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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hydroponics Experiment

Round abouts the middle of August, I stumbled upon this article regarding DIY on-the-cheap hydroponics. Ever since I my Mother and I were shown a hydropics installation growing basil by an overeager salesman on one of my summers home from college, I've wanted to have such an installation of my very own. I love fresh basil with a mighty passion, but am also too cheap to buy the four-dollar-an-ounce packets at the grocery store, so this article interested me mightily. I'd been given two lovely basil plants in pots by some friends, which were growing happily in my window, but I decided to go crazy and try out some hydroponics as well.

The method indicated in the article required some some purchases: A large tray for water/fertilizer, fertilizer, vermiculite, perlite. I'd also need plants.

I went to the gardening store. They had vermiculite and perlite (in my ignorance I had not realized these are ubiquitous - any gardening store will have them), a bewildering array of fertilizers, but no suitable trays, and, most distressingly, no live basil. It was, after all, August. They'd sold out months ago. I decided to try rooting some cuttings from my current plants, and bought a packet of tomato seeds to make the guy feel better about it. Also because I like fresh tomatoes. They are mini-tomato plants, so hopefully they'll work okay.

In despair of finding an appropriate tray, I went to the hardware store, and found an under-bed storage tray, with lid, for only $25. This was more than I'd been hoping to spend, but I was frustrated, impatient, and cranky. I bought it. In retrospect, it is too large, and was too expensive. What I should have done was go to a pet store, and bought a large litter box. I may do this in future. I also bought some chicken wire cages for the plants, which were way too tall, and a pair of diagonal cutters to make them not way too tall.

From there, it was all pretty straightforward. I cut down some old juice bottles for pots, drilled holes in the bottom with my pocket knife's awl, dumped in some growing medium*, dumped in the tomato seeds, (a week later) planted the rooted basil, and let 'er rip. Pictures can be found here.

* Mixing the vermiculite with the perlite in the pots themselves is what caused all the crap floating in the pot you can see in the pictures. From then on I mixed in a bag, over a trash can. No mess no fuss.

Oh yeah - this was in August, and I've just been procrastinating writing this up. The plants are doing pretty good now - the tomatoes sprouted fine, no thank to my planting all 30 of them in the same pot (don't do this), and some of them are now 6-8 inches high, and in pots of their own. Others are dead. Such is life when you're a tomato plant. I'm up to three largish basil plants, all of which are fairly vibrant and healthy, but kind of small. It may be that the pots are too small. I'll try to remember to get some pictures of them posted in the next few days.

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