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?

Transplanting From An Aerogarden To a Kratky Bucket

I needed to make space in my Aerogarden Bounty to plant some new seedlings, so rather than kill the entire crop I decided to try and save them by transplanting to my Kratky container.

Transplanting from the Aerogarden Bounty can be quite difficult; the fine roots of the hydroponic lettuce wrap around the plastic support bars, and unfortunately rip easily when removing from the cups.

I was also using the Jiffy 36mm Peat Pellets which have a very fine mesh wrapping, and removing this mesh would rip any remaining small roots. Normally you wouldn’t have to remove the mesh, or even seperate the lettuce from the peat pellets, however I wanted to try out my new cloning collars.

By the time that the lettuce was removed from the Aerogarden Bounty container and the Jiffy had been removed and all peat washed off, only the major roots of the lettuce were left. The poor plants were definitely going to go into shock, and may not survive at all.

Day One

Day One of Lettuce Transplant
Day One of Lettuce Transplant

Ouch. It doesn’t look like the lettuce is going to survive; I think I pulled off too many roots and shocked the plants way too much.

Since the roots are so short now I have the water level half way up the net cups. This leaves very little space for any air roots to grow, especially given the size of the lettuce already.

Day Two

Day Two of Lettuce Transplant
Day Two of Lettuce Transplate

They still look bad, but thankfully at close inspection they seem to be recovering slowly. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but they are a little perkier than on Day One. You can see the centre back lettuce sticking one of his leaves straight up now, compared to yesterday’s droop.

The lettuce at the front right seems to be the last to start recovering; none of his leaves are currently stiffening up again.

Day Three

Day Three of Lettuce Transplant
Day Three of Lettuce Transplant

I pulled off some of the biggest leaves that did not look to be recovering (and ate them); I want the plant focusing on fresh growth of roots and new healthy leaves rather than saving pre-existing leaves.

The lettuce are definitely recovering by this point; the centres are much more perky and green.

Generally you shouldn’t expose the Kratky nutrient solution and roots to light, but I couldn’t resist a quick look to see how the roots were recovering.

Day Three Roots on Lettuce Transplant
Day Three Roots on Lettuce Transplant

The roots are all slightly brownish, with several potential reasons: firstly the nutrient solution is a brownish tinge and could be discolouring the roots, or secondly there could be root rot developing. If the roots turn dark brown or black and become slimy then I have root rot.

The lettuce that seems to be recovering the most are on the left side of the container, which is reflected in their root development; these two lettuce have already grown roots beyond their net cups! Surprising how fast they grow!

You can’t see it in the photo, and its hard to see in person even, but some of the roots have started to develop a white fuzz. Here is an example of a reddit user with the white fuzz on their roots. This is not mold and is actually a sign the plant is “healthy” (or in this case recovering) as it helps with nutrient absorption. The roots are expanding their surface area and will either develop longer roots from these points, or remain fuzzy.

I’ll keep an eye on the lettuce and post an update in a few days. Fingers crossed they will fully recover. Until then, have you had any transplant success or failures?

Expected Grow Times of Kratky Hydroponic Plants

I’d like to figure out how fast I can expect my plants to grow. Most seed packets and websites tell you how fast seeds grow assuming you are using soil, But hydroponics can grow up to 50% faster!

I doubt very much that my first hydroponic plants will grow 50% faster, however that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t expect to start harvesting from roughly that time onwards. You rarely need to wait until the plant reaches full maturity before you can harvest; just pull off leaves as needed and let the plant keep growing. I added “Potential Maturity” to the table below, but realistically that’s when I suspect I may be able to get my first harvest.

Earlier in the week I announced that we were hoping to grow the following vegetables and fruits in our Kratky hydroponic tubs:

  • Amaranth, Red Leaf
  • Basil, Purple Petra
  • Cucumber, Lemon Cucumber
  • Lettuce, New Red Fire
  • Lettuce, Red Sails
  • Spinach, Matador
  • Spinach, Lavewa
  • Swiss Chard, Bright Lights
  • Tomato, San Marzano

All of our seeds were purchased from Sustainable Organic Q8, and appear to have been imported from Botanical Interests. You can read more about my search from seeds in the post Where to buy organic seeds in Kuwait.

Days To MaturityPotential Maturity
Amaranth, Red Leaf90-11045-60
Basil, Purple Petra45-5523-28
Cucumber, Lemon6532
Lettuce, New Red Fire5527
Lettuce, Red Sails4523
Spinach, Matador28-4814-24
Spinach, Lavewa28-4514-24
Swiss Chard, Bright Lights5226
Tomato, San Marzano80-9040-45

I’d really to have some plants growing, or even harvestable, by late September/early October. Thats approximately 50-60 days from now. We have space for 2 large plants, along with at least 3 smaller plants and maximum of 5 plants.

San Marzano Tomato Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests
San Marzano Tomato Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests

The San Marzano Tomatoes are planned as a permanent setup, so these will take priority in one of the largest plant spaces. This tomato plant will be approximately 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8m) in height!

Lemon Cucumber Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests
Lemon Cucumber Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests

Whilst not quite as large as the tomatoes, the Lemon Cucumbers will stand about 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2m) in height. This will fill my second large grow area.

There are debates online about which spinach is “better”; matador apparently grows better in many conditions, but the Lavewa looks prettier and is slightly tastier. We want to test both of these spinaches side by side. They grow at the same rate, so we will test both the Lavewa Spinach and the Matador Spinach together.

Amaranth Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests
Amaranth Artwork, Courtesy of Botanical Interests

I want to stagger the harvesting of my plants; I don’t want all my fresh leaf plants to mature at the same time, and then go one to two months with little food. So I have decided that I will start the Amaranth as well for this first hydroponic growth cycle. Granted, with its growth speed, I may be able to grow two batches of spinach by the time it reaches full maturity.

If I can fit anymore plants in my grow area I will add the Swiss Chard and the New Red Fire Lettuce.

What about you?

What are you growing this season? Did you calculate how long it takes to grow? Did you have to plan around seasons and temperature outdoors? Let me know what you’re growing!

Do I need grow lights? Update – Week 2

Read about the first week of growth in the post Do I Need Grow Lights? Update – Week 1.

It’s been two weeks since I transplanted my Deer Tongue Lettuce seedlings from the Aerogarden Bounty to my makeshift Kratky containers. The seeds were started in the Aerogarden on 17th July, so they are now only 18 days old. I started this experiment to test how the lettuce would grow under the light conditions of different rooms; my laundry, my pantry and my kitchen.

In the post Do I Need Grow Lights?, started just after transplanting my lettuce, I actually measured my light more scientifically. Spoiler alert, it was then that I discovered that my rooms were below the ideal levels for plant growth and that I would in fact need to purchase some grow lights.

Since my grow lights haven’t yet arrived, I decided to just let the lettuce sit in those rooms. Sometimes the amount of light to maintain is much less than the amount of light needed to create fresh growth. Even if the plants don’t get enough light in those rooms to actively grow, they may be acceptable places to store plants (if necessary) for a few days before I can completely harvest them.

Week 2 Kratky Lettuce Compared
From left to right: pantry, laundry, kitchen.

The lettuce didn’t really grow during this last week; the lettuce in the pantry being the exception. Compare this to last week:

Week 1 Kratky Lettuce Compared
Week 1 Kratky Lettuce Compared. Left to right: pantry, laundry and kitchen.

The pantry lettuce definitely grew a bit between week 1 and 2, although not as apparent in the photos. The leaves became wider and greener.

The laundry lettuce stayed mostly the same size. Its leaves did start to droop and curl slightly. This area is now being converted into a more permanent grow area including a couple nice grow lights!

The kitchen lettuce had started to die due to the lack of light. It struggled the most, which reflects our light readings that we got in the post Do I Need A Grow Light? The light was just so minimal in this area that the plant couldn’t even maintain it’s size, let alone grow! This area may be okay to store a plant in for a couple days, especially if the plant is destined to be eaten (why harvest all at once if I can pick the leaves off fresh over a couple days), but I won’t be trying to grow anymore in this area.

Despite hearing success stories online, I was a little skeptical if this method would actually work. But…

Photo of Lettuce Roots Growing
Photo of Lettuce Roots Growing

Seeing is believing! Roots emerged from the bottom of the DIY net cup, and quite proficiently. I was honestly quite surprised by the amount of root growth – only two weeks ago there were no roots at all touching the inside of the DIY net cup!

The End Of An Era

This experiment, the total of two grueling weeks, is now over. I’m moving what’s left of the lettuce to live under my new grow light; it’s now an experiment to see if I can get it to survive and recover.

Where to buy organic seeds in Kuwait

After researching a bit, and probably jumping into the water too fast when it comes to buying products like grow lights, I have purchased some seeds to grow in my Krakty hydroponic room setup.

Buying seeds was a specific hassle in Kuwait; the very few and limited stores that sold seeds only sold very common varieties. Think Beefsteak tomatoes; the probably most common tomato you can find at any supermarket. Since such tomatoes are so easy to buy, I want to grow something more unique.

In fact, we even found a nursery selling seeds with the giant warning label on the back: “Warning. Treated with poison. Do not consume or grow food products from these.” What?!

In the end we found a company called Sustainable Organic Q8 that seems to import from reliable producers.

The initial seeds that we have ordered are:

  • Amaranth, Red Leaf
  • Basil, Purple Petra
  • Cucumber, Lemon Cucumber
  • Lettuce, New Red Fire
  • Lettuce, Red Sails
  • Spinach, Matador
  • Spinach, Lavewa
  • Swiss Chard, Bright Lights
  • Tomato, San Marzano

Hopefully within the week we will have the buckets and grow lights and started growing!

Do I need grow lights? Update – Week 1

Previously

On the 17th July 2019 I planted some Deer Tongue Lettuce into our Aerogarden Bounty. My goal was to use the Aerogarden as a seedling starter to then transplant the lettuce sprouts into mason jars to test the Kratky hydroponics methods. Instead of using the traditional Aerogarden pods, we used Jiffy 36mm peat pellets inside the old aerogarden plastic cups.

On the 21st I painted some old unused mason jars with simple black gesso (two coats) to block out any light. I used some old yoghurt containers that just happened to fit perfectly on the mason jar. Using scissors, I simply cut some holes in the bottom.

I transferred the Jiffy peat pellet into the yoghurt container, and then propped it up with clay pebbles. The pebbles help block out any extra light out from reaching the bottom of the yoghurt container and leaking in to the nutrient rich water, as well as to help provide stability to the peat plug. The nutrients we used were from General Hydroponics.

To test the growing factors in each of my primary growing rooms, I placed one lettuce in my kitchen, one in the laundry, and one in the pantry.

1 Week Update

So how has the little lettuce been faring this last week? Already there is significant differences between each plant!

From left to right: pantry (next to AeroGarden), laundry, kitchen.

The first thing of note is that they have all survived! I was quite worried at least one would die during transplant. They have all grown, some more than others. All the peat moss plugs are still damp, meaning that each plant is still getting somewhat equal amounts of nutrients.

Left: Pantry

The lettuce from the pantry has clearly grown the most. It’s over 2x the size! We purposely put this plant beside an active Aerogarden as we figured we could capture spilled light from the Aerogarden rather than purchase grow lamps, after all the lettuce tubs can fit on the same shelf. This definitely gave an unfair advantage to the other two plants, but also allowed us to test how the Kratky method would compare grow light vs no-grow light.

This plants leaves are long and thin. Comparing with the Aerogarden, those lettuce leaves are slightly shorter but much wider. I currently don’t know why lettuce leaves will be thin or thick at the same age.

Finally, I should note that only one small root has emerged from the holes in the yoghurt container. At the moment its “just” peaking out, so not a strong root yet. This is the only plant that has shown any sign of roots beyond the yoghurt container.

It also seems that now the plants are bigger, there seems to be three seeds that have successfully grown in this one plug.

Contrasted with the actual AeroGarden model which leaves are much wider at the same length.

Laundry & Kitchen

These two sprouts are very similar. The lettuce from the laundry seems to be ever so slightly longer. The leaves are also about the same width, despite the picture above making the lettuce from the kitchen appear thicker (camera angle).

The leaves on the lettuce from the laundry seem more droopy, whereas the kitchen leaves are pointing straight upwards more. I am currently unsure what could cause this; more research will be done and we shall see how they perform over the next few weeks.