Weekly Reviews

The rhubarb is growing great; I estimate that we can harvest enough rhubarb for two people to have dessert at least once a week, especially if you mix it with raspberries.

My Bonchi plants are growing fast, so fast that they are starting to crowd their containers! Unfortunately my 3D printer still hasn’t shipped, so it looks like they are going to get a bit squished for the immediate future.

Finally I take a look at the Genovese and Egyptian basil plants, the strawberries, miniature tomatoes and the capsicum/bell peppers.

So do you like the video review format, or do you prefer the old photo blog posts? Let me know in the comments below.

Month Old Bonchi’s and Hydro Videos

I can’t believe the time has past so fast. The peppers are growing faster!

Don’t feel like reading? Well I’ve recorded a video of this weeks update:

This week I was able to top all the peppers. By cutting the very top of the branch, a technique known as topping, you encourage the pepper to back-bud and for the stem to thicken. In most times those back-buds will turn into new branches.

Here you can see some back budding on the Numex Twilight variety, that I topped several days ago. The new buds are still quite small and look almost like the first leaves the seedling grew.

Numex Twilight Pepper, 1 Month Old, Kratky Hydroponics
Numex Twilight Pepper, 1 Month Old, Kratky Hydroponics

Last week I was able to top the fastest growing plant, the Marbles variety. It’s easy to see how fast the peppers are growing; its got plenty of new leaves. Looking underneath the leaves you can see how new branches are forming and growing from the main stem.

Many of the varieties are starting to show their individual characteristics now. Some varieties have darker colored leaves than others, for example. Some leaves are also more rounded, whilst others are longer and more triangle shaped. This is most evident when viewed side by side:

Marbles and Starlight Pepper Leaf Comparison

Some of the peppers are much slower growing than others. The Bolivian Rainbow variety with its purple leaves is easily half the size of his siblings, if not smaller. You can see him in both the photo above and below:

I topped him about two days ago, and you can see very small back budding starting to form (the lighter green leaves).

Birds Eye Baby and Bonzi Seedlings That Just Germinated

Finally, I started some new seedlings of the varieties that didn’t seem to germinate last month. So far Birds Eye Baby, Bonzi and Chinese 5 Color pepper varieties have germinated. That makes 13 total varieties of peppers growing, including the larger jalapeños.

Absolute Basic Bonsai Tools You Need

Since I am finally able to grow my bonsais… ahem bonchis… I need some actual tools. The world of bonsais has many tools; scissors, cutters, splitters, rakes, branch benders and wires, root hooks, brooms… It’s really quite overwhelming if you don’t know what you need to buy.

Sticking to the core basics, you really only need a few tools to get started. Typically you will want some scissors to cut leaves and small branches, a larger cutter for removing unwanted larger branches, and a root rake.

Scissors

Many of my bonsais benefit from regular pruning. To help get into all those tight spaces, I got some long handled shears for USD$28.

I was pretty happy with how sharp these scissors were. I cut through several small woodened branches and the thicker green branches of my basil bonsai and it handled the cuts with ease.

The only thing I have realised after use is that the shears don’t have springs, so they aren’t quite as user-friendly as my other shears.

I have owned some Fiskar Micro-Tip shears for several years now. I bought these for USD$16. These cut quite comparatively, however the handles aren’t as fine so best approaching the plant from the outside.

I am happy with both of these tools and hope to get a lot of use out of both.

Cutters

Some branches are too thick for the scissors, and that’s when you really need some heavy duty cutters. I have two different types of cutters; bonsai knob cutters and generic garden cutters.

I bought the Master Grade Knob cutter for USD$47. This cutter is unique in it’s curved blade shape; it allows you to more easily remove excess bark and shape the dead wood.

I also have the Fiskar Steel Bypass Pruners that I bought for about USD$15. These are generic garden shears that make a straight cut.

My Fiskar’s work perfectly, and I’ve been using them for a while now. However since they are straight cutters, and rather large, they aren’t very good at getting into the crotches between branches.

I haven’t had as much chances to use the Knob Cutter yet as I only had a couple dead branches to remove. I did find that the knob cutters were a bit more difficult to use than I expected; for one of the thicker branches I needed my husband to cut as his grip and squeeze strength was much stronger than mine. Despite this it did seem relatively effective at trimming away excess bark, creating a smoother transition line.

I need a bit more use out of the knob cutters before I decide if I like them. Currently I am “on the fence”.

Do you have any specialty bonsai or garden tools that you love? Let me know in the comments below.

Week 3 Bonchi Peppers Update

Most of the seedlings are growing well; I am no longer worried about them surviving. Only one seedling is still fighting for life; with only a single tiny miniature leaf.

Charapita Seedling Fighting For Life, Amongst the Algae Infested Rockwool
Charapita Seedling Fighting For Life, Amongst the Algae Infested Rockwool

I have 10 seeds that are still alive; one seedling died and four seeds never sprouted.

The algae was still rampant, and in many cases had started to develop a slime. It had to be dealt with.

To combat the algae I have

  • Added diluted hydrogren peroxide H202 on the Rockwool and in the tank. Interestingly it fizzed and bubbled slightly on the Rockwool.
  • Sprinkled food grade diatomaceous earth powder on the Rockwool, as it discourages gnat flies and algae growth.
Week Three Bonchi Seedlings
Week Three Bonchi Seedlings

The steps I have taken seem to have had an effect overnight; the next morning the gnats seemed to have disappeared from the grow room.

Marbles Seedling Before Topping
Marbles Seedling Before Topping

The Marbles variety seedling has grown a number of their first true leaves. Since it has several full grown leaves I am able to “top” the pepper. That’s when you cut off the top of the main stem to encourage the pepper plant to grow alternative branching and leaves.

Marbles Pepper Seedling, After Topping
Marbles Pepper Seedling, After Topping

Topping also encourages the trunk to thicken (and we want thick trunks with bonsai).

The Bolivian Rainbow pepper also surprised me this week with it’s leaves starting to turn purple!

Bolivian Rainbow Starting To Turn Purple
Bolivian Rainbow Starting To Turn Purple

I’m excited to see this variety grow larger. Many of my peppers are similar looking when not fruiting, and the Bolivian Rainbow variety will give a nice variation to my collection.

Finally this week I replanted the pepper seeds that did not germinate initially:

  • Bonzi,
  • Birds Eye Baby (this is the seedling that died),
  • Chinese 5 Color,
  • Italiano,
  • Orange Habanero.

Evolving Net Cups

Original Hydroponic Lid and Net Cup Design
Original Hydroponic Lid and Net Cup Design

After days of trying to get my net cup design to work in Fusion 360, I gave up. I just could not figure out how to get the software to create the design; not surprised as I am a relative beginner with this software.

So after taking a break and brainstorming with my husband, we came up with a simpler new design:

Second Hydroponic Lid and Net Cup Design for Ikea Nypon Pots
Second Hydroponic Lid and Net Cup Design for Ikea Nypon Pots

As you can see in the photo above, I was able to actually model this one.

The main change you will notice is the new watering hole; it’s drastically smaller. The old design had a sloped and large hole, to aid watering direct from a can or pail. Depending upon the shape of the tree the watering can would require a long and thin spout, to fit under any branches as well as to provide controlled-slow flow of water. The larger hole took up quite a significant amount of space, especially if you printed the lid for a 12cm Ikea Nypon pot (I plan to use the 15cm version).

The new design however can be watered from any bottle or watering can, as it’s designed to be used with a sloped funnel. Yeah I got to make that now too…

I still have a water float, just like the first design. I expect this to undergo some testing when the 3D printer finally arrives – how well does it float, at what point on the stick can I mark water level lines?

I then came across the Tie Pot, and it bought about a second design for my hydroponic pot lid. I can’t use bonsai wire to save my life – more specifically, every time I do use it I tend to break off branches or kill my trees. However I have found that I can tie branches and encourage directional growth fine that way. Biggest issue with the tie technique is you don’t have anywhere to anchor the wire… and the Tie Pot design provides a perfect solution!

Hydroponic Bonsai Ikea Nypon Pot Lid, Version 3
Hydroponic Bonsai Ikea Nypon Pot Lid, Version 3

I added ties to my design. It totally makes me think of a ship wheel, or a steampunk design.

I think it’s going to look really slick with the filament I have ordered to print my pot lids with – Prusament Mystic Brown.

Prusament Mystic Brown
Prusament Mystic Brown Example

I can just imagine the pot now printed. Lightly dry brush some gold paint along the raised edges to give extra effect… I’m excited.

Hydroponic Bonsai or Bonchis? Plans for the Net Cups

One issue with growing bonsai’s in Kuwait is sourcing appropriate soil substrates. It’s easy to get normal potting soil, and even perlite, but anything specialty like bonsai requirements gets a bit harder to shop for… After frustrating shopping trip after trip, I gave up… I thought I would never be able to grow bonsai’s. Until my husband asked why not grow bonsais hydroponically?

If you read my blog a lot, you probably realise that I am a big fan of hydroponics. Do you over water or under water your plants a lot? Hydroponics is for you. Do you have issues with bugs and pests? Hydroponics can be good for you. Forgot to add fertiliser every few weeks? Hydroponics is easy! It is honestly easier growing in only water than it is growing plants in soil.

But can bonsai’s be even grown hydroponically? Many bonsai enthusiasts and professionals will balance the growth of leaves and foliage with that of roots. The Nebari or root flare is considered a vital aspect of bonsai growth, getting the base of the tree to match the appearance of the larger trees as much as possible.

Nebari Photo, Courtesy of Bonsai Tree Paradise

Obviously when growing in net cups that becomes a problem; the plastic at the edge of the cup restricts the growth of the plant and forces it downwards. Could we solve that problem?

My first idea was to increase the width of the net cup. Net cups are most common in 2-3inch sizes (5-7.5cm). It is possible to purchase larger cups up to 6inches (15.3cm). However cups at that width also tend to be quite deep. Such a large feature of bonsai’s is that the root base is wide and shallow.

Could I modify a pre-bought net cup to be shallow? I started wandering if I could make my own net cups in some way. I also had the issue of how I would grow these plants long term. My black painted Sortera boxes weren’t that pretty to look at, and were somewhat large for single plants.

Ikea Sockerbit Bucket
Ikea Sockerbit Bucket

Since I am growing quite a number of bonchi’s I want to make sure my pots match (OCD a little?). I have quite a number of Ikea Nypon pots, and they are quite easy to buy.

But the pot doesn’t include a lid that I could attach a net cup to.

Thankfully… my husband and I ordered a 3D printer recently! Basically all my problems solved. Okay so I agreed to order the expensive 3D printer since we have more use cases for it now… or did I ask for it…

Either way, I had to start designing a lid for the pot that could be printed. I had some Wishlist features already. I knew that I wanted:

  • A watering hole, as lifting the plant or lid on a regular basis was risky and annoying. This hole would also need a cover to block light from entering the pot.
  • As wide of a net cup as possible, whilst ideally keeping it somewhat shallow.
  • A net cup that was ideally attached to the lid, to prevent the plant from toppling over because of uneven weight.
  • An optional water level meter – since it won’t be so easy to look inside to see how high or low the water level is.
Mockup Hydroponic Bonsai Lid with Net Cup Design In Blender

Since I am familiar with the 3D program Blender, I immediately started mocking up a basic concept. The giant hole is where the net cup would be (not modelled). The stick/pole in the top right is the water level meter – most 3D printed materials will float, and I could always attach something like foam at the bottom for extra buoyancy. Finally we have the watering hole and it’s own cover.

I wanted the design to look like it was built specifically for this pot (which I guess it is). So I maximised the size of the net cup area by creating it in a C shape. I need space to water the plant, and thus a watering hole, of course. The water hole itself was rather tight, at only about 2cm wide. To increase that space I made it slightly oval shaped. Everything about this design was rounded shapes.

The problem with this design is it’s not very scalable. The Nypon pots are sold in 3 sizes – 12, 15 and 24cm. And what if I wanted to buy other pots? I didn’t want the tedious task of modelling the entire design over and over again. So I needed to learn Parametric Modelling, and a program that handles that well is Autodesk Fusion 360.

Design MK1 in Fusion 360

It’s far from finished, but here is my current mockup in Fusion 360. The benefit is that Fusion 360 can act entirely upon parameters. A user can input that their pot is 12cm in size, or alternatively say their pot is 24cm in size, and everything in the design will change and update appropriately.

Week 2: Plagued By Algae and Mold

At the end of last week’s post I mentioned how I had noticed some algae growing on my rock wool. This week saw the growth of algae, and mold, go rampant.

Mold and Algae Growing on Rock Wool
Mold and Algae Growing on Rock Wool

Whilst I have dealt with algae before, never have I had it this bad! Something has changed within my growing environment; I suspect that as the weather outside turns warmer, the plant room now reaches an overall warmer temperature. This could be a contributing factor.

Unfortunately it seems that some of my seeds did not germinate, and most likely will not. Chances are I will discard the algae infected rock wool cubes and do a big clean.

Another means of combatting mold and algae is to increase airflow. Currently I have clear caps on the cups to increase moisture levels (seeds germinate better in high humidity). I may begin to remove the caps overnight so that they have time to dry out and get airflow, and return the caps during the day when the lights are lit so not to dry out the seedlings too much.

Seedling Dying. Too much algae?
Seedling Dying. Too much algae?

So far only one of my seedlings seem to be loosing the battle of life. It’s not too uncommon for seedlings to not survive, so I can’t be certain whether this is the cause of algae or not (it most likely is however). Initially the cotyledon leaves started to wilt, but it started to grow its first true leaves. However you can see that even those have begun to wilt as well.

Marbles Week 2 Bonchi Chilli Pepper Seedling
Marbles Week 2 Bonchi Chilli Pepper Seedling

It’s not all bad news. Some of the seedlings are growing quite well despite the algae. The Marbles variety seedling has grown its first true leaves.

I have a total of 9 seedlings growing their first set of leaves. There are 3 seedlings that appear sick (like above). And finally there are 3 seeds that never sprouted.

Honestly if 9 of the seedlings survive and grow into trees, I will be happy.

Week 1: Germinating Bonchi Seedlings

A week has passed since I planted my chilli pepper seeds, and already there is growth! I have 10 out of 15 seeds showing life. Not bad, especially considering I was worried about the potential heat my seeds endured during shipping. Some seeds can take months to germinate as well, so there is time.

Week 1 Birds Eye Baby Chilli Pepper Seedling
Week 1 Birds Eye Baby Chilli Pepper Seedling

I currently have 5 cotyledons, which are the plant’s first leaves.

There are 5 seeds showing rooting activity, though they have yet to develop their first cotyledons.

Unfortunately algae has managed to grow on my rock wool. The presence of algae suggests my materials were not fully sterilised. Sometimes this is avoidable, such as using bleach when cleaning the bucket and net cups. Sometimes its unavoidable, such as being introduced through your water supply. I’ve generally found that the algae doesn’t do any harm as its isolated to the rock wool and not the water inside my buckets, however I do suspect that if the seeds haven’t developed root by the time the algae takes over, they are unlikely to grow due to deprived oxygen.

Bonchi Era Has Begun: Planting Seeds For The Future

My seeds finally got delivered! Of course that meant it was time to clear out my hydroponic grow room and plant lots of seeds. Chilli pepper seeds.

With some clever organising I was able to make space for 15 net cups. Since the Fatalii seed packets come with an average of 7 seeds per variety, I decided to try only germinating one seed at a time. The seeds I planted are:

  • Aji Jobito
  • Bird’s Eye Baby
  • Bolivian Rainbow
  • Bonzi
  • Carapita
  • Chinese 5 Color
  • Habanero, Orange
  • Habanero, Pink
  • Italiano
  • Marbles
  • Mini Bell Pepper, Orange
  • Numex Twilight
  • Pimenta Caixo
  • Starfish
  • Trepadeira Werner

If you want to see photos and more details of each variety, you can check out my previous post Bonsia’s in Kuwait? Let’s Try Bonchi instead!

Bonchi Chilli Pepper Seed Planted In Rockwool
Bonchi Chilli Pepper Seed Planted In Rockwool

There isn’t much to show right now, as I have just planted the seeds into their respective net cups. Even so, it can be helpful to know how fast or slow the seeds germinated. Fingers crossed within a few days, or weeks, I’ll get some growth showing.