Root Trimmin’

Plant wall, current iteration

It’s been a while since I posted anything about my plant wall. Having the begonia bucket overflow onto the floor is a good time . . . definitely. Root incursions are a thing and today was the day.

All the plants are doing great. Other than the aforementioned need for a very infrequent root trimming to keep the drain system working, it’s completely trouble free. It runs, I ignore it, It grows, I ignore it. Leaves die off, I trim ’em. Not too arduous a job in my opinion.

The begonia bucket is a small plastic flat backed bucket picked up at the feed store for a few bucks. It’s plumbed with an overflow and seep. The overflow runs into the pipe garden below it. The pipe garden also has an overflow and seep which feeds back into the fish tank. The begonia’s finally gotten so leaf-heavy I’ve got it supported to keep the leaves out of the way. All the plants are adding leaves, runners, off-shoots, branching . . . no blossoms yet on this setup but now that the begonia has grown legs and has produced an off-shoot, I expect by next spring I’ll have blossoms.

I might move the whole setup farther up the wall and add another tube for some of the plants I had before but eschewed when I started this setup, like primrose, peperomia, hoya, strawberry begonia . . . I have the tube and the caps and the drain system . . . I just need Wadly to spray that sucker green.

 

New media with a twist

Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
Leaves showing signs of chemical imbalance
I noticed some chemical burning on the tomato plant leaves and tested the water.  8.0 ph when I need 7.3.  Ouch.  Burn baby burn.  While all three tomato plants have blossoms, only one is producing fruit and shows no sign of the chem burn.

PH is totally busted.  Ouch.
PH is totally busted. Ouch.
I didn’t just test the PH, I tested nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. All were perfect for the system. For those readings, I couldn’t be happier.

PH after 2/3 water change
PH after 2/3 water change
Our well water is 6.0. For the house I “condition” it by running it through oyster shell to bring the PH up to 7.3 naturally. For a quick and very un-permanent fix to the problem I did a 2/3 water change in the fish tank and got what I expected, close to perfect PH. This, however, is a really poor solution. I flushed my nutrients (okay, I lied. I dumped the water in outside planters) and added kelp to compensate for the loss.

The whole point is to have a system I don’t have to think about or fuss
about or test or monitor or . . . you get my point. I cannot keep doing
water changes. I don’t want to have to add anything to the water to
keep the water at 7.3. Which means I’ve got to find a different media.
This media, as suspected, spikes the PH.

The trial

6" pvc with survey end caps.
6″ pvc with survey end caps.

For a couple years my brother Dan was a maintenance engineer at a produce processing plant. He did a system retrofit and brought me some of the stuff being thrown away. This flood and drain planter is a piece of 6″ schedule 40 pvc pipe. The ends are survey caps purchased at a local plumbing supply warehouse.

The really sick looking plants are the result of neglect on my part . . . pulling one system apart and putting another together with too long a span between stressed the plants. They’re recovering. The tomato plants are purchased and are my test subjects. The tank holds two goldfish, not quite enough to supply this many plants with nutrient.

One of my concerns with media this light is its ability to hold the plants in place as they grow and produce fruit. I will have to run retaining lines between the support ropes.

A question of media

Ugh, it floats
The failed floaty stuff, the new light clay-like stuff and hydroton.

In planning my next plant wall I’ve been testing hydroponic planting medium.  In the past I’ve used hydroton but there are currently two issues with this media.  Because it’s heavy in iron it eventually trashes the magnetic pump.  I replace pumps about once a year.  At about $50 a pop that’s not horribly expensive but it is inconvenient.  Secondly, it’s no longer available.  That makes the inherent equipment-related problems with the media moot.

Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media.  Rightmost is hydroton.
Leftmost is the floaty stuff, middle is the light slippery-clay feeling media. Rightmost is hydroton.

I bought two bags of a product that was supposed to be a replacement for hydroton.  It felt like sandpaper, very garnet/scratchy expanded glass feeling.  The pieces were quite large for hydroponic media, didn’t break when whacked with a hammer and very light.  Other than the roughness and overly large size, I thought it would work fine.  Wrong.  The stuff floats.  Using it in a flood and drain system allows all the plantings to shift every watering cycle.  When working with seeds, the media used to hold the seeds vanishes into the mix.  Ugh.  When planting cuttings they sink a bit into the mix every cycle eventually drowning.  Double ugh.

Light with a slippery-clay feel
Light with a slippery-clay feel

I reported the failure to the excellent staff at our local hydroponic shop and got a sample of another product to try. It had a light silky clay feel, sank when dropped into water and could be crushed.  The product is a little big, roughly 2-3 times the size of the hydroton beads.

PH is one of the most important items to monitor in a hydroponic system.  I’m not a fan of chemicals and like to handle this as naturally as possible which makes the ph of the media very important.  With that in mind I crushed a piece of the new media and tested the ph.  It tested lower than I expected at 6.0 which means it’s not inert.  Because our water has a very low ph which I moderate with oyster shell, I’m keeping an eye on my test system. Time will tell.

Moving on

I’m the type of person who continually tweaks and adjusts.  Some of the stuff I try is a bust and some is inspired.  I have a rack hanging over the back of my kitchen sink with a drip tray under it where dishes are set to dry.  It keeps my counter space clear and allows all the drips to fall into the sink.  Brilliant.  And I’ve done other things with far less stellar outcomes, they’ve inevitably led to ideas about other things so it’s all good.

Here's the plant wall winter 2013
Here’s the plant wall winter 2013

There are a lot things I like about my current plant wall, and few things I don’t care for. Because the plant wall surface isn’t covered with plastic ala P. Blanc, the rate of evaporation is significant.  Wadly adds roughly 6 gallons of water twice a week.  I’d like to reduce the evaporation.

Dying foliage allows pathways for water to drip onto the floor.  A change to prevent that in future is a must.

Slow growing smaller plants get crowded out by the bigger, faster growing plants.  They just can’t compete.  I’d like something that nutures both the big and bushy and the smaller, more delicate plants.

As this plant wall is a single piece, it’s heavy and difficult to move.  Repositioning plants and editing is difficult.  I’d like something a little more modular that takes up less vertical space for the same number of plants that allows the fish to be as much of a focal point.  At this point I can’t tell you what’s in the tank, other than healthy reproducing guppies and at least one fresh water shrimp.  I’m sure there are algae eaters and plecko in there as well but I haven’t seen them in . . . a really long time.

So, on to the new plan, something modular with less exposed surface area that will allow for planting a few seasonal edibles and allow us to see the fish.

Bloomin’ Bean

Blooming water bean

The bean I got from JMH last year is blooming.  I have two blossoms, this one and another in the middle of the tank.

I picked up Fairy Moss and water Hyacinths today.  The upper tank’s looking pretty good.

Upper and middle tanks

This is what the upper two tanks look like right now.  The penny royal is growing, the season triangular reed is coming up.  The water hyacinth and fairy moss is spread in the middle tank.

So far, so good!

Carlos is coming

Lorr (our son) has discovered wholesale rot under the window and into the floor and floor supports where his 60 gallon aquarium housing Carlos the turtle, two gigantic plecos and a couple really fat goldfish.  Moving the tank is a must so it looks like Carlos is coming to stay.  The big concern is keeping Carlos comfortable.  The goldies can join mine in my 100 gallon tank outside and the plecos can go to the aquarium store.

Wadly’s next day off is Tue.  We’ll drag the big aquarium out of the loft, clean and set it up for all Wadly’s fish.  We’ll leave the smaller aquarium set up to accommodate Carlos temporarily while we get is larger tank set up and up to temp.

To keep both tanks using the wall, I’m going to have to install a sump.  I haven’t done that before.  It should be a learning experience.