How to start living and growing lettuce
When it comes to hydroponics, the imagination of an uninitiated person usually draws complex industrial plants with tomatoes. In fact, this method scales perfectly to the size of a compact gadget that fits even on a window - it’s called the VegeBox T-Box, and now we’ll talk about it.
Where did hydroponics come from?
For the first time, hydroponics in the modern sense, like growing plants in an aqueous solution, was described by the English philosopher Francis Bacon in the treatise Sylva Sylvarum ("Natural History"). The book was published in 1627 and popularized further research methods. The next milestone was the work of William Frederick Guerick, a doctor from Berkeley. In the first half of the 20th century, he grew tomato bushes seven meters high in a mineral solution, and he coined the term "hydroponics". The word was coined by the American biologist William Satchell.
Then and now: Frederic Guericke's experiments with tomatoes were a sensation at the beginning of the XX century, and at the beginning of the XXI turned into an everyday occurrence
Further events developed rapidly, in the 30s the first successful application of the hydroponic method was necessary - thanks to Pan American Airlines. On the rocky atoll of Wake, there was her gas station, and a small hydroponic farm was set up there to grow vegetables for aircraft passengers. Delivery of the same vegetables would be expensive, and it was impossible to grow them in local soil. Nowadays, hydroponics is used everywhere.
The main and most important feature of hydroponics is that plants receive all the nutrients from an aqueous solution. They can be planted in an inert porous substrate such as coconut fiber or vermiculite, but the main role is played by water. There are active and passive hydroponic systems. In active nutrient solution is supplied to the roots - a sprayer, for example. In passive systems, the solution remains relatively static.
Aeration of the roots is a separate problem, because plants cannot do without oxygen. In the soil, air is naturally present in the gaps between its particles, and water must be saturated with oxygen. The solution is aerated with pumps and pumps, or a large gap above the water is left so that the roots themselves receive oxygen (see Kratky Method) According to the latest principle and implemented Vegebox T-Box.
As a rule, active systems are more convenient for large farms that grow many plants at once. So the composition of the solution is regulated in one tank and then fed to many "beds". Passive are ideal for home installation - simple and convenient.
What is Vegebox?
Our hero, Vegebox T-Box, can be partially attributed to the category of gadgets, which are called "smart gardens". They regularly pop up on crowdfunding platforms. It all started with Click and Grow, which consolidated a characteristic form factor: a water tank plus a backlit stand. Sometimes the bracket is shifted to the middle (Veritable), but usually companies repeat the characteristic U-shape. At T-Box it is just that, only the lamp moves on a hinge, which is not found everywhere.
A “cartridge” or substrate block with pre-sown seeds serves as the basis for a typical smart garden a la Click and Grow. In this sense, the system is vaguely reminiscent of a coffee machine with capsules. The supply of nutrients in the "capsule" is designed to grow these very seeds, and then it needs to be replaced with a new one. Convenient, but restricts the gardener, as well as capsule coffee coffee. The motivation is the same - sales of consumables.
In the other corner of the ring are complex devices, from growboxes to solid hydroponic installations. In addition to light and water, you get additional sensors, pumps, filters and high energy costs. It’s already like an expensive coffee machine with a dozen grinding modes and different modes of preparing coffee drinks (of which an ordinary person uses a couple).
The Vegebox T-Box is somewhere between two extremes. The gadget looks like a smart garden, but it works without a prepared substrate: this is real, serious hydroponics. That is, you have to independently add nutrients to the water, and also germinate the seeds.
Let's tell you a secret: in fact, Vegebox manufacturers are engaged in integrated landscaping and hydroponic systems. T-Box for them, rather, is a project for the soul, so it is made with good conscience and knowledge.
The main details are the same as in a smart garden: a 24-watt phytolamp and a water tank. There is no pump, because the system is passive. The tank is covered from above with a "landing plate" - a lid with openings for plants. There are nine seats, but actually it’s better to use eight, and cover the ninth with a blank. It is convenient to add nutrient solution through it.
In the kit there are nine mesh pots or planting baskets in which to plant the sprouted plants. Just like the "big" hydroponics! The substrate for seeds are special planting sponges. Sponges in a set of 15 pieces, new ones can be purchased separately.
In addition, in a box with hydroponics are a power supply, a container for germination, a measuring cup and tweezers for seeds. To start hydroponics, you will need seeds, nutrients and some magical “chemistry”. But first things first.
Cooking the "garden"
Work with the T-Box begins with a germination container. A planting sponge is placed in it, and seeds are placed in the sponge with tweezers. The whole structure is filled with water so that the seeds are wet, but not buried. Soaked seeds should be left to germinate in the shade, in a cool place.
Germination usually takes from one day to several days. Germination of seeds depends on what you are going to plant. Salad and greens like basil with parsley sprout quickly. Hard-shell seeds, such as strawberries, geraniums, and nasturtiums, may require additional processing: stratification or scarification. The first involves imitation of winter and spring (the seeds are kept on snow or in the refrigerator), the second - mechanical, thermal or chemical damage to the shell. Of course, the seeds will sprout without it. What really matters is the date the seed was collected. Hydroponics is not magical and will not bring back expired seed.
Hatching seeds are transferred under the T-Box phytolamp for five to seven days. The expected result is one and a half centimeter roots sticking out of a sponge. It is boring to wait, but the lamp has an automatic mode of operation, and it turns on and off itself. The daylight hours are 14 hours, 10 hours a smart garden "rests". The lamp on time is set when the T-Box is connected to power.
When the sprouts have grown stronger, the sponge is divided into separate pieces and each is placed in its own seed basket. The baskets are inserted into the slots on the tank lid, and the tank will have to be filled with nutrient solution.
Nutrient solution: how it works
The basis of the solution is ordinary tap water. According to Vegebox, absolutely any water is suitable - well, tap, rain and technical, it does not need to be defended and treated. Unless, of course, you decided to grow South American carnivorous plants in hydroponics: they only need distilled water.
Vegebox offers a ready-made line of "chemistry" for its hydroponics, but nothing prevents the owner from experimenting with other means - there would be a desire. Another thing is that this is not an easy and complicated topic; and the presence of a ready-made solution, and a field for experiments allows you to use the T-Box and a corrosive geek, and a person who completely forgot school chemistry.
For hydroponics, the most important characteristic of water is the hydrogen index., pH, a measure of the activity of hydrogen ions in solution. Recall that pH is a measure of the content of hydrogen ions (H +) and hydroxide ions (OH-). When more than the first, the water is acidic, and if more than the second, then the water is alkaline. The pH scale is considered from 0 to 14 and is logarithmic. At zero pH, the solution has ten times more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions.
Plants can absorb various nutrients from a solution only at a certain pH. Why? The easiest way to explain with iron. Without iron, photosynthesis does not occur, so it is vital for a plant. Iron is present in water in two forms: soluble divalent Fe2 + and oxidized trivalent Fe3 +. Plants can absorb the first, but not the second. When there are many hydroxide ions in water, ferrous iron reacts with them, becomes ferric, and ceases to be available to the plant. Being a highly reactive element, iron instantly passes from one form to another. So the plant in a solution with a high pH will lack iron, even if this very iron is present in the water.
Some hydroponic enthusiasts are trying to cope with the problem by throwing rusty pieces of iron into the tank. For the reasons listed above, this approach does not work.
Plants struggle with the problem of a specific lack of iron, isolating special organic molecules from the roots - chelating agents. They capture ferric iron, like biological "ticks", and makes it digestible. In the same form, iron is often sold as fertilizer. Some plant species oxidize the surface of the roots. However, they cannot endlessly struggle with the environment, so it is best to provide them with conditions in which it is convenient for them to absorb nutrients.
There is a certain acidity zone in which almost all the elements needed by the plant are more or less accessible. To lower and raise the pH to the target values, acid and alkali are added to the water, respectively. Vegebox has its own selected types of hydroponics, pH Up and pH Down. In theory, you can change the pH with anything, fill in at least the electrolyte from the car battery and fill the baking soda with spoons; in practice, it harms plants and beneficial microorganisms in the water. Non-gardening household substances can affect another important indicator: the conductivity of the solution.
The conductivity of the solution(electrical conductivity, EC) expresses, as you might guess, the ability of a fluid to transmit electricity. The value is measured in siemens per meter, and in the case of hydroponics, in millisimps per centimeter . The more ions in the solution, the better its electrical conductivity. Most of the nutrients in hydroponic water will be found in the form of ions. Consequently, electrical conductivity indicates the nutrient content of water.
However, not all nutrients are the same. The same chelating agents mentioned above reduce the conductivity of the solution. Such a solution with a similar electrical conductivity will have a higher concentration and osmotic pressure, and the plant will feel it.
Different plants differ from each other. For each, there is a zone with preferred pH and electrical conductivity. Young sprouts can be accidentally burned with a large amount of salts, which is why there is a separate germinator for them in the kit with the T-Box, where you need to pour only clean water. Salad prefers less saturated with electrolytes water, and basil easily copes with a large amount of salts. However, different types of plants can coexist in the same hydroponic system, if their needs are properly balanced. On average, the EC value should be in the range of 1 to 2.5 milliseconds, plus the original electrical conductivity of the water.
The last question is the general mineralization of water and its hardness. These are two different parameters. Everyone who has ever used a teapot faced rigidity: the scale that forms in it consists of calcium and magnesium salts (CaCO3 and MgCO3). Total mineralization (TDS, total dissolved solids) shows the content of all dissolved substances in water, including inorganics and organics. Thus, general mineralization includes hardness, but is not identical to it (in addition, it is also customary to isolate the alkalinity of water. Calcium and magnesium salts are separated in solution into two ions, the metal part gives rigidity, and carbonate - alkalinity).
The units for stiffness and mineralization vary from country to country. The most common American unit is ppm (parts per million) - 1 part of the substance per million parts of water.
To measure salinity, a salimeter is used. In fact, it measures the electrical resistance of the solution (EC) and drives it through a formula sewn into the firmware (which differs from manufacturer to manufacturer), and then it gives an approximate content of particles in water. How many particles are exactly in the water - they will say only in the laboratory.
It is important to know the content of particles in water, since it must be taken into account when adding nutrients to the solution (harder water, less fertilizer). Water in which too many salts are dissolved (> 150 ppm) is unfavorable for plants; moreover, when hydroponics have mechanical parts or tubes, they become clogged in hard water. Fortunately, the T-Box has no moving parts, so there is no problem.
As a rule, alkaline water will be more hard, acidic - soft. But this is not always true.
In the case of home-grown lettuce on the windowsill, it is enough to focus on well-known figures. For hydroponics, it is desirable to have water with a pH of 5.4–7 and with a salt content of 1500–2500 ppm. How to achieve such values and not get lost in the calculations?
In the case of Vegebox, everything has already been calculated and thought out for the user. As mentioned above, the brand produces ready-made solutions “pH Up” and “pH Down”, as well as liquid fertilizers, two separate ones - A and B.
Two-component fertilizers Vegebox is a standard cocktail of nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and calcium. For the first time everything is poured in the following sequence:
- liter of clean water
- 4–5 milliliters of Vegebox A fertilizer
- litere of water
- 400 milliliters of water with 0.2 milliliters of Vegebox pH Down
- 4–5 milliliters of Vegebox B. fertilizer
To pour the right amount of chemicals, you can use the complete measuring cup or syringe from the pharmacy. All substances must be dissolved separately, sequentially, and mixed well. By the way, you can’t just take and pour the concentrates into the solution, otherwise the nutrients will precipitate.
If your water does not deviate too extreme in pH and salt content, then the focus will work without any testers. It will produce a nutrient solution suitable for most edible plants.
Filled and planted! What's next?
Further care of the plant consists in adding nutrients to the solution. Top up when the level of the nutrient solution drops 2-3 centimeters below the edge of the landing basket. The formula for the additional nutrient solution will be something like this: 1 liter of water, 3 milliliters of Vegebox A concentrate, 3 milliliters of Vegebox B concentrate and, if necessary, 0.3 milliliters of pH Down.
To make it more convenient to add a new solution, the developers of Vegebox advise to leave the ninth landing slot free. It is enough to put a plug in it, open and add new fluid.
Through the same socket, if desired, you can take water to measure its pH. The vital activity of plants will naturally make the indicator “walk”. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this, since a change back and forth makes one or the other nutrients more accessible. When “flying in normal mode” for one cycle of growing plants, it will be enough to add the solution once or twice.
The frequency of topping will depend on the selected plants and the conditions in which they are placed. The most important thing is temperature. The ideal temperature range of the solution itself is 20–25 ℃. According to Vegebox representatives, you don’t need to do anything with the temperature of the water itself, it’s enough not to pour boiling water into hydroponics.
In winter, put the Vegebox away from batteries and heaters (which is useful for all plants in general, including those that grow in pots). The hydroponic lamp perfectly replaces natural sunlight and it will be much better to support the life of plants than the dim winter sun.
The growth cycle of the plant in the T-Box from seed to ready-to-eat instance will be 28–45 days, depending on the species. Growth occurs naturally, but faster than in a pot of earth. Shallots, mint, basil, salads, and other herbs and herbs are especially good in this type of hydroponics. It is with greenery that it is worth starting gardening experiments.
According to Vegebox representatives, a bunch of lettuce, similar in size to those sold in supermarkets, can grow in one landing cell in 21–25 days. This is an ideal situation. In practice, the yield mainly depends on the number of seeds in the planting place and on the variety.
Tomatoes and strawberries in the T-Box are also growing, but they are more difficult to care for. Most plants are good because they really want to live and, in principle, tolerate the hardships and deprivations of life with a person. If you want to start right away with tomatoes - get started.
After harvesting and before planting new plants, the tank can be washed with cold water without detergents. The manufacturer advises to do this no more than once every 3-4 months. Neither fungi nor mold can start in the solution (unlike the pot), so if you do not transplant plants from the soil into the T-Box, the installation remains clean.
In addition to the T-Box, the brand has another noteworthy “home farm”: H-Box. This is a large installation with 12 seats, which works on the same principle as the T-Box. The H-Box is distinguished by its shape - it is an almost enclosed space, a box without a front wall. The phytolamp is built into the lid and operates in automatic mode, 14 hours of light and 10 hours of "sleep". Any vegetable, a small strawberry glade or even a watermelon can comfortably fit in one farm. By connecting several H-Box farms, you can get a whole “cabinet” for growing home greenery. See our video for details:
You can purchase Vegebox T-Box , as well as other brand farms in our online store. Until May 31, 2019, all Vegebox products have a 15% discount on the VEGEHABR promotional code.