True Aeroponic Grow with Adv Mist System/UFO 90
The purpose of this journal is to help you decide whether True Aeroponic Growing (TAG) can be reduced to High Pressure Aeroponics (HPA). The difference is that in my hpa I do not use an accumulator, solenoids, or < 1 second timer. I postulated that since THPA is the 'best' then by coming close, I can get similar results. I have included my missteps, from assembling the hardware to caring for the plants, so that you can avoid them and reap the rewards.
TAG 2.0 Introduction
Some 10 years ago TAG pioneers began to transition NASA's research for feeding astronauts to mj. TAG
is a system (or set of systems) that focuses on optimizing everything inside the root chamber- space around each root, optimizing the delivery of nutrients using a combination of high pressure (>50psi) and low flow mist heads to atomize the nutrients (20~80 microns), making them easy to ingest, RH (relative humidity) and feeding frequencies;
all to develop bigger, fatter, tastier fruits/veggies/herbs in the shortest time, using the fewest amount of nutrients and the least amount of waste.
Although confusing (such is the nature of trail blazing), I read the 8 -10 year old 53 page TAG thread 4-5 times.
My Journey to TAG Enlightenment
In early July 09, (with the blind leading the blind- me) I put together my first DWC system; drip/bubble using a single 18G tote, a low pressure pump and a 15 min on/off timer that ran 24/7, recycling my nutes, I lost 2 grows due to root rot.
I dropped the drip, salvaged 2 plants- one a 6" runt. I replaced the drip with ultrasonic fog (UF); I went through 3 discs and two transformers before learning that they cannot tolerate >400 ppm! FYI UFs provide 5-10 micron of dry fog which is all but useless for growing beyond rooting clones, which can easily be done with a buubler anyway.
Although my plant was a 2 ft cola, the roots looked like a tight ball of twine. Looking back, I now know they were barely functioning- somehow my plant survived my ignorance.
I added a spraybar to my low pressure pump, and a variety of mist heads.
After all this tale chasing, thankfully,
I came across the TAG thread
Within DAYS of incorporating EXL heads (+/- 50 micron) I began to see new roots that resembled fishbones; a prime indicator that the root environment had improved, but I was still using a lp pump.
The plant responded with considerable new bud and root growth. A couple weeks later, thinking I was 5-7 days from harvest, I replaced the low pressure pump/UF/spray bar with a high pressure set up that I purchased from Reptile Basics (8800 Aquatec pump, fog head assemblies, tubing…). The money I pissed away on the lp experiment would easily have paid to go hp in the beginning- but I didn't know.
In the next two weeks, the bud size doubled, and trics exploded. I finished with 1.2oz of killer weed, saving me $350-400, or 25% of my grow investment.
Aeroponics is Misunderstood
Many think that as long as roots are hanging in space that they are using the most advanced aeroponic grow technique. True Aeroponic Growing does no begin until you incorporate a deep cycle timer, high pressure pump and mist heads that will atomize the nutrients into a soft fog like mist that gently falls onto the awaiting roots.
These roots developed under high pressure, but not ideal feed times. At first I used a crude timer whose minimum feed time was ~ 25 seconds! Today, my feed intervals during early veg ~is 4 seconds on with a 3-3.5 minute pause- this is not a misprint. If you compare the above root photo to any roots grown using low pressure (or DWC), it should be obvious why hpa is better.
Note that the roots are fluffy and airy, with many layers of fishbone roots. Ideally, each bone should be filled with peach fuzz (think pipe cleaners). The fuzz provides more surface area for microbes to attach. Assuming other important elements are properly controlled like; lighting, air circulation, relative humidity, reservoir temps, pH and nutrient strength, you are assured of growing healthy, disease-free, phat nuggz in the shortest amount of time; typically 20-30% faster with 20-30% greater yield, using far fewer nutrients. Today (May 2012) I am not so convinced
Due to the advances in equipment, and the collective TAG growing experience, I call my version...
You can assemble a TAG system with just a few basic tools. Maybe a month into this journal, I was contacted by a fellow grower who introduced me to the concept of pressurized accumulator tank. These tanks hold the nutes under pressure, and deliver fully atomized nutrients in under one second! SWEET but you need a timer capable of sub one second "ON" intervals.
As a personal use grower, I am trying to get close to what Advanced TAG does, without adding the additional hardware and complexity, however, it is most def worth investigating.
In order to provide < 4 second feed times (24/7!), you will need to invest in a digital timer. The Sentinel DRT/MDT 1 are good choices, unless you plan on using an accumulator, at which point you want a timer accurate to one-half second.
Edit 10/15/2011. FYI: As all my growing lessons, this one was learned the hard way. Let's begin with that for an expensive timer it sorely lacks a status button so you can check all events.
I have been struggling with wilted plants every morning, and little to no runoff. This I was blaming on the small DMfit filter clogging with a micro-colony (which it was) but I resolved that last week, by adding the irrigation filter inside the rez, but still awoke to extreme wilted plants. The roots were not getting fed during lights off. Checked both filters, they were clean. WTF?
3/4 plants have 'recovered' but the roots are mostly dried out, and totally dry every morning, meaning the roots have lost most of their ability to feed the plants. The promise of HPA was not happening.
Looking back, I sent my previous MDT 1 back for repair. I never thought to check the on/off light settings, thinking it was automatically 24/7. WRONG.
It occurred to me to review the directions, Turns out the timer can be set for DAY, NIGHT or 24 HOURS. It was preset for DAY, meaning the plants were not getting fed during lights off.
This problem severely set plant growth back. I quickly put together a F & D rig from parts on hand, and moved the wilted plants. They recovered pretty quickly, and outperformed the ones I put back in hpa by a wide margin.
Hopefully, this is the last of the major HPA issues, that has ruined 2 grows.
STRAINS & METHODS
TAG is ideal for short plants, autoflower, SOG, 12/12 and, cloning. You can't grow trees unless you use something like 55G rain barrels outdoors or under very high ceilings with tons of lighting
A Zen Moment: If you want to grow big- think small!
"You are not feeding the roots, you are feeding
microbes that colonize on them!"
In a healthy aero environment, beneficial microbes colonize on the roots. It is they that consume the nutes, which they break down to feed the plant. It's a symbiotic relationship.
Clearly, the more surface area your roots have, the more microbes that can colonize to feed your plants.
Microbes do not/cannot eat much per feeding. Longer feed times drenches the roots, which slows down the entire process.
One of the many benefits of HPA is that no grow medium (beyond the starter cube for seeds) is needed! Eliminating the grow medium eliminates the potential for salt build up, which will toxify the plant and roots.
Roots need ample room and space between so the atomized mist can do its' thing. Think minimum 1 cft per root system
Rez temps between 60-65°F holds more oxygen. How critical is this?
During the recent 2 week <45 degree weather, my plants went into hibernation because the room remained below 50 degrees.
Assuming you are on point with everything, during veg, the roots develop into thick pony tails. Once you go 12/12, the plant shifts into bud production. The collective root mass looks like pom-poms. It is critical that each root system has sufficient space around it for the atomized nutrients to circulate freely. Think Dark Side of the Moon. If only half the root mass is getting misted, your plants will not grow to their full potential. Place the mist heads up high and aim them in between the roots to get proper circulation. IF your root chamber is bigger than 30G you might want 2-4 mist heads- one on each side.
Recently, I was presented with a pdf document titled Understanding Humidity Control in Greenhouses. It's a pdf file and I can't figure out how to load it here, so that it will open.
Reading it, I came across two graphs one on Vapor Pressure Deficit and another Quality Problems Due to Humidity that shows what can happen when the humidity is either too low, or too high. I quickly added a humidifier and within 5 days the buds began to fatten up, and a lot more trichome development. Having waited so long to realize the problem could well effect my total yield.
Quality Problems Due to Humidity
Spider Mites Leaf Curl
Edge Burn (Guttation) Soft Growth Mineral Deficiencies Disease Outbreaks
Chose your strains wisely!
A 3 foot plant from seed will develop massive 3 foot long roots. Such roots need to be suspended in air, with ample room around them for the fogged nutes swirl and fall upon. I have learned to trim my roots, which produces more roots, never letting them reach the bottom.
Due to a considerable difference in the runoff pH and PPMs during bloom cycle, you do not want roots to reach and collect on the bottom, where they absorb this now toxic runoff.
Height: Accounting for a 3 foot plant and 3 ft root, drainage, and lights, you need a good 8 ft, unless you SCROG/LST. TAG should be killer for SoG/SCROG.
My 18G totes are only 15" deep, in just 35 days, the roots were over 2 feet long and gathering on the bottom, which turns TAG to FAG- Faux Aeroponic Grow. defeating the purpose and setting the stage for disease and rot.
A major benefit to TAG is that the plants only require a small amount of nutrients per feed cycle and very low ppms needed to grow healthy plants:8 x 2.5- 3 ft plants in late bloom, consume less than one gallon of nutes per day. And they only need 200-400ppm during veg; 3/11 edit: 400- 600 bloom- NO MORE! This is due to the efficiency created by atomized nutes.
Recycle vs Drain to Waste (D2W)
Recycling nutes back to the rez is a BAD IDEA!
Testing ppm/pH of my run-off/waste in mid-bloom, pH is 3-5 points higher (5.9 in my rez- 6.4 waste); and ppms are off the chart- 850 in the rez- 2000+ in the waste. That is toxic! Plus many of the nutes have been taken up by the plant, the left overs are out of balance. This is why DWC typically runs into nute deficiencies, and lock out caused by the imbalanced NPK ratios
One of the many benefits of TAG/HPA is how little nutes are needed. This allows you to D2W in good conscience. I dump the rest in my garden, lawn...
MY CURRENT SET UP
Reptile Basics Mist System
Thinking more is better, I upgraded to RBs Quad heads (0.9gph X 4= 3.6gph). I replaced it with a double (1.8gph), still way too much mist for the size of my Rubbermaid Root Chamber (pod). A single 0.9gph mist head is all you need when it is properly placed, unless you are running 4 X 4 or greater tables. All you want is a delicate mist- just enough to moisten the roots when it falls. Edit 5/12. I now use 30 G tote, with 2 x 2 head misters on opposite sides, but will change this to 3 single heads to improve coverage.
Does the Timer Matter?
Hell Yes. Do not buy a DNe or ICG timer! The lowest setting is 25 seconds. Your roots need less than 4 seconds . during early veg One a decent root mass develops begin dialing back to ~ 1 second on/1.5m off (less than 1 sec with an accumulator). More than that will soak the roots, causing them to stop feeding until they dry out enough. Not believing this myself, I went from 25 seconds to 5. The fishbone roots began to grow like crazy, but did not fill in with fuzzies until I reduced the time to <2 seconds! And it's the fuzzies that you are striving for,
Aero does not require any holding medium: no hydroton/ rockwool/S2G/coco choir..., other than what you start your seedlings in. However, you will need something to support the plant. I use 1.5" PVC couplers + small net pots. The inside of the PVC coupler has a lip that holds the net pot in place.
*** There are at least 4 different types of PVC couplers. They all look alike until you examine them closely. Any of them are fine if you are cloning, BUT when starting seedlings, you need the one with shortest thread area and the widest thread area mouth. I found a PVC coupler with very short threads and a locking collar at Lowes/HD. This solves two problems, easier penetration by the mist and locking collar stabilizes the plant.
Rock Wool (RW) starter cubes fit perfectly inside the couplers, but I find them problematic in that they hold too much moisture. I cut them in half vertically, which allows developing roots to exit faster. I have found putting a layer of hydroton between the starter cube and the net pot allows for faster drainage + the hydroton holds enough moisture to attract the roots.
Once the plant gets heavy, you will need to use neoprene pucks to keep it from falling through the coupler!
68 Days From Seed
Several of my plants roots are 30+" long. As soon as they hit the bottom of my root chamber, the full benefit of TAG was compromised.
Things I Learned So Far
* Knowing when to feed, is as important as what to feed.
* Use one 18G tote per 3 ft plant, or 2 x 2ft cola types.
* The pump prefers 3+ G of nutes in reserve. I use 35 pound kitty litter containers (tall with a small footprint) to maintain pressure! During bloom you will lose 3-4 G a week due to evaporation, and consumption. Make up enough to cover evap and consumption for a week. You might need 7-10G once you flip
* Roots grow incredibly big, and ridiculously fast.
Each root system should have > 1 cft
of space for mist to swirl around
Stay tuned! Updates will appear within the above text.
Mid- September 2010. I just started my 3rd grow using Lowryder/Bubblegum cross. 2 ft plants with minimal side branching.
Mid Nov update. Lost all but one because I did not cut the RW cube in half. They got root rot and died. New batch started 2 days ago using S2G cubes.
Also just bought a Quantum Bad Boy (T 5- 8 bulbs ~ 400 watts) This journal is on another medijuana site. You might find it by googling my UN.
T5 Bulbs: Aquarium bulbs provide LED like spectrums and provide significantly brighter light. Goolge LED without LEDs My T 5 Grow
21st Century Flood & Drain
As I mentioned, I salvaged some clones (when I had the timer problem) by trowing together a F & D rig. Since I had an 18G Rubbermaid tote handy, I used it, even though it is >5xs deeper than a typical F & D table. This has turned out to be a huge advantage. I put the clones in 4" net pots filled in with hydroton. To stabilize them in the tote, I added a bunch of lava rock, which is fast draining, but holds some nutes in the crevices which keeps the roots moist between floods. This ave me the idea to flood more often, similar to hpa. Eventually I settled on flooding hourly. The growth is explosive. Doing a side by side now using Air Pots. It is outperforming my hpa by a good margin.
I may wind up mothballing the hpa since this is so much easier and cheaper to start with, BUT, it was hpa that inspired me to develop this modified F & D, hence 21st Century Flood & Drain