Paul Nickerson

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Soiled Seedlings

In Aquaponics, Propagation on October 26, 2010 at 11:10 am

I have returned from fall break, and gathered my seedlings from the greenhouse. Unfortunately, I forgot my growing stone at home, and therefore have altered the system slightly. Until I am able to get the stone for the grow-beds, I am using a simple, medium-free, ebb-flow system.

I took the lid that belongs to the container I used for the grow-bed, and punched holes through it. I passed the roots through these holes, then secured the plant in place by wrapping a small piece of fabric (from an old sock) around the base of the plant. This works as a collar that protects the fleshy stem of the plant from the sharp edges of the plastic. The roots simply dangle down into the water. If I was to continue using this system, I would need to light-proof the grow-bed to inhibit the growth of photosynthetic bacteria.

The seedlings I used were grown horticulturally, in soil, which made for a lot of added work. It is easiest if you buy hydroponically started seedlings, as they come with exposed roots, ready to be placed into your system.

Having used soil-based seedlings, it was necessary to remove the seedling from its pot, carefully shake off as much dirt as possible, and then, using a wash bath, wash the remaining soil from the roots. The disadvantage to using such seedlings, apart from excess work, is that you will likely not remove all of the trace soil from the plant. Soil introduced to the system can result in changes in pH and nutrient levels, which can be harmful to your fish. Due to the volume of my fish tank, I am not concerned with the small amount of trace soil introduced into the system.

Furthermore, a large amount of soil remaining entangled in the root of the seedlings may result in false hope. Even in a faulty system, plants may seem to thrive. This is due to the nutrients found in the trace soil. Unfortunately, as the nutrients within the soil becomes depleted, the plant will become ill. For this reason, it is important to continually check up on your plants, even after it appears to be balanced.

Insecticides: As Easy as Blowing Bubbles…

In Pest Management on October 18, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Although “Indorm plants” are a wonderful addition to any room, these lovely furnishings can bring about unwelcome guests. A good friend of mine, who seems to have collect a small jungle in her room, had a roommate who did not fully understand one key difference between nursery plants, and plants that you find outdoors: critters.

A few short days after collecting a large bouquet from woods, small, white bugs seemed to take over a small portion of their dorm room. My friend, and her band of green minions, as her roommate now saw them, were quickly blamed for the problem.

What it is important to remember is that greenhouse, store-bought plants will not typically house pests as often as wild specimens. However, even the most careful indoor gardeners may face a problem with critters at one time or another. This fact can have even greater implications for “indorm” gardeners, as their plants are located in their bedroom, living room, dining room, and study, simultaneously.

To treat such a problem there are many insecticides that can be purchased from any number of gardening centers. However, due to the fact that this blog is written for an “indorm gardener” on a campus salary, I want to propose an equally effective, yet free, means by which to treat insect problems: Soapy Water!

The most common insects that find their way into your houseplants are typically soft-body arthropods, such as mites, white flies, and aphids. A light solution of soap (found in your floor kitchen or bathroom) and water, can be easily applied to your plants by use of a spray-bottle. It is important to understand a few key things before taking advantage of this free insecticide.

Firstly, this solution is a contact insecticide, meaning that the insects must be present, and well-soaked with the solution, in order for it to have an effect. Because of this, a repeated application of the solution may be necessary. Also, it is important to thoroughly wet the plant, being sure to spray the undersides of leaves, as these are usually forgotten during treatment.

It is a good idea to wash the foliage of your plant after you have resolved your problems with unwanted pests. Hard-water solutions may result in the appearance of soap resin. The use of a softer water will help to reduce the presence of scum.

Finally, the solution should be less than 2% soap. The soap can have a burning effect on the leaves, and therefore a weaker solution will keep from damaging the foliage of the plants. Certain plants are more susceptible to damage, and one should research their specific plant prior to application. I am not responsible for damage to any plants, and although this method as been used to hundred of years, it is not perfect, and there are many variables that will control the effectiveness of this treatment.

My Aquaponics System!

In Aquaponics on October 14, 2010 at 12:16 am


Frontal View, The Long Hose (Right) Actually Feeds Into Grow Bed (See Upper Photo). It it currently being used to circulate water for the fish.

I have finally taken some pictures of my hydroponic system. As you can see in the pictures, it is comprised to two tanks: the fish tank, and the grow bed. The lower tank houses my goldfish, which provide the majority of the nutrients needed for the plants that will be placed in the grow bed. The water is pumped, through a piece of 3/8 x ¼” plastic hose, into the grow bed.

The grow bed has two outlet hoses. The lower hose is made of the same hosing, allowing a slow, steady drain of water from the tank. The cascade of water from this outlet helps to aerate the water for the fish. This will help drain the bed when the pump is turned off.

The upper drain (Black) is a piece of ¾” plastic pipe, which allow a larger, faster drain back into the fish tank. This allows the grow bed to maintain a consistent water level. This water level will act as the ‘soil line.’ I had to add a small piece of lightweight, plastic tubing to the end of the upper drain to keep the water from splashing as it pours into the fish tank.

The entire cycle will be put on a timer, and will run every fourth hour for one hour during daylight hours. This is not a set cycle as it will depend on how the plants respond to the treatment.

Inside the fish tank, I have places a small rock sculpture, and some stacked pieces of PVC piping to act as housing for the fish. Many of the parts I used to build my system are recycled, or are mickey-moused. My goal was to build this system as simply, and inexpensively as possible.

My Parts List:

2 Tanks- (1) 6 Qt Sterilite Storage Box ~$2

(1)16 Qt Sterilite Storage Box ~$3

3/8 x ¼” Plastic Hose ~$4

Kwik Seal ® Caulk $2.87

Upper Drain- DANCO Spray Hose Guide ($1.99. An actual drain is around $12)

Pump- 106 Gph, Salvaged from an old fountain, Salvation Army, $6 (Shop smart! I also used the pebbles, and stone statue from the fountain in my fish tank.)

Upper Drain Pipe- Scrap Section from Home Depot

Plastic Splash Tube- Packaging from disposable plastic-ware.

Fish- $.28 feeder fish.

Growing Medium- Fish Stones ~ $6

Timer: I have not yet purchased, but I believe this will be the most expensive part at ~$10

Propagating Succulents – Rooting Techniques

In Propagation on October 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

My mother has a number of Snake Plants, Sanseveria trifasciata, that were propagated from clippings of a parent plant owned by my great grandmother. The original plant was cut, and many members of my mother’s family currently own genetically identical daughter plants. Just under a year ago, I decided to continue the legacy, and planted clippings from my mother’s plant. Recently, a new plant emerged in my pot, showing that not only did the clippings successful root, but they also have put forth runners.

Although I had known about rooting plants from clippings, I was not aware of how simple it really was, especially when it comes to succulents. When taking segments of the parent plant, whether a clipping, or leaf, it is beneficial to water the parent plant heavily the day before. This will ensure that the clipping will have a high water content, and will be more prepared for the process. Furthermore, this will allow the parent plant to recover more readily. When taking clippings, be sure to use sterile scissors, and take the clippings as close to a node as possible. Make sure to include at least 2 or three nodes in the cutting. When harvesting a leaf for rooting, try to clip the leaf as close to the stem as possible.

There are two main ways by which to root segments: Water Rooting, and Medium Rooting. Water rooting is very simply explained, and is more commonly used for clippings, rather than leaves. With your clipping in hand, remove all of the leaves along the clipping, leaving only the topmost leaves. Then, place the clipping in a narrow container of water. The water should cover as many nodes as possible, as this is where the roots will form. Some people prefer to use a water soluble rooting hormone, but I have had success simple placing the cuttings in water.

Water Rooting Lavender

Although water rooting is typical with clippings, it is possible to root a leaf in the same manor. I have found that using a shallow tray (the bottom of a soda bottle) filled with water, can be used to soak just the bottom end of the leaf. Although it may be seen as cheating, I have found it very useful to place small shreds of paper towel in the container, this seems to stimulate root growth. When the roots have formed, transfer the plant over to a normal, medium filled pot, and allow the plant to continue growth.

Rooting a plant in medium is a little bit more complicated. Some plants will root effectively if the clipping or leaf is placed directly into the soil, watered, and is allowed to run its course. Although this may be true for some plants, such as my Snake Plant, many succulents require a bit more care.

After collecting your segments, it is important to allow them to sit in a clean area until a scab forms over the wound. This may take anywhere from a couple days, to a couple weeks depending on the clipping, and the humidity where it is stored. This scab is important, as will help the rooting process, and will help prevent infection. When the scab forms, you can apply a small amount of rooting hormone. I personally use Bontone ® Rooting Powder. I have learned however, that it is not entirely necessary to use a hormone, as I have had pretty much the same results with and without the hormone.

Medium Rooting Resting Technique

Once rooted, there are three methods typically used to starting the clipping. Many people subscribe to the idea that the cut end of the segment should simply be placed to rest on top of the soil. This will stimulate root growth downward into the medium. This same idea is reflected in the very similar technique of laying the leaf flat on top of the growing medium.

Planted Lavender Clippings

Another commonly used rooting technique is to physically plant the cutting. This is done by gently pressing the end of the cutting or leaf into the soil. If you apply a powder hormone to the cutting, it is important to make small holes in the medium, then inserting the cuttings, careful not to rub the hormone from the cuttings.

New Growth

After beginning the rooting process, it is important to immediately water the soil, then allow it to dry. Gently moistening the medium with a spray bottle can be helpful, but the majority of the nutrients needed to start roots will come from within the leaf itself. Once the roots have formed, water the new plant regularly, allowing the medium to dry slightly between waterings. One of my most effective rootings occurred void of any medium or supplemental water. After a short period of time, you will begin to notice new growth in the form of small leaves forming at the soil line.

Lifting A Caudex – Desert Rose

In Propagation on October 13, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Due to hectic class schedules, it is easy to neglect a plant for a few days.  Because of this, many of the best Dorm-Room Plants are Cacti and Succulents. Apart from being able to withstand period of neglect, there are a number of succulents that do well in low light environment. One of my favorite Dorm-Room Plants is the Desert Rose, Adenium obesum.

The Desert Rose blooms red, white, or pink, and many hybrids have been grown in countries such as China and India. As its name (Obesum) entails, the Desert Rose has a large caudex located at its base. This caudex is what I wish to focus on in this post.

The caudex, especially in the case of Xerophytes, is used for water storage. Aside from its function, the caudex adds a very intriguing, beautiful aspect to many plants. For this reason, many growers will ‘lift’ the caudex to expose it, adding another element of shaping to their pruned plants.

I pruned back by Desert Rose a few weeks ago to encourage branching, and waiting to lift the Caudex until now because I did not want to harass the root system immediately after pruning. Typically growers will wait until the plant is ready to be re-potted to lift the caudex, as to disturb the roots only once.

To lift the caudex you will need a pair of sharp scissors of shears, and a sterilization solution (1 part bleach, 4 part water, will work fine).

Squeeze the sides of the container in which the plant currently is placed. This will loosen the soil and allow the plant to be removed with ease. Firmly holding onto the base of the plant, turn the container on its side and carefully wiggle the plant free. If you are planning to re-pot the plant, fill the new pot with fresh soil, leaving enough space for the plant to be inserting.

Holding the plant by the base, gently remove the loose soil from between the roots. To remove the small amounts of soil held between the fibrous roots, a spray bottle with distilled water can be very helpful. Once the bulk of the old soil is removed, decide how much of the caudex you wish to expose. Typically it is a good idea to only expose about an inch of new caudex at a time. Once you have chosen the new location of the soil line, cut all of the roots that will be exposed back to the caudex, using the sterilized scissors.

My Desert Rose had two very nice, larger roots that protruded from the caudex. Although they were above the soil line, I really enjoy how they look, so I let them be. When putting the plant back into the medium, be sure to gently press soil around the roots as to remove any pockets of air that may form next to the roots.

This last step is very important! DO NOT PLACE IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT. Now that you have exposed the more fleshy part of the caudex, the plant can become sunburned rather easily. Keep the plant out of direct sun until the newly exposed flesh darkens like the rest of the caudex. Water the plant immediately after the procedure, then continue with a normal watering schedule (this will vary depending on the plant).


Recently Raised Caudex



New Growth Due To Pruning



My Desert Rose


Lesson Learned the Hard Way

In Aquaponics on October 13, 2010 at 12:13 am

I promise I will be posting pictures and videos of my system as soon as I get it fully operational! Until then, I have been running tests and checks to make sure everything is running well before adding plants. After having run the system through for a few days, I have learned two very important lessons: 1)Follow Directions, 2) Nylons save lives!

In order to seal the hole where the lower drain hose, which drains the watering tray into the fish-tank, I used Kwik Seal ® Kitchen & Bath Adhesive Caulk. The instruction, which being male I went ahead and set aside, called for a 36 hour waiting period before allowing contact with water. Being impatient, and anxious to give the system a run-through, I waiting a short 20ish hours, and decided that 36 was simply unnecessary. After a few hours of having the system turned on, I noticed small amounts a white substance floating around in the fish bowl. After further investigation, I noticed that the inner seal of caulk was completely missing. As a result, I spent a long while cleaning the tanks, and ultimately resealing all the connections. Needless to say, I am waiting the full 36 hours before tuning the circulation system back on.

The second lesson I have learned from this project is that Nylons save lives! I rerouted the pump to circulate water within the fish tank to oxygenate the water. I allowed the system to run while I went to Spanish class, and upon my return, I noticed that one of my larger goldfish had managed to get his tale stuck in the intake of the water pump. Unfortunately, he was DOA, and I have now found it necessary to place the pump inside of a nylon pantyhose to avoid another such incident.


In Aquaponics on October 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I figured that since only one person I have spoken with knew what Aquaponics is, I should quickly explain the basic concept. Like most standard hydroponic systems, the plants are grown in water, without traditional growing medium such as dirt, however, while typical hydroponic systems run off of a nutrients solution, aquaponics use the natural nutrients produced from fish. Thanks to AFF, we all understand that fish secrete ammonia, and other waste, in both their normal excrement, and from their gills. Two wonderful bacterium convert this ammonia into Nitrites, and then to Nitrates which plants can then use as nutrients to grow.

Moreover, as the plants are receiving their nutrients from the fish water, the returning water is filtered, and thereby allowed the fish a happy living environment. Although my current “indorm” system is run off Goldfish (cheap and dirty), I am planning on up-scaling this project during this coming summer and using either Tilapia or Trout, which will add another tasty, harvistable aspect to the system.

All Things Green!

In Alternative Agriculture, Aquaponics, Gardening, Identification, Pest Management, Potting, Propagation on October 8, 2010 at 4:28 am

Hey All!

I recently started building an aquaponics system in my dorm room (I hope I have not broken any rules…) Regardless, so many people seemed to be interested in the idea of “indorm gardening,” as I have named it, that I decided I should keep a running blog on it in order to keep everyone updated without having constant visitors! Anyways, as some of you know, and the rest of you will find out, Envi Sci majors have a perfectly healthy obsession with plants. I am hoping that this site can be a way for us to all gather our thoughts together, post questions to one another, and just have an interesting time sharing our love of all things green! Although this site is not an online dating service, I do hope that its content and communication will result in some very fruitful reproduction!

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