Posted on 2 Comments

Modified SNAP Setup for Growing Lettuce in the Summer

Modified SNAP system with twelve seedling plugs arranged in each grow box.

Lettuce and Summer Temperatures

Lettuce are normally grown in areas with relatively low temperatures. High temperatures can cause them to flower and turn bitter sooner. In the tropical environment of the Philippines lettuce can be successfully grown using hydroponics. This is because even though the high temperature environment keeps their vegetative period short, hydroponics makes them grow fast in this short vegetative window making them reach marketable size before they switch into their flowering stage and turn bitter. However, the summer months can be very punishing and in many areas SNAP Hydroponics growers must use their creativity to beat the summer heat.

Summertime 5-day weather outlook for Metro Manila from PAGASA?s home page.
Summertime 5-day weather outlook for Metro Manila

The biggest problem a hydroponics grower encounters in the summer is of course the heat. The ambient temperatures can easily go over 35°C (90°F). Although most plants can handle these temperatures, plants growing in hydroponics systems can fail because of this. The temperature of the nutrient solution can significantly affect the growth of plants in hydroponics. Higher temperatures lessens the amount of dissolved oxygen in the solution. It also affects other biological processes in the root system resulting in stunted growth and even crop loss.

Another problem during the summer is the intense sunlight. Sunlight intensity can be so high during the summer that it can easily penetrate through the styrofoam boxes and allow algae to grow on the nutrient solution. This is an issue because algae uses up nutrients from the solution.

The Modified System

Mr. Robert Iglesia of Farm in the City in Gumaca, Quezon, shares his method of growing lettuce in the summer months using the same materials one would use in the standard SNAP Hydroponics setup.

This method uses the same seedling raising method in the SNAP manual. However, instead of using only enough growing media to fill a quarter or up to a third of the seedling plug, we fill the entire seedling plug with growing media and transfer a healthy seedling on it. The seedling plugs are then arranged in a compact manner on the bottom half of the grow box.

Lower half of a grow box with plastic lining taped in place.
Completed lower half of the grow box.

Up to twenty-eight (28) seedling plugs can fit in a standard sized (20″⨉16″) grow box. Working solution is then added onto the grow box. The growing medium on the seedling plugs will wick the working solution moistening the entirety of the seedling plugs. Keep adding the working solution until its level is about 2-3 cm high.

Filling up the seedling plugs with growing media insulates the root system better than bare roots immersed in nutrient solution. The seedling plugs arranged in this manner acts like a wick system hydroponics. This  allows the seedling plugs to draw up working solution from the lower half of the grow box which acts as a reservoir. The compact arrangement of the seedling plugs also limits the amount of light reaching the working solution further decreasing its temperature and also preventing algae from growing on it.

Plant transpiration and evaporation will lower the level of the working solution and must be replenished regularly. You may allow the working solution in the reservoir to dry up and the seedling plugs will still contain moisture. However, never allow the medium in the seedling plugs to totally dry up. Alternate adding plain water and working solution in the reservoir. This is because nutrients are left over as the plant transpires and the water from the working solution evaporates. Constantly adding working solution will increase the nutrient concentration and can cause nutrient burn or nutrient imbalance.

When the lettuce plants are bigger, limit the seedling plugs to twelve for every grow box. This will allow us to manage them easier and gives them more room to grow. Bigger plants take up more water and will require us to refill more frequently. Limiting the number of seedling plugs per box will also limit the water uptake. The amount of light reaching the nutrient solution is still limited because even though the seedling plugs are now more spaced apart the lettuce plants now have bigger leaves.

Lettuce plants in the background are smaller and arranged more tightly than the bigger lettuce plants in the foreground.
Lettuce grown in this method.

Additional Notes

This method requires additional test and experimentation as each grower has their own growing environment. Shading net is extremely helpful during the summer months when the sunlight can be intense enough to scorch lettuce leaf. Growing heat resistant lettuce varieties is also strongly recommended.

That is it! If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below. As always good luck and happy growing!

Posted on 1 Comment

Early Summer Time Tips for Hydroponics Growers in the Philippines

varieties of lettuce growing on styrofoam boxes with SNAP Hydroponics

The cold early morning days are still upon us as February comes to a close. We are expecting a weak El Niño in the following months and the days will be hotter and drier than usual.

There is Still Time to Grow the Perfect Lettuce

There is still time to catch the early morning cold breeze for your lettuce plants. The morning temperatures in the low lands still drops below 25°C. Lettuce thrives in cold temperatures. Lettuce grown in cold environments are compact, crisp and sweet. Most red varieties also show their red color when grown in cold environments.

Different lettuce varieties grown in SNAP Hydroponics
Different lettuce varieties grown in SNAP Hydroponics.

Take Extra Measures to Protect Your Grow this Summer

The summer heat can warm your nutrient solution which can result in lower dissolved oxygen concentrations and reduce yield significantly. Adding insulating materials to protect the nutrient solution from heat is also recommended.

Plan your grow and prepare your shading net for the hottest part of the day. The summer temperatures can cause heat stress to your plants.

Beware of plant varieties that can bolt and turn bitter when the temperature is too high.

Grow Plants that Can Take the Heat

Lettuce can be a challenge to grow during the summer unless you can find a heat tolerant variety. Mustasa, kang-kong and pechay grows well in SNAP Hydroponics nutrient solution even during the hottest summer months.

Mustasa seedlings grown in a microwavable tub.
Mustasa seedlings grown in a microwavable tub.
Posted on

Bahay Kubo Project: Tomato Grow Log #1

It’s been weeks since I transferred my rooted costoluto genovese pomodoro to my small plot. Sadly, I have to report that one of them didn’t make it. The next few days after the transfer, the tomato plants are getting heat stressed from the intense summer sun but I ignored them. One of them couldn’t handle the heat and wilted away as a result.

three live tomato plants and one dead one
One of the tomato plants wilted away

I just realised that the summer tropical temperatures must be too much for this variety of tomatoes. My first attempt was quite successful because it’s been quite cold during the months of January up to and including March. Even though theres been occasional rain showers all throughout April and May it’s been incredibly hot and humid nonetheless.

Tomato plant leaves cupping or canoeing.
Tomato leaves showing signs of heat stress. Cupping or canoeing of leaves signifies heat stress.

I’ve decided to put up a net to lessen the amount of sunlight the plants are getting. It’s a start but I don’t believe it will help because the temperatures even under a shade is at 35°C.

A piece of net over tomato plants.
Added a net to protect the plants from the harsh summer sunlight.

It’s been another couple of weeks since this picture has been taken. Even the largest one among the three doesn’t look very healthy because of the constant heat stress. I’ll continue to monitor them for a few more weeks and see how far they would go in this heat.

Posted on

How to Grow Pitaya (Dragon Fruit)

Rip dragon fruit

In the Philippines the epiphytic, fruit bearing, cactus of the Hylocereus genus, are known as pitaya. The fruits are known as dragonfruit. Pitaya, like all cactus species, is native to the Americas but has been naturalised in many parts of the world. Pitaya can be grown as an ornamental or for it’s fruits. Cactus and succulent enthusiast grow them because their stems make excellent root stock for ornamental cacti. I’ll teach you have grow pitaya and share my experience with these fascinating cacti.

Pitaya can be grown from seeds but a mature plant can be realised faster if one is to grow them via cuttings. If cared for well it will grow to be big enough to start bearing fruit. Growing pitaya from cuttings is very easy. All you need to do is bury around 10 cm (3in) of the cutting to the ground and wait for it to grow. You don’t even need to water. The cutting will be spending most of its time developing a root system and you won’t even know if something is happening. Be patient. Start watering when you start seeing shoots. Depending on the size and health of the cutting new shoots will form in 1-3 months. Frequent rains during the rainy season may cause the cactus to rot at the soil line. Just let it be. As long as the vascular bundles are intact, they usually callus and the cactus let the fleshy parts rot. You can either train the plant or let it just go about its business of growing. The fruiting season usually starts late May until September. The size of the cactus tells if the cactus will bear fruits in the fruiting season. Just make sure your cactus is healthy and thriving during the fruiting season and they’ll reward you with fruits.

a large pitaya plant sprawled over a wall
Our pitaya plant last July 2017. The cacti growing on trellis was grown from cutting the previous year and is now bearing fruits.

Pitaya’s are epiphytic, they grow on trees, in nature. They are used to shade because they grow in the shadow of a trees’ canopy. As you can see in the picture below. Parts of our pitaya plants that are exposed the direct sunlight are turning yellow while parts of it that spends part of the day under the shadow of our house is a healthy shade of green.

Picture of a pitaya plant viewed from above.
Stems exposed to full sun is turning yellow.

During the fruiting season the pitaya plant bring forth buds that develops into flowers.

A picture of a small pitaya flower bud
A young pitaya flower bud.

However, not all buds develop into flowers. Buds may sometimes turn yellow and fall off. This happens when the plant doesn’t feel like it will not be able to develop the fruit due to issues like light, water and/or nutrient availability.

A yellowed pitaya flower bud.
This flower bud has been “abandoned” by the plant. It fell off after a few days.

Flower buds develop quickly and can open in 2-3 weeks. Flowers only open at night. The surest sign that the flower will bloom during the night is if it looks like it’s going to burst and you can see parts of the white petals.

A mature pitaya flower.
This pitaya flower will open during the night.

The flowers are large, showy and fragrant. It opens around 8PM. Bloom peaks around 12AM to 3AM. By 4-5AM it is already starting to wilt. The video below is a time-lapse of the nocturnal pitaya bloom.

Pitaya’s only bloom at night because in their natural range, the unforgiving desert heat keeps pollinating insects away during the day. By morning the next day the flower has served it’s purpose and the plant abandons it.

a wilted pitaya flower
A wilted pitaya flower. The green parts near the stem ripens into dragon fruits.

The wilted flower will drop off or rot away and the remaining parts develops into dragon fruit over a few weeks.

A red and ripe dragon fruit.
A ripe dragon fruit with parts of the flower still attached.

Dragon fruit stops developing when it is taken of the pitaya plant so making sure that the fruit is ripe during harvest is important. Ripe dragon fruits have a bloated appearance. Depending on the variety, the color of the peel varies. My pitaya has a red peel and red flesh. Wait for the ripe color of your fruits to be the dominant color until only the tips of the protrusions remain green or yellow. You can also give the fruit a gentle squeeze. It should be soft but offer resistance. To harvest gently twist the fruit off. You may use snips if you don’t want the peel to be damaged. The sharp protrusions can be trimmed off.

A hand peeled pitaya fruit.
Just be showing off the pitaya I peed using my hands.

Our pitaya only gets attention when it’s flowering and fruiting yet it thrives and rewards are efforts (or lack of it) with fruits. It’s one of the easiest fruiting plants to grow. In the future I’ll be posting about how to train them. I plan on starting a separate grow where I’ll be giving the plant proper care and grooming and see how much fruits it will bring me.

If you have any question please feel free to ask. Good luck and happy growing!

Posted on

What is flushing?

Another very talked about topic in SNAP Hydroponics Growers is flushing. There are hydroponic growers who believes in flushing and there are those who are non-believers in flushing. It’s one of those gardening questions that enthusiasts have experimented with, had different answers and the scientific community has largely ignored because they have others things to do. And we all just agree to disagree. Personally I don’t believe in flushing.

What is flushing? According to its proponents flushing is a way of getting rid of excess salts or chemicals from the plant’s tissues there by giving it a better taste, texture or aroma. The theory goes that there are excess chemicals in the plant. Taking away the nutrient solution results in the plant eating through the excesses. The concentration of the chemicals in the plant is less and thus is better than their non-flushed counterparts. If this is really true then why haven’t the food production industry got wind of it? The video below features a large scale lettuce production. Nowhere in the video was flushing mentioned.

To me it seems that the nutrient concentration in the whole operation is uniform all through out the operation.

A bigger arena in the flushing or no flushing debate is the indoor cannabis growing scene in places where cannabis cultivation is allowed. Flushing is said to enhance the flavour, aroma and even potency of flushed cannabis but not everybody is convinced. Nobody is yet to produce a clear cut and well substantiated study about the benefits of flushing even in the cannabis industry where potency is the name of the game.

If non-flushed hydroponically grown leafy plant is loaded with chemicals and is therefore bad why don’t we do the same for fruiting hydroponically grown vegetables? If the plant is loaded with chemicals then the chemicals is definitely in the fruit as well. Why aren’t the plants flushed before the fruits are plucked?

Nutrients are required at almost every point in the development of the plant. Changing nutrient concentrations all of the sudden may send the plant into a panic mode, releasing hormones and get ready to propagate no matter what. This is often not what you want because it is often manifested as bitterness in the resulting harvest.

Let say the intended effect of flushing, eating away through the excess chemicals works as described. Where does the excess chemicals go I believe it goes to the tissues of the plant. The chemicals become part of the plant which is still going to be part of the harvest. I can understand if this works for animals because they excrete waste but for plants I doubt it.

So there you go. My thoughts on what flushing is and why I don’t believe in its benefits. Feel free to leave a comment or reaction. Have fun and happy growing!

Posted on 1 Comment

Growing Tomatoes in Soil

Everybody loves tomatoes. Eating them freshly picked and still warm from light of the sun is a pleasure only tomato growers get to experience. The tomato plant is very easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. They grow and flourish everywhere as long as there’s enough sunlight and water as you can see below.

fruiting tomato plant surrounded by weeds
This tomato plant is growing unattended. It’s fruiting despite all the competition around it.

Tomatoes can be grown from seeds or cuttings. Seed packets can be bought from your local gardening center. If you are feeling adventurous you can try growing them from kitchen scraps. Put tomato seeds on a layer of newspaper and dry them under the sun. They need to be thoroughly dried otherwise it might take a while to germinate them. For the lazy (like me) you can just put fresh seeds on potting soil, put it under the sun to dry, wait a few days, then add water. That’s how I germinated tomato seeds recently.

small tomato seedlings on some potting soil
Seedlings! It is fascinating how hard to decompose the tomato skin is.

Wait for them to grow big enough to be transferred to your plot. I usually repot the seedlings into individual nursery pots and wait until they are around 10-15cm long before I transfer them to my garden.

a potted young tomato plant
A young tomato plant in a nursery pot

If a friend or neighbour has a tomato plant you want to experience the pleasure of growing, try asking them for cuttings. Just choose healthy shoots and cut them to 10-15cm. Then put your cuttings in a container filled with clean water. Keep the container in a place with indirect sunlight and wait for a couple of weeks for them to take roots. Be sure to refill or replace the water as needed.

When the roots are long enough, 5cm will do, transfer them to a nursery pot filled with soil. Keep them in indirect sunlight for a couple of days. And slowly introduce them to more light. In a few days you’ll have a healthy potted tomato plant ready to be transferred to your garden.

Once transplanted all that’s needed is regular waterings and plenty of sunlight. You might want to add a tomato cage too because these grow until they can no longer keep themselves up.

Described below is my recent experience in growing tomatoes. I had a blast growing the Costoluto Genovese Pomodoro.

four tomato plants growing on soil
Tomato plants transplanted January 19th. Pictured 2nd of February.

Pictured above are tomato plants grown from clones given to us by a friend. It has grown so much since it’s been transplanted.

big tomato plants
Tomato plants pictured February 21st.

Above I added strings to support the plants. Using strings proved to be a mistake. Because they just kept growing.

big and bushy tomato plants
Tomato plants pictured March 5th.

Until the string broke and the plants collapsed under their own weight. They are already bearing flowers and fruits at this point.

We just propped them up with a better support structure and they went about their business of growing and bearing fruits again. Soon enough we are harvesting tomatoes.

a bunch of Costoluto Genovese Pomodoro
Costoluto Genovese Pomodoro

At first I thought I might be doing something wrong because my tomatoes have a weird shape. My friend who gave me the seedlings never told me what variety they are aside from telling me they are “pomodoro.” It took me a bit of Googling to find out that they are Costoluto Genovese Pomodoro. “Pomordoro”, by the way, is Italian for tomato. So I guess it’s wrong to say “pomodoro tomatoes.”

I eventually had to take down the plants because they’ve grown too big and they started to attract pests. I made sure to save and root cuttings before I did so. Below is a video of me planting the cuttings I took from my previous tomato plant.

Thanks for reading. Good luck and happy growing!

Posted on 2 Comments

Memories Can Be Kept, Grown and Eaten

Last January, my wife and I went to Sagada. It is a lovely place that everybody should visit. In one of our wanderings, we passed a cherry tomato plant hanging over a wall. Pampered by the temperate weather of Sagada, the plant looks vigorous and healthy. I picked one of the ripe fruits and took it home.
The tomato is no longer fit to eat when I got home so I just cut it in half and squeezed out the seeds on top of potting soil. Once dried, I sprayed it with water. Days later, I got this:

small tomato seedlings on some potting soil
Seedlings! It is fascinating how hard to decompose the tomato skin is.

In a few more days, I will transplant them and grow them until they bloom and bear fruit. In a few weeks, I will harvest them and eat them. Cherry tomatoes from Sagada. It is possible that I will lose my plants for whatever reason but I’ll make sure to keep seeds to prevent that. Memories I can keep, grow and eat again and again.

Originally published in MJ Garden.

Posted on

Growing Pipino (Cucumber) Using SNAP Hydroponics

a healthy one month old cucumber plant.

Cucumber is one of the easiest fruiting plant that can be grown in SNAP hydroponics. Here I’ll share my growing experience with them. The first time I ever grown cucumber is the second time I’ve ever grown my own food with SNAP. That’s a testament to how easy it is.

pipino seedling in a seedling plug
My very first pinino seedling 9th September 2016. This seedling was recently transferred from a germination tub.

Prerequisites

A sunny location
The more sun the better. I’ve grown mine on an east facing and awning protected side of the house. It receives around direct sunlight from 7am to 12nn it’s under our house’s shadow for the rest of the day.

 

a healthy one month old cucumber plant.
This is the same set of seedlings on 10th October 2016.
A trellis to grow on
Cucumber is a vine that tends to grow everywhere. You’ll have to give it a trellis to grow on. I let my cucumber plants grow on window grills and plastic twine (taling straw).
Enough room for roots
Cucumber grows fast and to support this growth it develops a big root system just as fast. It’s very easy to run out of room (root bound) in your growing box and as a result the cucumber plant die.

 

I’ve successfully grown five of them on a single growing box but I think managing them became too much for me. You’ll need to regularly visit it because like I mentioned before they tend to grow everywhere. When they are big (and they get big fast) they drink so much water you pretty much have to top up the growing box with water almost every other day. I guess it depends on what you intend to do with the fruits. If you just need them on a regular basis, growing a couple of them on a single grow box would do. If you need them in bulk, like for example when you intend to pickle them, then 10 of them split in two growing boxes will give you lots of them faster.

Other things to consider
Leaf miners can be a little nuisance. Cucumber grows fast despite of them. Leaf miners will make the leaves look ugly though.

 

They can be infested with aphids. Aphids tend to slow them down and can be a big problem. If an aphid infestation starts I tend to just discard the plant and start over.

Strong winds can mangle them. Cucumbers have big leaves and soft stems. Summer is the best time to grow cucumbers if you don’t have a greenhouse.

Starting From Seed

I tried both sowing cucumber seeds on a germination tubs and sowing them directly into a seedling plug. Both works but I find sowing directly into the seedling plug more convenient. Sowing them directly into a seedling plug saves them the trouble of getting transplant shock.

Maintenance

As the cucumber plants grow it will take up nutrients and water from the growing box. However, the plant tend to drink more water than nutrients specially during hot seasons. The plant will do well for over a month with only water being added to top up the grow box. I replenish the nutrient solution after every four weeks and gets more frequent as the plant grows larger.

Cucumbers grown in SNAP hydroponics will start flowering in four weeks and fruits will be ready for harvest typically around six weeks. When harvesting, use snips to cut the steam about a centimeter above the fruit.

The cucumber plant’s roots tends to grow dense and heavy relatively fast and will eventually end up filling the growing box. I haven’t tried trimming the roots because I tend to start over from seed when the plant gets root bound.

dead pipino plant
This is the same growing box on the 28th of October 2016. Five cucumber plants filled up the growing box with roots in just over a month.

Thanks for reading. Feel free the leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy growing!