I did a large amount of research on gardening methods. Some claims seemed exaggerated.
Equipment costs is a high investment. I didn’t want to throw down, what is a months earnings, (for me) for a greenhouse or hydroponic system. So, I did what any logical person would do. I tried different methods with constants.
While I did have a few conclusions of how the test results would turn out, I had no idea how small or large the differences would be.
I used tomato plants (varieties that produce the same size fruit) as my test specimen; as I eat lots of tomatoes. Whatever, the results were I wanted them to be delicious. I used my mother’s greenhouse, with the clause that I would grow cucumbers for pickling too.
I started the tomatoes for three weeks in the house. Once, the chance of frost past, I hardened off and transplanted the tomatoes to their homes. I grew three outside in a foot of premixed soil, peat mix, and compost. There was only room for one tomato plant on the deck that was sheltered by windows on two sides. The tomatoes were grown in a 5-gallon bucket with peat, perlite, and compost soil. I used the same mixture in two other five gallon buckets located in the greenhouse. I set up a hydroponics dutch bucket system.
The dutch bucket system
did not include duck tape, but that’s because zip-ties are cheap. I used buckets that a cafeteria was throwing away. Not all of them were the same shape size or color. We already had the cinder blocks. My dad brought home scrap wood. I ordered the pump, fertilizer, PH kit, and tomato clips. Then, I had some twine from a previous dutch bucket system I had set up for my apartment. Lastly, I bought PVC and drip house from the local hardware store.
I used the wrong drippers. We had to order the right ones. For two weeks I was watering the plants three times a day . . . by hand. However, it was finally, fixed and ran 24/7 by itself. This did affect my production, though
The three tomato plants outside -promptly, died. The wind was too great of an obstacle (it’s Wyoming).
My aunt and several people in town are able to grow tomatoes outside; however, they either use water walls or have fences that break the wind. I provided no shelter, just a head start for the tomatoes. The Conclusion is some type of shelter is required for plants under Wyoming growing conditions.
Outside Protected Tomato
This tomato plant is the stubbiest tomato plant, with very little foliage. However, there is more fruit on the tomato plant; than the greenhouse soil tomato, it is just smaller fruit. It was fertilized the same as the Greenhouse Soil Tomatoes.
This plant needed much more watering, it seemed to always be dry. Stunting may have been due to heat, and watering difference. While lack of water can push a plant into production, the fruit tends to be less lush, and smaller
Greenhouse Soil Tomatoes
One of my tomatoes in the greenhouse just stayed the same size for a month. This is probably due to lack of sun on that side of the greenhouse. I replaced it with a pepper that needed a home and doesn’t mind a little less sun. My mom gave the other plant away or took it to the office. It was just missing one day. . . Or some hobo has pet tomato, who knows.
Plan for loss due to unforeseen circumstances. As the pictures below display the greenhouse tomato did better on production per pound and health; than the sheltered outside plant. A greenhouse is a valid early investment; (much to the dismay of my homestead budget) especially, in areas where conditions can be harsh. Make sure there are not trees or building in the way of your light. My parent’s greenhouse is shaded by a tree and is not facing south.
Dutch Bucket, Hydroponics
The tomato plants hit the roof. Foliage is large. There were very few tomatoes on the lower branches; which was, growth from the time I manually watered the plants. There are several, flowers and fruit, on the growth grown; after, the hydroponics system functioned correctly. I grew cucumbers in the same dutch bucket system. While the needs for cucumbers and tomatoes are very similar the leaves on the cucumbers started to show calcium deficiencies and the tomatoes had a too much nitrogen.
Hydroponics system work. People who should look into hydroponics are large families, small-for-profit farmer, homesteaders in harsh conditions. This is an ideal growing method. The production on the hydroponics system outstripped other methods by leaps.
Consider growing only one type of plant should be grown on a reservoir. Plants need more or less of a nutrient at different times. While a single reservoir can be used for several plant types, it risks losing a harvest.
Definitely, set up a hydroponic system up correctly, the first time. It sounds like a no-brainer but things will happen; so have backups. I was lucky, that I had a schedule, that coincided with watering the greenhouse. Had I not, I would have lost the bulk of my plants.
While, the hydroponics system is more forgiving than, I had been lead to believe, checking for water flow every day is necessary. We had a bucket leak out the entire reservoir. Someone had pulled the right angle PVC out partially. Another time in one of the smaller buckets, the roots clogged the line (use 5-gallon buckets for tomatoes). Two cucumbers plants were almost lost and the tomatoes took a couple days to bounce back. I only checked on the greenhouse every other day, because it was across town. You will want to commit a block of time, (proportional to the number of plants being cared for) as little as, 15 minutes, to the reservoir and its line.
The dutch bucket system took less time to care for, than weeding the raspberry and strawberry patches. However, checking on the system every day should be done. It is more work but the harvest is larger. You will have to decide; whether it is worth it or not.
What My Parents Thought
While hydroponics sounds daunting, it is easy. My Dad understood it after a few walk-throughs but doesn’t have the time. My mother has the time, but she doesn’t want to understand it. She feels like it is too much.
I taught her how to mulch; which, reduces the amount of weeding. Wyoming weeds are cartoon weeds. You pull on a little tuft and then you keep pulling and pulling until you have a foot long root system, for the little tuft. So, now she wants to expand her soil garden. She understands she will have to do cold frames or set up a wood fence.
Both of my parents were fans of the Kratky method for growing lettuce. They could set it up and leave it. I had to write down the order the nutrients had to be mixed and the formula, but they keep it in a little Ziploc bag in the greenhouse. My mom is unwilling to mess with the fertilizer, but my Dad will do it. As far as the hydroponics system goes . . . I will have to continue taking care of it, or it will sit for two years until my Dad retires.
You need to be willing to and able to care for the system or it will be a waste of time and money.