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IN THIS ISSU E OF GA R D EN CU LTU RE : 7 Foreword

43 What Grinds My Gears

8 Product Spotlights

44 The Fabulous Faeces - Frass

14 Grow a Monster!

48 Getting to Know Perlite

18 Biofortification:

51 Who’s Growing What Where

54 Spring Onions

A New Method to Combat Malnutrition

22 Bottom’s Up

62 The pH of Substrates

26 GYO: Ginger or Turmeric

66 Crazy Veggies

29 Larger Results in Pots

73 Top 10 Bubbler Tips

32 Make Your Own Soil

78 Coco Isn`t Peat or Soil

37 The Road to Chelsea Flower Show

81 Art Feature

38 5 Cool Finds - Fresh Ideas


Everyday we are faced with choices. Our decisions shape who we are and what we become. Some are small, like what shirt to put on. Others are big, like deciding to have children, go to university or what substrate to use in your indoor garden.

In this edition, we take a deeper look at what your plants are growing in and what it means for you and your garden. Beginning with the fundamentals, Evan Folds discusses the building blocks of soil in the article Make Your Own Soil. Stephen Brookes looks at the differences between coco and peat mixes, and in Getting to Know Perlite, Christopher Bond explores this popular mix ingredient. Learn more about the choice of substrates and their appropriate watering techniques, the pH of the media itself, and frass, the fabulous faeces. Whether creating, maintaining, and feeding gardens indoors or out, it requires an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the soil and the plant. Filling a pot with an organic potting mix and feeding it with whatever certified fertilizer can work very well, but dig a little deeper, and you will discover the billions of little helpers that will work almost for nothing. The proper use of bacteria and fungi are vital to maximizing natural inputs like compost, worm castings, guano, and meals. Changing from a soil-based organic medium to an inert substrate or vice versa isn’t difficult, but understanding how to use them properly can make all the difference to your plants.

To grow organic or not to grow organic, that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer poor harvests and outrageous fortune, or arm yourself with knowledge to avoid a sea of troubles. Eric


Robust in design, the Control Freak Frequency Controller has a clear programmable control panel, two power outlets, a remote temperature probe, and is wall mountable. The units are available in 3A, 7A, or 13A versions, and they all run AC fans with absolutely no buzzing or humming.

How it works:

Typically, most AC fan controllers crudely clip the AC sine wave to control fan speeds. An AC fan is designed to run on a 50Hz sine wave, and a distorted wave results in it buzzing - highly inefficient, and will reduce the life of your fan. The Control Freak Frequency Controller precisely alters the wave’s frequency to control the fan speed, which results in super smooth fan control. No buzzing, a greater efficiency, and a longer life for the fan. Key Features: • Digital, variable speed, multiple fan controller • Temperature-controlled • Plug and play To find your local retailer visit: Maxigrow.com/where-to-buy/

The Maxibright DigiLight Pro Select is a flexible digital ballast developed using the latest SMART technology. Available in 600W and 1000W models, both featuring six selectable power modes providing total flexibility during the growing cycle. Developed with Surge Control® software, when multiple DigiLight Pro® Select power packs are started from the same power supply, lamps are safely ignited one at a time, to reduce electrical surges. The Pro Select has three Super power modes to give each lamp 10% extra power for ultimate light control throughout your plant’s growth cycle.

Smart short circuit and thermal protection, and new auto-reset feature will ensure your investment is well protected.. To find your local retailer visit: Maxigrow.com/where-to-buy/


DNA CoCo Cork is a unique premium coco coir substrate with cork gambit. This environmentally friendly substrate is 75% coco - 25% cork mix, ensuring maximum aeration with zero compaction. As the DNA CoCo Cork does not absorb water or compact, you gain maximum oxygen at the root base resulting in bigger, healthier, plants. Huge root growth in this media allows for greater uptake of nutrient. Fully buffered with calcium to ensure zero nutrient absorption in the media. The cork used is harvested from forests on the Iberian peninsula with funding to protect wildlife in the area. Visit: MillsNutrients.com for more information

and ecoUGro is a range of high quality coconut substrates - peat-free, biodegradable, flowering, all friendly. Designed to help achieve best results with rooting, growing, and to ensure substrates are submitted to a rigorous control in the production process environment, high quality. UGro is made from coir obtained and packed in a salt-free ns and washed with fresh water to ensure low EC levels and the absence of pathoge premium other impurities. Smaller coco particles are not included, another reason this ies. propert product has excellent water retention and airing Visit UgroCoco.com to find the mix suitable for your growing needs

allures and charm of being Growing organically is an aspiration that many of us can relate to. The quality is something few in harmony with your environment and achieving yields of unparalleled this idea firmly in mind. could argue with. BIOCANNA Bio-Terra Plus has been re-released with for growing organically. Certified by OMRI and the Control Unions as a substrate 100% suitable , meaning it is 100% BIOCANNA Bio-Terra Plus only contains fertilisers from plant-based sources d beneficial enhance an vegan; completely free from animal based inputs! As well as benefiting from levels of aeration and biology, its exceptional physical structure means you will find the highest ibility to pests, such as drainage from a certified organic potting mix. On top of a reduced suscept growing. fungus gnats, there is no finer substrate on the market suitable for organic


The MaxiFan Clip Fan is 15cm in diameter, with two speed options. Fast and faster. Airflow can be directed around the room by swivelling and tilting the fan head. The MaxiFan Clip Fan has a powerful clip which will grip objects up to 4cm, making it ideal for use in grow tents and grow rooms. Key Features: • Two speeds • Powerful clip for easy positioning • 15cm diameter To find your local retailer visit Maxigrow.com/where-to-buy/

A new solution for grow room air distribution has arrived:

micro-climates, high humidit y zones, and hot Gain total control over the climate of your grow room. Eliminates es harsh air streams that can cause wind spots by efficiently mixing the air in your grow room. DiffuseAir eliminat ceiling-hung, DiffuseAir gives you more floor burn to your plants and salt accumulation in the growing media. Being space for growing. as a stand alone system for mixing static air, Offering a flexible approach to your ventilation needs. You can use it grow rooms, you can use multiple DiffuseAir or as the inlet distribution for fresh air into your grow room. In large mould spores. systems. Can be paired with filters to scrub the air, reducing dust and


The Lodge is now available in two additional sizes 160 x 120 x 205cm and 280 x 120 x 210cm. This flexible grow tent range offers 2 in 1 stations, which allow you to enjoy a bloom space and an area for growth in the same tent.

Key Features: • • • • •

Sturdy construction with a waterproof base Easy and quick assemble and dismantle Lightproof separation between chambers Cord pull vent holes Velcro intake vents

To find your local retailer visit Maxigrow.com/where-to-buy/

A high quality buffered coco substrate that is ideal for hand watering, drip irrigation, and passive hydroponic systems. It also serves as the perfect alternative to nonrenewable peat-based medias in potting mixes. Contains fulvic and humic acids, which act as chelating agents that facilitate nutrient uptake. VitaLink 100% Coir’s coarse grade means it will maintain its structure once wet. Packaged with a low moisture content, its lighter weight translates into cheaper shipping costs. It also means that when wetting up with nutrient solution for the first time, it will hold more of what you want. More available nutrient results in faster establishment! Visit Vitalink.eu for all the details


What is a Bell Pepper? One of the most popular vegetables grown throughout the world in backyard gardens, the easy to grow bell pepper is native to Central and North America. Gardeners were once limited to green and red pepper crops, but now there is now a much wider variety of peppers to choose from with different colors, and even different shapes. Peppers like hot weather, and are easily damaged from the cold. Frost is fatal.

How to Propagate

To avoid the risk of algae forming on the top of the coir, after the initial watering, we did not water the seedlings directly over the top. A new technique we used was to place a layer of vermiculite in the base of the propagator. This provided capillary action for the roots, and encouraged the emerging seedlings to search for moisture. Seedlings need lots of light. To avoid tall, weak plants, we used the T5 Sunblaster for the initial stages of propagation. As the pepper roots filled the pots, we transplanted into larger ones. Larger pots will allow the roots to develop better and offer a more stable plant. The next stage was choosing between soil, and a gravity fed hydroponic system. Ian Neale chose to grow peppers last year in the soil, and we opted for the gravity fed system with a 60/40 blend of coir and hydrocorn medium.

What Is a Growing Medium?

Propagation is an art, so I’ll explain how we propagated our seeds. The seeds were sent over from a grower in France, Mehdi Daho, who currently holds the World Record weighing 621.07g (1.36 lbs). The pepper seeds were started off in February in a heated propagator at 75°F (24°C). We used a coir based product, and planted the seeds in pots about 3 inches in size. The seeds were placed about 1/4-inch deep in moistened, lightweight mix. This provided a level of humidity within the propagator for the germination to take place. The seeds germinated in about 7-10 days. We then thinned the plants to one per pot after the first true leaf had appeared. The seedlings had a bottom heat of 65°F (18°C). This promoted better and faster germination.

The growing medium is as important as the propagation. Last year was our first time working with a different substrate after traditionally using peat based products. We did a lot of research. The choice is very important, because your plants are dependent on a relatively small volume of growing medium. Unlike growing in garden soil, the roots of plants grown in restricted pots cannot grow around obstacles, or mine the soil far and wide for nutrients and water.


In hydroponics, the growing medium takes the place of the soil. Not to provide nutrients, but so the roots can support the plant’s weight and hold it upright. It also protects them from light and dryness. Hydroponic growing media is simply a soilless material that is generally porous, so it can hold the moisture and oxygen that the root system requires to grow. Non-porous materials can be used as well, but watering cycles would need to be more frequent, so the roots don’t dry out between waterings.

While there is no single “best” growing media for all situations, some work better than others in different systems. With any hydroponic system, and/or any type of growing media, the goal is still the same. You just need the roots to be moist, not soggy and saturated, because the roots will suffocate from lack of oxygen. That situation can easily lead to roots dying, and various root diseases.

In February, whilst visiting our family in Leiden, we had the opportunity to visit the Gold Label production facility. It was very interesting to learn that their substrates are not free of nutrients as we believed. Instead, they add a secret boost into the coir to give the plants a head start at initial propagation stages. Jamie had a great visit, and picked up many tips from Paul and Dennis at Gold Label.


The 60/40 blend that we used in the gravity fed system was made up of “coco coir,” a fiber from the outer husk of coconuts. We added perlite and vermiculite to our growing medium.

Perlite

Peppers are self-pollinators. Sometimes bees or other insects will cross pollinate them with other plants. Because of this, keep hot and sweet peppers far apart. It will not affect the current crop, but if you keep the seeds, it will show up in the genetics the following year. Controlling the plants from pests was another challenge. Regular spraying of SB Plant Invigorator was key to healthy plants. Several insects like to feast on pepper plants including spider mites. Fortunately, it’s not a frequent problem, and can easily be cured with an organic insecticide or dust. In addition to the threat of pest attack, we also had to keep an eye out for common bell pepper diseases. This crop can be prone to anthracnose, blossom end rot, bacterial spot, early blight, and verticillium wilt - given the right circumstances.

Vermiculite is a silicate mineral that like perlite. As a growing media, vermiculite is quite similar to perlite except that it has a relatively high cation-exchange capacity, meaning it can hold nutrients for later use.

Growing the Bell Pepper On Last year was our very first time growing bell peppers, so it was a steep learning curve for us. This crop generally takes 70-90 days to mature. Determining when to harvest your bell peppers depends upon the type of pepper you are looking for. Most bell peppers are green when they are immature. The ripening process happens quickly, so for us it was a big challenge. You can encourage new growth, and a continuous production of fruit, by regularly harvesting the bushes. The plants will continue to produce until the weather gets too cold. We, however, just needed to pollinate one pepper on the plant and grow it large.

What we learned was that compared to growing in soil, growing hydroponically was more of a science. The correct nutrient formulation was the key to maximizing the growth and development of the peppers. At the start of the vegetative growth phase, the pepper plants needed lower levels of phosphorous and potassium, but increased levels of nitrogen. We increased the phosphorous and potassium as soon the flowers started appearing. In addition, we used new nano technology products within our feeding structure which provided some excellent results for plant health. We mastered the feeding structure, and produced plants that were over 5 feet in height. What we couldn’t master as well was Mother Nature. Peppers are sensitive to ethylene gas (a gas given off from other fruits and vegetables as they ripen). The pepper started to ripen when we were in California in early September, so we had to direct a cool fan at the fruit to slow down the ripening process. It worked! Here is the result: 3


UNICEF, one of the UK’s largest children’s charities, states that malnutrition contributes to nearly half of the deaths in children under five, with a colossal three million young lives lost needlessly each year. By 2025, the World Health Organisation (WHO) aim to reduce stunted growth by 40% in children under 5, reduce low birth weight by 30%, and reduce childhood wasting to less than 5%. But how are they going to achieve this?

Over the years, a number of strategies have been adopted, from education of small farmers in developing countries to supplementation of the essential missing vitamins and minerals. Recently, there has been a number of key scientific breakthroughs, which have helped to increase the nutritional value of infrequently available food.

Biofortification intends to replace the need for processed mineral supplements

One such technique is biofortification, a method based on increasing the nutritional content of the plant itself, before processing. This can be achieved by selective plant breeding, genetic engineering, or fertilization. It can also be used for the encouragement of beneficial metabolite production within plants. These metabolites include sulforaphane, phenolic acid, and seleno-amino acids, all of which are chemotherapeutic compounds used to combat cancer (Abdulah et al. 2009), a topic that deserves it’s own article. Traditional methods of combating malnutrition include supplements and fortifications of food. So, what is the difference? Supplements are given in addition to food, like what you would buy from the chemist or supermarket. Fortification, however, is the addition of the required vitamin or mineral to food during processing and before consumption. The WHO (not the band!), and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) refers to fortification as the addition of the vitamins and minerals to improve the nutritional quality of the food, regardless of whether they are present, or absent, in the food before processing. Enrichment is a little different. Defined as the addition of lost minerals during processing and storage, it is common practise

in dairy products, such as milk, and bread. Biofortification is a new approach, and intended to replace the need for processed mineral supplements in the form of tablets or liquid, along with reducing the need for food fortification. The idea is to encourage the plants to produce and provide the recommended daily intake (RDI) level that human or livestock require.

Deficiency in microelements, such as iron and zinc is estimated to affect three billion people worldwide, with poverty being one of the biggest causes of malnutrition. Biofortification is an effective way to combat deficiencies in humans and animals in areas of the world where the soil is low in a particular element. In turn, this can help reduce the incidents of preventable diseases, such as myopathy, anaemia, rickets, and cretinism (Table 1).


The idea is to encourage the plants to produce and provide the RDI level Developing countries tend to have a diet made up mainly of grain fertilization, plant breeding, and soil management. Each of the and milled cereal, which has a low bioavailable mineral methods have their advantages and disadvantages; content. (Christou and Twyman 2004). This environmentally, economically, and means that the minerals that are in the food, ethically. The method adopted needs plants such are unfortunately not easily absorbed by to be sustainable, be beneficial to as wheat and the consumer, leading to deficiencies, health, and carry the least amount broccoli have been and eventually malnutrition. The most of risk. The more traditional targeted for selenium common mineral deficiencies include methods, such as plant breeding biofortification calcium, zinc, selenium, and iron. Their and soil management, are more absence results in a number of diseases, environmentally friendly, however, and stunted development in children they tend to be more labour (Gรณmez-Galera et al. 2010). intensive, and have a longer time scale for effect. Programs around the world are targeting the poor rural farming populations on in large areas such as Sub-Saharan Genetic engineering offers the most precise method, though Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean (Table 2). it does have ethical issues with the unknown long-term effects Their primary targets are pregnant women and children under difficult to predict, and the high cost for development. Fertilization two, with the WHO and UNICEF estimating that two billion offers the quickest and most effective results. However, leaching people could be cured of iron deficiency-induced anaemia. into rivers, the poisoning of wildlife, along with sustainability of Using methods such as biofortification, WHO aims to reduce the resources, all remain as challenges. The delivery method of anaemia in women of reproductive age by 50% by 2025. the fertilizer is key in the reduction of the pollution created, and the availability to the plant. Hydroponics can help combat these Plants such as rice, beans, wheat, barley, and sweet potatoes have issues, and is a very effective approach to biofortification, as it been targeted for iron and zinc biofortification, whilst crops like allows precise dosing of the key element of interest. wheat and broccoli are targeted for selenium biofortification. The latter is not for the correction of deficiencies within Biofortification, in whatever form, is definitely a step in the right humans, but for the production of chemotherapeutic (antidirection for combating world hunger and childhood malnutrition. cancer) compounds that selenium forms within the broccoli. The question is, at what long-term cost? 3 More examples can be found in Table 2.

Methods of biofortification include genetic engineering,


Choosing the right growing medium according to the specifics of any system is imperative and the water delivery method plays a key role in this. For instance, a bottom fed system distributes the water to the plant by wicking it up. The substrate will need to be able to diffuse water evenly throughout the container, but still maintain a healthy oxygen ratio. The physical and chemical attributes of the growing medium, not only its capillarity capacity to wick up the water, or store oxygen but also how evenly it diffuses the nutrient solution throughout, should be important considerations.

OFTEN, THE BOTTOM HALF WILL HAVE LITTLE TO NO AIR

things, like carbon to nitrogen ratios. Time to start answering questions like: “will the beneficial organisms continue to thrive,” or “will the medium suddenly become very inviting for decomposers like springtails or gnats?”

The Physical Side Denser mediums are better at making the water reach the upper portion of the container than very porous ones, but that comes with a less than ideal reality. Dense mediums greatly limit the air content capacity. Often, the bottom half will have little to no air, and stay permanently saturated with water. Few roots will grow, leading to potential problems, like root rot and other pathogenic outbreaks. On the lighter side, with very porous substrates, the solution might not diffuse evenly in the container, some portion may always stay dry, without any roots in it - a flat out waste of growing medium.

Of course, taking into account the duration for which the growing medium will be used is pretty vital. Are we harvesting lettuce every five weeks, or tending tomato vines for the next two years? Over time does the chemistry of the growing medium itself stay the same? Does pH change? Peat based mixes that rely on pH control through liming additives, which over time get taken up or leach out in the runoff, will slowly but surely fall back to its natural acidic state.

How does it react when continually saturated?

Organic-based substrates can break down quite quickly when the circumstances are wrong. Such a breakdown can change the air/water ratio faster than the crop will accept.

Does it dissolve? Let’s take a look at coco. When soaked for long enough, coco coir naturally releases various minerals into the solution; mainly potassium and sodium. Plants can deal with a bit of extra potassium, but in the long run, high amounts can lead to problems, mainly nutrient deficiencies. Not ideal for recirculating systems like NFT.

As the medium starts “composting,” there will also be changes in biological activity, along with more complex

There are, however, a few tricks to deal with this problem in a bottom feeding system. It’s best to hand water

Chemical Properties


TIME SAVED DOES NOT MEAN VACATION TIME from the top for the first couple of weeks, when the plants are small. This encourages root development and lowers the total amount of time the coco stays saturated. Once the roots have established themselves, it is time to turn the valve on and begin bottom feeding.

ing from the top, allowing for sufficient runoff to flush away build up. In a bottom only watering system, excess mineral salts are pushed up to the top, to the drier layer. Fresh and balanced nutrients are continually being provided from the bottom. Top feeding will push all those salts back into the bottom of the pot. If you do feel the need, remove the plant from the system and flush with tons of water until the runoff is at desired levels. Let the plant almost dry out before moving it back into the system.

COCO FIBRES ALSO BECOME SMALLER

Allowing the coco to almost dry out, a couple of times during the plant’s life, also encourages root development. Another tip is to use a very porous substrate like expanded clay or perlite to line the bottom inch or two, reducing issues associated with long term coco saturation.

Air Replacement Over time coco fibres become smaller and will eventually impact the air/water ratio. Amending with clay pebbles and/or perlite is a good way to reduce this effect.

Garbage Removal Automatic watering systems save growers lots of time and greatly simplifies the task, as plants pretty much drink what they need, when they need it. Time saved does not mean vacation time. In a normal top to bottom watering, new nutrient solution pushes the old out of the container, better known as the runoff. It contains the unused and unusable salts. More frequent watering will lead to a “cleaner” root zone. When salts do build up in the container, plants have a harder time “pumping” in water. The plant is able to take only the nutrients it wants to some degree, but if salts are always high, the plant will intake more than it needs. There might be lower than expected crop quality in the end. So, as often as possible, when water-

An often overlooked benefit from having water coming from the top is that while the old nutrient solution is being pushed out, so is the air! As water saturates the growing medium, it pushes the gas content out of the macro pores. This is why you often see bubbles coming to the top of the soil when watering. As the water leaves the macro pores, a vacuum is created, and fresh air packed with oxygen is sucked in! So, the roots can “breathe,” and the beneficial micro life is helped to thrive. If you are using a bottom watering system, and absolutely feel your plants need more air, a pump directing fresh air to the plant’s root area can be added, such as the one offered by Autopot. Automated gravity fed bottom watering systems make advanced indoor gardening a lot easier, but knowing a couple key tricks will make the difference between good and great. 3

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My love affair with turmeric actually started with ginger. I had recently acquired Autopots and was looking for something new to grow, and ginger is a staple in our home. My technique was basic - I simply shoved a piece of organic ginger an inch or so under the top of the media, a coco and expanded clay pellets mix by Gold Label. About a month later, little green shoots were emerging. Another four months passed, and I was harvesting three pounds of the most delicious and beautiful ginger I had ever seen or tasted. I was so impressed that I decided to share it on social media - definitely a popular post and many inquiries for a “how to” guide. Now, most indoor crops require a fair amount of attention - ginger, on the other hand, was relatively easy, needing only an Autopot and time. Of course, it is important to consider that although ginger can no longer be found in the wild, it did originate in the tropical rainforest in Southern Asia. Therefore, warm temperatures and high humidity are a vital part of the equation.

During the same time, it became common to hear the question, “Have you tried turmeric?” I hadn’t even considered it - I had never used it in my cooking, even though Garden Culture had already written about this wonderful root. So, I looked into it, and discovered that ginger and turmeric are from the same family, Zingiberaceae. This is how I got turned on to turmeric - I could grow it. I would figure out how to use it later! I set out to the health food store, received a few blank stares when I asked for turmeric - many herbs and spices sound similar in French and English. Not so in this case. It is CURCUMIN, also the name of the bioactive ingredient in this golden root. Now I know.

Planting Turmeric Just like the ginger, I placed the rhizome an inch below the earth, and forgot about it. Within a month, there


were green shoots. Four to five months later, the pot was buckling due to the root mass filling the space. I discovered neither plant needs to be directly under the light, but do very well off to the side. Unlike the ginger, which is a grass-like plant, turmeric has wide, palm-like leaves and takes up a bit more room in the garden. And, the total yield was three pounds. Three pounds of turmeric, and I don’t know what to do with it. I tried some in a stir-fry, only using a thumb-sized piece, but to be honest, I didn’t love the taste. I finally began to research the health benefits of fresh, or even dried turmeric, and I was blown away. The University of Maryland’s Medical Center provides a Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide which lists the conditions in which the use of turmeric has been proven beneficial. In Asia, the use of turmeric as a medicine goes back thousands of years. Nature has provided so many secrets for us to unfold, and turmeric is one superfood that I plan on fully exploring. There are probably better ways to extract the benefits, but this is one way that my family and I enjoyed it.

• • •

½ pound ginger or turmeric root Water Silk screen or cheesecloth

1. Place the root in a pot, and cover with about 1 liter of water. 2. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down. Simmer for about an hour. 3. Monitor carefully. Add water if the roots become exposed. 4. Allow to cool a little. Now blend the hell out of it! 5. Pour the liquid through silk screen or cheesecloth. 6. Store in a well-sealed jar in the refrigerator. That’s it, now you have super-concentrated ginger or turmeric juice. Add ground pepper to the turmeric juice, as it will enhance absorption. Can be enjoyed as a quick “shot,” or mixed in a nice tall glass as follows: • • • • •

3-4 tbsp Ginger juice concentrate 3-4 tbsp Turmeric juice concentrate ½ cup of freshly squeezed orange juice or other citrus 1 tbsp maple syrup or other sweetener Top up with bubbly water.

I also add kombucha, if it is on-hand. This is easily my favourite drink, there is no better way to start the day.


“Can I get deep water culture results, growing in a medium in the same amount of time?” I get asked this question all of the time.

The answer to getting bigger yields is to maximize the roots potential to that of the pot and the medium it needs to grow in to get the desired results. It is helpful to understand how and why the water/nutrient solution reaches the root system and enters the plant, in order to take advantage of this process. It is also important to understand the hydrotropism effect of the plant’s roots. In this article, we will not be looking at the type of pot, oxygen, heat levels, or the nutrient regime. We are purely going to look at getting the most out of the root system by repotting at the right time, and utilizing the repotting process as a chance to apply more of the beneficial mycorrhizae directly to the roots. Stripping things back to basics, a 20L pot can potentially contain 20 litres’ worth of roots. If done right! Which it isn’t 9 times out of 10.

MAXIMIZE THE ROOTS POTENTIAL TO THAT OF THE POT AND THE MEDIUM

If you want a bigger yielding plant then you’re going to need a bigger pot… well, a bigger root system, to be more precise. And that point makes the difference. It’s no good having a huge pot with a small root system. By repotting at the right time, using a good quality mycorrhizae at every stage possible, and staggering the size of the pots gradually as your plant grows, you will maximize the potential size of the root system whatever size the pot is. To grow a large plant, say in a 50L pot, you wouldn’t transplant from a 3L pot straight into a 50L pot. You would need to

maximize the roots in the 3L pot first, then move up to a 10L pot, and allow the the roots to grow to their fullest potential. Repeat the process in a 30L pot making sure that it is almost root bound before making the final transfer into a 50L pot. Doing it this way, and using a fresh dose of mycorrhizae at each stage, will also give you a huge mass of friendly bacteria, covering the entire root system.

The other key to increasing the growth rate of your plant’s root system is to top feed the medium evenly.Top feeding at the right rate will make a big difference, as gravity will help distribute the feeding solution down through the whole of the pot, and encourage root growth. Most plant feed solutions are full of nutrients, which are heavy, much heavier than the water they are mixed into. When bottom feeding the plant from the base and letting the medium act as a wick system to move the solution around the plants root system, it is much harder for the solution to work against gravity. Add into the mix that nutrients are heavier than the water that they are diluted into - it’s an uphill battle.


POTS I GARDEN CULTURE

Top feeding is a very easy way to make your solution quickly available for the roots to take up as a whole, evenly. Top feeding will also ensure that the root mass is as thick and equally dense all the way through the container.

A FRESH DOSE OF MYCORRHIZAE AT EACH STAGE

Bottom fed plants will have a concentration of roots at the base of the pot, an effect called hydrotropism. Though bottom feeding has advantages, I would prefer to have that same concentration of roots consistently through the whole of the pot. Once your feeding solution has reached the roots and is available for take up, the solution passes across the root cortex into the plant via two different routes; the apoplast path, or the symplast path. The apoplast pathway is where the solution makes its way through the intercellular spaces between the cell walls. This is the route most of the solution takes through the roots’ cortex, as it offers the path of least resistance. The solution will travel this way until it reaches the endodermis where any movement around the cells is blocked by the “Casparian strip.” This strip forces the solution to pass through the endodermal cells via osmosis. The symplast path is the second way that the water enters the plant via the roots’ cortex. This is where solution passes through the cells by “osmosis” all the way into the xylem. By using mycorrhizae, you can increase the amount of beneficial bacteria and nutrients that the plant receives. Most people do

not know that there are two main types of mycorrhizal structures: 1. 2.

Ectomychorrhizae Endomycorrhizae

Ectomychorrhiza has most of its structure on the outside of the plant, and so is found within the soil. Endomycorrhiza, which is a fungi that has most of its individual filaments within the actual plant itself. By using these mycorrhizae products on your plant at every transplant/repotting stage, you are opening two doorways into your plant’s root system - on top of the solution it already receives via the apoplast and symplast paths. Doubling up like this will flood the plant with as much nutrient/solution uptake as possible. This is one of the keys to creating a large and strong root mass. Out of the methods previously explained, if you were to take a plant and wash all the soil away leaving just the roots, the plant grown using the “staggered pot” method would show twice as much mass and weight to the root system than the plant grown using the “straight to big pot” method. Not only that, it opens up more pathways into the plant’s vascular system. We all know that the roots are the primary mouths of the plant for nutrients. The more mouths there are and the bigger those mouths are, the more the plant can eat. My mantra when growing is one of balance, what is below is above. What you can see is just as important as what you can’t see. The roots are the foundations of your plant. Take the time to nurture them and they will give you bigger and better results every time. 3


Soil seems so simple. But anyone that has looked at a sample of good compost tea under a microscope, investigated biodynamic methods, or spent any time pondering the base saturation percentages of the cation exchange capacity knows differently. Good soil cannot be

The spirit of soil is beyond words, even if you try - complex, vulnerable, strong, intelligent, fragile, dynamic, balanced, ephemeral, pervasive, alive, stubborn, diverse, and on and on. The soil wears many hats and has many personalities, and its mysteriousness results in many gardeners purchasing soil in a bag from a garden center. This can work well, but is also wasteful and expensive, particularly for a grower looking to be more sustainable, or turn their hobby into a business.

seen with the naked eye, and all soil is not the same.

With some attention to basics it is a worthy endeavor to make your own soil mix. There is no shortage of recipes out there for creating your own “supersoil.� Many of them are fantastic, others not so much. Of course, the best way to determine the quality of a custom soil mix recipe is to let the plants tell you. But for those who want to minimize their mistakes, we are going to explore some concepts and methods that can step your custom soil mix game up to the next level. It is not difficult to grow a plant. After all, they want to grow. There is a reason Big Box stores are littered with cheap artificial fertilizers, they work well enough to make people think they are generating good results. Sort of like fast food... fills you up, but catches up to you later.


The goal of a soil mix is to make it cost less than bagged potting soil, but work better. Above all, keep this in mind - mineral balance and microbial diversity. A little bit of a lot of things in balance is better than a lot of a little. For instance, all microbes are not the same. More and more growers are using anaerobic strains of microbes in their gardens. Techniques such as making nettle or comfrey tea are fantastic tools in the garden, and bokashi and EM (effective microbes) type products are generally great practice for nutrient cycling and protecting plants from disease, but most of the microbes contained in these inoculants are not native to the soil. The same is true of the photosynthetic microbe products on the market. Consider manure. It is typically cheap and represents great potential, but it is not humus. It has not been decomposed by the microbes in the soil responsible for making plant food. Of course, manure has some soluble nutrients in it, which is why growers continue to use it without considering the presence of soil microbes, but this is not maximizing the potential of manure in soil. Organic matter does not just melt, and gut microbes do not do the work of soil microbes. This is the case for many other microbial products on the market containing only specific strains of microbes, like mycorrhizal fungi inoculants, or specific strain Nor P-solubilizers. These are important products, and can work well for specific applications, but they are limited biologically. They do not replace the importance and power of a complete soil food web. With any garden started from scratch, it is important to source a diversified humus product that is farmbased for inoculation, ideally through brewing compost tea. Actively aerated compost tea (AACT) is the most potent and effective way of consistently introducing soil microbes to the garden. Estimates tell us that we

know 5% of bacteria and 10% of fungi at the rate of discovery, so if the microbe strains included in the product can be listed on the label, keep in mind the product is extremely limited in diversity. When sourcing microbes for setting up a garden or making a custom soil mix, it is preferable to use an inoculant from Nature. Worm castings are a great resource, but they are typically not a complete soil food web with some of the higher shredder organisms missing, and research is telling us that castings contain as few as Âź the fungal diversity of a good balanced compost source. However, they may have a greater bacterial diversity. Think of soil microbes like construction workers. To build a neighborhood, you need day laborers and specialty workers, the more diversity the better. Consider sourcing compost from your friends, or scratching some soil from the forest floor. The more humus sources you can combine in your inoculant, the more diversified your soil food web will be, and the stronger your soil will become.


Construction workers need building materials in the form of organic fertilizers, and ionic tools in the form of trace elements to manufacture enzymes. There are thousands of options, and know that everyone is going to swear by all of them. Diverse materials such as rock dusts, kelps, fish, plant and animal meals, sea minerals, bat guanos, humates, etc. are all a good place to start. Experiment with different ratios of each in respective stages of growth to generate the best results. The holy grail of growing is a soil mix that requires no fertilizer throughout the life of the plant. In my opinion, unless the soil has been allowed to mature biologically in a no till environment for an extended period of time - this is sacrificing results. It is a noble effort to grow a garden without using any inputs, but very difficult to accomplish in a controlled environment application. In a field, however, the ability of soil to hold water and nutrition can be managed successfully through ensuring a diversified population of soil microbes, and by managing the base saturation percentages in the cation exchange capacity (CEC). For growers using fresh soil on every cycle this is not as important, but it is absolutely critical for those who are interested in reusing their growing media. On paper, soil is sand, clay, and organic matter. When making a custom soil mix the grower is managing the physical structure of the soil by replacing clay and sand with elemental and water-retentive material like peat moss or coir fiber, and draining materials such as perlite or rice hulls. You want the soil to retain around 50% moisture after watering, leaving enough water so the soil does not dry too

quickly, and enough air so the roots can breathe. A good mixture of these materials will account for the large majority of the volume in the soil mix. Whether in a field or in a container, the soil has a net negative charge, meaning it can hold positively charged elements, or cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium, etc.), as opposites attract. Dr. William Albrecht determined the sweet spot in the balance of the cation elements in the exchange capacity through his pioneering work in the 1940’s at the University of Missouri. Through experimentation and intense soil testing he defined the ideal base saturation percentages for the macronutrient cations required for soil growth as 68% calcium, 12-15% magnesium, 3.5-5% potassium, and 0.5-1.5% sodium. Keep in mind these are ranges, and desired ranges may be different for different crops, but on average, this balance in the soil represents the life balance for growing healthy crops. There are also ranges for the micronutrients like manganese, iron, zinc, copper, etc. required for healthy plant growth, and ratios the elements like to be associated relative to other elements. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. And the cool thing is that when the elemental balance is proper, the pH is always perfect. All soil testing is not the same. Many labs, particularly Extension-based labs, look for limited element spectrums, and take a pH-driven approach to soil testing. The pH is not a good metric to evaluate soil health, because it is possible to have an imbalanced exchange capacity and a proper pH. For example, if you have an acidic soil, lime will increase the pH every single time. It does so by adding calcium to the soil that works to displace the exchangeable


SOIL I GARDEN CULTURE

hydrogen. So, what happens if this soil has a potassium or a manganese deficiency? In other words, don’t take the pill to eat more fast food, change your diet and take a probiotic. We use these ranges with growers when conducting the soil testing for our Fertility Management Services. Combined with water testing, the data generated provides the data needed to guide the grower into mineral balance as well as quantify what should be added to regenerate this balance once the soil has been used. There is no better way to approach the reuse of growing media in a perpetual grow.

we can learn the nutritional rhythm of the plant and fine tune it over time. We can also learn ways to be proactive when certain strains are using more of a particular element than others. Bottom line: how do we know what to add if we don’t know what is missing? As with any farming application, there are countless things to consider when making your own custom soil mix. The learning curve and efforts are well worth it. Remember, if you want top shelf results, trust but verify with soil testing. Over time the results will exceed your expectations. 3

Adopting an approach that manages the base saturation can even help growers develop strain-specific fertility. The reason plants are cloned is so the results are consistent. Consistent plants will pull the same nutrient profile from the soil. If we test the soil after each cycle,


CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW I GARDEN CULTURE BY STEPHEN BROOKES, NPK TECHNOLOGY

The Road to

Only the best are invited to RHS Chelsea, the premier horticultural flower show in the UK and some say in the world. Only the best of the best win the coveted gold medal, reserved for those who grow plants that are absolute perfection in the judge’s eyes. Thomas ‘Michael’ Smith was one of the lucky people to be invited to last year’s show, and went on to win the Silver gilt medal for his fruits and vegetables.

This year, Michael has teamed up with NPK Technology in Liverpool. Together they hope to promote the benefits of growing hydroponically and push the industry forward. Autopot donated the systems, and Maxigrow have generously supplied the team with ceramic metal halide lights to help them on their quest to turn the silver gilt into the coveted gold medal. Michael started his preparations early in November with the use of grow tents, X-Stream propagators, T5 lights, and DE HPS lights. This has helped him to gain an edge over last years competition by allowing him to produce healthy plants in the depths of winter. Just as important as the health and vitality of the plants, is the art of creating the display. Michael is a joiner by trade so he has had no issues putting together the most amazing pergolas and structures for displaying his tomatoes, chillies, and lettuces, along with other fruits and vegetables.

This year, Michael has teamed up with NPK Technology the Silver gilt medal Thomas ‘Michael’ Smith

The journey so far has taken hard work and dedication, but it has been a great experience to learn what it takes to get to Chelsea. Who knows, we may even have the world’s hottest chilli on display ?

GARDENCULTUREMAGAZINE.COM

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1

C O M PAC T H Y D R O P OT

Botanium stands apart from the recent rash of plug-nplay instant gardens that rely on grow pods. This stylish hydroponic growing container is more like a mini Dutch pot using LECA growth media. Nutrients and chili seeds included. The wildly successful Kickstarter campaign recently completed, the Botanium ships worldwide in three colors. Learn more: www.bit.ly/botanium and www.botanium.se

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S M A R T WAT E R H E AT E R

The French startup Solable introduced their innovative, eco-friendly tankless water heater at tech shows around the world in recent months. The LaDouche delivers hot water to your shower in seconds, yet uses 80% less energy. The ingenious design taps gray water from the shower drain to continually heat incoming water. Limitless hot water! Never run out again with this beautifully designed, compact wall-mounted system with towel warmer. Learn more: www.solable.fr


3

SO U N D AU N AT U R E L

Portable Rockit Log speakers are crafted from hemlock, fir, and cedar logging waste. Delivers 60 watts of pure audio power and premium quality sound. Choose dark or light finish, or customize it. Crafted in British Columbia by former World Cup soccer star, Jay DeMerit. The battery lasts 10 hours at full volume. USB charging port, Bluetooth or AUX connection. About 12” (304mm) diameter. The successful Kickstarter campaign ended in Feb. 2017. Learn more: www.bit.ly/rockit-log (will retail at: www.bit.ly/CSTbuy).

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LIGHT SIMPLIFIED

You’ll find many gorgeous wood items for your desk and mobile from Grovemade in Oregon. But this small desk lamp really stands out. Available in Claro Walnut (pictured) and natural Maple. Shown with an add-on 30-watt radio bulb.Any standard E26/E27 filament bulb fits. It stands 6” (152mm) tall with the radio bulb. 6-ft (1.82m) cloth-covered cord. International shipping. Learn more: www.grovemade.com

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P L A N TA B L E PAC K A G ING

Organic herbal tea company Rhoeco in Greece designed product packages as a seedling planter. Once the tea is gone, fill the container with potting mix, insert the seed stick included on the inside of the lid, add water, and grow your own herbs. The pot is biodegradable. Seeds are from an herb used in the tea. Sold in Europe and the UK. Food for thought in the US and Canada. More info: www.rhoeco.com 3


I know, I am writing this in a magazine to which I contribute and even advertise in. But there are magazines, and there are magazines. For all those who do not ever advertise: this is not for you, unfortunately. Proceed at your own risk. With the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis in many states, there is an explosion of printed (and online) media. New magazines pop up like mushrooms. There are lifestyle magazines, technical magazines (though not that many), activist magazines, connoisseur magazines, gardening magazines, medical use magazines, and of course, in every category, probably a few that are just advertisements. Many haven’t even printed a first edition, and already we get their target group numbers, their demographic profiles, in great detail illustrated by graphs, and the print numbers. I could easily advertise in about fifty different magazines, that would all reach my “target group.” You guys must be reading a lot of magazines. We actually pulled out of a few publications because the content was so poor that we no longer wanted to be associated to it, or because we just did not want to advertise in a magazine that is almost 80% advertisements, or a combination of these two factors. You are no longer helped by the vehicle, you become the vehicle. Let me give you some good advice: • Do some research: which are the magazines your customers read, and which ones do they value most. Just ask them. You speak with them every day, right? • Read the magazines you advertise in, do not only check if they printed your ad in the correct color.

• •

Check who writes the articles, are they (recognized) experts in their field, or desk-writers? Do you want to be associated with that content or that quality of content? Count the advertisement to editorial ratio. What does this magazine add? Or is it just a bunch of ads? Are you advertising because your competitor is too? Some even use that to lure you in, by naming your competitors that do advertise. I would say: let them burn their money faster than you do. It is expensive. For every four monthly magazines, you could probably have someone on the road full-time. Think more in campaigns. Make sure your online media support your ads. In many cases, the only objective is to funnel your target group online. Be consistent in your communication style, so people will recognize your brand. Don’t be afraid to evolve over time, but incremental change is often the best way to go.

You can only spend your marketing money once. Spend it effectively. Associate yourself with quality. Go multi-channel, embrace social media if you have the time for it. Support media that make a difference. Of course, you would want to keep advertising in Garden Culture magazine.

You c an only spend your marke ting money onc e


Frass??? Not really a word you hear very often, unless of course you’re an entomologist‌ What are we talking about here? Frass is the technical term given to insect poop! You often see other products in hydro shops and garden centres that come out the rear-end of other creatures, such as worm castings and bat guano, but frass is a newcomer to the scene. When insect frass is used in the right way, it can be a real benefit to your garden.


What is it? Just like with worm castings, insect frass is not collected from wild insects. Just imagine how difficult such a job would be, or how it could even be done… Insect frass is a by-product from insect farms. These farms breed insects such as beetles, crickets, and locusts mainly for use as natural feeds for animals and exotic pets. Insects are very high in protein, and grow to maturity with a low food stock input, making them one of the most efficient sources of farmed protein. The most common source of frass you can buy from your local hydroponic shop is from mealworms, and is often also called mealworm castings. Mealworms are not actually worms at all, they are the larval stage of the Tenebrio molitor beetle. The biological content of Frass is very high for a natural input. If you put most types of insect frass under the microscope, you will find the bacterial and protozoa populations are very high. Saprophytic fungal species (the decomposers) are also often present, but in lower numbers. However, mealworm frass is very good at stimulating soil fungi. The high organic matter content of frass along with the residual wheat bran from the insects feed is responsible for boosting fungal growth, so overall, the use of Frass in the garden will help to increase all the useful soil microbial groups. Frass also contains a very useful plant elicitor called chitin, a modified polysaccharide found in the cell walls of the insect’s exoskeleton. Chitin is also found in crustacean shells, such as crabs, and also in fungi. When chitin is broken down by the enzyme chitinase, chitosan is formed.

These insects are most commonly farmed on a diet of wheat bran and carrots. Frass from mealworms looks and feels like lightweight sand, and the frass products you can buy often contain a small amount of leftover bran along with some of the adult beetle body parts, and also fragments of skin that the mealworm larvae shed during development.

When this chitinous derivative is sensed by the plant, they think they are under attack from insects, and an immune response is triggered. This response elevates the plant’s defences against insect pests and fungal pathogens, and can also elevate the plants growth rate. This induction of ‘positive stress’ is also reported to increase essential oil production. Pretty cool stuff for insect shit!

What’s in it?

How it’s used

Frass is an organic and sustainable source of nutrients for your plants. It generally has a well-balanced NPK of 3/2/3 – 2/2/2, the variance depending on the food stocks used to breed the insects. Being a type of manure, the nitrogen content is mostly ammonium, which is easy for plants to uptake. The P and the K are released more slowly, along with other useful secondary and micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, sulphur, zinc, and copper.

Frass can be used in many ways, including; amending soil and coco mixes, top dressing, foliar spray, and as a compost tea additive. Different types of insect frass have different properties so the application dosage largely depends on what insects’ rear end it’s come from. The recommendations below are for mealworm frass, as it’s the most commonly available product to buy.


mealworm frass is very good at stimulating soil fungi Amending Peat and Coco Mixes When amending coco coir or peat-based potting soil, you can mix in frass in the range of 0.5-2% by volume or 1:200-1:50. If you are amending a bag of straight coco, and are only mixing in frass, then 1:50-1:100 is the ideal range.

used in the right way, it can be a real benefit to your garden

If you are mixing with a bag of pre-fertilised potting soil, or including frass as part of a recipe with other amendments, then try in the rage of 1:100-1:200.

Top Dressing You can sprinkle frass on the surface of the growing media at the rate of 1-2 teaspoons per litre of potting mix. After application, it is best to cover the surface with a mulch layer or thin layer of potting mix, then water in well. Covering the surface helps the frass breakdown and release its goodness. Frass will take about 4-6 weeks to release all its nutrients when there is a good biological activity in the root zone, so it’s best to re-apply around once a month.

Foliar Spraying To give your plants a boost of nutrients, and trigger their immune system, making a quick tea and foliar spraying it is probably the most efficient way of using frass. To do this, there is no need for a long brew or fermentation, you can simply add a teaspoon of frass to a litre of water and stir a few times over an hour. Strain it to remove all the sediment and spray the leaves until the run-off. You can spray with a mix like this every 1-2 weeks.

Compost Teas

Whether you are brewing an aerated compost tea, or just making a quick compost extract, frass will help to add biology and act as a biological food source. For a simple approach, you can add around one teaspoon of frass to each litre of water before brewing or extracting. Alternatively, you can add it to the brewing compost, mix well then add a bit of water to make it damp. Cover it, and leave in a warm place a few days. This way the biology will breed in the compost and super-charge it, creating a more diverse tea that will often be ready in a shorter brew time. If you are keen on making microbial teas with powdered ‘shelf-life’ microbe mixes, frass can also be added as a useful source of protozoa. Soluble microbial tea products are often high in bacteria and fungi, but lacking in protozoa; the organisms that are key to gobbling up bacteria and cycling nutrients. So overall, frass is quite a versatile product you can use in your garden in many ways. Being a by-product from insect farms, frass is sustainable and organic. Just make sure you choose a reputable brand of frass that carries an organic accreditation to ensure you’re giving your plants the best option available. Two brands that are available are Ecothrive with their frass product ‘Charge’ for growers in the UK and Europe, and Organic Nutrients product ‘Insect Frass’ for growers in North America. 3


Well known as one of the many components of soilless media, perlite is a volcanic glass that is mined as ore, and super-heated (up to 1800°F/ 1000°C) until it expands and forms the familiar, small white particles we have all seen in flower pots. In some applications however, perlite can be a stand-alone medium in both container and hydroponic growing operations.

Perlite’s use as the sole substrate has been shown to be effective for many growers of bonsai, and other plants with coarse root systems, but it can also be used for food crops grown in hydroponics systems.

it is a component of a soilless mix. A recent Romanian study showed that when compared to 2 mm and 5 mm sized particles respectively, t4 mm was the size that led to increased production and yield for greenhouse grown cucumber crops.1

Perlite is available in various grades. Generically, there are “fine,” “medium,” and “coarse” grades, which range in size from dust to small pebbles. Many of the finer grades of perlite are used in the building trades for plasters, cement additives, and as insulation, and not often used for horticultural applications. It is also commonly used in filtration devices. Differences in particle size should be a consideration as to whether you are using perlite as the sole media, or if

Perlite may be the substrate of choice for you, after considering the following:


Pros of Perlite

Cons of Perlite

1. Weight - As a growing media, perlite is extremely lightweight, weighing in at just 6-8 lbs/ft3 or approximately 9 kg/m3. This property increases the air holding capacity, and can increase oxygen circulation around plant roots. This makes it an excellent choice for crops that are top-watered as well. 2. Increased yield - Several studies have concluded that the use of perlite as a sole substrate can increase yields in some crops. A 2012 Italian study found that when compared to pumice and rock wool, cucurbits grown in perlite had more fruit, higher yield weights, and the plants themselves had higher aboveground biomass.2 3. Economy - Perlite is reusable, an uncommon trait among many types of substrate. A rinse in hydrogen peroxide or bleach (as long as it is well-rinsed afterwards) will sufficiently sterilize perlite for reuse on other crops. Another advantage of perlite is its abundance. It has been mined and incorporated into growing media for decades, and it is estimated that we (as a species) have not used more than one percent of the available, harvestable amounts. This abundance is the reason for its relatively low cost compared to other substrates. 4. Neutral - Perlite, being non-organic in origin does not affect a soil’s pH. It is also sterile. The high heat used in its creation kills any pathogens that may have been in contact with it.

1. Weight - Perlite’s light weight is not always a desirable thing. It does not anchor heavy roots well, sometimes causing plants to fall out of their containers as they grow. 2. Unsustainable - Perlite comes from a nonrenewable resource, at least, not within our lifetime. If we were to increase our usage, it is possible to run out, though this is currently not a likely scenario. 3. Closed Cell Structure - Other than externally, due to its irregular edges and “nooks,” perlite is a hard material that does not have the capability to retain any water or nutrients. In non-hydroponic applications, more frequent fertilizing and watering may be necessary. 4. Compaction - Unless a coarse grade of perlite is being used, particles can tightly compact causing a plant’s root development to be challenging. This compaction can also impede nutrient flow and restrict water uptake in bottom-fed systems. 5. Hazardous - As perlite is a glass, there are some dangers to using it. It will not cut your hands, but the dusts can be inhaled, and cause cuts on your lungs. A mask should be worn when using large quantities of perlite, especially finer grades of it. This inhalation hazard is not restricted to humans. If perlite is used in an aquaponics system, fish gills can be damaged by the glass particles, often leading to high mortality in these systems. 3


1) Week, Devon

New Life for Old Soil Huxams Cross Farm is in the midst of transforming retired commercial crop production soil into biodynamic farmland. Dartington Trust enrolled the 36-acre parcel in the Biodynamic Land Trust (BDLT) in 2014, who in turn awarded Marina and Mark O’Connell from the Apricot Center in Essex with a 15 year lease. Cover crops were planted, and soil restoration was underway. They’re planting 600 apple trees over the next few months. The chickens and cows are settling in, and plans are coming to life. How long will it take to fully restore life to worn out soil taxed with nitrate accumulations? That’s a question this work in progress will help to answer. In the meantime, their soft fruit and veg harvests, and organic eggs hit the local market this season. An interesting project. Follow their progress and learn more: www.bit.ly/permie-feature and www.bit.ly/huxam-fb.

2) Clerkenwell, Islington, London

Green Publicity Magic urban forest? No, it’s the foyer at the AirBNB Outside In House created as a publicity sensation in partnership with Pantone to launch Color of the Year 2017. If you haven’t heard, it’s a vibrant and lively hue named Greenery. The temporary installation offers inspiration for indoor gardening doubling as a sensory-rich travel accommodations. The grass was fake, but the plants were real. Located in a vacation rental north of London, the house offered two garden bedrooms, a kitchen, and a greenhouse dining room, which also doubled as a nature-inspired classroom for daytime events during its 3-day existence. How many travelers, if given the option, would choose a stay in an indoor garden equipped with all the modern conveniences versus the standard hotel experience? Learn more: www.bit.ly/garden-stay.


3) Glastonbury, Somerset

Growing Experience Celebrating its 30th birthday last summer, Paddington Farm Trust is as diversified as it is energetic. The core of this social charity is an all organic 43-acre working farm. The homegrown meat, veg, eggs, and more supplies the farm and guests, and their catering service. In addition to which they’ve grown a thriving getaway and educational program. People of all ages have recharged here through the decades. Comfortable yurts and camping provides a peaceful escape with plenty to see and do. But the true specialty of the farm is helping disadvantaged urban children. They’ve been bestowed with the Social Enterprise Mark for their achievements in this arena.

Check out their recycled classroom: www.bit.ly/ pallet-class. More info: www.bit.ly/PFT-site.

4) Musbury, Axminster, Devon

Fertile Hub The merging of natural, organic, sustainable, education, enterprise, and independence come together at Trill Farm in East Devon in one amazing blend. It’s both simple and complex, offering a rich experience to weekend visitors, school groups, course attendees, and growing businesses. Set in rolling hills and woodlands, Trill Trust is the place to learn many sustainable life skills; from herbal medicine and living nutrition to beekeeping, soap making, and preserving foods in numerous ways. Trill Farm is home to a range of businesses; vegetable and salad growers, conservational meat rearing, herb farming, carpentry, and soap and natural beauty products. Naturally, there’s a kitchen that makes great use of all the organic vegetables and meat grown on the farm’s 300 acres - served onsite, and through catering services. An awesome place to explore. Learn more: www. trillfarm.co.uk. 3


Packed with flavour and nutrients, this low-maintenance, tasty perennial vegetable is a must for every garden. The attractive, flowering-bearing green stems are a favourite ingredient, and grow easily in compact spaces. Health Benefits Spring onions are very low in calories, yet high in Vitamin C, antioxidants, and fibre. They are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. One study* found that spring onions contain significantly higher antioxidants (responsible for removing free radicals that trigger diseases in the body) than white onions. Spring onions also contain potent anti-cancer, and antiinflammatory compounds.** All healthy reasons to grow them!

Cultivars Spring onions (Allium fistulosum) belong to the flavoursome Allium genus (onion or Liliaceae family). Their ‘cousins’ include garlic, leeks, onions, and chives. There are many spring onion cultivars. Some have a very strong flavour, whilst others are mild and sweet. All varieties have long hollow leaves. True spring onions don’t have a bulb, as they grow from seed. They grow to about 40-50cm high, either singly, or in clumps. Spring onions are sometimes called shallots (Allium cepa, aggregatum group), which have a small onion-like bulb at the end of the stem. Some varieties of bulb onions (Allium cepa, cepa group) can be grown as spring onions, if you harvest when the leaves have grown, but before the bulb matures. An example is ‘Red Legs’, which has slender crimson bulbs, long red stems, and is rich in antioxidants.


Other varieties to try are green or red stemmed ‘Welsh’ bunching onions. These are a hardy perennial variety that grow in clumps, and self-propagate at the base. ‘Evergreen Bunching’, ‘Rossi’, ‘White Lisbon’, and ‘Red Beard’ are other popular spring onion varieties.

Sow seeds 5mm deep, and 1.5-2.5cm apart, or in rows about 15cm apart. Up close and personal!

Growing from Seed and Transplanting •

Best Time to Sow Depending on where you live, spring onions take 8-12 weeks to mature. Sowing from early March onwards, every 3-4 weeks, will guarantee a continuous supply, all summer-long. • • •

In cool weather, they prefer a protected pot in the sun, or grow them in a greenhouse during winter. They are frost hardy, but need protection from severe hail damage. Spring onions are grown for their edible stem, so are best sown during the New Moon or First Quarter moon phases. If you are not familiar with planting by the moon cycle to optimize growth and harvests, you can learn more at www.bit.ly/moongardening. You can over-winter spring onions outdoors as well. Late sowings in August, September and a fine October will provide an early crop by late spring. Always use a winter hardy variety for this.

Spacing Spring onions provide a high yield for the minimal room they need to grow. Tall and skinny with shallow roots, you can squeeze them into tight spaces. They are the perfect companion plant to help repel a wide variety of pest insects. Plant them amongst your most vulnerable crops.

• •

S tart seeds in seed raising mix in punnets or trays. Depending on soil temperature, the seeds should germinate in about 2 weeks. Keep moist with liquid seaweed to boost germination. Want to save money? Save seeds from previous crops. Wait until the flower head is dead and dry. Cut it off, and shake the seeds into a paper bag. Store in self-seal bags in a cool dry place. Transplant seedlings when they are about 15cm high. Prepare soil with compost, or a good quality potting mix with organic soil conditioners and rock minerals.


Likes • • •

Well-drained, humus-rich soil. Add compost, or worm castings. Ensure the soil is loose, and friable. S oil pH 6-7, ideally a full sun position, and regular watering. A liquid fertiliser 2-3 times while growing. To boost healthy leaf growth, and provide trace elements, alternate liquid feeds of diluted seaweed or fish emulsion with ‘worm juice.’ Dilute the liquid from your worm farm to the colour of weak tea. T hick mulch layer to maintain soil moisture, and prevent weeds.

Dislikes • • •

Being planted near peas and beans. D rying out, resulting in water and nutrient stress. Weed competition.

Harvesting and Storing •

ew leaves emerge from the centre. Start snipping N the outer leaves when plants are tall, green, and healthy looking. Avoid pulling up the entire plant - this is a wicked waste! Use a sharp knife, or scissors to cut the outer leaves above the roots, where the green stem emerges from the base. Leave at least 4-5cm stem in the soil. Water in with seaweed, and watch it regrow.


I f you do pull the plant out, use the leaves as normal but leave at least 5cm of stem with the roots on. Keep these roots in a glass of water in a well-lit position like a windowsill. Change water daily, and harvest as leaves regrow. To encourage more growth, snip 1-2 outer leaves off separate plants. This allows each plant to recover, and thicken up at the base. Rotating your harvest will reduce plant stress. Snip flower stalks off, if you want the plant to keep producing leaves. Or allow them to grow to harvest the edible flowers for use in salads, stir fries, or as garnishes. If you leave flowers on the stalks to mature, seeds will develop, and can be saved.

Spring onions don’t store long in the fridge, so wrap in plastic. For maximum health benefits, harvest straight from the garden as needed.

Tips on Growing Spring Onions •

Propagate by division in spring and autumn. If growing a bulb, or clumping variety, you can divide clumps to grow new plants. Slice off individual plants (including the bulb and root) by using a downward motion with a sharp knife through the clump. Gently loosen them apart. Once separated, trim the top and roots before you transplant.


Suggestions for the Kitchen •

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• •

he more mature the plant, the stronger the T flavour. If you want a mild onion taste, choose young slender leaves. S tems on mature plants will thicken up, and can be used as a leek substitute. S pring onions taste delicious raw, when they are at their most nutritious. U se both the green tops, and the white or brown bulb sliced in salads, omelettes, stir fries, and fish dishes. S hred the green tops for use as a garnish. F lavour soups, casseroles, rice, noodles, vegetables, pasta, or egg, cheese, and Asian dishes. 3

References: * www.bit.ly/sphinxsai ** www.bit.ly/eureka-mag

BIO: Anne Gibson is author of several eBooks, and publishes The Micro Gardener, an inspiring DIY garden website. As a writer, consultant, speaker, and community educator, she teaches people how to grow sustainable, highly productive edible gardens on a budget in urban spaces. Anne is passionate about helping people grow nutrientdense food, upcycling materials in the garden, and maximising yields for minimal time, money and effort. Visit www.TheMicroGardener.com for your complimentary eBook.


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We are all familiar with the pH scale - for the measurement of acidity, and its importance when growing plants. Don’t worry if you are not, there are many resources online that can bring you up to speed on the basics of pH.

Simply put, a pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, 1 being the most acidic with lots of free H+ ions, and 14 being alkaline with a predominate free OH- ion. The pH level affects the availability of nutrients to the plant. If incorrect, the plant will either starve or overdose on some or all of the nutrients it needs for bumper yields. Fluctuation of pH around the root zone occurs as they grow and exchange certain elements with the media and nutrient solution, throughout the plant’s life cycle. Depending on the pH, it can either mobilize or immobilize certain elements, allowing the plant to take them up, or not. The plant can become deficient or poisoned by certain nutrients, all depending on the pH around those roots! Changing levels can be due to several factors, including the nutrient solution, what the plant is excreting, the temperature, and the media itself. There is a wide range in pH between substrates, and even between different batches or brands of the same type of substrate. Table 1 shows some of these differences in the most commonly used in the industry.

Why do some substrates affect pH more than others? Essentially, this is due to the makeup of the media. Rockwool contains no organic matter (no carbon!!!) and is predominantly made of silicon dioxide (SiO2), a highly unreactive substance. The very strong covalent bond between the silicon and the oxygen result in the formation of a giant structure. These strong bonds stop it from dissolving in water, conducting electricity, and bonding with other substances. This includes the free H+ ions and H3O ions in the nutrient solution, which then dictates


the acidity of the solution around your plant’s root zone. ( See diagram for the differences in pH with coir.) Think of silicon dioxide as a new teenage couple - Silicon and Oxygen are tightly bound together, and they do not want to dance with anyone else at the party! Coir, on the other hand, is completely different - it wants to hug everyone at the party, and not let go! Especially Calcium, but that’s another story. This “friendliness” is due to it being made up of many different organic molecules, including polysaccharides, carbohydrates, which form the cellulose and lignin within the fibre, along with residual salts, such as sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and Chloride (Cl-). These lively organic compounds like to bond and absorb the free H+ ions from the nutrient solution, and this alters the pH around the rootzone dramatically. This effect is known as buffering, and a media such as coir is said to have a high buffering capacity. Basically, the nutrient solution that you mix up to the perfect pH (5.5-6.5), can be altered dramatically by the media you are watering it into, not just the plant exchanging things through its roots. This buffering capacity can have its advantages and disadvantages. Substrates with low buffering capacities, such as Rockwool, have a larger pH fluctuation range around the root zone. This is easily corrected with a fresh irrigation, flushing and replacing all of the solution around the root zone, thus correcting the pH - as long as the feed solution is correct. With more organic content in a substrate, the pH can be more stable, due to the media’s ability to absorb and release. However, if the pH of a media with a high buffering capacity begins low, it will remain low with every feed. This is why it is important to regularly check the pH of the runoff and, more importantly, check the pH of the media before planting, and make any corrections required. Good quality media manufactures normally check and correct the pH of the media using washing processes, and sometimes use limestone, calcium carbonate (CaCO3), and magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) to increase the pH.

So, how do I measure the pH of my media? This can be done using a simple water extraction technique. Don’t worry, this is not some nasty acid extraction, involving chemicals that require you to set up a laboratory in your kitchen, though that could be fun! It is a nice, easy analysis that just requires a pH test kit or meter, a jug, some water, and the media itself. You may already be familiar with this method by Kipp et al., 2000, but for those who are not this is how you perform it: 1. Take a 250ml measuring jug and fill with 150ml of deionised water. 2. Remove samples of media from as many places possible in the slab/pots. 3. Add this to the 150ml deionised water until it reaches the 250ml mark. 4. Mix and allow to settle for at least two hours. 5. Mix again and measure the pH. 6. This should be between 5.2 and 6.2. 7. Filter and measure the EC/conductivity of the solution. If you find that the pH is out of the optimum range, simply flush through with pH balanced nutrient solution, until the runoff is correct. It is important to also monitor the EC of the runoff. If the EC is high, the plant would only require pH adjusted water (no nutrients), and flush until pH and EC runoff levels are within the right range. 3


Add some flavour and a touch of whimsy to your garden this summer Here are a few super-colourful vegetables with unusual looks to brighten up your garden, and your meals this summer. Enjoy this lineup of some of the zaniest vegetables you’ll find anywhere!

‘Turkish Orange’ Eggplant (Solanum melongena ‘Turkish Orange’) This eggplant variety is said to have been cultivated in Turkey since the 1600s. What makes it special is its spherical orange and green-striped fruit. Each plant, just a little over 50 cm tall, can produce up to 15 fruit. • • • • • •

Plant spacing: 45 cm Seed depth: 6 mm When to sow: indoors, 8 weeks before the last frost date Number of days to harvest: 85 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich, loose and well-drained


Cucamelon (Melothria scabra) Halfway between melons and cucumbers, cucamelons are cute little fruits produced on a climbing plant that grows to at most 1.5 m. This plant is native to Mexico and Central America, and is very easy to grow. It produces small, greyishgreen fruit with dark green stripes all summer long that look like tiny melons (hence its other common name of mouse melon).

‘Crapaudine’ Beet (Beta vulgaris ‘Crapaudine’) This French heirloom beet variety is unusual with its long, cone-shaped root – sometimes over 30 cm – and ridged skin reminiscent of tree bark. The deep burgundy flesh has an incomparable sweet flavour. Sow it directly into garden soil, in full sun, a few weeks before the last frost date. • • • • • •

Plant spacing: 5 cm Seed depth: 13 mm When to sow: outdoors, 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date Number of days to harvest: 70 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich, light, loose and well-drained

Cucamelons taste like cucumbers with a hint of tartness and, like cucumbers, can be eaten raw as an appetizer or in salads, or pickled like gherkins. Combine whole raw or marinated cucamelons in a bowl with black olives to serve with drinks, or spear them on a toothpick for a martini! Cucamelons can be grown pretty much like cucumbers, in full sun, in cool soil with plenty of organic matter. Unlike cucumbers, however, cucamelons require little attention because they rarely suffer insect or disease damage. • Plant spacing: 50 cm • Seed depth: 13 mm • When to sow: indoors, 3 weeks before transplanting into the garden, or outdoors, after the last frost date once soil temperatures are at least 15°C • Number of days from transplanting to harvest: 55 • Exposure: full sun • Soil: rich, light and cool

‘Brown Russian’ Cucumber (Cucumis sativus ‘Brown Russian’) ‘Brown Russian’ is truly a one-of-a-kind cucumber – it looks like it came from another planet – and the taste is out of this world! This heirloom variety, developed in Ukraine around 1879, produces brown-skinned fruit with crisp white flesh and a mellow, slightly sweet taste that’s never bitter. It is ready to harvest about two months after transplanting outdoors, once the fruit is 12 to 18 cm long. It can also be picked earlier, while the skin is still yellow.

• • •

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Plant spacing: 50 cm Seed depth: 13 mm When to sow: indoors, 3 weeks before transplanting into the garden, or outdoors, after the last frost date once soil temperatures are at least 15°C Number of days from transplanting to harvest: 60 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich, light and cool


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‘Orient Wonder’ Yardlong Bean (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis ‘Orient Wonder’) Here’s an absolutely amazing climber! It produces long, slender pods, sometimes over 60 cm long, that taste like both asparagus and green beans! Because it can grow nearly 3 metres over the summer, ‘Orient Wonder’ yardlong bean absolutely must be staked or planted at the base of a trellis. It can also be interplanted with corn so that it can climb the corn stalks. • • •

• • •

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Plant spacing: 50 cm Seed depth: 25 mm When to sow: indoors, from late April to May, 4 weeks before transplanting into the garden, or outdoors in late May or early June, after all risk of frost is past Number of days from sowing to harvest: 75 Exposure: full sun Soil: light and well-drained

Plant spacing: 30 cm Seed depth: 10 mm When to sow: place tuber pieces directly in the ground, 2 to 3 weeks before the last frost date Number of days from sowing to harvest: 100 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich, light and deep

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Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) The tomatillo is the fruit of a plant closely related to tomatoes and ground cherries, growing to just over a metre tall. The fruit is similar to a ground cherry, but much larger, up to 10 cm in diameter. Like a ground cherry, though, a tomatillo is surrounded by a paper-like yellowish husk. Once the green fruit has fully ripened, it turns yellow or mauve, depending on the cultivar, and usually splits the husk encasing it. Tomatillos are the main ingredient in Mexican salsa verde. They can also be used in ratatouille or spaghetti sauce, to add a slightly tart and spicy taste. The other parts of the plant and unripe fruit contain solanine, a toxic alkaloid that’s not very good for you. So be sure to pick your tomatillos when they’re completely ripe.

‘Watermelon’ Radish (Raphanus sativus var. radicula ‘Watermelon’) With its lovely pale green skin and fine pink flesh, this radish resembles a miniature watermelon! When fully ripe, the fruit is about 10 cm in diameter, and the skin takes on a whitish tinge. Unlike other radish varieties, ‘Watermelon’ has a mild, slightly sweet flavour. • • • • • •

• • • • • •

Plant spacing: 70 cm Seed depth: 15 mm When to sow: indoors, 4 to 5 weeks before transplanting into the garden Number of days from transplanting to harvest: 70 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich and well-drained

Plant spacing: 2 cm Seed depth: 10 mm When to sow: outdoors, in April or early May Number of days from sowing to harvest: 60 Exposure: full sun Soil: rich and cool

‘Pusa Asita’ Carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus ‘Pusa Asita’) Developed by Pritam Kalia at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, in New Delhi, the ‘Pusa Asita’ carrot is a spectacular deep purple, indeed almost black. ‘Pusa Asita’ is high in antioxidants with a richer, more flavourful taste than most other red or purple carrot varieties. • • • • • •

Plant spacing: 5 cm Seed depth: 10 mm When to sow: outdoors, 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date Number of days from sowing to harvest: 75 Exposure: full sun, partial shade Soil: loose, light and cool

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Bubblers can be tricky little buggers. One minute they’re fine and the plants are doing well and the next minute they can be dying faster than Prince in an elevator (I love you, Prince). So, here are 10 great tips to make sure that your bubblers stay on the right track.

1. Your air pump needs to be kept above the waterline of the liquid that it is blowing air into. A super simple point, but often overlooked. 2. If you are using multiple air stones with the same pump, make sure the airlines are the same length and/or have the same resistance. Otherwise, you will have an uneven distribution of air. 3. The air pump needs to bring in fresh, cool air - ideally from a separate source. Some people leave the air pump in the same room as the plants. All this will do is take the warmth of the air in the grow room and blow it directly into the reservoir, pushing the roots into the disease-inducing temperature range faster. 4. Keep on top of the EC and pH. Bubblers and DWC systems tend to fluctuate in their uptake of nutrients and water, throwing off the EC and pH, one way or another. Let’s say we have 10 litres of mixed nutrient solution, with a final EC of 2.0 and pH of 5.8. After 24 hours, the plant has taken up 5 litres of liquid. In theory, the EC and pH should remain the same. In our less than ideal world, you will find that a plant will either choose to take up more of the water or more of the nutrients from the solution, which can affect both indicators.

Getting the EC and pH levels correct is a balancing act. The longer it is out of balance, the harder it is to control. My suggestion would be to use an EC and pH probe that can be left in the solution at all times for easy monitoring. 5. Use the right net pot for the plant you are growing. If you’re growing a large plant, use a large net pot. A small plant, use a small one. Not rocket science, no, but everything helps. 6. Keep your roots covered up! Roots do not like the light. Make sure they are covered up as much as possible - if not entirely. Even the smallest of light leakages will stress the plant, and increase the chances of root disease. Many single-pot bubblers have a transparent exterior level indicator which can also be used to empty the main nutrients when refreshing the supply. Killing two birds with one stone, right? Wrong! Using a transparent pipe on the outside can let in a huge amount of light. Instead, use a black, light-proof pipe with a stopper. You will not be able to check the level at a glance, but it can still used to empty the bubbler when changing the feed over, which IS very useful.


Note: if you are changing the solution in this way, make sure the seal is always tight as it has a tendency to work itself loose. This can lead to leaks, cracks… or in a worst case scenario, a fixture failure, and a complete dump of all the liquid from the bubbler. Not good. With no solution on the roots, your plants will not survive for long. 7. Keep the roots, and the nutrients that they are sitting in between 17°C and 20°C (63-68°F). If the temperature exceeds 33°C (91°F) for a prolonged amount of time, root disease is almost guaranteed. The number one root disease is pythium, which will show itself as a browning of the roots. The browner or darker the roots get, the less healthy they are. By the time the middle of the roots are a dark blackish brown, they will also have a slimy feel and bad smell about them, because they are basically in the rotting process. 8. When dealing with bubblers, there’s a lot of liquid in the growing environment. It is inevitable that at some point there will be a break, crack, and/or major spillage. It’s best to think ahead, and prepare for the worst by buying and using a waterproof tray. They’re cheap, 100% waterproof, and a great insurance policy. The ones that do include them are eternally grateful, and the ones that don’t… well, it’s a sharp learning curve, and a big clean up. 9. Don’t let your bubbler dry out. This one’s back to the basics. Without the roots in the oxygen-rich nutrients, your plant will die within 24-48hrs. When the plants are in the later stages of flowering, they can take up a surprising amount of nutrients in a relatively short amount of time, depending on the size of the system. A large plant in a smallish bubbler can drink all the available nutrient solution within a day.

Remember that the larger the plant grows, the more roots there will be in the bubbler… the more roots, the faster it will feed. There is also less space for nutrient solution in the bubbler. 10. Make sure you have easy access to change the nutrient solution. This may sound the most obvious of all the tips, but reservoirs can be tricky to change, especially in the later stages of flowering. They can also be very heavy and hard to move, so preparation and planning is key. Put a system in place that works best for you at the start of your grow. Think ahead, and make sure that the grow room is set up in a way that the same system can be used throughout the entire process. Personally, I use a spare bubbler reservoir. I prepare it with the right amount of nutrient, place it next to the “live bubbler”, and then simply lift the plant out of the old and into the new. Its quick, so the roots don’t get too stressed out, and plants are now in a new nutrient solution, and a clean reservoir, all in one go. This also helps maintain a stable EC and pH. A last bit of advice if you are contemplating using bubblers for one of the following reasons: 1) The system will need less care than hand-fed plants. 2) The bubbler can be left for days, without watering. This is definitely not the case. It will take a few years of experimenting to create a fail safe system, before you should even contemplate leaving a DWC alone for a few days. 3


In hydroponic applications, a broad range of media is used; clay pebbles, rockwool, coco, peat, and perlite, to name a few. Technically speaking, they are all hydroponic medias, because they are all soilless. Even the ‘soil’ that is sold in bags is technically misnamed, because it is usually a blend of peat moss and other components, such as perlite and mycorrhiza. Actual soil is defined as the top layer of earth consisting of organic materials, clay, and rock particles in which plants grow. mostly derived from sphagnum mosses. It The title of this article might seem a they are all has characteristics that some growers find little obvious, but end users asking for a hydroponic bag of soil, then complaining when they highly beneficial such as the stability of pH, medias, because are given soil, is a daily occurrence. The the high CEC, and the high water holding difference between coco or peat and capacity. Peat products have been the they are all soil is that soil has residual nutrients, substrate of choice in hobby hydroponics soilless which vary depending on source and and commercial agriculture for ages. It is level of decomposition. Also, soil often an inexpensive substrate that has done the comes lightly to heavily pre-fertilised, whereas coco and job for decades. Look out peat - there is a new media in peat will typically have very little to none. town, and it is causing some waves. Peat moss products consist mainly of, you guessed it peat moss. To aid in water drainage ability, peat is usually mixed with perlite and few other things. Coco is the waste from coconuts that has been treated for use in the growth of plants. Coco is often mixed with expanded clay pebbles for better drainage. Peat has a high Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), coco has a lower CEC. This is the reason why we have to use different fertilisers for soil-based and coco-based media. Peat moss is from marsh lands or swamp vegetation. There are three different types of peat. The mostly commonly used, for its beneficial characteristics, is moss peat. This is

Coco is quickly becoming the medium of choice for hydroponic gardeners around the world. Derived from the husks of coconuts, it is dried and ground up to give a consistency that is beneficial for plant growth. Typically sourced from areas such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, it can contain high levels of sodium salts (that need to be washed out), and high levels of Potassium. When fertilising, it is essential that a coco specific fertiliser is used. Lastly, coco has a tendency to ‘hold on’ to positive ions, such as Calcium (Ca2+), so it needs to be buffered to stop calcium deficiencies occurring in the plant. Calcium deficiencies occur due to the high amount of electronegative molecules within the coco that ‘hold on’ to the positive cations.


Coco needs more attention when watering

There is a growing trend to add amendments to coco such as trichoderma, insect frass, pebbles, and cork. The coco containing these amendments tend to do a lot better than basic coco, as it’s adding beneficial microorganisms, or increasing the porosity of the coco. Also a better air exchange capacity at the root zone is created. Making the switch from peat to coco is relatively easy, but may require a change of nutrients. It also requires the grower to be more attentive, as pH will fluctuate more than peat. Coco needs more attention when watering as it holds less water, but needs a slightly higher EC (amount of fertiliser) than soil, because of the lower CEC. Top feeding in the early stages and later switching to bottom feeding is highly beneficial for growing in coco - t prevents compression of the media (reducing air spaces), and allows the grower to see which plants are drinking heavily, and which ones are drinking slightly less (plant centred feeding). There is some speculation that peat media produces plants with better taste and flavour than plants grown in coco

media. This is probably due to its capacity to buffer pH and EC to a degree which can prevent deficiency or overfertilisation. It is more likely that plants grown in peat tend to have beneficial microorganisms as they are often already incorporated with the base substrate, and don’t need to be added separately. This increases the uptake of nutrients, which helps with sugar production within the plant. Having said that, a plant grown in coco with beneficial microorganisms, and fed so it doesn’t have any deficiencies or over-fertilisation issues, can just as easily match or even supersede the flavour and aroma of a peatgrown plant. The difference between peat or coco alone will not affect the quality of what you are growing. It’s all about controlling the medium. If you take one thing away from this article let it be this: If you want peat, ask for peat. If you want coco, ask for coco... As long as you know they are not the same thing. 3


Some pretty cool artwork has been appearing on walls in your local progressive grow shop. Street artist Pawski, based in Sheffield, UK, is well known in the urban art scene. With the support from DNA Mills, he has been bringing art typically found in back alleys and on the sides of buildings, inside. Pawski impressed the crowd at the 2017 Spannabis with a live demo depicting late Franco Loja from the Strain Hunters, as well as a smaller portrait that will be auctioned off to raise funds for the education of Franco’s children.

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Garden Culture Magazine UK 16  

Perspectives on Substrates, Coco Coir, Water, Clay Pebbles, Rockwool, Soil

Garden Culture Magazine UK 16  

Perspectives on Substrates, Coco Coir, Water, Clay Pebbles, Rockwool, Soil