Kratky method Archives

Kratky Hydroponics – The Catch

Kratky method of hydroponics

Kratky Method

As wonderful and as amazing as the Kratky method of hydroponics is, it has been patented by Dr. Kratky through the University of Hawaii. And it should be. It is an amazing, off-the-grid method of growing plants without dependence upon the soil, climate or other fertilization.

Dr. Kratky’s patent is designed to allow anyone with commercial or personal application  (virtually) freedom from the patent in Hawaii. The patent does not allow commercial application of Dr. Kratky’s discoveries without written permission from Dr. Kratky outside of Hawaii. But I don’t see how application of Dr. Kratky’s principles can be enforced at a personal use level.

One of his papers, A Suspended Pot Non-circulating Hydroponic Method, gives an excellent description of the method. The patent is US5385589A.

However, there are numerous rafted net pot methods that are used worldwide for personal and commercial purposes and I am not sure what separates these methods from the Kratky method. If anyone is knowledgeable about the differences, I would really like to know what they are. I do not want to step on anyone’s patent.

An Overly Eager Eggplant

An Overly Eager Eggplant

Dr. Kratky’s method does not include aeration so maybe using aeration is not impinging upon the patent. Aeration of the water does improve growth and production but not by much. It may not be enough difference to offset the cost of buying the tubing, stones and pump and the electricity to run it and to maintain it. Maybe.

If you ever try the method (and you can on a scale as small as suspending a net pot in the lid of a plastic coffee can), you will be astounded to find the the water does not stagnate. If fact, the water stays perfectly clear unless there is an algal growth. If light cannot reach the water, there will be no algal growth. There is no smell except the smell of wonderful, green plants.

Here are a few videos that will help to demonstrate hydroponics without a lot of muss and fuss.

 

Hydroponic Garden

We’ve done a lot of work since we decided to expand the hydroponic garden. To the original six tubs, we’ve added 31 more for a total of 37.

Strawberry

Strawberry

Last week, I planted ten Allstar strawberries in hydroponic tubs – a variety that I have not tried before. They are doing extremely well and all but one pip has new leaves. Today four more tubs were planted with Quinnault and Sequoia varieties.

Sprouted Potato

Sprouted Potato

I am looking forward to trying some hydroponic potatoes. There were three white rose grocery store potatoes that spent the winter on the kitchen counter and now have huge, thick stems but no roots. I’m going to break off one of the sprouts to see if it will grow on its own or not. When we were at Home Depot a few days ago, I bought a package of red, white and blue potatoes which I also planted in the tubs.

Planting the potatoes is just a shot in the dark for me. There are a few videos on YouTube about hydroponic potatoes but very few. So I just put the potato in the net pot with the sprouted eyes up and crossed my fingers.

This is pepper and potato year. Not for any special reason just because I want to concentrate on peppers and potatoes this year. Last year was tomato year and we had a ton of tomatoes and tried some varieties we had never done before. And it paid off. Of the 70 plus plants and ten varieties we were able to discover some new favorites.

In this region of the world, red and green chile are important crops. Getting your roasted green chile on Labor Day weekend is a tradition. And they are so good. But in addition, I love roasted bell peppers. Green, red, yellow or orange – they are all very good raw or fried but are even better when roasted. I guess it’s the way the sugars in the peppers caramelize.

My favorite dish in the world is a rattetoui with blackened bell pepper, onion, zucchini, mushrooms with oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. This year I want to be able to grab a package of roasted peppers from the freezer and have rattetoui all year long.

So it’s been a busy day here at the Queen D Ranch Gardens. I will be sure to update when there is more news on the hydroponic potatoes and other veggies.

 

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

The greenhouse is a very modest, 6 x 8 ft affair. It was purchased as a kit from Harbor Freight by my parents who never got around to putting it up. We put it up in 2011 and used it quite a bit that year but not the next year. Not sure why we didn’t.

This year, we are hoping to keep our Kratky tubs running all through the winter. As I noted in the previous post, moving the tubs into the house didn’t give them enough light. The greenhouse was our next best bet but heating it was going to be  a problem. David had built a solar heater for our above ground pool. The heater was very satisfactory for the pool so we will be adapting it for use in the greenhouse to heat 100 gallons of water.

The water is in three 30+ gallon tubs that are installed in the back of the greenhouse. With only one 30 gallon tub, the greenhouse had been staying about 15 deg F above the lowest nighttime temperature. That would be fine except that our nighttime temp in January will dip to about 10 deg F. Plus 15 deg will only push the temp to about 25 if we were really lucky which we won’t be. We needed to do more.

Greenhouse Tubs

Greenhouse Tubs

David built a rack to hold three 36 gallon Rubbermaid tubs. During the day, the top one will fill and then overflow into the second, the second into the third and a pond pump will pull water from the bottom tub and through the solar heater where the cycle will be repeated. Our daytime temperatures have been right about 70 deg F pushing the greenhouse daytime high temperature to about 100 – 110 deg F. If we can heat the water to 80 deg F, I think we can maintain an above-freezing temp in the greenhouse through January and February, our coldest months.

I realize that this is a very primitive approach for those of you who are experienced at operating greenhouses, but this is very new for us . Our greenhouse this year will be entirely experimental.

The Las Cruces area actually has about seven large commercial greenhouses that are heated by geothermal wells. The wells are expensive to drill and set up but after that,  you have all the heat you can possibly want for free for as long as you can keep the well running. Ours will certainly be nothing compared to that but for us, it is really exciting.

We are looking forward to expanding the size of the greenhouse next spring. I can hardly wait!!

 

Hydroponic Update

With the cooling weather, I had to get my Kratky tubs into some kind of protection.

First, I brought them into the house and put the tubs next to a big sliding glass door in the big bedroom. Even with a growlight on each cart (two tubs on each cart), the plants were not getting anywhere close to enough light. The plants took a pretty hard hit because it took a few days to realize that the light was insufficient and another few days to get the green house ready. The green house plant benches needed a little modification to accommodate the six tubs.

Moving them was tons of fun. Each tub had to be emptied or close to it to make them light enough for me to lift and to move them. The roots on the tomato and eggplant plants were huge so I had to handle them very carefully. In the course of moving the tubs from the patio to inside to the green house, I had two casualties — the Principe Borghese tomato and a green chile. Everything else weathered just fine. The little Japanese eggplant has about six new blossoms after only two days in the greenhouse.

I was watching videos on YouTube about plant cloning from cuttings. There are a few really spectacularly performing plants in the garden. One is a Cour di Bue tomato. Another is the Clemson Spineless Okra. There is also a very dark green bell pepper that has a particularly thick flesh. I’m pretty sure it is a Corno di Toro Rosso. The flavor is rich and very sweet. So cloning these plants to bring them into the greenhouse would be wonderful. Here’s how to do the cloning which is extremely simple. The video guy is using a gel product. I used my old standby, Rootone.

Tomato Clone

Tomato Clone

My Cour Di Bue tomato already has a lot of roots. One of the okra has one little tiny white root, one of the pepper cuttings isn’t doing well at all while the second pepper is really perky and green but no roots yet.

The other factor for the greenhouse is how to heat it. This past summer, we put up an 18 foot diameter above ground pool. David built a solar heater that heated the 7500 gallons of the pool 15 degrees in three days. His effort was very well worth the $100 cost and the time (3 days) to complete it.

Okra Clone

Okra Clone

As closely as my feeble engineering skills permit, I calculated the output of the solar heater to be about 240,000 BTUs. Of course, that is in almost 100 degree weather with a good 12 hours of sunlight during the summer days and short summer nights. With winter days having probably less than three solar heating hours per day and winter nighttime temperatures in January averaging about 29 degrees F, the game will change dramatically.

We decided to use plain water as the heat storage medium. Right now with daytime temperatures just below 70 deg F and night time temps at about 38 deg F, the one 30 gallon water tub in the greenhouse is staying at about 55 deg. That’s with no heating apparatus at all. We plan to add two more 30 gallon tubs circulating through the solar heater. The solar heater will run from about 10 am to about 4 pm. Whatever heat is collected will be stored in the water. The installation will begin today.

We’ll keep you posted on how well it works.

Kratky Method Notes and Progress

Today I want to document some successes, failures and observations about my Kratky method tubs.

Kratky Method Tomato

Kratky Method Tomato

Most of my plants are doing extremely well. I have noticed some distinct growth differences between the plants in the garden and the plants in the Kratky tubs. The plants in the Kratky tubs are much shorter, bushier and are blooming more profusely than the plants in the garden.

My garden tomatoes are about 3-1/2 feet tall. They are blooming really well and setting fruit. The Kratky tomatoes are blooming extremely well and are just beginning to set fruit as well. In the fruit-setting mode the two methods are about equal.

Something I’ve observed on the Kratky tomatoes is that they very eagerly

Air roots forming

Air roots forming

create air roots and are creating them very early. The garden tomatoes are not making air roots at all. The garden tomatoes are growing very well but do not have the heartiness and girth that the Kratkey method tomatoes have. In fact all the plants in the tubs are very robust and vigorous.

Even so, the garden tomatoes are doing very well. I think there are about eight varieties in the garden: Tappy’s Heritage, Riesentraube, Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Rutgers, Delicious, Costoluto Genovese, Dour Di Bue, Pantano Romanesco, Roma and St. Pierre. Okay. There’s ten varieties.

If I didn’t have the Kratky method tomatoes to compare to, I would be ecstatic about the development of the garden tomatoes.

The tomatoes are setting fruit.

The tomatoes are setting fruit.

As a point of review, what I mixed in the solution for the each Kratky tub was 1 teaspoon of MaxiBloom (5-15-14) per gallon (14.5 teaspoons) with a pinch (please forgive me – I took a guestimate) of Triple Super Phosphate and a pinch of Muriate of Potash. Plus one teaspoon of Azomite (t) and one tabelspoon of Epsom salts.

The garden has a half dose of Super Phosphate, a half dose of Triple Super Phosphate, two half doses of Muriate of Potash, some Azomite (t) and approximately weekly foliar feeds of Epsom salts at 2 tablespoons in 1 gallon of water. The fertilizers are on top of heavy amounts of sheep and horse manure applied as a mulch (not mixed into the soil). Also forty pounds of gypsum have been applied in one application on roughly 6,000 – 8,000 square feet of garden.

The garden is almost all drip irrigation on automatic timers which makes watering a breeze. At this time, the drip waters for thirty

Blue Lake bush beans in the Kratky tubs

Blue Lake bush beans doing very well in the Kratky tubs.

minutes every night at 1 AM. I will make another post exclusively on the drip system because it certainly warrants a discussion on its own.

Most of the problems I’m having with the Kratky method are mechanical. The plants are very top heavy and tip out of the solution. That causes the roots to dry and subsequently to rot. The plant then suffers quite a lot in the heat.

This is one of the two zucchini that tipped out of the solution for several hours. The roots, which had been a pristine white, turned gray. Oddly the plant immediately made some thick roots. I think those roots were emergency water roots. Then it began growing a whole new crop of maintenance roots. The second zucchini didn’t make it.

Zucchini that tipped over

Zucchini that tipped over

Today at about 4 pm I cut off all the gray roots so we’ll see how that affects the plant tomorrow.

I think I have resolved the plant tipping problem by securing the pots with bricks. We had some high winds that helped the plants to tip over, too. Having Kratky tubs in unprotected areas where the tubs can overfill with rainwater and high winds that can damage the plants is definitely a disadvantage.

An eggplant in the tubs is growing like crazy. Today it has 17 blossoms on it.

An Overly Eager Eggplant

An Overly Eager Eggplant

The bottom of the plant is producing many sprouts. I should probably trim those sucker off but I am not going to remove them to see what that result is. Again, this plant is shorter, has a heavier main stem and is much bushier than the eggplant in the garden.

Also today I planted four net pots with May Queen butterhead type lettuce. I believe it matures around 30 days.

One thing I’ve learned is that planting different plants in one tub is a mistake for the most part. At the plants mature, their water use increases proportionately. New or smaller plants wind up dying because their water supply is quickly taken away because the water level drops dramatically.

Another mistake was using plastic tubs that were somewhat translucent. These tubs let in too much light and algae grew in the tubs. I wrapped the tubs with black plastic and that seems to have quelched the problem. However, any additional tubs will be opaque.

Supporting the plants requires some ingenuity. Ideally, the tubs would be in a green house or some other protective structure where I could build some overhead support. As it is, the only support I have for the plants are some 2 x 2′s attached to one of the tubs to support the first tomato that I planted. It, too, has toppled out of the tub and is not doing well. I am leaving it to see if it recovers and if it does, how it does it.

Despite the problems, this method is very workable and produces outstanding, healthy plants.

Kratky Method Zucchini

Kratky Method Zucchini

Kratky Method Zucchini

We had a reader ask how our Kratky method zucchini were doing so I though I’d do a short post to let you see how they are growing.

I planted these right in the bare net pots. They sprouted just fine. In fact, every kind of seed I put into the net pots sprouts very quickly and it seems like there is near 100% germination. I suppose the environment is just about perfect for germination. There is constant moisture but the seed is not inundated in water and can still breathe.

When these zucchini first sprouted, the tubs were on the back patio under the overhang of the porch and were not getting anywhere near enough sunlight. Most of the less woody plants like the Swiss chard and lettuce that had sprouted died because they were so thin and weedy from lack of light that the stems collapsed. That’s when David built the carts for me.

But the zucchini never gave up. But you can see by the photos that they are somewhat compromised because the plant is about half out of the medium. Sometime soon I will try to settle the plant into the medium a little deeper. As it is now, the wind blows the plant around and around the pot.

Kratky Method Zucchini

Kratky Method Zucchini

Kratky Method Tomatoes

Kratky Method Tomatoes

These three tomatoes to the left were transplanted into the net pots where they were about 1-1/2 to 2 inches tall. The stems on these guys are really big and strong. If you click on the photo, it will enlarge and you can more clearly see the stems. Note the particularly large stem on the tomato on the right.

So far, my hydroponic experiment is going really well. I’m truly amazed at how easy and maintenance free the whole set up is. The big challenge will be when winter comes. I don’t know how I’m going to provide enough light to keep the plants going.

We’ll come up with something, though. We do have a small green house and maybe they can go in there if we can figure out how to heat it without it costing a fortune.

Results of Sprouting Seeds via Kratky

Michelangelo has his David and I have mine

Michelangelo has his David and I have mine

On June 5, I reported about the results of sprouting seeds via Kratky tub. All the seeds that I planted did sprout but because the tubs were under the overhang on the back porch, the plants did not get enough light. As a result, all the little plants became weedy and ultimately died because the stem could not support the plant.

So my darling David built me three carts to hold two tubs per cart. With the new carts, I can put the tubs out into the sun but still be able to wheel them under the porch overhang in case of rain.

Results of Sprouting Seeds via Kratky

Results of Sprouting Seeds via Kratky

Each tub weighs just over 120 pounds (14.5  gallons of water @ 8.3454 pounds / gallon = 121.0083 pounds) plus the weight of the tub, the net pots, planting medium and the plants. Total weight probably right at 250 pounds per cart so they had to be really sturdy. And they are. They work beautifully.

Now I can move the tubs, two to a cart, around with ease. It’s great.

I had to pull up the poor little plants that did not get enough sunlight. But they are replanted now so it will be a few days until the new plants are sprouted. But we’re on the right path now.

The next big challenge will be lighting the tubs for winter growing.

Sprouting Seeds With Kratky Method

Sprouting Seeds With Kratky Method

 

Plants That Grow Using Kratky Hydroponics

Spinach on May 30, 2013

Spinach on May 30, 2013

It seems that the number of plants than can be grown with the Kratky method is pretty extensive. Leafy plants like spinach and lettuce are kind of easy to assume will grow just fine using this method. Root plants would probably present a challenge unless, like beets, they were harvested before the size of the root exceeded the limits of the net pot. That would make potatoes out of the question, I suppose.

So far, I have tomatoes, several kinds of peppers, an eggplant and a spinach plant that are all doing very well. The one beet that I transplanted is not happy and remains wilted. The grape tomato was planted on May 15, 2013, and has grown 7 inches (18 cm) since then. It is now 17 inches (43 cm) tall and will require support before very long.

The spinach shown here was transplanted from the garden on May 28. It never even hesitated from the transplantation.

I purchased three more tubs yesterday and net pots and clay pellets today to start the new boxes. This will double the size of my Kratky experiment. Some new plants will be included in the expansion including zucchini and some bok choy, I think. It will be interesting to compare the Kratky hydroponics to the garden-grown plants in size, growth rate, bug infestation and resultant produce.

Kratky Method of Hydroponics – Update

The grape tomato

The grape tomato on May 15, 2013

Tomato on 05/26/2013

Tomato on 05/26/2013

Let’s see what’s been happening for the past ten days with the Kratky method of hydroponics tubs. The picture on the left is the grape tomato on May 15, 2013. The picture on the right is the same tomato on May 26, 2013. Can you see how much growth has happened in only ten days? The flowers are now topped by those two little branches that are now leafed out. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there are also two more flowers and two have closed up.

I’m anxious to see if any of the flowers set fruit.

Kratky Method of Hydroponics

I was inspired by a youtube video by Bobby (mhpgardender) clearly showing the Kratky method of hydroponics. So I bought some tubs and proceeded to set them up.

If you are not familiar with the Kratky method of hyroponics, it differs from standard hydroponics in that it is a non-powered system. This method of hydroponics does not use air stones, pumped water or water changes. It’s a good system for just about anyone but especially for off-grid. I was attracted to the system for its sheer simplicity.  Simply leave a 1/4 inch air gap between the bottom of the pot and the water level. As the plants use the water, the water level will drop. If your crop, such as lettuce that takes only 30 days or so, finishes, simply replant the tub and refill with new growing solution. If you have a crop with a longer term such as tomatoes or peppers, replenish the water every three weeks or so. Here’s the diagram.

Kratky method of hydroponics

Kratky method of hydroponics

The first challenge I had was finding the net pots that are suspended in the water. Fortunately, we have three hydroponics stores in town which was somewhat surprising to me. We are a small university town of only 100,000 and only have two WalMarts. We are a very active farming community however. Maybe that accounts for having them.

Only one tub was set up to start. I had my husband use the 3 inch hole saw to cut six hols in the top of the tub.

Costs:

Item Source Cost Tax Total
Tub WalMart $5.47 $0.35 $5.82
6 Net Pots Hydroponics Store $3.36 $0.21 $3.47
Fertilizer Hydroponics Store $15.22 $0.97 $16.19
Tomato Plant WalMart $3.34 $0.20 $3.54

Total so far is $29.02 and I have lots of fertilizer left over.

The standard growing medium is clay pellets, but mhpgardener mentioned that pea gravel, perlite or some other medium could be used as successfully. I had a driveway full of gravel so opted for the pea gravel. The gravel was washed and drained before putting it into the net pots. I carefully washed the growing medium off the purchased tomato plant and planted it in the net pot. This was a little interesting because I didn’t want to damage any of the roots if I could avoid it. I had to put the plant into the empty pot and dribble the pebbles around the roots. It was this process that gave me a little appreciation for the pebbles because the weight was very important in supporting the plant. Perlite would not have been as effective for a plant this size. By the way, the tomato is a grape tomato.

To add to my experiment, I wanted to plant some seeds to see if they would germinate in this setup. Planting seeds and especially small seeds in the pebbles would have been a waste of time. I needed something to suspend the seeds in the pots. I used paper toweling cut into strips about 1 inch by 3 inches, moistened the toweling and then folded it over the seeds and “planted” the assembly into the pots by simply putting a few pebbles on top of the toweling. I planted green beans, beets, cherry tomato and spinach. In the last space, I put a baby tomato that I dug out of the garden.

Kratky hydroponic method

The setup for my Kratky hydroponic method experiment

My experiment started on May 15th, 2013, exactly one week ago. Here are some photos of what’s happening today, May 22, 2013. I dug out one of the seed and saw that they are beginning to sprout, too.

Two tomato plants

Two tomato plants

The original grape tomato from WalMart and the little Delicious tomato from the garden both doing well after one week in the Kratky method tub.

The grape tomato

The grape tomato

The grape tomato is blooming like crazy. I’ll be thrilled when it starts to set fruit.

Tomato

Tomato

One of the three tomatoes planted in the third tub immediately after planting.

garden fertilizer

The fertilizer

This is the fertilizer combination I used yesterday. It is MaxiBloom 5-15-14. This was easy to figure out how to use since the directions are on the bag. It is 1 to 2 teaspoons per gallon so I went with the lower. I can always add to the solution later. The perfect solution is called Master Blend at 4-18-34. MiraclGro is 28-8-16. Waaaay too much nitrogen especially for a vegetable garden. So I still need to add some additional potassium.

Since this will be an on-going experiment at least for a while, I will keep everyone posted on the results.

 

 

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