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Hydroponics test -- big Kratky barrel with eggshell, ash, and urine

 
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OK, seriously I don't know where to put this but maybe someone will have some ideas or observations.

I started a small modified Kratky hydroponics test in May, essentially just a big barrel, and planted two cucumbers in it. I later added a tomato. But here's the "catch."

I'm not using traditional nutrients. I don't WANT to use traditional nutrients. As with all my other projects, everything has to be as close to home as possible, and I refuse to buy chemicals to import into my yard. So.

I did a bunch of research on nutrient values in various substances, and settled on eggshell, ash, and urine. Eggshell has calcium (almost 98%), protein, strontium, fluoride, magnesium and selenium. Ash has calcium, potassium (4%, approximately), phosphorus (2%), magnesium, aluminum and sodium. Urine is approximately 14-3-3 in NPK but has many other trace elements depending on the diet of the individual. I added a penny to each plant for copper/zinc and put a dime in the bottom. Whether those will have any effect, I have no idea, but I did it anyway.

Putting the ash, eggshell and urine together you get an NPK value of approximately 14-7-5 based on these numbers. The nitrogen number would go steadily down over time. I used the powdered eggshell, but next year I'm going to try without it, as most of what it provides is in ash and urine as well. I did run into a nutrient deficiency with sulfur and I used epsom salt for that, but I'm hoping I can find a source with what I can grow or collect. Cabbage? Garlic? I added vinegar to adjust the alkalinity from the ash.

The cucumbers are doing great and have fruit on them. The tomato struggled with the sulfur deficiency rather seriously but seems to be recovering. No blossoms yet, which I think is because of when and how the nutrient deficiency hit.

My question is, is anyone else working with "natural" nutrients for this kind of system? Or am I completely on my own here? In all my searches I haven't found ANYTHING on non-chemical nutrients for a hydroponics system. Every single article, post, question, is all about buying the necessary chemicals. Some people make what they call home-made nutrient solutions, but it just means they buy the raw chemicals and mix them on site. That's like saying you make home-made spaghetti because you buy bottled sauce at the store and cook the noodles at home.

My second question is, am I missing anything? Other substances that might provide more of the nutrients? Would compost tea work? Or would it just turn the tank into a stinky stew? Other possibilities?
IMG_20190703_205944304.jpg
A month ago
A month ago
IMG_20190715_110458047_HDR.jpg
Sulfur deficiency
Sulfur deficiency
 
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The homework you have done (and your results) far exceeded my little test. Adding compost to mine did not create a stinky mess. I think about what i have available. One thing i will have available is the liquid after ocean fish are pressure cooked. I would think that would have lots of goodies. Clay is known as being mineral rich, so maybe a little clay rich soil.

Thanks for bringing this topic back up and taking the lead. No energy(input)  hydroponics done naturally has huge possibilities. I need to get back on it.
 
Lauren Ritz
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I wonder about putting the "nutrients" in a suspended bag rather than mixing them into the water. Water soluble nutrients might then leach into the water as they're needed and keep the non-solubles isolated. Since this is done without any kind of pump, I should think the absolute worst place for the nutrients would be on the bottom of the tank, which is where they would naturally settle. I see work ahead! :)

When I transplanted the tomato it sulked for weeks before it actually started trying to reach the water. In this sense, I think seeds may be better than seedlings as long as the water level can be kept high long enough for them to germinate.
 
Lauren Ritz
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I accidentally let the water level drop too far and the plants nearly died. They're recovering, but I took the opportunity to pull the tank and look at the roots.

The tomato root ball is very small, about 6-8 inches long and about half that wide. No wonder it couldn't get the nutrients! The cucumber root balls filled the bottom of the tank, but they were hit the hardest by the lower water level, possibly because they had fruit on them at the time. Both were loaded, and I lost it all!

I'm beginning to see blossoms again on the cucumbers, so that's hopeful.

Because of the sulfur deficiency I did some additional research and learned that garlic puts out sulfur compounds through its roots. So next year's test will include at least one where a garlic clove is planted with the primary crop plant to see if that solves the sulfur problem.

I've started two additional tests in ice cream buckets to test quantities for the nutrients.
 
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I’ve been working on kind of a similar project.  I have a 55gallon barrel with the entire top cut off and a drain added to the bottom.  I filled the barrel with coconut husks, then added about 4 inches of soil.  I have tomatoes growing now.  It isn’t really hydroponics, but I’m just using the soil for stability and am feeding the tomatoes with compost tea.  I water by flooding the soil with about a gallon of tea about twice a week.  I run my compost tea maker continuously in another 55gallon barrel.  I use about 5 gallons a day total to feed all of my house plants, some yard plants, and my tomatoes in the barrel.  I do not buy any additives for my tea.  Instead I add just add all of my kitchen waste, about 2 liters per day including egg shells, fruits, vegetables, grains, rice, bread, paper, cardboard, coffee grinds, and tea bags.  My tea smells earthy (no bad smells) and is dark brown with a fair amount of biofilm.  The idea is roughly based on the organic hydroponic method developed by the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization in Japan in 2005.  There is some good info in the references of the Wikipedia article “organic hydroponics”.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Good reference, thank you. I'll check it out.

The cucumbers have recovered and now have blossoms on them again. All female blossoms at this point (which essentially means the plant is getting the nutrients it needs--male blossoms will be the majority when the plant is stressed), but we may still get fruit before the end of the season. The tomato has also recovered fully and is starting to get blossoms on it.

The small bucket with the bean plant in it is doing well. I had to put it outside because it wasn't getting enough sun in the window well where I'd originally put it and now the water is getting hot in the sun. Another thing to take into consideration--temperature control. But the nutrients are working. I'll take the test through the end of the season and see how it does.
IMG_20190808_092728670_HDR.jpg
Organic-Hydroponic-bean-plant
Organic Hydroponic bean plant
 
Lauren Ritz
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We never got any tomatoes on the plant but it's still blooming madly. The cucumber has one left on it that I'm leaving for seed.

The 2nd test in the basement is looking good. The hydroponics nutrients here (in 1 gallon water) are 1 T urine (nitrogen), 1 T ash, 1 T vinegar (to cancel out the alkalinity of the ash), 1 T powdered eggshell, 1 rusty nail (iron), 1 dime (nickel), and 1 penny (copper). The first test died, probably because the planting medium dried out and it didn't have enough roots into the water to make up the difference. The bean roots grow very slowly so they might not be the best option for this kind of test. But I started with them, so I'll continue.

I'm starting a 3rd test with 1/2 T of everything. So far equal amounts seem to be working, but I won't add the nitrogen until the plant actually puts roots in the water.
IMG_20190921_122142451.jpg
Hydroponic-Bean-coming-on-currently-1-inch-long
Hydroponics bean plant
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Hydroponic -roots-Left-nutrients-added-no-root-growth-Right-one-week-after-germination-no-nutrients-added
Hydroponic Bean coming on, currently 1 inch long
 
Lauren Ritz
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Two of the three beans aborted. The third is currently ripening.

However, the plant is now showing signs of nutrient deficiencies. Phosphorus, specifically, as the leaves are starting to purple. Any idea if almond shells will provide phosphorus? Other easily accessible sources? I don't have access to fish or shell-fish.

The primary nutrients lasted for nearly three months--this bean was started in July on 1T of ash, 1T of powdered eggshell, 1 T of nitrogen (although I've given it nitrogen maybe once a month during this period). I have two more bean tests going, one has sprouted. Another test is basil. I'm getting interested in the way different plants react. I think the nutrients need to be renewed when flowering starts--another test.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Updates:

Test #1 died, probably because the planting medium dried out and it didn't have enough roots into the water to make up the difference.

Test #2 (the one in the comment above) is now dead. I decided to test a phosphorus additive (since that's the macro nutrient needed for fruiting) and apparently there was too MUCH phosphorus (or something) because within a day the water was a dark blue green and the plant couldn't breathe. The roots were completely coated with this muck, and already dead. I had to cut them off. The plant subsequently died. I used an almond shell ferment, since almond shells have a high level of phosphorus but it's bound up in the shells. I apparently used too much (1/2 c in a gallon bucket). This test ripened 1 bean, and I gained two mature seeds.

Test #3 is doing well. Same as above, except I added 1 teaspoon of almond shell ferment and more nitrogen when it started blooming. Currently has 8 beans, so far so good.

Test #4 is starting to get its secondary leaves. By the time it's mature enough to fruit I should know whether #3 is working or how it needs to be tweaked.

I’m getting used to the patterns. Once I get the nutrients straightened out so the plants can survive long term, I need to start working on production. What non-chemical nutrients does it take for a fruiting plant to really produce in a hydroponics environment? How much? By next summer I may actually be able to make this thing work!
 
Lauren Ritz
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I realized that each of the plants was dying at or just after fruiting, and putting it all together it didn't appear to be a nutrient issue. The root mass simply wasn't large enough to support the plant under the higher nutrient load with fruit on the plant. Another test showed that the roots completely stopped growing after the nutrients were put in the water. So I'm now testing not adding any nutrients until the root system is developed. The bottle on the left is one week older.
IMG_20191223_095137032.jpg
Hydroponic roots Left, nutrients added, no root growth. Right, one week after germination, no nutrients added
Hydroponic roots Left, nutrients added, no root growth. Right, one week after germination, no nutrients added
 
wayne fajkus
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Thanks for documenting this!
 
Lauren Ritz
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Test #8 looks healthy, but the roots are dark (see closeup of the roots). #9 is struggling and I'm not sure why yet. Doesn't look like any kind of nutrient deficiency and it was treated just like #8 except with more root before I put the nutrients in. #9 had the same amount of nutrients as #8, 1t ash and 1t eggshell. It also has dark roots.

I decided the dark roots are a problem, so the two most recent tests (10 and 11) I've only used 1/8 t of ash and the same amount of eggshell. The roots stopped growing when I put the nutrients in but remain white and clean. The plants look healthy.
IMG_20200109_094519934.jpg
Organic-Hydroponics-Test-#10-#11-rootmass
Organic Hydroponics Test #10, #11, rootmass
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Organic-Hydroponics-Closeup-of-the-roots-above-the-waterline-test-#9
Organic Hydroponics Closeup of the roots above the waterline, test #9
 
Lauren Ritz
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With the smaller amounts of ash and eggshell, the roots continued to grow.
 
Lauren Ritz
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This year nutrients were added at a rate of 1 T of the ash-eggshell mixture per tank, diluted with vinegar and water and left to soak, split across 5 tanks. Each of the tanks is at least 3 gallons. 2 tomatoes, two one year old rice plants that overwintered, 1 bean.

Garlic worked as a sulfur additive--worked TOO well. The plants are showing signs of sulfur toxicity. The larger tomato in this video, as of today, has growing internodes less than half an inch apart and is furiously putting out blossoms. I don't know if the blossoms are an effect of the sulfur, but it's essentially stopped growing.

 
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I recommend natural farming inputs for fertilizer stabilizers.  they are water-soluble.


intro to natural farming:  http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/forums/topic/17-an-introduction-to-natural-farming/

natural farming inputs;  http://culturalhealingandlife.com.www413.your-server.de/index.php?/forums/forum/29-natural-farming-inputs/
 
Lauren Ritz
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Another update. Last fall I created a phosphorus additive, which was an almond shell ferment. When I added it, within a day the plant was coated with green and blue scum and the water was choked with it. The plant subsequently died. That was 1/2 cup in a 5 quart ice cream bucket. This time I split the 1/2 cup between 4 larger buckets (each at least 3 gallons) and got essentially the same thing, it just took longer. I think the phosphorus additive has to be in much smaller quantities, and only added when signs of deficiency show themselves.

 
Lauren Ritz
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This year's update.

I learned that temperature control is REALLY important for hydroponics. I finally figured out that the thing killing the plants was that the water got too hot. In order to control algae and such inside the buckets I wrapped them in black plastic bags. Since the project was in the sun, the plastic bags heated the water to well over 100 degrees (hot to the touch) and the roots died.

With that under control, the tomato recovered and fruited. Everything else was already dead.

I then put squash seeds in two of the buckets and this is what they currently look like:
IMG_20200912_083900087.jpg
Organic-hydroponic-squash
Organic hydroponic squash
IMG_20200912_083916863.jpg
Organic-hydroponic-The-tomato-died-in-the-cold-a-few-nights-ago
Organic hydroponic squash
IMG_20200912_084050764_HDR.jpg
Organic hydroponic The tomato died in the cold a few nights ago
The tomato died in the cold a few nights ago
IMG_20200912_084200099.jpg
Organic-hydroponic-Roots-squash-#1
Roots, squash #1
IMG_20200912_084218260.jpg
Organic-Hydroponic-Roots-squash-#2
Roots, squash #2
 
Lauren Ritz
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2020 hydroponics update:

The hydroponics project is Kratky hydroponics (no pumps) with natural (non-chemical) nutrients. I use primarily ash and eggshell (dissolved in vinegar), with a penny, a dime and a rusty nail in each bucket. Your choice of nitrogen supplement. Phosphorus additives will likely be needed when plants fruit, but I don’t have the details worked out yet. The phosphorus additive I have used (almond shell ferment) is way too strong. Even half a cup in a 5 gallon bucket caused an algae bloom and killed the plants.

It appears (tentatively) that the initial “dose” of nutrients works season-long for everything except phosphorus, nitrogen, and sulfur.

I learned this spring that garlic WILL provide sufficient sulfur–too much. So more tests need to be done. A garlic clove growing in with the main plant created sulfur toxicity, which was worse with the beans. I tried later using water that garlic had been growing in, but the results were inconclusive as the plants didn’t have a sulfur deficiency at the time.

At this point my main focus is trying to figure out a way to keep the water level up. When Kratky is used with greens it’s not such a big deal, as the plants die long before the water level falls. To keep the plants healthy the water level needs to maintain a constant level once the roots are established, but since each bucket is separate and wrapped in black plastic I have no real way of measuring the water level. I opened up one of the buckets and the water was almost gone, but when I refilled it the roots drowned.

So more tests next year, likely. Progress is being made.
 
Lauren Ritz
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This year I'm using lettuce (head and leaf), zucchini, tomato and rice. I put the nutrients in last week; 2 T ash, 2 T eggshell and 1/2 c vinegar. I diluted the mixture with water after it had sat for a day, and split it between 5 buckets (zucchini, tomato, head lettuce). Again, dime, penny and a rusty nail in each bucket.

Rice has sprouted now, three plants for the single bucket. The nutrients will go in once they have strong roots in the water.

Last fall the buckets were hit by an early freeze (14 degrees F, if I remember correctly). The late-planted squash were blooming and had developing fruit.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Update:  I'm having a hard time with nutrient amounts. I put the nutrients in and suddenly everything started dying. So I dumped out part of the water and replaced it with clean--no problems since, other than the usual nutrient deficiencies (nitrogen and sulfur). A tiny bit of epsom salt took care of the sulfur deficiency, as usual. I wonder if there's something in the ash that's causing problems, since this is just fireplace ash.

The zucchini is slurping down the water much faster than the other plants--I checked water levels this morning and it was down to about 1/3 of the bucket. Problem! It has blossoms on it. Tomatoes are also starting to bloom, but the rice doesn't seem to like this setup. I'm not sure why. It's not rooting like everything else, just a single tangled strand of roots.

I'll need to try rice again next year.
 
Lauren Ritz
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The zucchini was attacked by squash bugs. The rice never had enough roots to justify putting the nutrients in--just one stringy root, and the other two plants in the net pot died. Tomatoes and zucchini are currently inside, in a sunny window. Tomatoes both have blossoms on them. Rather than using the potassium supplement (which is apparently WAY too strong) I just put almond shells in each pot. We'll see how well that does.

The zucchini had squash bugs but now appears to be clean so it's possible that it will recover.
 
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For sulfur, maybe you could try hair (/wool/feathers)? It contains quite a lot of sulfur. Of course it would probably take too long to decompose by itself, but maybe you could try to char it? Like, fill up a metal jar, put it upside down and make a fire on top? I tried that, just out of curiosity, and the result was a weird-looking, black, slightly shiny, foul-smelling, very brittle mass. I think most of the sulfur present in the hair remains in the char. If you crushed some, maybe you could use that?
 
Lauren Ritz
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So a question. I can easily bring plants (tomatoes, squash, beans) to the blooming stage with this system. Nitrogen needs increase as they approach blooming, which is easy to fix.

However, fruiting seems to be impossible or stunted depending on the circumstances. While the plants thrive, the most I have ever gotten on any of these plants is a single fruit. Most of the fruit aborts almost immediately, if it pollinates at all. I currently have a single tomato on one plant, while the other keeps aborting the blossoms.

At this point it would be ideal for leafy greens or other plants that aren't expected to flower and fruit. Progress is being made, but I don't want to stop with just leafy greens.

What could be stopping the fruiting, etc? What nutrients could be missing/deficient that are needed during this particular stage but not earlier?
IMG_20211103_183431114.jpg
Organic-Hydroponic-plants-not-fruiting
Organic-Hydroponic-plants-not-fruiting
 
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Normally I would suggest tempature,  pollination or light levels might be affecting your fruit set.

You probably have those things covered.
Hopefully someone will have better suggestion.
 
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wow! I am so happy to have found this site and this thread!
I am hooked on 'ponics!
I have outgrown my porch, and have another building to finish before I can do a ponics house.
you folks rock!
my focus was to get comfortable enough to go all - in on aquaponics, with a crawfish tank and a trout tank - but have a ways to go yet. seafood and salad!
we name our buildings anymore - so this one will take a while.
I may just lurk and learn here for a while - but have been eating tomatoes/got a few lemon cucumber - tons and tons of lettuce, and amazing to me - my strawberries just settled down for the winter - at least I hope for temporary! they are basically outside, so I assume the cold temps told them it wasn't summer anymore.
did try - just for fun - radishes - they turned out weird, but quite edible.
it is my lettuce mainstay. I don't even put lettuce in the ground, all of mine knows how to swim! still learning how much to start so we don't end up with way too much - chickens like it as well, though.
Thanks for having this thread going!
 
Rob Dooley
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oh, have you resolved your "problem" with not being able to see the water level?
I use a 1/2" grommet in a 5/8 hole (Forstner bit!) near the bottom of the bucket, put in a plastic pipe 90 fitting, and a chunk of clear 1/2" hose on it. Sight Gauge!
can also drain if needed - I drain out a gallon into a jug, test ph/etc - then usually pour it back in the same pipe - not bothering the plants/roots.
probably could come up with part numbers if that would help.
 
Lauren Ritz
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Rob Dooley wrote:oh, have you resolved your "problem" with not being able to see the water level?


I went low-tech. I have a stick with a mark on it for the initial and final water levels. If it falls below the line, I add water.

When I have enough space I want to do a four tank aquaponics system--tilapia, duckweed, crustaceans and food plants/baby fish sanctuary. Duckweed is fish food, baby fish are crustacean food. Each tank will be a little higher than the last, with a continuous siphon. The last and lowest tank will have a solar pump up to the highest.
 
Rob Dooley
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I like that you will be probably at least a year ahead of me - and going further with it! I can probably stay going in the right direction with it when I see where you go with it.
I have been playing with Bell siphons - I plan on ebb and flow - I think they call it. pump sizing is apparently critical, but formulas for it. I have a friend that found 6 - 8' by 30" fiberglass "boxes" that might end up being my grow areas. from a salvage gig. I like free a lot.
 they have been out in the weather for about ten years - so nature has worked on them a bit. need to find an artist that can paint waves/aquatic plants/fish on the sides.....

totally with ya on the solar for any of it that might need power. I have an old party size hot tub that might be the fish tank. I hear pros and cons in regards to them and 'ponics - but as a homestead lifestyle I will use what I got on hand until I can't.
the way I see it,  if I can use homer depot buckets, I can use a hot tub! if fish don't look like they will work in it, I will crawdad the tub and find something else for the fish.

have been thinking on going trout so I don't have to heat the water - but with the the evac tubes that should already be in play by then, that might not be any stretch at all.

yours sounds way cool and I will enjoy seeing it come to fruition! others success keeps my focus and excitement for it.

if I take a break from other priorities and make any moves on the 'ponics I may post on it in here - not that you need it - but maybe help someone else take the leap. my sister just saw my strawberry plants - and finally got her interested enough to try it. I think she is putting a couple buckets together today

 I wonder if I can find the pics of the lemon cukes taking over my back porch - she got named Audry. 10x12 porch and almost no room left to walk in.

also - I have an air bubbler in every bucket and tub - do you suppose some oxygen in the water or something related to that might be involved with the fruit not setting? - those plants look so incredible it seems crazy to not be covered in fruit. I use a heater in the tub with the lettuce in the winter, but not in anything else.
 
Lauren Ritz
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I suppose it's possible, but the plants themselves do fine. I currently have one tomato on each plant, since I put the phosphorus additive in, but they've stopped blooming and no more fruit is forming.

The idea of Kratky hydroponics is that it doesn't use bubblers or any other electrical assist. The plant forms air roots above the water level, which give it all the air it needs, and then it gets water and nutrients from the below-water root mass.

The aquaponics is a separate project. I tried simultaneous siphons and it worked for a short time, so I figure if I do three siphons and one pump I'm still ahead of the game. I'll probably end up using IBC totes for the tanks. We'll see.
 
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I created a group on Mewe for such experiments.

After researching the Kratky method I found the first few systems had soil.......

So  I decided to make a hybrid system.      Soil with an air gap down to the bottom where water / nutrients would be....     The soil is a a worm bin,    kept off the water with plastic netting then followed by a layer of leaves,   then soil,  then worms in with kitchen scraps.      I am finding a good mixture of carbon to greens is useful,    getting the water level just right very important.      

I have moved away from soiless because the soil gives nutrients the hydroponics just does not have.....

I do have some soliess for starting cuttings, I use a Tower Garden setup for getting the cuttings going.     I have 3d printed my tower garden, and it is doing great for getting roots started.




IMG_20211125_153659.jpg
3d-printed-Tower-Garden-setup
3d-printed-Tower-Garden-setup
 
Lauren Ritz
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Interesting. How do the roots get to the water without damaging the worm-bin/soil layer? I have plastic netting in my worm bin and always have worms and worm castings fall down below the netting.
 
Mart Hale
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Lauren Ritz wrote:Interesting. How do the roots get to the water without damaging the worm-bin/soil layer? I have plastic netting in my worm bin and always have worms and worm castings fall down below the netting.




Condensation...    the water is trapped under the soil, so the condensation causes the soil to stay moist.      I have these bins outside so rain also gets in, I have holes cut in the bottom so only 3 inches of water stay in the box bin.          I had the water level too high at the start of the year and the plants suffered,  but when I made it lower the plants recovered.      

I believe you have to "tune"   the system for what  works for you, or the plants you are growing.      With time the system is getting better.
 
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Just picked the first tomato from my non-chemical hydroponics for the year. Very small for the variety, about two inches in diameter and maybe an inch tall. The flavor was amazing, though. It had about a dozen apparently viable seeds, which is about right for a fruit this small. The fact that the seeds ripened is a good sign that I'm headed in the right direction.

I thought the plant was dead last week, but it recovered from whatever and is putting out new growth. The fruit hung on for a month or more at nearly the same size. I added nitrogen about two weeks ago, so that might have been it.
 
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This is really cool. I did something similar last summer, using sea water and urine.  It was a pump type system (not a hydro person lol), and I turned on the little pump about once a day. I had to frequently reduce the PH with ACV.  I used sea water because of the book, I think it's called Sea Water fertility, he used some syntheitc nutrogen so I replaced that with urine. The cool thing was that the tomatoes were really really good! The most intensely flavored tomatoes that I've had. Husband said best ever. And the heirloom tomatoes held out from blight longer than my others.   I  also grew peruvianum tomatoes in it and they tested like melons.

You didn't have a problem with the PH getting too high in the kratkey method? Any thing i did with urine it started nuetral and quickly changed and the plants preferred fresh.
 
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With Kratky you essentially put nutrients in once. I put the nutrients in at the beginning of the season, and the only things added after that is water and nitrogen. The urine is in such tiny amounts that I'm not sure it would affect anything.

I haven't paid attention to PH at all, and I wonder if that's why? The plants adjust to the PH changes rather than me adjusting the water. Some of my friends were talking about how important it is to monitor the PH constantly, but for some reason my plants thrive without that care. When I do the initial nutrients, I also mix the ash and eggshell with vinegar until they stop bubbling, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Our water is alkaline, as is our soil, so maybe the plants grown from my own harvested seeds are just used to it?

So far, the reasons for the plant deaths have been easy to figure out--mostly water getting too hot, too much nutrients (much worse with this system than too little), the water level getting too low, and the plants drowning when I try to bring the water level back up after letting it get down. Two plants died from sulfur toxicity (Garlic puts out sulfur through its roots--too much!) after I almost lost one from sulfur deficiency.

I am trying to stay low/no tech on this project, so as long as it works I'll run with it even if I don't know all the reasons.
 
William Bronson
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Mart, is there any wick in your system, or does it run strictly on the condensation?
I tried a pair of pants hose stuffed with potting soil in some of my early sub irrigated planters, but it used one leg as the wick.

I don't check PH in soil, I wouldn't want to do it in a hydroponics situation.
I might get better yields if I did, but I would probably change what I plant instead of changing the soil.
 
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Let me try to comment. I have some experience with hydroponics, so there are things in your set-up that I can point as potential trouble.

First of all, urine contains ORGANIC nitrogen. And this is the case where "organic" is not a good thing. See, microbes can use oxygen plus organic to procreate; as the result you'll have no organic and potentially, no oxygen in a tank (including the upper part, if ventilation is insufficient).

Second, those microbes (think mold) will attack your plant.

Then, in a setup you described, you need a vigorous temperature control: if the solution is too hot, everything (but microbes) dies.

Controlling pH with vinegar is a bad idea for exact same reason: it is a ready-to-use food for bacteria, an entry point of a Krebs cycle and all that. Sulfuric acid is better.

You will have to do some kind of chemical test on the LIQUID part of your "fertilizer" to make sure valuable components are not forming sediment.

Finally, I saw photos above with transparent jars, which is an absolute show stopper: no lights for roots! Or you will have algae eating up everything, including inorganic components.

Some less obvious things: make sure your ashes are clean, don't use wood of the unknown origin. And absolutely do not use ashes from paper and cardboard.

Also, some microbes that you grow this way can be harmful: they can get into plants and then you eat them. In soil, harmful microbes are controlled by microbiome of the soil, in hydroponics they are simply absent, but your approach is something in between, so try eating small amount first.

Hope this helps.

P.S. As for "I found no similar projects": aquaponics in commercial fish tanks is essentially what you are looking for, and it should contain lot more answers then I put in this post. For example, there is a way of raising chicken ABOVE the fish tank, as fish can eat the chicken poop. The rest goes in the water, and plants can be used to clean it up.
 
Lauren Ritz
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This year I have 8 buckets set up. Still using eggshell and urine, but I was unable to bring my supply of ash to my new location. I need to start a fire. I also lost my source of phosphorus (almond shell ferment) in my move so I need to find a new source for that. I used a tiny bit of epsom salt in each bucket to forestall any sulfur deficiency. I won't be working on my sulfur additive this year, but it's on the plans once I'm at my permanent location. Each bucket has a rusty nail, a dime, and a penny.

In the 8 buckets I have one squash, three tomatoes, two beans in one bucket, and three peppers. Two peppers and two of the tomatoes were purchased, the others I started myself and they're just getting established (long story).

The beans and squash are sucking up the water without a problem. Good root systems. The purchased tomatoes and peppers were root bound but seem to be recovering. I'm not sure how the purchased plants will work long term, but I lost most of my seedlings in the move to my current location. One pepper and one tomato were survivors of the move and they're struggling to adjust--both are bred for drought tolerance, so I should have expected that.

One tomato and the two purchased peppers already have developing fruit on them, and more blossoms coming.

One of the main problems at this location is that it has been raining a LOT, so the buckets are full to the brim. I need to work out something to drain them, so the plants don't drown, but still allow me to use the same buckets for the project next year.
 
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