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Introduction to hydroponics

Introduction to Hydroponics

 Alternative gardening techniques have recently taken off in the garden industry and for good reason. Aquaponics and hydroponics have become extremely popular and are a fun new way to provide food for you and your family. Not only are these techniques efficient but they are pretty low maintenance. This post is meant to teach you how hydroponic systems work, provide pros and cons and give some examples of a few systems that are on the market today. I’ll be covering aquaponics in the next month as well. I hope you enjoy 🙂

“Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel.  It was introduced in the 1920s as a means of commercial plant production.

Hydroponic growing may not be for everyone. There are a variety of systems available today so do your research when deciding on a system. Most gardeners use hydro systems indoors like in a greenhouse or even in a garage/shed. But smaller systems can be placed outside. Some hydro systems come as complete kits and are designed for only a few plants or hundreds. There are many kits you can purchase and lots of DIY ideas.

The video below shows how to make your own small DIY hydro system.

With in-expensive materials and an overall small system, DIY is a great way for trial and error.

Introduction to hydroponicsIf you prefer to purchase your first hydro system I recommend something like this Garden-Of-Ease complete hydroponic system – Pictured on left. This system runs about $60. It’s smart to start slowly and with only a few plants so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Once you have the hang of it you can move to a more generous amount of plants.

Introduction to hydroponicsAnother great small system to start with is the Current Culture Solo6 system. Unlike the system above this one has 6 holes and a sleeker look. The housing is durable and all-around a much better quality than the lesser version above. It is a bit more expensive ranging around $400 but you can expand the system by attaching more modules of the same brand. It’s pretty cool! Contact us if you are interested in Current Culture products.

Once you feel comfortable with the smaller system research some larger ones. If you have a greenhouse or a specified area for growing measure the space so you can accurately find the right size hydro system to fill the growing area.

Introduction to hydroponicsSunglo carries Current culture products. They offer a good variety of sizes and are great for tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, etc., etc. Pictured on left – A Sunglo owner purchased the mid size Current Culture UC4XXL13 system to start in his 15×20 – 2100G model. This system has 4 large modules that nicely accommodate larger plants. The model #UC4XXL13 gives away a few things. The tells how many plant modules are included and the 13 tells how many gallons each module holds. Under Current hydro kits are complete systems including Introduction to hydroponics all of the PVC piping/tubing and a high quality air pump. And a year warranty gives you peace of mind. There are endless  possibilities of what you can grow but this customer chose to start with tomatoes. I myself would choose tomatoes as well! What kind of food would you grow? It’s a hard question to answer! As you can see from the pictures hydroponic growing has it’s upsides! The foliage is a rich green, abundant and lush. Compared to my tomato plant (pictured below right) that I grew almost exactly the same time as his. Introduction to hydroponicsThe difference in height is vast and his foliage puts mine to shame! The Current Culture UC4XXL13 system runs about $1000. Now think about how much food you could grow with that! You Introduction to hydroponicscould make your money back in food in a few short years. It is wise to do research not only on systems but on the plants you want to grow; what kind of nutrients they will Introduction to hydroponicsneed, how much light and even the germination time. Sunglo can help with a lot of these things. We offer full packages that include a greenhouse and the perfect size hydro system to fit. We also carry lighting and controls for your greenhouse. The full line of Current Culture nutrients is available as well. So look no further! We’ve got you covered! Garden stores that carry hydro products usually carry matching nutrients made by the same brand. Like how we carry Current Culture hydro systems and nutrient products.  Besides buying the starts or seeds there is really no other cost – These medium systems range only 50-100 watts.

Every decision we make in life has its pros and cons. So here are a few things to consider when deciding on your alternative gardening method:

PROS:

  • Weeds can’t grow
  • Most plant diseases are eliminated
  • Pests are less of a concern so pesticide usage goes down as well
  • Hydroponically grown food has been known to be more nutritional and taste better
  • Less water waste
  • Nutrients are more controlled therefore plants are more abundant & lush
  • Plants grow faster and have bigger yields
  • Plants can be placed closer together so less space is used comparatively to soil gardening

CONS:

  • There are limited varieties of plants that can be hydroponically grown
  • Setup and system costs can be very expensive
  • Hydroponics requires more technical knowledge and training than soil cultivation
  • If the watering system fails, plants will dry out and die rapidly

Current Culture has a great YouTube channel that features how-to and informational videos that are very useful. The video below shows how the Current Culture System is assembled.

 1 Current Culture UC6 System (pictured below on right) would fit great into a 10×10 – Sunglo Introduction to hydroponics1200C model (pictured on left) with room for a Introduction to hydroponicswater reservoir and a few potted or hanging plants. The current culture system and the Sunglo greenhouse can both expand. So once you have mastered hydroponic growing and you want to add to your plant collection you are able to extend your Sunglo greenhouse and purchase more modules to advance your hydro system. There are no limits!

Please call or e-mail Sunglo at 800-647-0606 or info@sunglogreenhouses.com for more information on Current Culture products or to receive a free hydro greenhouse estimate!

Treatment for black fungus gnats

Black Fungus Gnat – IPM Treatment

Fungus gnats
Fungus Gnats on Cacti

GNATS

We all know what a gnat is. Most likely you have had a few gnats flying around your home, more commonly known as “fruit flies”. But fungus gnats are your gardens worst nightmare! They are small flies that infest soil and potting mix and lay their eggs in your container gardens as well. Their eggs can lay dormant in soil for weeks and then release these nasty little larvae that wreak havoc on your plants. Their larvae primarily feed on fungi and organic matter in soil, but also chew into roots and can be a problem in greenhouses, nurseries, potted plants and interior plants. Adult fungus gnats may emerge from houseplants and become a nuisance indoors too.

Fungus gnat larvae
Fungus Gnat Larvae
Fungus gnat Adult
Adult Fungus Gnat

 

 

 

 

 

 

TREATMENTS

There are a bunch of organic and chemical treatments for fungus gnats. The organic solutions include:

Hydrogen peroxide w/ no additives, Boiled grapefruit rind, Neem oil and a plethora of IPM.

We discovered we had gnats in our indoor Sunglo greenhouse after purchasing a bag of store bought miracle soil. It has been a HUGE problem. At least 100 plants have been ruined. So we researched online and came to the conclusion that we would try nematodes.

What are nematodes?

fungus gnat
Microscopic Nematode

The nematodes or roundworms constitute the phylum Nematoda. They are a diverse animal phylum inhabiting a very broad range of environments. Nematode species can be difficult to distinguish, and although over 25,000 have been described, of which more than half are parasitic, the total number of nematode species has been estimated to be about 1 million. Unlike cnidarians and flatworms, nematodes have tubular digestive systems with openings at both ends. Nematodes have successfully adapted to nearly every ecosystem from marine to fresh water, to soils, and from the polar regions to the tropics, as well as the highest to the lowest of elevations. They are ubiquitous in freshwater, marine, and terrestrial environments, where they often outnumber other animals in both individual and species counts, and are found in locations as diverse as mountains, deserts and oceanic trenches. The earth benefits from these microscopic worms. They are pretty much everywhere!

NEMATODE TREATMENT

fungus gnat
A Fungus Gnats Worst Nightmare!

There are lots of brand of nematodes to buy but we settled on this baby. Above. The nematodes come wrapped in a soft wet sponge ready to swim their way into your soil and eat the fungus gnat larvae!

fungus gnat
Remove sponge from bag..

 

fungus gnat
Dunk sponge into a watering can.. and water all your plants.

By dunking the sponge in water and swooshing it around a bit, it will release the microscopic nematodes into the water and allow them to be transferred into your infested soil. One they have broken the soil barrier the nematodes are free to wreak

havoc on the fungus gnat larvae! Too bad they are microscopic. It would be pretty neat to see 🙂

CONCLUSION

The nematode treatment worked, along with sticky tape but only for a week or so. It was difficult keeping our greenhouse contained. The gnats had too many places to hide in our building and were able to fly freely in and out of the greenhouse. In a different situation the nematodes, I’m sure, would have wiped out the larvae and our problem would have disappeared. We eventually cleaned out the entire greenhouse, cleaned all pots and containers, threw away all the dirt that was sitting around and moved most of the plants outside for a weekend to try to abolish the pesky gnats! And so far we’ve gotten rid of ALMOST all of them. The orchids we have in the greenhouse now are doing pretty well – See picture below. There are still a few gnats buzzing around but they have not harmed our orchid collection. We definitely learned a lesson from this… no more store bought generic soil! And to keep the greenhouse as clean as possible when planting seeds. The next time we see the first signs of gnats we’ll reach into our Google arsenal and find the next best treatment.

fungus gnat
Our display greenhouse after being cleaned out

Other pest problems? Click here for thrip information. Click here for aphid & white fly treatment. And for more information about greenhouses and greenhouse gardening visit our Facebook page!

 

Ladybug pest control

Ladybugs – Your best ally in the fight with aphids!

Ladybug

Ladybugs –

 Let’s learn a little bit about these pest eaters. Ladybugs have many names. Such as lady beetle, Asian lady beetle, multicolored Asian lady beetle, ladybird and many more. They are actually not bugs but are beetles. Ladybird Beetle is the correct name but I still like “ladybug” There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs worldwide, only 400 are native to North America. The convergent lady beetle is the most common species.

Ladybugs are widely used as a form of natural pest control. Aphids seem to be the top food choice for them but they also eat scale insects, mealy bugs, mites, white fly and other soft insects. A fully grown hungry ladybug can eat 50 aphids a day! They could eat 5,000 aphids in their lifetime in both larvae and adult stages.

 

LadybugsAphids-

Aphids are the most common garden pest insect and they feed on almost every type of plant. There are many different species of aphids but they all seem to have the same goal in mind… destroying you’re garden! They feed in colonies which is why they are so destructive and fast.

Signs of aphids are dried and colorless leaves and curled leaf tips. Aphids usually can be found on the underside of leaves and close to the top where the most nutrients can be sucked from the plant. They are savage little things and need to be dealt with as fast as possible.

LadybugsPest control-

Here at our Kent, WA. Sunglo office and warehouse we have a few greenhouses on display and like to grow plants and veggies ourselves, so we take advantage of the opportunity by growing a few things here and there. We bought a few herb plants from a home and garden depot only to find aphids on them!

We decided to try ladybugs for pest control. And boy let me tell you… it was awesome! We were able to purchase 1500 bugs online and they arrived within 5 days, let them free in our small lean-to greenhouse and within 15 minutes almost every aphid had disappeared! Overall I would 100% recommend ladybugs to get rid you of your pest nuisance! They are cute, inexpensive and best of all non-toxic! We freed most of them by keeping the doors wide open but a few are still around, stalking their next aphid meal.

Ladybugs

To learn about another common pest; thrips – click here.

Top 5 Greenhouse Gardening Books

Are you a greenhouse gardener? As most gardeners know there is always more to learn! Check out these top selling greenhouse gardening books and improve on your own gardening skills!

The Greenhouse Expert – Author: Dr. D.G. Hessayon

My personal favorite: Whether you already own a greenhouse or you’re thinking about buying or building one, greenhouse gardener hessayonhere’s the vital information in full color you need to get the most from your money, effort and time. “The Greenhouse Expert offers data on structure and equipment (including installation instructions on floors, gutters, doors, lighting, ventilators, blinds, shelving, insulation, glazing, and heating); greenhouse plants (a list covering 58 pages) and care (of both structure and plants). There is a chapter dealing with pests and diseases and a month-by-month calendar on when to do what.”

 

 

Greenhouse Gardening – Made Easy – Author: Simon Marlow

This book will lead you through the complete process of purchasing, setting up and greenhouse gardening bookmaintaining your greenhouse. Once you have a functioning greenhouse you then need to understand what makes your plants grow. Heat, soil and water are critical to your growing success. This guide describes how best to optimize these parameters so that you are able to grow the plants you want not only in spring and summer but also through fall and winter. This ebook shows you how to get the best from your greenhouse by taking the next step to great growing of all types of plants vegetables and flowers at anytime of the year.

 

 

Organic Gardening – Author: Geoff Hamilton

A classic guide to growing flowers, fruit, and vegetables the natural, chemical-free way has been fully revised and updated to reflect the latest thinking and techniques. Written by one of the UK’s best-loved gardening personalities and a keen advocate of the greenhouse gardening bookorganic approach, this book will be appreciated by the novice and the experienced gardener alike. Whether you want to grow better-tasting fruit and vegetables untainted by chemicals, find natural methods of pest and weed control, or create a garden that is safer for your children, pets and wildlife this book is your practical, easy-to-follow guide to gardening.With practical advice and instructions and step-by-step photographs and artworks, the author explains how to grow delicious, healthy produce as well as how to turn your garden into a safe haven for children, pets, and wildlife. Contents include: soil improvement; organic pest & disease control; weed control; hedges, trees & shrubs; containers; the vegetable garden and more!

 

How to Garden – Greenhouse Gardening – Author: Alan Titchmarsh

The ultimate guide to greenhouse planting—the ideal place to propagate seedlings, greenhouse gardening booknurture young plants, experiment with exotic planting, and hide from the rain. The greenhouse is one of the most useful tools a gardener can have, and this book provides all the information and advice any gardener needs to set up a greenhouse and get their planting going. The advice offered includes guidance on selecting, installing, and maintaining a greenhouse; recommended vegetables, fruit, herbs, and ornamental plants for growing under cover; practical advice on general care, harvesting, storage, propagation, and pest control; a seasonal management guide etc.

 

The Greenhouse Gardener – Author: Anne Swithinbank

A greenhouse can be a garden’s greatest asset: its nucleus and powerhouse. There are many ways of using it and a gardener can adopt one or all of them. In spring, you can greenhouse gardening bookstart young plants from seed; raise tender perennials to fill gaps in the garden; give young vegetable plants a head start; sow early lettuce while the soil is too sticky to work outdoors. During spring and summer, you can raise greenhouse crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and chillis. You’ll be able to overwinter tender plants such as bananas and cannas. And the greenhouse can be a showcase full of beautiful, unusual and exotic plants.Trained at Kew and for many years Glasshouse Supervisor at the RHS Garden at Wisley, Anne Swithinbank is the expert on greenhouse gardening.

 

All of these books can be found for sale at the Google Store.

 

 

 

Overwintering in the Greenhouse

greenhouse snow loadOne of the things I enjoy most about spring is planning out my gardens for the season. However, it also used to be one of things I dreaded as I began to tally up the cost of buying new plants every year. Having a greenhouse has allowed me to overwinter all of my beloved container plantings, and some of my garden perennials that cannot survive the winters here in the northwest. I have put a great deal of time into designing and caring for the container arrangements around my house, and now I do not have to park in the driveway during the winter while I store them in the garage.

pot in potLast year I started using a pot in pot system where I buried larger pots in the garden that the perennials’ pots can fit into. This makes pulling them in the fall much less labor intensive and then in the spring I just put them back into their prearranged spot and cover both pots over with mulch. This has also allowed me to incorporate rare plants that are not recommended for my hardiness zone into my landscape. I know pride is a sin, but it is always satisfying when someone says, “How did you get that to survive? I tried and it didn’t make it through the first winter.”

Then I proceed to tell them about how my greenhouse has allowed me to really take my gardening to the next level. I opted to get the all season package that included a heater, motorized intake shutter, exhaust fan, and all the thermostats to automatically control them at the temperatures I set. To ice the cake it also came with a wireless weather station that allows me to monitor the temperature and humidity of the greenhouse from my kitchen. All I have to do is check periodically to make sure the pots do not get bone dry and the climate controls do the rest. I do not have to worry about pesky rodents, freezing, fluctuations in soil temperature, or dessication from being exposed to cold dry air because my plants are protected within the greenhouse.

Sunglo in AlaskaThere are only a couple of things to keep in mind when you set out to overwinter your plants in a greenhouse. In the early fall, I gradually reduce watering and fertilization and allow the plants to harden off outside until just before the first frost.This puts them into a state of dormancy and keeping the greenhouse temperatures between 45° and 55° F throughout the winter prevents them from coming out of it prematurely.This is very important because any undesired growth at such low temperatures will more than likely be weak and therefore highly susceptible to various infestations.

overwinter greenhouseThis is where a Sunglo greenhouse truly outperforms the competition. The exhaust fan, motorized intake shutter, and heater, all controlled by individual thermostats, ensure that the temperatures stay within the desired range. Most hobbyist greenhouses on the market use a paraffin wax piston to automatically open a vent of some sort. It is impossible for this type of passive ventilation system to maintain temperatures between a specified range.

sunglo snow loadDuring dormancy water uptake is dramatically reduced, but you must be careful not to let the soil get to dry. Just a slight dampness to the touch is sufficient. I considered installing a drip watering system on an irrigation timer this year, but decided against it. Colder temperatures and overly wet soil can spell certain doom for roots and the plants that depend on them. Instead I will continue to check them periodically and I suspect they appreciate the company.

overwintered plantsAs spring approaches I raise the temperature to between 55° and 65° F and gradually increase it from there. Some people prefer to keep the temperatures in that range until they move their plants out of the greenhouse to ensure they are hardened off. I have found that a strong oscillating fan and cooler night temperatures promotes strong enough growth for outdoor conditions. I also wait until I am absolutely certain there will be no more frost before I move anything out into the garden. I resume regular watering and begin an incremental fertilization schedule starting at half strength. By sometime in March I have the temperatures high enough to start spending some quality time in the greenhouse again and begin to germinate seeds, pot up the dormant cuttings I have taken over the winter, and get back into the business of what I love most.

I still enjoy planning out my gardens every spring, but with most of my plants all ready to go I now marvel at how much money I save. The question I am most asked is, “Isn’t the cost of heating the greenhouse throughout the winter more than the plants are worth?”  To which I always inwardly ask, “How do you put a value on keeping that which you love so much alive?” But in all honesty, being as serious a gardener as I am,  the unrivaled insulation of my Sunglo’s dual pane design keeps my energy costs well below what I used to spend on plant material every year. If you are interested in taking your gardening to the next level or have more questions related to overwintering please give us a call.

Thrips: Know thy Enemy

Thrip AdultToday’s post takes a closer look at and offers some suggestions for controlling one of the most widespread and detrimental species of thrips – Western Flower Thrips. Sometimes, when we strive to create the perfect growing environment for our plants we provide an optimal habitat for some nasty pests. Thrips thrive in warm environments protected from harsh outdoor conditions and their illusive nature can make them difficult to spot before the damage is done. Identifying the signs early and acting accordingly is the key to thrip control. The information below is a brief outline to aid you in doing so.

Description
Adult WFT are less that 2 mm long.  The female adult ranges in color from light yellow to dark brown.  Males are slightly smaller and are light yellow in color.  Both have slender cylindrical bodies and two sets of clear, nearly veinless, narrow wings that have dark, hairy, fringes.  The wings also have two complete rows of setae.  The larvae are tubular shaped, less than 1 mm long and are translucent white to yellow in color.  They resemble the adults but do not have wings until the third instar.

Life Cycle
The annual WFT life cycle varies depending on environmental conditions.  In cold climates such as the Northern U.S. they cannot over winter outdoors.  In slightly milder climates they can over winter in weed hosts, plant debris, and soil.  In a greenhouse setting their life cycle is continuous and overlapping.  It does however consist of these five main stages regardless of environment: egg, two larval instars, prepupa and pupa instars, and finally adult.
The population increase and time required for development of each generation is highly dependent on environmental conditions and the nutrient levels of the host plant.  The following account is based on an average host and temperatures between 68 and 98 degrees F.  The female can lay between 130 and 230 eggs.  The eggs then hatch in 2 to 4 days.  During both instars of the larval stage the larvae feed on plant material and then enter the non – feeding prepupal stage after 3 to 6 days.  The pupal stage is also non – feeding and lasts for 1 to 3 days.  The adult then emerges and can feed and reproduce for a subsequent 30 to 35 days.

Petal DiscolorationDamage
WFT damage is caused by feeding and oviposition, as well as indirectly through virus transmission.  The female’s ovipositor has two serrated blades that are used to cut through the plant epidermis and deposit eggs into the tissue.  This can cause scars on the leaves and fruit of some crops and decrease their economic value.  Feeding damage is caused by both the larvae and adult thrips and can occur on fruit, flowers, flower buds, leaves, and leaf buds.  WFT use their modified mouthparts to puncture the plant epidermis, inject saliva, and siphon out the cell contents.  The damaged plant cells collapse, resulting in distorted growth, silver patches, and scars on expanded leaves.  Flower petal damage can appear as dark streaks in lighter flowers and lighter streaks in those of a darker color.  Feeding on the leaf or flower buds can cause them to abort, and when they do grow they can exhibit distorted growth.  This can make diagnosing thrip problems difficult because the symptoms will not be evident until the bud opens.
Western flower thrips are also notorious for being the primary vector of viruses such as tomato spotted wilt (TSWV) and impatiens necrotic spot (INSV).  Adult thrips cannot acquire the virus and it is not passed on to offspring so infection occurs during the larvae phase as a result of feeding on infected plant tissue for about thirty minutes.  After three to eighteen days the virus can be passed on when the insect feeds for only five to ten minutes on another host.  Thrips retain the infection until death and the concentration of the virus increases as it replicates throughout the vector’s lifetime.  The virus was historically common in the western and southwestern United States, but began spreading rapidly in the 1970 and ‘80s with the spread of western flower thrips.

Control

  • Mechanical

As with any integrated pest management strategy a thorough monitoring and identification system is the first priority.  Yellow and blue sticky traps attract thrips and can be used to reduce and monitor pest populations.  Exclusion acts as a first defense against thrips.  All plant material being brought into the greenhouse should be thoroughly inspected before hand.  Production areas should be sealed tight and limited to authorized personnel.  This can be achieved by the use of door seals and thrip preventive netting over all areas where external air is allowed to enter the greenhouse.

  • Cultural

Because of the wide host range of WTF it is important to remove all weeds both inside and in close proximity to the greenhouse.  These serve as safe harbor for thrips and viruses when a non – susceptible crop is being grown.  If the weed removal is thorough then alternating between susceptible and non – susceptible crops can also prevent pest problems.  A layer of hydrated lime thick enough to cover the soil on the greenhouse floor can prevent algae, weeds, and insects.  Some growers also remove all plant material between crops for a period of seven days to allow adults to emerge from the pupal stage and then kill them with insecticides or elevated temperatures.  A continuous temperature of 102 degrees F for two days will kill the adults.

  • Biological

Predacious minute pirate bugs, mirids, and mites have all been used to control WFT populations as well as fungi.  The minute pirate bugs and the predacious mites both go into diapause under short day conditions and so have not been as affective in the winter.  However, both have proven to be able to derive enough nutrients for development from WTF alone.  The mites do best on plants that provide a surplus of pollen for diet supplementation in order to reach a sufficient control population faster.  The time it takes for all three predator populations to establish themselves and increase to an effective control level is the main limiting factor.  The rapid development and proliferation of WFT usually exceeds that of these predators in the case of most crops.  Fungi such as Beauveria bassiana and Verticillium lecanii have also been used to develop registered biological controls.  The spores infect the pest through contact with its cuticle and are not limited by environmental conditions or the crop being grown.

  • Chemical

WFT are commonly controlled with endosulfan, chlorpyrifos, bendiocarb, and synthetic pyrethrinoids, but their spread has, in a way, been aided by pesticides.  They have the ability to quickly develop a resistance, and when native varieties of thrips and predators are eliminated WFT face less competition and thrive in the new areas.  If a chemical control is going to be used it is recommended that the pesticide class be rotated every generation (about 14 days) to help prevent pesticide resistance development.  The pupa and eggs are also unaffected by sprays so it is important that the application program lasts long enough to eliminate emerging larvae and adults.