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by Casey Jones Fraser

In Search of the Perfect Grow

(indoor garden beds, soilless mixES and saving money)

If you are looking to simplify your gardening experience while simultaneously producing outstanding yields, keep reading.

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Maximum Yield USA | April 2011


IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT GROW

“Most indoor gardeners grow annuals (plants that don’t come back each year), such as tomatoes, peppers and basil. The nature of annual plants involves rooting for one season.” Have you ever noticed how plants grow in nature, versus the way we grow plants in gardens? You won’t find any plastic buckets in a field or a forest. Plants certainly don’t require the containers and pots we grow them in—we only place plants into individual containers for moving and sorting reasons. People are always asking me what is the best size of container for flowering. The answer is almost always, “Bigger than what you are using!”

So let’s talk about the ‘perfect container’. It depends on how you grow your plants. For ebb and flow gardens and for those who prefer aeroponic or deep water culture, the ideas discussed here will not apply. Most indoor gardeners grow annuals (plants that don’t come back each year), such as tomatoes, peppers and basil.The nature of annual plants involves rooting for one season.Trees and other perennials create long, deep root systems to survive the

harsh winter, but annuals root differently. In nature, your annual plants would typically produce roots that grow one foot or more down into the ground, but which might grow several feet outward in diameter. When we place these plants into small containers, or containers that are taller than they are wide, we are fighting nature. Another aspect of allowing wider root growth is the development of branches. When a plant has wide roots, it will respond by putting more weight onto

Overhead view of soilless bed. Four by four foot flood tray with four by four by one foot tray liner.

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IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT GROW

“Some growers use a small container of soil or soilless mixes, while others use fibrous blocks.”

A four by four foot flood tray lined with a four by four by one foot soft-sided fabric container and filled with commercial soilless mix.

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Maximum Yield USA | April 2011

the outer areas. Growers who use tall skinny pots tend to grow taller, narrower plants. The plant structure somewhat mimics the root structure, so if a plant doesn’t have wide roots, it won’t produce wide branches. In order to survive, the plant concentrates growth on the center to keep from falling over. With a wider root system, large bushy plants can be grown without that concern. So don’t fight evolution—allow the roots to grow in all directions, and the plant will grow that way as well. Now let’s consider practical applications. How do you grow roots in all directions inside your grow room? That’s where the garden bed comes in. I’ve explained why this will give you bigger, shorter, fatter plants—now I’ll show you how to build it, get bigger yields and save money. You will continue to grow your young plants as you normally would in the vegetative phase. Some growers use a small container of soil or soilless mixes, while others use fibrous blocks. Once vegetative plants are ready to be transplanted for flowering, then you can plant them into


IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT GROW

garden beds. The beds will be the same length and width as your normal garden space, and require eight to 10 inches of well-draining soilless mix. One of the easiest ways to construct this is with a large reservoir. I had a three foot by three foot table with a 35 gallon reservoir for ebb and flow. The reservoir was about three feet by three feet by one foot. With a quarter inch drill bit, I put 100 holes in the reservoir bottom. I sat the reservoir into the ebb and flow table—instead of underneath—and filled. Once in place, I grew successful harvests in that system for two years! Every time I harvested I would pull the root balls, treat the soil and replant in the same reservoir.Yes, you can reuse the same soilless mix, but we’ll

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A hydroponic flood tray with a four by four by one foot tray liner. Tomatoes vegged for three weeks in an ebb and flow system and now it’s time to flower in the soilless bed.

get to that later. You could build the same garden for a four foot by four foot space using a 75 gallon reservoir, although you would only need about 50 gallons of soilless mix. Just drill out the bottom of the reservoir for drainage and set it into a four foot by four foot flood tray. You will need to use drains and a bucket to catch the runoff. There are some popular 40 gallon reservoirs that fill out a two foot by four foot area, and I have drilled these out and used them successfully as garden beds. In fact, after years of use, they are still churning out high-yield harvests today. I have also drilled out two foot by four foot flood trays and dropped them into identical two foot by four foot flood trays to catch the runoff. Another option is to create a drainage


IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT GROW

A hydroponic flood tray with a four by four by one foot tray liner. Tomatoes vegged for three weeks in an ebb and flow system and now it’s time to flower in the soilless bed.

layer at the bottom of the bed, with a drain on one end. For example, take a 75 gallon reservoir (48 inches by 48 inches by 12 inches) and add a couple of ¾ inch drains on one end. Then add a two inch layer of perlite and a coconut mat or fabric tray liner. From there, add the eight to 10 inches of soilless mix. Make sure the bed sits at a slight incline so all of the runoff goes down the drains.

Reusing the Mix Gardeners who use beds should take their vegetative plants (in small containers or soilless blocks) and insert them into the bed before the first week of flowering.Vegetative plants will then quickly root out into the soilless mix and begin flowering. After harvest, remove the large root balls at the base of each stem.Your soil must be rinsed of old nutrients and salts before the soilless mix can be reused. Using a rinsing supplement, run gallons upon gallons of water through the bed, then catch some of the runoff and test the ppm with a digital meter. The total dissolved solids should be less than 300 ppm—keep rinsing the soilless mix until it is clean. After thoroughly rinsing the mix, let it drain for several hours. From here you will need to add an enzyme product to break down the leftover root matter. Use the enzymes at twice what the label recommends. This would be a waste for live plants, but you need high concentrations of enzymes to break down the leftover roots. After watering in the enzymes, till the entire bed with a shovel or hoe, turning the mix thoroughly. Complete this 106

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same process once a day for three days. Now you are ready to replant a fresh crop.

Saving Money Gardeners who use a hydroponics system in a four foot by four foot area will typically use 40 gallons of nutrients or more, and change that 40 gallons once a week. A four foot by four foot soilless bed will require only 10 gallons of nutrient solution once or twice a week. Your total nutrient usage will be cut in half! With that kind of savings, you can afford the highest-quality nutrients and supplements for the best results. With regard to the cost of the soilless mix, although you might be spending twice what you would on soil or hydro mediums for the same size garden, you can continue using that same batch of soilless mix, harvest after harvest. After a couple of harvests, you are now saving serious cash on your growing medium. Instead of buying a whole new batch of soil or soilless media, all you have to buy is a bottle of enzymes. As far as disposal goes, only the central root ball is thrown away. This makes gardening easier and more friendly to the environment. No one likes throwing away trash bags full of soil or hydro growing mediums. So you save money, you work less and you get bigger plants. What’s not to love? I haven’t even mentioned the fact that pH adjustment and checking your reservoir have become history. You mix up your batch of nutrient solution


IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT GROW

right before you water it into the bed, so its not sitting around fluctuating. Instead of holding the solution in a reservoir, there is enough soilless mix to hold gallons of water. So instead of daily pH adjustment, you are mixing a nutrient solution once or twice per week. The best soilless mixes for a garden bed are loaded with perlite, up to 50 per cent. My favorite mix includes one part each of the following items: coco coir-based potting mix, peat-based potting mix, mini grow cubes and chunky perlite. This mix will give you perfect pH and excellent drainage, while still holding plenty of water. I started with a small bed in the corner of a large indoor garden. The results were so amazing that I soon converted the entire flower garden to soilless beds. Try it out—I am convinced you will love the results! MY

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In Search of the Perfect Grow