Paul Nickerson

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Here Comes the Sun

In Aquaponics on November 25, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Over Thanksgiving break, the Biology department at the college was kind enough to allow me to set up my Aquaponics system in their greenhouse. While I was very excited about this, there were some precautionary measure that needed to be undertaken once the system was relocated.

Due to the fact that my system was originally built to be housed on my bookshelf, receiving light from a focused source, I was not concerned with the fact that I had constructed the entire system using clear tanks and tubing.

When moving the system to a greenhouse, where it will be receiving full sunlight from all directions during the course of the day, it became necessary to darken the hoses and grow bed. My intentions were to use electrical tape to wrap the hoses, but being pressed for time, I resorted to wrapping the grow bed and hoses with aluminum foil. I did decide to wrap only three sides of the fish tank, leaving the wall facing the inside of the greenhouse exposed.

Growbed Update

It is important to darken as much of the system as possible. This will greatly reduce the amount of algae that forms, and potentially clog the small tubing. However, it is not to say that all amounts of algae is a bad thing, as a small amount will help to balance the system.

System With Foil

Plants Hate Vacation

In Potting on November 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I have just finished loading my luggage into my truck, and am anxiously awaiting the moment when I can leave school! With all the preparations that go into returning home for the week, my plants brought about the most stress. I was frustrated that the very things that brought so much peace and joy into my life could bring out such un-writable words.

Aside from tracking down a place for my Aquaponics system, which, thanks to the Biology Department, is happily spending vacation in the greenhouse, I was worried about the rest of my plants that would be sitting in my dark dorm room. Fortunately, I was eased with the fact that I had prepared for this moments.

As I have explained, succulents are wonderful dorm plants. Because of their ability to adapt to changes in their watering schedule, you can slowly alter each of their water cycles so that they align with one another. I typically do this with every new plant, removing the burden of having to keep track of countless different watering schedules.

Because of the adaptability of succulents, you can give them a fairly heavy watering right before you leave for break, and they should be fine for one to two weeks.

As for your water-loving plants, such as my Red-Splash, VFT, and Mimosa, you will either have to find a plant-sitter, take your plants with you over vacation, or invest in a water-bulb. (The little ones work wonderfully for most smaller dorm plants)

As far as light it concerned, contact your RD, and ask them if they would be so kind as to leave the window-blinds open when they do rounds. Usually after a small amount of begging and bribing, they are more than happy to help you out. If you have blinds like those in my room, which do not actually go up and down, it will be necessary to find out what position allowed the most light to reach your plants.

If you plan ahead, you should be able to peacefully enjoy your vacation, and return to a room of healthy plants.

UpDate: Rooting Jade Plants From Leaves

In Propagation on November 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm

As I have previously written, I have been working on propagating a number of jade plants from leaves that I have collected from a number of different parent plant. I am happy to say that all 13 clippings, representing five different varieties of succulents, have all sprouted! While I am really excited about this, I am also nervous, for as I have witnessed with my mother’s snake plants, cute little plants eventually take over your living room!

Cacti, New Project

Also, in response to the wonderful success I have had with these succulents, I cut sections from a cactus that I have, and am working on propagating those.

Thanksgiving Pineapples!

In Propagation on November 19, 2010 at 1:04 am

Tonight we had our annual Thanksgiving Dinner here at the College. To top off a wonderful spread of delicious turkey, ham, potatoes and corn, Dining Services always prepares a beautiful dessert table, covered in pies, cakes, and a large variety of fresh fruit. While they are intended to be a display, it seems that the whole pineapples seem to disappear into backpacks and under jackets.

After a long search, I found a table of girls who were crowed around one such treasure, cutting it into pieces, and passing it around. A look of curious surprise came over their faces when I asked if they wouldn’t mind giving me the top of it when they were done. I explained that I planned on growing a pineapple plant in my room, and I would really appreciate it if they would save the top for me. Confused, one girl gladly cut the top off, and handed it to me.

This Thanksgiving, if you enjoy pineapple (one of my favorite fruits), capitalize on that investment, and prepare for years to come! Propagating a Pineapple Plant is as easy as any other succulent, and like succulents, there is debate over the most effective means of propagation: water, or dirt. Both are very simple.

Firstly, dirt. Simply cut the top of the pineapple off, attached to about an inch the actual pineapple. Place the cut flat on the surface of the dirt, and then, add dirt around the base, covering up the fruity part so that only the leaves protrude through the soil. Water, and allow to grow. There is much discussion out there as to whether you should allow the based to scab over prior to planting, but from what I have gathered, either way will result in rooting.

Now onto water. This is the one I chose. Simply cut the top in the same way as for dirt, but in this case, cut away off of the fruit, resulting in roughly a one-inch stem of core. Remove the lowest couple rows of leaves. Rest the top into a glass of water, allowing the cut area to be completely submerged. This will allow the plant to water-root prior to planting.

While this is a wonderful activity, and means by which to recycle what would usually be thrown away or composted, it is important to remember that your plant will most likely not mature to the point of fruiting for anywhere between 18-24 months.


Iron Chlorosis and OTC Vitamins

In Aquaponics on November 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

A few weeks after having introduced the plants to my system, I noticed that the leaves of some of my plants, especially lettuce plants began to yellow, the key symptom of Iron Chlorosis. Iron Chlorosis results from the inability of a plant to extract sufficient iron from its environment.

Due to the fact that fish do not emit sufficient levels of Iron into the system, aquaponic farmers will typically introduce supplemental Iron in the form of Iron Chelate, a water-soluble form of Iron. As in humans, the Iron supplement needs to be water-soluble in order for the plants to effectively take it up. Some aquaponic farmers have designed a number of questionable means by which to compensate for this lack of Iron, such as burying old nails, or pieces of iron scrap in their grow beds, believing that the rust will result in an increase of iron. While it is has not yet been debunk, the question not only of volume, but also solubility is brought up. In the same way, some growers will introduce ash into their grow beds. Both of these methods would not seem to introduce a sufficient concentration of water-soluble Iron.

After discussing the problem of Iron Chlorosis with my adviser, it was determined that an inexpensive, yet effective means by which to supplement the needed iron was through OTC  Vitamins. While I originally felt that I was cheating, due to the fact that these vitamins contained other nutrients as well, I justified my action in that, the purpose of this system was to find an inexpensive, indorm alternative to horticulture. Paying $7 for enough vitamins to last years, seems to fit within that goal.

Unfortunately, as I learned the hard way, pioneering an idea has its consequences. I ground up two pills, and sprinkled them into the grow bed. While it initially darkened that fish tank, it did not have any negative effects on the fish. Moreover, my lettuce plants quickly regained their color. Unfortunately, after a couple days, the bases of the lettuce plants darkened, and rotted. As this was the area of the plant that came into direct contact with the supplement, I am afraid that the lettuce plants suffered a pH burn.

However, on a happier note, the rest of my plants responded very well to the treatment. The leaves darkened, and the plants have grown very large. I recently moved the system into a make-shift light box that I built into my book-shelf to help provide the needed light for the growing plants. All in all, I found that supplementing vitamins is an effective means of introducing nutrients into an aquaponics system. I will be working on an experiment to determine which vitamins, and at what doses seems to most promote the growth of such plants in a water-based growing system.

Swamped Strawberries

In Aquaponics, Propagation on November 4, 2010 at 11:07 am

I recently harvested a pair of strawberry plants from an outdoor garden here at the school. Upon introducing them into the initial grow bed, I realized that they seemed to have become water logged rather rapidly. After a bit of research, I found that although strawberries do seem to do well in Aquaponic systems, they are highly sensitive to environmental change, be it temperature, or water fluctuation. Unfortunately, my plants underwent both changes.

Having waited too long, I transplanted my plants shortly after the first frost, and brought them into my room, which is closer to about 65-70 degrees. Furthermore, the garden staff had stopped watering these plants for the season. I am afraid that going from such an environment, to that of my room, shocked the plant, and is resulting in negative effects.

To address the problem of over-watering, while still allowing my other plants to maintain the watering cycle, I developed a system that would allow the initial plants to continue their normal ebb-flow cycle, while keeping the roots of the strawberries from being soaked at all.

Strawberry Box

I used a square, plastic container (from store bought blueberries), and attached the input hose to its inside corner. I filled the container with growing stones, and place it on top of the grow bed, allowing the flood level of the bed to barely touch the bottom of the new container. Planting the strawberries inside this upper level allowed them to receive a minimal amount of water, while the other plants still flood to the original level. Although the plants seem to be responding well to this, I am still afraid the original shock of the changes has resulted in permanent damage.

If anyone has any suggestions on how I can work to save the plants from further damage, or if there are any really big oversights that I need to know about in regard to strawberries, your comments would be GREATLY appreciated!

InDorm System Video!!

In Aquaponics on November 2, 2010 at 1:10 am

Okay, so I am not able to post the video directly in the blog. However, the video of my InDorm Aquaponics system can be viewed  at Although this is less convenient, I will be posting all related videos to the YouTube account: fshyplnts. Looking forward to hearing feedback from all of you!


Plants: College Student’s Best Friend

In Potting on November 2, 2010 at 12:04 am

Hey all! I was recently given this article from a student here on campus and thought it was rather applicable! Enjoy! Remember, I welcome articles and posts written by other students. If you every want to post something, feel free the shoot me an Email!

Plants: College Student’s Best Friend
Elizabeth Stevens

Toward the end of the summer, I scoured department stores, magazines, and websites with one goal in mind–create a “home” in my dorm room.

My bright blue, green, and purple bedding screamed first-year, and I was a junior for crying out loud. Pictures of my travels littered my bulletin board, pinned on with obtrusive tacks. Rainbow Christmas lights ran along the border of “my side” of the room.

I am tired of the immaturity of my dorm room; the same feel I got from every other room I have been in. One problem: I didn’t have the money or the space to create my dream “home.”

The answer I found was by the simple inspiration of a few environmental science majors I know. Plants are a college student’s best friend.

A dorm room with potted cacti, aloe, snake plants, and herbs creates a calming atmosphere stressed college students covets but typically eludes them. It doesn’t even have to hurt a student’s budget.

Gator Aloe

Dr. Virginia Lohr of Washington State University conducted a study in 1996 that measured the stress levels of participants performing tasks on a computer. Participants were tested in a computer lab when plants were present and another where they were absent. Blood pressure, emotions, and reaction speed to questions were monitored.

According to the results, participants were 12 percent more productive when plants decorated the room, and their systolic blood pressure was lower.

This conclusion agrees with Dr. Roger S. Ulrich’s 2002 study on the benefits of hospital gardens that he conducted through Texas A&M University.

Ulrich says “simply looking at environments dominated by greenery, flowers, or water-–as compared to built scenes lacking nature (rooms, buildings, towns)–is significantly more effective in promoting recovery or restoration from stress.” This evidence applies to patients and non-patients, like college students, he says.

My environmental science friends must realize something that students like me may not think about. Indoor plants clean the air we breathe.

According to data collected by the John C. Stennis Space Center of NASA, “low-light requiring houseplants have demonstrated the potential for improving indoor air quality by removing trace organic pollutants from the air in buildings.” A plant can easily get rid of harmful airborne chemicals like formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.

In order to get the proper plants to clean my dorm room air, relax my psyche, and create a mature ambiance, I consulted a couple of Messiah College, dorm plant “experts” (and environmental science majors).

Sitting on Paul Nickerson’s desk is an auquaponics system made of Tupperware containers and a heating lamp constructed of PVC pipe. Both of which are designed specifically for his plants: a jade plant, a desert rose, a living stone, a cactus, and a venus flytrap.

Dani Oudenne’s room is taken over by the 20 plus plants that sit on her desk, shelves, and window sill. Her most recent trip to Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses exhausted her month’s savings on a gator aloe, thyme, mint, and a dragon bone.

They advised me to consider a couple things when picking out plants for my dorm room.

Stick with desert plants, just in case you are forgetful and can’t remember to water your plants every day. Also, the Grantham/Hess courtyard window doesn’t get much light, so stick with shade or low-light plants. Oh, and Elizabeth, invest in some aloe just in case the sun burns that pale skin.

What is best about plants is that they can be as cheap or as expensive as I like. I’m a major cheap-skate, so I spent less than twenty dollars on my three plants.

Pots are what get expensive. Don’t buy pots at greenhouses; they’re overpriced. Places like Wal-Mart and K-Mart have cheap, nice-looking options.

With my friends’ advice and a little research, I settled on three plants: a peace lily, a gator aloe, and a common houseleek. I have learned over the past few weeks how to best take care of my plants, and I am genuinely excited when I see them grow.

Common Houseleek

Cheap, clean, relaxing, and secretly motivating, what’s not to love about plants? They’re a college student’s best friend. It’s not like I can have a dog here, right?

The System With Plants!

In Alternative Agriculture, Aquaponics on November 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

The video does not seem to be working well… Something to do with the format required to post it online. Because of this, I decided I should post some pictures of the system with the plants. I am working to retake the video on another camera. Hopefully I will be able to post that sometime in the next couple of days!

Grow Bed

Grow Bed Bird's Eye

InDorm Aquaponics

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