Hydro Unit
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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Temporarily Offline

Well, nuts. Apparently, the camera has picked up an intermittent, and needs some work. I've taken it down temporarily while I work on it, but I'll hopefully it will be a quick fix, and I can have it back up and running shortly.

Actually, I'm kind of surprised that it's done as well as it has for as long as it has. The camera itself was designed as an indoor unit, to sit on top of your desk or monitor. I've had it mounted outdoors and exposed to almost two years' worth of summer heat, winter cold, and dry and wet humidity extremes that it was never designed to handle. It's done pretty well with them so far - at least up until now.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

I was sorting through some files today, and ran across a couple of pictures that illustrate the effectiveness of my "green wall" pretty well. The webcam is mounted high on the wall of the balcony, looking down at the morning glory vines at an angle which is almost 90 degrees from the angle that the leaves assume in order to get the greatest exposure to the sun. The result of this is that the camera looks at the leaves from an almost edge-on viewpoint, and they don't appear to provide nearly as much shade and privacy as they actually do.

Looking at the wall from a position of being seated on the balcony, the foliage really does do a good job of blocking the view of the neighbors' apartments. From the "outside", the effect is even more pronounced, blocking the direct afternoon sunlight - and the view of nosy neighbors - almost entirely.

All of these pictures were taken this past July 10th, just a few minutes apart from each other. The leaf coverage actually improved a bit beyond this before the season was over and they started to thin out again. Back when I started this experiment, I really wasn't too sure if it was going to work all that well. I'm now quite convinced that a few pots of dirt and packets of seeds can grow you some privacy, even in less-than-ideal conditions.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Well, it looks like the first sprout has reached the point where it's poking its head up through the top of its pod. It's a bit too big to squeeze through the hole without help though, so I took the top off temporarily, until it straightens out enough that I can put the little cardboard disk back in place (they keep the light out of the reservoir, to inhibit algae growth).

These are bean plants, but not the little dwarf bush beans that you can get from the AeroGrow people - they're just regular pole beans that I had sitting around in an envelope. I'm sure that they'll outgrow the unit and its light hood very quickly, but this isn't a problem, since I'm not growing them for production, but for getting time-lapse footage of their twining motion as they grow. The seeds in all three pods have germinated successfully - this is just the first one that sprouted far enough to need its dome removed. The others are coming along well though, and they should be popping up within a few days themselves.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Something New!

What's this? An update?

The tomatoes had a good run, lasting far beyond their supply of nutrient tablets, and even had a bit of a comeback later on, using Miracle-Gro fertilizer. They had gotten a bit thin and scraggly though, so it was probably about time to pull them out. I pulled the tomatoes, cleaned the whole unit out, and set it back up with the webcam to watch a new batch of sprouts. I'm just doing a short-term experiment this time around, getting a little bit of time-lapse footage of some young plants. (Hmmmm....I wonder what they're going to be.....)

I've got the pods spaced a lot closer to each other this time, since I'm just interested in sprouts, not growing them out to full size. The AeroGrow unit's lights turn on and off automatically on a timer, and although my camera has a couple of small lights on it, I still wanted a small "fill light" to provide some extra illumination and even out the "lights on" versus "lights off" levels a bit. The solution came in the form of a partially-failed compact fluorescent lamp I had sitting around. Something went wrong in the manufacturing process, and instead of generating the same amount of light as a 60-Watt standard bulb as it was supposed to, it only puts out about 20 or 30 Watts worth - enough for the camera, but not so much that it lights up the entire room. We'll see how well it works as things progress. (It really doesn't even appear as bight as it seems in the photo; the glare you see is just my camera compensating for the low-light conditions.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Green walls

It was really pretty nice having a "green wall" partially enclosing the balcony last year. In fact, it was nice enough that I decided to extend the idea to both open faces of the balcony this year.

The wall on the short side of the balcony is growing in fairly well so far, and many of the vines have reached the top of their strings. I've been cutting the growing tips once they're anchored at the top, in order to encourage them to bush out, send up new growing tips, and produce thicker foliage to fill in the gaps in the wall.

As with last year, the Stars of Yelta have been growing vigorously, and have done a good job of populating the inside corner, where I had a problem getting a lot of coverage last year. The Mount Fuji vines on the outside corner had a bit of a head-start, having had about six weeks of growth under the lights before being transplanted out to the balcony. They quickly grew up to the top bar, and have been producing quite a few blue and white pinwheel flowers for several weeks now (the variegated leaves look great, too). the Ivy-leaved Morning Glory, Cardinal Climber, and Candy Pink vines have also been climbing well, but so far, none have produced any blooms.

On the long edge of the balcony, all of the various types have been doing well; even the Cypress Vines, which got off to a very slow start, have started to take off. The Stars of Yelta, in the corner opposite the matching vine, have been spreading well, producing plenty of blooms, and setting seed pods. Most of the vines along this long edge of the railing have already reached the top and run for several feet along the top of the rail, so I've been cutting off the growing tips to get them to fill out (and to stop them from trying to climb up the spider plants).

Speaking of spider plants: mine are once again in full bloom, with little plant sprouts and small white flowers all up and down the shoots. Apparently, some people haven't seen a spider plant flower before, or weren't aware that they actually do make blooms in order to reproduce from seed in addition to their usual offshoot-based propagation. Yes, they do really make flowers, which turn into seed pods. They're white, with six little petals, and are about 3/4 inch across. I've read that there can be some surprises in producing spider plants from seed; apparently, some of the "normal" varieties that people are used to are actually sports that don't actually breed true from seed. I'm not sure, as I've never actually had any spider plants that weren't direct offshoots from the same green-with-white-stripes source plant from 35 years ago.

Finally, the convolvulus plants in the hanging baskets have been growing well, and one has even started blooming. It's a white variety with a yellow throat, which is missing the "usual" blue outer edge that I'm used to seeing on these flowers. It came from a "convolvulus mix" packet, so I guess an all-white version is part of the "mix". There's also a rogue plant growing in one of the long planters along the floor, which looks suspiciously like a convolvulus plant (the leaves look about right), though I know that I didn't put any down there. Since this is the first year that I've grown convolvulus, it can't be a dropped seed from last year's experiments. It may be a weed, or it may be convolvulus. I figure I can wait a little while, and if it makes little morning-glory-like flowers on stems, I'll know that that's what it is. If not, it'll probably just be a weed, and get treated as such.

Indoors, the tomatoes are pretty much done doing their thing, and I'm out of nutrient pellets for the reservoir, so I'll probably be moving them and their well-developed root systems out to a soil-filled bucket outside somewhere, to see if they pick up on being outdoor tomatoes. We'll see how that works out.

I've also been working on moving the webcams to a new computer. The one that's currently serving the images is an old mini-tower with a big processor, dual DVD burners, big graphics card, and all the power-hogging accessories that go with that sort of setup. I put a wattmeter on it, and found that it routinely pulls between 150 and 200 watts of power in the middle of the day, trying to keep itself cool. That's an awful lot of power to be burning on a machine that's running 24/7/365 and only using a fraction of its capabilities. I've built a new machine with power-efficient hardware and a minimum software install. Aside from drawing only 1/6th the power of the original machine (around 20 to 25 watts under full load), the new one is virtually silent; if not for the power LED and occasional flicker from the drive activity light, it's hard to tell if it's even turned on. It's a major improvement over the old machine, and it should have a positive impact on my electric bill.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Farewell Yellow Tomatoes...

...we hardly knew ye.

I'm afraid that I have some bad news today: the yellow tomato plant is no more.

The AeroGarden instructions say to trim the tomato plants' leaves fairly aggressively, and now I know why. If you don't, it seems, they will over-shade and crowd each other out in the limited space under the light hood. It's my own fault, I guess. I didn't trim them back very aggressively, figuring that big, fluffy plants that were producing tons of tomatoes were a good thing, and they looked good on the webcam. The unit's location in the corner, chosen largely because it would let me put the camera in an out of the way spot, made it hard to get in there and trim the plant on the right, which is the one that out-competed the yellow plant.

I have been picking ripe tomatoes from all of the plants lately, and the yellow one was fine just the other day. When I went to pick some more tomatoes this evening however, the yellow plant folded over limply, and then snapped off near the base when I tried to tie it back up.

Realizing what had caused the problem, I picked off all of the ripe tomatoes (including a couple that probably weren't entirely ripe yet, and a handful of over-ripe ones that had been hiding back in the too-bushy plants), and trimmed the heck out of the remaining two plants. The results don't look as good on camera, but hopefully they'll keep going for another couple of months, enjoying the extra space and nutrients. I have almost two months' worth of nutrient tablets left, and I suppose that with only 2/3 as many plants to support, they'll appreciate the additional food.

This bowl represents the end of my yellow tomatoes, but even though they're "end of the line," they still taste quite good. I'll make a salad or something and enjoy these, start trimming a bit more aggressively, and chalk it up as a lesson learned.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I've got........a Plan!

With the recent warm weather and rain, and some plants that have spent the winter growing indoors, I guess it's about time to start working on the balcony again. Last year was my first experiment with this stuff, and it worked fairly well for a first attempt at growing things. I did a few things wrong-ish though, and I wanted to make a few changes to do it a bit better this year.

One of the things I did last year was that I overcrowded the plants a bit - the windowbox planters just had too many vines growing in not enough soil. This year, I'm replacing the windowboxes on the short side of the balcony with 12-inch buckets, which will only have two vines in each of them. The vines that I grew inside on my windowsill this winter did fine with two sharing a 7-1/2" pot, and I had to constantly trim them back, so I'm thinking that two in a 12-incher, and plenty of room to grow, will probably work out pretty well. I'll build another twine trellis for them to climb on, since that worked out pretty well last year. The old windowboxes are moving over to the long side of the balcony, where I'll have more morning glories climbing on the railing, but no twine trellis up above.

Through trades, spare seeds from last year, and new purchases at the hardware store this year, I have even more different varieties of morning glory than I had last year. I'm also trying to keep the pots somewhat organized, so figuring out what goes where took a little bit of planning and shuffling. I think I ended up with a pretty good mix while still maintaining a decent amount of foliage coverage on the end where I'm trying to grow a wall.

The plants for this year:
  • Star of Yelta
  • Candy Pink
  • Cardinal Climber
  • Giant White Moonflower
  • Ivy-Leaved Morning Glory
  • Picotee Blue
  • Picotee Red
  • Cypress Vine
  • Flying Saucers
  • Mt. Fuji Tall
  • Shimmer Light Blue
  • Yohjiro
  • Mt. Fuji Murasaki
  • Pearly Gates
  • ...and one unknown
I've also got some mixed-color convolvulus and a couple of spider plants that will be growing in hanging baskets over the long end of the balcony. I'm sure that keeping the morning glories from trying to climb up the spiders and convolvulus will probably be a challenge, but I'm sure I'll figure something out.

Based on last year's success at generating shade, I think this year will be even better, and I'll end up with my balcony being mostly enclosed by foliage, while still leaving plenty of room for a chair and table. It should be a nice spot to sit and relax.