Friday, February 11, 2011

Garden Encyclopedia

I haven't had much time to peruse this website, but it seems to be full of useful information!

Changing the Nutrients - Week 2

I've decided to change the nutrients on my window farm every Saturday. Hopefully this means a new post every week.  I have a bunch of photos to put up on the blog, but I wanted to do this chronologically. So I will post as fast as I can to get caught up!

So, let us pretend that I posted this in a timely manner and that it is actually January 29, 2011.
I wasn't sure what to do with the old nutrients, but I asked on and was advised to water my other plants with it.

So I did...

Here are some pictures of my seedlings' progress as well as some of the plants from my first round of plants. I wish I had written down the day that I planted the broccoli and tomato seeds.

Pepper 'Yellow Wax Hot Hungarian'

Strawberry 'Patio Temptation'
Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'
Tomato 'Yellow Pear'

My Indoor Garden (in a shower stall)
Yay for broccoli leaves as big as my hand!

The Boyfriend is pretty handy, he soldered up some computer fans for me to help with air circulation.

Now that my reservoir was empty, I could proceed with mixing up my new batch of nutrients. I used parts 1 and 2 of my hydroponic solution, and some Maximum Plantroids for a little bit of stress relief and root stimulation.


I like the blue colour!

Ok so that is my 'formula' for changing the nutrients. The little syringe was procured from the local pharmacy for free. It makes measuring out the nutes really easy! I'm not too crazy about my accuracy, but I do try to follow the guidelines on the bottle.

Here are a few more pictures of my window farm's progress. The tomato is getting fairly large, and the bean is going to flower soon!!

Hopefully my brocoli produces. I have never seen broccoli grow so I'm not sure if the long lanky leaves are a good sign or not. The plants in pots are doing way better, but I will attribute that to the fact that the plants in the window farm were put through a lot of stress when I washed the soil and crap out of the roots.

Feel free to post some comments!! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why Window Farming?

Why Window Farms?
Many people think I am crazy when I start talking about growing food producing plants in my front window (especially during the winter!). Disbelief overtakes people when I dive into my list of veggies and greens that I am growing/ plan on growing. This is when I launch into my schpeel about window farms and all the magic that they contain. Unfortunately, when I get to the part that describes the hydroponic method used in Window Farms, I see many an eye begin to glaze over. Usually it is the very mention of hydroponics that sets people on edge. I hope to sway those who are wary of hydroponics to change their opinion of such things and maybe even realize the environmental, nutritional and educational benefits of window farming.

My biggest fault as a gardener is my forgetfulness with regards to watering. I have seen many a plant crisp up and turn brown, never to grow another leaf again. Fortunately for my charges, I discovered Window Farms. This system uses a vertical hydroponic setup, involving an airlift and a column of bottles that contain the plants. In principle hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using an inert medium for root support with nutrient solution that is constantly bathed over the roots. Your plants get as much water as they need, when they need it! None of the stressful desert to flood plain trauma for my plants any more.

One of the perks of window farming is that there is no soil and therefore a lot less mess. Because the plants are grown in inert medium, there is a far smaller risk of plant disease and bug infestation. A window farmer’s biggest foe is algae, which is not a huge issue and is quite easy to control by simply ensuring sunlight does not reach the reservoir and tubing.

The nutrients that exist in soil are often not available to the plants. They usually need to be dissolved in water for the plants to have access to them, and sometimes the compounds are confined to the dirt in salts and other molecular arrangements. When you add nutrients to your Window Farm water, they are readily available to your hungry tomatoes and peppers. The nutrients come in varying concentrations and compositions, but generally they are sold as a three-part system. You use parts one and two for the vegetative growth of the plant, and parts two and three when the plant begins to flower and produce. This makes it very easy to control the minerals and elements that are essential to plants. Electronic meters can be used to measure the content of your solution if you want to be really precise. They are expensive, however, and really not necessary. Changing out the solution weekly is sufficient.

It is common knowledge that a veggie or fruit loses nutritional value after being picked. When you have a Window Farm conveniently hanging in your living room window (as I do) or even better, in the kitchen, you have direct access to the freshest produce available. This means you no longer have to eat peppers that have been sitting in the grocery store for an inordinate amount of time. On top of that you can grow food year round, and are not restricted to seasonal foods.

Because you are able to reduce your dependence on grocery stores you are benefiting in many ways. Firstly you are reducing your carbon foot print; all that produce is trucked in to the stores, and if you drive to go get it then you are burning fossil fuels. Secondly, if there was ever a shortage of fresh food you would not be as affected by it. Thirdly, you keep more of your money! Who really wants to pay $3 for a cucumber that doesn’t taste like anything, or tomatoes that have more in common with tennis balls? And lastly, on that note, you get to eat delicious fruit and vegetables that you have grown yourself. You can even grow unusual varieties that normally are not available in a store. Check out Tomato ‘Garden Peach’.

I really enjoy having my Window Farm right next to my desk. The sound that the water makes as it drips from each bottle to the next is soothing, and is way more productive than a water fountain. It is extremely entertaining to watch your plants grow, flower and produce fruit. On top of that those plants are photosynthesizing and producing oxygen, as well as absorbing various carcinogens and toxins from the air. All in all this makes for a very habitable work environment.

I’m sure children would enjoy all this as well! When I was little I really disliked bugs and getting dirty, let alone the terror of discovering a caterpillar. This is a great way to introduce fussy children to the fascinating world of gardening, without the nasty surprises that spiders and other critters can bring about. The daily and weekly responsibilities are not overwhelming, and can be compared to keeping fish. With a little adult supervision, kids can help set up the column, germinate seeds, plant the seedlings in the system, prepare the nutrient solution, keep the reservoir levels up, and tend to the plants. It also provides practical education about where our food comes from and how plants grow. It is really easy to lift a net pot out of a bottle and see all the roots sticking out, and they get to watch the plants mature and reproduce.

There are drawbacks, as with anything, however I can only think of a few. One is that you are dependent on your air pump to keep the plants roots moist. With previous versions of Window Farms, there was a reservoir at the top, but this had a lot of problems. Water pumps tend to clog and break down with the little bits of nutrients, and if they run dry they are doomed. Some people find the airlifts a little difficult, and they do require a certain level of tinkering to get working. Another is that it does require a bit of time to set the system up. Many people choose to spray paint the bottles to provide protection from the sun for the roots, and this does take time to do a decent job. You also need a few basic tools (a hole saw to cut the holes into the bottom, for example) but you can MacGyver it if you need to. Some people do not want to set up the system themselves and prefer the ‘plug and play’ approach to things. This is unfortunate because by building the system you become very familiar with it and troubleshooting becomes less of a problem. I hope you will agree that the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

The website is full of amazing information about the Window Farm project, and there are new users signing up almost every hour! If you are intimidated by the R&DIY, there is a lot of community support. The plans are available for free, but you are asked to help by being active on the website and posting your successes and failures. I have found that this is a very welcoming group that is a diverse mixture of people from all around the world.

I hope at least a few of you have considered the value of a Window Farm. It has a very small footprint, and is basically an interactive art piece. Please give the website a visit, or visit the main page for the general idea and kits that are available for purchase. How can you go wrong with fresh lettuce, chilis, tomatoes and basil growing in your front window, waiting to be picked, and cleaning the air around you?

- Melissa

Sunday, February 6, 2011

WindowFarm Setup: First Column

-EDIT- So this window farm was set up on Jan. 22, 2011... and I'm going to call this Week 1.

Here are some pictures of the first column of my window farm!

The poor tomato plant sat in dry hydroton all night because I couldn't get the airlift to work. Such a sad droopy plant.

 So this is how I did my design.


- 5 - 1.5L water bottles
- 1/4" flexible tubing
- T-connector (intended for aquarium use)
- Airfow valve (also from an aquarium store)
- Check valve (aquarium store)
- 3" Net pots
- Hydroton expanded clay pellets
- Ikea clothes rack ("Mulig" item no: 601.794.34)
- Zip ties
- Airpump (this was from a cheap water filter for a very small fish tank)
- Broom handle for a frame to work with (I built the column onto the broom stick and then just taped it to the frame for now)

I spray painted the bottles to provide protection for the roots. I first purchased grey spray paint, but after painting one layer I decided that I wanted black too. So the coats on the bottles are 1 coat grey, 1 coat black, and the a coat of grey on top. Spray painting sucked. And I was really impatient so I did a crap job. Never again!! I will definitely use a different method for root covers next time.

A lot of people seem to be having trouble with the airlift, I will try to cover that more in depth in a separate post. Here is a basic overview of how I set mine up.

First, I attached the T-connector to the water intake tube, air line and the airlift tube.

Then I shoved all this tubing into the bottom of the bottle. This is because I have found if I use a short intake tube the air escapes into the reservoir instead of lifting the water.

You can see the tubing did not want to sit nicely on the bottom of the bottle. This was a real pain to do and I did not want to fight with it at every water change.

That is where the coil comes in! The coil is about the same size as the bottom of the bottle, so I can smush it down to the bottom which ensures that it stays in place.

After I set up my reservoir, I just secured the airlift line to the column and turned on the pump. This was one of the easier parts of my set up! 

After flushing the system with just water for a day, I added my nutrients.

I purchased this stuff from the local hydroponics store. It comes in 3 parts; 1-2 for vegetative growth, 2-3 for flowering. I also added some other nutrients that said they were intended for stress relief and stimulating root growth. Sounded exactly like what I needed at the moment. Especially for my bean haha.

Here is a close up of the reservoir with the intake coil at the bottom and the nutrients. 
I added a broccoli plant to the top bottle.

And here is a bean plant that I added to the second from bottom bottle. This guy had tons of sticks and garbage tangled in its roots so I was pretty harsh when I tried to clean the crap out of them. Hopefully he will make it!

Gotta love all the indoor chlorophyl during the crap winter months.

Remember my sad little tomato? Well he pulled through like a champ!

So there you have it, my first attempt at a window farm!! 

Happy growing everyone!


I just wanted to put up a quick post about my new seedlings.

Here are some Tomato 'Yellow Pear'

Top left is Tomato 'Yellow Pear', Bottom is Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights', on the right I have sown 9 strawberry seeds and on the top is 3 Stevia and 6 Pepper 'Hot Hungarian Yellow Wax'
And here is a close up view of Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'. The yellow stems are so cheerful!

Well there you have it, this was my second batch of seedlings so far in my indoor gardening adventures.