January 1, 2010 06:43 PM

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Next, I set up the air stone and ultrasonic mister inside the tub with the tubes running through the holes. I mix the fertilizer according to the label, and attach the lid to the tub. My fertilizer of choice is the Flora Nova line from General Hydroponics. It's pH buffered, which means less maintenance regarding water quality issues.

Plug in the aquarium pump and the mister and it's time for the for the net pots.

I just cut a small square of gauze to cover the bottom of each pot. Then, I add one seed per pot and cover each pot with the plastic wine glass. I keep the unit under my T-8 grow lights, on a timer.

I know it seems futile to just use one seed per pot, but my germination has been so good and so quick that even if I have a bad seed, I find that I still have time to remove it and start fresh with a new seed. I'll post again with more photos as soon as I get germination. It should be in 3 or 4 days

salix January 2, 2010 12:41 AM

Very interesting and love the can-do attitude and resourcefulness, and appreciate the time you are taking to post pictures of the journey. Just a quick question - does the seed sit directly on the gauze or is there a bit of soilless mix or gel or something?

bigbubbacain January 2, 2010 11:08 AM

Thanks for writing!

Each seed sits directly on the gauze. No soil-less mix necessary. In the past I've used cheesecloth, but somehow the liquid solution was causing it to disintegrate. I personally think it's this direct exposure to the mist with being over-saturated that causes my germination so quickly and successfully.

yotetrapper January 4, 2010 12:56 AM

Do you have any pics of growing plants? How long do they stay in there for? I've never even heard of this, but it sure seems pretty cool!

bigbubbacain January 4, 2010 03:46 PM

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[quote=yotetrapper;152142]Do you have any pics of growing plants? How long do they stay in there for? I've never even heard of this, but it sure seems pretty cool![/quote]


I have a few pics in the in my previous thread but I got ahead of myself and didn't do a good job of tracking plant growth in photo. That's why I'm doing this again in a 3rd thread with more frequent photos. Here's what was waiting for me today, after starting my seeds on 1/1/10. One of my seedlings for Bella Rosa decided to wake up.

I keep the plants in here until they have at least 3 sets of true leaves. By this time they look like small bushes with a really large root mass.

bigbubbacain January 9, 2010 11:26 AM

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Here's my progress thus far. Photo taken thursday, 1/7/10.

relichound January 9, 2010 05:56 PM

I really like your setup for starting your seeds. I have been growing lettuce for a couple of years in homemade passive systems. I have always started the seeds in a soil less mix, washed of the roots, and then placed them in my system. With your set up I can now skip a step and grow them from start to finish in one container.

Thanks for sharing the information,

bigbubbacain January 9, 2010 06:56 PM

Thanks Jerry!

Word of caution: I've had mixed results with lettuce. Do you grow loose-leaf Mesclun types, or Cos / Romaine types? You might want to experiment with the quantity of seeds per net pot.

For Cos/Romaine types, I'd plan on one per cell. Try 2 or 3 seeds and then keep the healthiest looking one to grow out. I pluck them out early if I detect anything that doesn't want to thrive.

For Mesclun / loose leaf types, you can grow 3 or 4 in a net pot, but you'll have a little more maintenance involved. Because the piece of gauze will remain in the bottom of the pot, you might need to occasionally run a weak peroxide solution in case you develop a problem with algae.

I never have the algae problem with Romaine because the neoprene collar that fits around the base of the plant keeps the light out.

Another possibility for loose leaf type is to just grow them like the Romaine- one per pot.

I wish I had more info to offer regarding lettuce, but mostly I've done tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, squash. This is still experimental to me.

bigbubbacain January 12, 2010 02:53 PM

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4 days later, I'm seeing what is beginning to look like true leaves. It's always surprising to me to see certain types showing more vigor than others.

bigbubbacain January 24, 2010 12:14 PM

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Well, it never fails: I find myself working out of town when my seedlings are growing and need some form of attention from me. The seedlings stayed under their domes a little longer than I would have like and so some of the leaves are a little yellow and wilty. Not a problem. I'll prune them off later and it does nothing to the health of the plant, just not what I wanted to show everyone here.

PHOTO #1 shows what the seedlings look like when I remove them from their net pots and remove the piece of gauze from the roots. They've got true leaves and the root mass itself is starting to produce lateral roots.

PHOTO #2 shows more detail of the lateral roots. The root chamber almost encourages an air pruning effect on the root masses. This is what I look for when determining if the seedlings are ready to be removed from the net pots because these "air pruned" lateral roots are what help the seedlings survive after being pulled from the gauze. If the long roots become too cumbersome, I sometimes trim them because they're not as important in the long run.

PHOTO #3 shows the neoprene cuff on the seedling. I also keep a stash of net pots that have had the bottoms cut out of them with scissors because I use the top piece as a collar for the neoprene to fit into.

PHOTO #4 shows the seedlings back in position for a little more grow time. I really hate showing the seedlings with all of this stressed-out growth from being kept under the domes. Well, some people say that all babies go through an "ugly phase" so I guess this is where we're at for now.

bigbubbacain January 28, 2010 02:50 PM

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One week later:
Photos 1 & 2[/B][/U] show the progress the seedlings are making in growth height.

[U][B]Photos 3 & 4[/B][/U] show a seedling of Sweet Quartz and a close up of the lateral roots that I love so much.

It's inevitable that not every seed germinates for me, such was the case with N.A.R.X. [U][B]Photo 5[/B][/U] shows a N.A.R.X. seedling that is about 10 days behind the rest I'll pot everything up in about 5 days or so.

salix January 28, 2010 05:22 PM

Thanks for the updates. Love to watch the progression of something new to me.

bigbubbacain February 3, 2010 06:04 PM

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Not much left to report about these little guys. They're ready to go into 4 inch pots.

[U][B]Photo #1[/B][/U] shows the seedlings just before I transplanted them.

[U][B]Photo #2[/B][/U] shows my smallest of the plants, a N.A.R.X. This was one of the varieties that didn't germinate for me after the first 10 days, so technically, it's more or less 3 weeks old. There were 2 or 3 that just didn't want to come up. By day #10, I replaced the seeds and everything sprouted up perfectly. After all the years I tried growing my seeds in dirt, I've never gotten true leaves or such root growth like this in 30 days or less.

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