Transplanting San Marzano Tomatoes into Kratky Hydroponics

So far in my hydroponic journey I have been starting my seeds in my Aerogarden Bounty; it has the highest rate of success. There is just something this machine does better than I can, which is also a reason why I recommend anyone interested in hydroponics without the scary setup look at the Aerogarden product range.

On the 1st August 2019 I planted some San Marzano tomato seeds in my Aerogarden. It’s been a week (a bit longer by the time I got around to writing this article, but photos taken on date) and it’s time to transplant my tomatoes into their final home. Exciting!

When I previously transplanted some lettuce between the Aerogarden and Kratky setup, it didn’t go as well as I hoped: my poor plants suffered a lot of shock. I since learnt that I had let the roots get too large, and the transplanting process really hurt the plants (by ripping the roots right off!).

After learning from all my recent plant murder attempts, I am transplanting the tomatoes the moment the roots emerged; one week after planting the seedlings!

Here are the tomatoes just prior to transplanting. The seedling wearing his seed pod as a hat is so cute!

My kratky container is the Klämtare Box With Lid from Ikea. It’s a great option as the plastic they use is food-safe. It’s also large enough for two tomato plants.

I used a 3″ hole saw to drill into the lid, since I was using a 3″ net cup. You could always buy a hole saw kit with several sized pieces (I bought one of these kits as well). I also chose to transplant from the peat moss to a cloning collar, though this was a personal choice. Underneath the cloning collar was clay pebbles; it is recommended to add some grow medium underneath the collar in case you ever need to remove it, as it provides significant support to the plant and sudden removal could mean the plant falls over!

San Marzano Transplanted into Kratky, Week 1
San Marzano Transplanted into Kratky, Week 1

Fingers crossed that the seedlings survive now. I’ve only transplanted once or twice, and they have all survived, but taken a bit of stress in the process.

Have you transplanted tomatoes, or any other plants? Do you have any tips to share?

Growing Nero Toscana Kale in Kratky Hydroponics – Update: Week 1

It’s been one week since I planted my kale seeds in my Kratky hydroponic container, and its time to see how they have grown! The variety is Nero Toscana.

Nero Toscana Kale, Image Courtesy of Botanical Interets
Nero Toscana Kale, Image Courtesy of Botanical Interets

Please excuse the dusty lid; whilst my plants are growing inside, we still get quite a lot of dust from dust storms, and just general air. I also noticed that my paint hadn’t fully cured and was slightly sticky, thus catching all those little dust particles.

Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

4 out of 5 of my Nero Toscana kale plants sprouted, and have grown enough to remove the little grow dome (salvaged from some used Aerogarden Bounty pods).

Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

One net cup did not sprout anything at all, even though I planted three seeds in each cup. In itself I would consider this just bad luck, but in the Swiss Chard bucket beside this one the same outer cup didn’t grow there either.

Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Kale Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

The rock wool medium is wet, so the seed should be getting enough moisture to germinate. Perhaps there is too little light reaching these outer cups? I have switched the outer cup with an inner cup in the hopes that it gets the light needed for a slightly later blooming, but so far nothing.

Do you have any idea why just one cup might not germinate? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Growing Swiss Chard in Kratky Hydroponics – Update: Week 1

Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Image Courtesy of Botanical Interests
Bright Lights Swiss Chard, Image Courtesy of Botanical Interests

It’s been one week since I planted my Swiss Chard seeds in my Kratky hydroponic container, and its time to see how they have grown! The variety is Bright Lights.

Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

Please excuse the dusty lid; whilst my plants are growing inside, we still get quite a lot of dust from dust storms, and just general air. I also noticed that my paint hadn’t fully cured and was slightly sticky, thus catching all those little dust particles.

Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

4 out of 5 of my Bright Lights Swiss Chard plants sprouted, and have grown enough to remove the little grow dome (salvaged from some used Aerogarden Bounty pods).

Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1
Swiss Chard Grown In Kratky Container, Week 1

One net cup did not sprout anything at all, even though I planted three seeds in each cup. In itself I would consider this just bad luck, but in the kale bucket beside this one the same outer cup didn’t grow there either.

The rock wool medium is wet, so the seed should be getting enough moisture to germinate. Perhaps there is too little light reaching these outer cups? I have switched the outer cup with an inner cup in the hopes that it gets the light needed for a slightly later blooming, but so far nothing.

Do you have any idea why just one cup might not germinate? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Seed Germination Temperatures

A bit over a week ago I planted some spinach seeds, and sadly they didn’t germinate. I began a bit of research as to why. Despite my spinach varieties being hardy to warm weather, they still need cooler soil to germinate! The adult growth stage can handle warmer temperatures but the seedlings are too vulnerable still.

I began to wonder what I could grow with my current temperatures. It’ll also be handy to know the minimum temperatures for when the seasons change.

Whilst my plants aren’t being planted in soil, instead hydroponic is usually planted in rock wool or peat moss, the germination temperature should theoretically remain the same.

Optimal °FOptimal °C
Amaranth, Red Leaf68-7520-24
Basil, Purple Petra65–8518-30
Basil, Genovese70 – 9021 – 32
Broccoli45 -85 7-29
Cilantro55-7013-21
Cucumber, Lemon70–9021-32
Kale, Nero Toscana 65–8518-30
Lettuce, Little Gem (Romaine)40-755 – 24
Lettuce, New Red Fire60–7016-21
Lettuce, Red Sails60–7016-21
Lettuce, Red Salad Bowl50-7210-22
Pepper, Cayenne65-9518-35
Pepper, Jalapeño 65-9518-35
Spinach, Matador50–7510-24
Spinach, Lavewa50–7510-24
Spring Onion68-7720-25
Swiss Chard, Bright Lights75–9024-32
Swiss Chard, Lyon50 – 7510 – 24
Taisai, Pak Choy50- 8010 – 27
Tomato, Marmande VR60 – 7015 – 20
Tomato (Cherry), Supersweet 100 FT75 -9021-32
Tomato, Sam Marzano70–9021-32

I measured my Aerogarden water and it’s hitting a maximum of 85°F (30°C)! No wonder my spinach never sprouted, its ideal temperature is 50-75°F (10-24°C). Its just way too hot for them.

I’ll have to wait a while for the weather to get a bit cooler before I can sprout spinach; in the meantime I can try growing some Bright Lights Swiss Chard and Nero Toscana Kale.

How much space do I need between hydroponic net cups?

Plants often have a recommended spacing when growing in soil, and I was curious if they had to same requirements when growing hydroponically. I’d like to grow several plants at once, maximising the shelf space that I have.

It would be great to have several lettuce growing in one container. I plan to harvest the larger leaves as they become available, leaving the plant to continue growing, rather than harvest the entire plant in one session.

Why Plants Need To Be Spaced

If lettuce are grown too close to each other

they will likely receive less than the required amount of light… they can also receive less air/CO2 than they require for proper growth.

We Grow Hydro

It seems that adequate airflow is also required to help reduce mildew and other diseases. And plants need to meet a certain level of light in order to grow; I learnt this the hard way in the post Do I Need Grow Lights?

What Spacing Is Ideal

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus of how close net cups can be before lettuce growth becomes detrimental; measured centre to centre of each cup. Part of the problem lies in what plant is being grown, as well as when and how often it is harvested. For example a larger plant (like a tomato) will definitely need more space to grow than a smaller plant (like a lettuce). Secondly, many assume you would harvest an entire mature plant in one session (such as commercial growers), whereas some people prefer continual harvesting where they only take a few outer leaves at a time and let the plant continue growing.

WeGrowHydro claim that plants should be spaced a minimum of 18″ apart (45cm) for plants less than 3 feet in height! For me that’s a total of 1 plant per shelf! If they had to point out plants less than 3ft, it makes me wonder if the plants they are growing are much larger than lettuce…

SFGate Home Guides suggests that spacing should be 8-12″ (20-30cm).

Bernard Kratky himself, the founder of the Kratky hydroponic method, wrote in a paper:

“Two common planting densities for lettuce are 1.5 and 1.9 plants per square foot”.

Bernard Kratky

That calculates to one lettuce every 6-8″ (12-20cm) for commercial growth. Again, this assumes that the entire plant is harvested in one session.

Steemit claims that lettuce should be at least 6 to 8″ (12-20cm) apart. However their article looks like it’s written for commercial growers – or large setups where you might harvest entire lettuce in one session.

Photos on Steemit Website - Their Greenhouse
Photos on Steemit Website – Their Greenhouse

Christian Haschek‘s blog shows a vertical hydroponic setup where he spaces the cups by 4″ (10cm). This is the first case I have found where the hydroponic setup is aimed towards home-growers rather than commercial, so it could be assumed that he harvested individual leaves or perhaps before the plants became fully mature.

Christain Haschek's Vertical Hydro Setup
Christain Haschek’s Vertical Hydro Setup

Even my Aerogarden Bounty has spacing of only 4″ (10cm) between each pot. This system is definitely aimed at the home grower, encouraging continual harvesting of the plants.

What Spacing Do You Use?

I’m curious to know what spacing you used? Please share with us what plants you have grown and what spacing you used between net pots (centre to centre).

The Best Nutrients and Ratios for Hydroponics?

Plants can’t survive from water alone; they need nutrients as well. In traditional growing, the plants will often get what they need from the soil (and even then you often still add fertilisers). But hydroponics removes the soil. Instead you need to use hydroponic solutions with the correct ratios of nutrients; too much or too little and your plants will suffer and potentially die!

General Hydroponics Nutrient Combo Pack
General Hydroponics Nutrient Combo Pack

I use General Hydroponics Combo Ferilizer pack for my hydroponics. In fact a lot of people recommend this brand. This brand has split the different nutrients a plant needs into different bottles. Plants need different amounts of various nutrients depending upon their growth stages; and the General Hydroponics Combo pack comes in three bottles that each contain different concentrations, allowing you to target each growth stage and get maximum growth and yields!

The Ratios

Mix the following amounts of nutrients into one gallon, or 3790ml, of water. I recommend filtered water to help reduce debris and other microbes from entering your hydroponic systems.

All nutrient measurements are taken in teaspoons.

GroMicroBloom
Seeds & Cuttings1/41/41/4
Vegetative Growth321
Late Vegetative to Pre-Bloom222
Bloom to Fruiting123

I use the vegetative ratios of 3-2-1 for my Kratky lettuce since its main goal is to grow vegetation and leaves. Ideally I don’t want my lettuce to bolt and flower as the leaves will turn bitter.

Quick and Easy Mason Jar Hydroponic Setup

Want to try out hydroponics, but don’t want to spend much? Honestly it’s a big field with lots of complex terms and companies selling you the “next must have” item…. Let me help you create your first hydroponic setup without spending much, or maybe even without spending a single dollar!

Our goal is to create a “set and forget” system to grow lettuce.

The Supplies

The Container

Most people will do their first hydroponics with mason jars. They are such a versatile jar that pretty much every house has one, and they are cheap!

Photo of a mason jar.

If you haven’t got a mason jar, you can get this 34oz or 1L one from Ikea for $3.99, or this 1.9qt or 1.8L jar from Ikea for $4.99. Alternatively you could buy this 32oz double pack from Amazon for $8.

I personally recommend the largest jar possible; it’s more “set and forget”. Lettuce roots don’t need too much space to grow, but depending upon your environment and its growth rate you may find yourself adding water to a small jar every so often.

Hydroponic containers have to be opaque and black to stop algae growth… but you won’t find any mason jar like that. Instead, wrap the jar well with aluminium foil, or even paint a couple layers of black gesso or acrylic paint on the outside! If use chalk paint and you can later write or decorate your jars with chalk pens.

Week 1 Kratky Lettuce Compared
I painted these mason jars with two layers of black acrylic paint.

The Yoghurt Cup or Net Cup

If you have plenty of plants around your home, you may have a net cup already. They are often those little plastic cups with slots or holes in them that come with smaller plants. Make sure it fits. I use these 2″ wide-rim cups from CZ Garden.

Alternatively, you can recycle a plastic yoghurt cup. To be safe, please check What Plastic Should I use for Hydroponics? as not all plastics are safe to reuse. In the picture below you can see how I reused a sour cream cup:

Sour Cream/Yoghurt Cup Recycle for Mason Jar Kratky
Sour Cream/Yoghurt Cup Recycle for Mason Jar Kratky

The Nutrients

Plants will often get all their nutrients from the soil you plant them in, although sometimes you will add fertilizers or compost. Hydroponics removes the soil from the growing process, so you need to come up with an alternative way to feed the plants nutrients.

General Hydroponics Nutrient Combo Pack
General Hydroponics Nutrient Combo Pack

This is probably the only product that you may need to buy. If it’s your absolute first time attempting hydroponics you can probably get away with something like AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients (3 oz), though I would honestly encourage you to invest in a proper hydroponic solution like General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer set. This combo pack will last you a very long time, especially if you aren’t growing hydroponics seriously.

The Plant

Next you need to decide what plant you are going to grow: lettuce and basil are some of the most common plants for people to try for their first grow since they are fast growing, cheap and easy to manage. With the right setup you can even grow big plants like tomatoes (but they won’t grow in mason jars, sorry)!

GettyStewart has a great post about How to Regrow Romaine Lettuce from the Stem. She does point out that regrowing from a stem won’t produce leaves as large as store bought plants; and this probably has to do with the amounts of nutrients and lights that a store-bought plant receives compared to a stem in plain water.

I prefer to grow from seed; it has a fairly high success rate and only takes two to three weeks before I am harvesting. You can buy packs of various seeds fairly cheap, or individual packs from stores such as Botanical Interests.

If you live in Kuwait as well, you can read my post on where to buy organic seeds in Kuwait.

The Grow Medium

Hydroponics is mostly about removing the soil from growing plants, but you can’t just plop them into the water and hope for them to survive (some plants do, but most wont)!

You will need some form of grow medium. There are several different options with the easiest and most common being peat moss, rock wool and clay pebbles.

I regularly use Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets. They come in various sizes. Since the peat pellet is too small to fill up my entire DIY net cup, I pack clay pebbles around it. Alternatively you can use rock wool. You can simply cut up extra rock wool cubes to fill any spaces in your net cup. If you don’t want to cut up the extra rock wool, you can of course use clay pebbles as well.

It’s important to fill up the entire cup; we want to make sure that no light will get beyond the grow medium and into the mason jar.

The Light

Most people will put their mason jar and plant in the window, and generally there will be sufficient light for plant growth. Unfortunately my kitchen window is underneath a building overhang and thus gets very little light; so I need a grow light.

Buying grow lights is a bit more of a complex issue. I’ve written The Beginners Guide To Hydroponic Lights series that explore lights in detail in a very user-friendly manner. I’ve personally bought two different lamps: the Fissioning LED Grow Light and the Bozily LED Grow Light. Low strength beginner lights can be quite cheap; you may even be able to buy a normal bulb and relocate a lamp.

Build The Setup

(Optional) Paint Your Mason Jars

If you opted to paint your mason jars black, now is the time. Paint only the outside of the jar, remember that the paint itself is unlikely to be food-safe. Paint right up to the rim of the jar. Paint two to the three layers so that no light can leak inside.

Cut Your DIY Grow Cup

If you are using a recycled yoghurt cup, its time to cut some slits and holes in the bottom of the cup. Slits are generally better as they hold the grow medium without spilling, but still provide enough space for roots to grow through.

Sterilise Everything

Any non-living supply should be sterilised; jars, containers, and grow medium. The easiest way to do this is to submerge everything in hot water.

Prepare The Nutrients

In the post The Best Nutrients and Ratios for Hydroponics? I discuss how to measure out the General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer set. Since we are using a “set and forget” method, we need to use the nutrient ratio for vegetative growth. Mix 1 gallon, or 3790ml, of water with 3 teaspoons of FloraGro, 2 teaspoons of FloraMicro and 1 teaspoon of FloraBloom.

Fill your mason jar until the water level passes the bottom of the grow cup or yoghurt container by approximately .25″ or 1cm.

If you have excess water left over, you can water other plants with the mixture or store it to top up your lettuce water. You should not pour it down a drain! I store my excess nutrient mixes as I live in a dry climate and find water tends to evaporate faster than the plants are able to absorb.

Plant Your Seed

Make a small hole, usually about .25″ or 1cm deep, in your grow medium. Drop two to three seeds in and fluff grow material on top to cover lightly. Not all seeds with germinate, so it’s generally a good idea to put at least two seeds. If multiple sprout, you can always transplant or pull out the extra growth.

Place your grow medium in the centre of the cup, ensuring that the bottom of the grow medium is in contact with the water. Surround your grow medium with clay pebbles, or more rock wool.

Set and Forget

Place your mason jar somewhere bright, like a window.

Week 2 Kratky Lettuce Compared
Week 2 Kratky Lettuce Compared

And thats it! Over the next few days your plant should sprout. Some plants do take longer to sprout, so check your seed packet. My basil usually sprouts in about 5 days; at least you can see the tiniest of plants emerging around then.

Problem Solving

If your plant didn’t sprout:

  • You may need to wait longer; check on the seed packet for how long it takes for that variety of plant to sprout. Some species can take 20 or more days!
  • Make sure your grow medium is moist the entire time the seeds are sprouting; if you live in a very dry environment your water level may evaporate too fast for the seedlings to produce roots.
  • You could also have some bad seeds, try refilling your jar and planting more or new seeds.

If you notice your plants becoming wilted, chances are the water level is evaporating faster than they can absorb. Fill up your jar a little at the time! It’s very important to not fill the jar up the entire way; as the water level decreases the plant will grow water-roots and air-roots. If you submerge your air-roots in water your plant will literally drown. If you want to maintain your water level, I suggest the half-way point of the jar.

If your plant seems to be growing long leaves that aren’t very wide, you may not have enough light. Check out my post Do I Need Grow Lights? where I teach you how to measure the amount of light in your room.

Kratky Hydroponic Lavewa and Matador Spinach – Update: Week 1

On the 1st August 2019 I planted several spinach seeds in Jiffy 36mm Peat Pellets. Just after planting I discovered my new grow light arrived faulty, so my plans changed; rather than waste the seeds and peat pellets I started my Aerogarden Bounty; in that batch were three Lavewa Spinach and three Matador Spinach pods.

I also happened to start some San Moranzo Tomatoes. The tomatoes both sprouted three days ago, but so far not a single spinach sprout has emerged!

According to Botanical Interests (the seed supplier) both spinach varieties can take 5-10 day to emerge. So there is still hope. Fingers crossed.

Once replacement grow light arrives I will transplant any seedlings to the Kratky buckets, their final home.

Growing Lettuce with Kratky Hydroponics. Update – Week 3!

Three weeks ago we germinated some deer tongue lettuce in our Aerogarden Bounty – who doesn’t love lettuce? About two weeks later, I needed the Aerogarden to start some more seedlings. So I transplanted from the Aerogarden to a kratky container.

At first they were really unhappy, and I expected them to die. Not only was there the stress of transplanting, but I moved them from Jiffy 36mm Peat Pellets to cloning collars! Double damage to the life bar (video gamer speak).

Day One Transplant of Lettuce
Day One Transplant of Lettuce

Don’t they just look sad?? Well, thankfully they have perked up so much since then!

Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce
Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce

For some reason one of the lettuces recovered faster than the others, and this gave him a significant growth spurt. The front lettuce are all slightly larger than the ones at the back and I am unsure why; they should be getting about the same amount of light, temperature and nutrients.

Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce
Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce

Even the mason jar lettuce has significantly picked up after nearly dying from a lack of light!

Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce
Week 3 Deer Tongue Kratky Lettuce

I’m curious, what plants have you transplanted successfully? Do you regularly start seeds elsewhere and then transplant, or do you start seeds in their final (and only) growing location?

Can You Germinate Seeds In Cloning Collars – The Experiment

I’ve seen some Youtube videos and articles where they grow their hydroponic plants in pool noodles. They claim to get high harvest yields, and they regularly talk about the benefit of being able to reuse the pool noodles.

Plastic Pool Noodles
Plastic Pool Noodles

I was concerned about the safety of using pool noodles; as we know plastic can leach chemicals and micro-particles into the water and plants (and eventually you). This process is often sped up with exposure to high temperatures… and Kuwait set a world record for the highest temperature in the world reaching 52.2°c (126°f) in the shadows and 63°c (126°f) in the direct sun!

Instead we bought a cloning collars and net cup pack as these have been specifically designed to grow plants and food.

After I bought the collars I realised that there weren’t many people online saying you could start seeds in the collars; they are generally used for transplanting cuttings from older plants.

I decided to do an experiment on whether I could grow seedlings in cloning collars.

I’m starting this experiment on Aug 7, 2019.

The Seed Added To The Cloning Collar
The Seed Added To The Cloning Collar

I sterilised the cloning collar and the container with hot water.

If you look closely you can see the Lemon Cucumber seed in the middle of the cloning collar. I’ve inserted it so its very close to the bottom of the collar (I’m holding it upside down), but far enough in that it hopefully doesn’t fall out.

My Test Grow Chamber
My Test Grow Chamber

Apparently seedlings will grow best when exposed to high levels of humidity. I wanted to make sure that my seedling could get as much light as possible at the same time. So I found this old Ikea air-tight plastic container. It has a de-gas spout which I have kept closed.

Fingers crossed that this container won’t grow algae since my nutrient rich water is also exposed to light.