Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Indoor Growing | The Organic Garden Center

I was listening to a radio show reminiscing about the “British Invasion, 50 years ago”.  The talk turned to the first time Bob Dylan met The Beatles in 1964; it took place in their hotel room in New York City.  Dylan asked them if they would like to smoke some pot with him and they said they had never tried it. Dylan said he was sure they smoked because of their lyric in “I want to hold your hand”   “I get high, I get high, I get high”.  John Lennon corrected him, the lyric was really” I can’t hide”.  They smoked.

“Rubber Soul” followed. You can find a longer, more detailed version of this meeting on beatleswiki.org or beatlesbible.com

Sometimes I, along with the many others who can remember the British Invasion, reminisce the lawlessness and rebellion and for that matter the innocence of those times.  With new laws across this country regarding cannabis, what do we hope for?  Do we want the Phillip Morris Co. to start manufacturing products with names something like Kush or 420? rolled into packs of 10?  Do we want to see again the old “Head Shops” with heavy curtained back rooms of yore?  And while I do believe in very important medical applications, do I want to disrespect those who truly are sick, by pretending I am, just for recreational purposes?  Do I want to pull up to a stop light next to a car full of “20 somethings” with a cloud of smoke coming out their sunroof?

50 Years of Beatles - A Tribute

I guess what I want is a culture were you can grow a little for yourself, share some with your friends, give or even sell some to your elderly next door neighbor for an ailing loved one.  While I want cannabis to be legal, I would prefer it to remain behind closed doors, somewhat private.  I want the slight lawlessness and innocence and naturalness (if that is a word) of the past.  Let local government agencies offer a yearly permit or license to grow a limited amount.   OK, they can collect some fees for these licenses and leave us alone in our own homes. Think of the advances that could be made across the whole line of indoor growing; if you are already set up to grow weed, why not grow tomatoes,  cucumbers, and peppers…healthy stuff… at home?  Why not grow, even in the winter?

Let the dispensaries and cultivation sites exist, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for medical quality purity,  but let average folks farm at home.  The government can work out the limits and the fine print.  I don’t want the guy living upstairs from me growing 200 plants, but if we could grow a little for ourselves, the guy upstairs wouldn’t have the motivation.  For that matter, he could set up a proper business for himself in an appropriate commercial space, with safeguards concerning such things as overflowing water tanks and fire suppression.  Not everyone has the time or interest to grow their own garden.

It’s been 50 years, old Beatles and Dylan songs are still  being played.  What could be better than taking out a little of your harvest and enjoy listening to some old vinyl without a care in the world?  Support the grow at home movement!

Groovy Grower

Aquaponics Set-Up 2We have been running an aquaponics set up for 6 months now with some very good results. Because this store is connected to Old Orchard Aquarium, we designed our aquaponic system for the fish’s health and vitality. Our 75 gallon fish tank uses a sump system to provide continuous filtration and water flow for the fish; we then use a separate pump,operated on a timer, to push nutrient rich, particulate free water up to flood troughs where the plants grow. The return water from the flood troughs is filtered again before returning to the fish tank sump. Our system allows the flexibility to turn on or off the fish tank flow or the plant watering side. We can grow plants requiring very wet or dry conditions or anything in between, without sacrificing the fish’s water quality.

Many aquaponic operators will keep tilapia, an African cichlid fish that is often bred as food, because we don’t propose to eat our fish (especially because we sell tropical fish as pets) this store is keeping simple comet goldfish in our system. Goldfish are relatively easy to keep, live well with each other, make a lot of waste (plant nutrient) and are always happy to see you.

Aquaponics Set-Up 1What I like about aquaponics is that once set up and properly cycled, it is quite easy to operate. You feed the fish, the fish feed the plants, light makes the plants grow, the plants remove waste from the fish water, you harvest the delicious cucumbers.

I could tell you more, but I’ve got to go,



Paul here,

I wanted to talk about a more sensitive subject involving indoor growing, it’s about the proverbial elephant in the room when customers walk into our store. In my effort to be well informed, I paid to attend a meeting/instructional seminar presented by NORML, the Illinois’ branch. The presentation, very professionally produced, was about new laws going into effect in Illinois on January 1, 2014. In essence, the new laws only pertain to people with specific medical needs, and the establishment of a mechanism to fulfill those needs.

Illinois Goes GreenEverything in this new law is an attempt to be so well regulated that the federal government would have little cause to intervene in its implementation. This law has been passed on a four year trial basis, I suppose to alleviate the lawmaker’s fear of problems or unintended consequences, however it would only take the modification of one sentence in the law to make it permanent. Since there are no provisions in Illinois to adopt ballot initiatives directly into law, the lawmakers such as Lou Lang (D) Illinois 16th Dist Representative, who introduced this law, and all those who voted for the law should, in my mind, be applauded. In some other states that allow direct ballot initiatives, laws may not have been so carefully drawn, thus inviting the scrutiny of the federal government. In Illinois, there will be a set amount of dispensaries, a set amount of cultivation centers, and a tightly controlled, regulated list of medical needs in order to receive a prescription. The Illinois State Police will be conducting background checks on owners and employees, as well as 24/7 video monitoring of cultivation sites; all of these additional duties for law enforcement will incur extra expense, so owners can expect fees that must all be paid for within the business and not by taxing ordinary citizens.

You can read up on this upcoming law at the Illinois General Assembly website, and enter HB1 in their search box.

What do these new laws have to do with you and me? Nothing really ; what was legal and what was illegal to grow in or at your home before and after January 1, 2014 will not change, at least for now. What may change is the general public’s attitude towards home cultivation, that in turn can relax both government and law enforcement agencies. I can foresee, once Illinois discovers that the sky is not falling on January 1st, modifications to these laws that would allow caregivers the right to grow enough plants to supply the medical needs of their patients.

There is more and more research being brought to light on the benefits of cannabinoids on human health and well being. I am reading an independently published book “The Cannabis Papers” which is a collection of articles and papers on the subject. You can find this book or even a free download on the publisher’s web site. It seems to me that a day doesn’t go by without someone in the mainstream media mentioning cannabis, whether it’s a joke, a news story or a serious comment.

I am looking forward to 2014 in Illinois, while the new laws will not change what my customers can legally grow in their homes, I believe that a step in the right direction has been taken that will lead to more openness and freedom in this growing hobby.

Thanks for reading,

Groovy Grower

Ebb & Flow Systems

Ebb and Flow SystemsI just finished a water change(w/c) on our 3’x3′ ebb & flow table. An ebb & flow system, sometimes called a flood table, consists of a a wide, shallow, plastic, watertight table about 5 to 10 inches tall, sitting atop a reservoir which has enough capacity to hold all the water and nutrient to fill the table above. For example, our system, made by American Hydroponics, has a a square shaped table 3’x 3’x 5″ deep, and the reservoir, made by ActiveAqua, holds 25 gallons of nutrient/water solution.

ebb-flow-1Inside the reservoir sits a submersible pump which pumps water up to the table. Drilled into the flood table is a standpipe, when the water fills to the height of the standpipe, the water/nutrient flows back into the reservoir making a continuous loop. The pump is controlled by a simple timer, our system runs for 15 minutes, every 2 hours. This is a type of recirculating system. The plants grow in net pots, as the name implies, the bottom half of the pot is made of mesh, which lets water pass through to nourish the plant’s roots, yet with enough strength to hold the plant and media. There are several types of media to choose from, were using an expanded clay pellet called Hydrocorn, made by Gold Label, but we have been quite pleased with Growstone, made out of 100% recycled glass. We have also used Rocks, a super heated shale that won’t float in water, and can be purchased in smaller bags for smaller grow set ups, made by Sunleaves.

ebb-flow-2What’s nice about growing in our store is we get to use a variety of different products from manufacturers who are smart enough to send us samples to try. We get hands on experience which enables us to recommend, to you, the things we like . This time I am using nutrients from Cutting Edge Solutions. They offer a 3 part nutrient mix and, following their instructions, it’s pretty easy to use. They also have 3 other supplements which add calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Because we’re attached to a large aquarium shop, we are using de-ionized (DI) water, most of the industry uses reverse osmosis (R/O) water, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Our ebb & flow plants are happy; if they could talk they would thank me for changing their water and nutrient today.


Aeroponic Fog Grow Systems

Aeroponic Fog System 1Today I’m going to do a long overdue water change on the store’s TurboGrow, aeroponic fog grow system, made by the same folks who make the TurboKlone machine (turboklone.com). This is an amazing grow system that uses compressed air to form a fog made up of purified water and the hydroponic nutrients of your choice. This machine just babies your plant’s roots in a fog of what they want; for them it’s like sitting at home, watching a football game, and someone sent you a free pizza delivered to your door during halftime. The instructions tell you to use about half of the normal nutrient dosing with this system.

Aeroponic Fog System 2I am growing a Pequin pepper plant, a few marigolds, and some mangroves in this system. This system is illuminated by a single Kessil  H350 Magenta LED lamp. (kessil.com) This water change is overdue because for best results you should probably be doing a w/c once a week or at least every two weeks; it’s been almost a month.

I’m going to pump the old water into my rolling barrel even though there is a drain on the system.  My reasoning stems from way I’ve set it up.  It is easier for me to pump out the old water – it’s only ten gallons. Next, I’ll ad ten gallons of De-Ionized water, 30 ml of  ‘Oneness’, 20 ml  Ginormous, and 6 ml of Sea-Cal, all made by Humboldt Nutrients (humboldtnutrients.com). Testing my reservoir came up with 435 ppm and a pH of 6.5, so I added 3 ml of Gen Hydro pH down to bring the water pH to 6.2; which seems just about right for this system.

I don’t know why I wait so long between w/c my systems… it took me a lot longer to write this than complete the water change! 🙂

Bye for now,


Vertical Gardens

ogc-vertical-gardenI want to talk a little about a hydroponic system in our store. I’ve just done a water change (w/c) on our Vertical Garden (vertigro.com); it would be a great system for anyone tight on horizontal space, a complete system that would be pretty good for beginners. It’s almost a hybrid of three types of hydroponics, a built in reservoir, soiless mix/coco coir, and top watering. How it works is a series of planters filled with soiless mix, perched atop each other, and top fed from planter to planter below, supplied with a water nutrient solution, pumped up by a submersible pump, from the reservoir on the bottom, and controlled by just one timer.

Verti-GroAll you need to do is add light, everything else, submersible pump, soiless mix and even powdered nutrient is included. You could set it up outside, but here in Chicago, you would have to bring it in seasonally and always make sure you secure it from strong winds.  We are using this system to grow strawberries, the type that send out runners. It’s a natural, you plant the mother plant on top and she sends out runners to the pots below. Strawberries thrive in nutrient solution more to the acidic side, we’re set our pH at 5.2. I think we’ll have to be patient, I am not expecting any fruit for quite a few months.


Cloning Machines

Today’s topic is about our TurboKlone machine, as usual I’m talking about it because I’m doing a routine water change (w/c).

A cloning machine has a great success ratio of sprouting new roots from cuttings you’ve taken from a plant whose characteristics you like, for example a tomato plant that produces large, flavorful fruit, or maybe a hibiscus that blooms very large flowers. It must be noted that if the plant from which you are taking the cutting has gender, then all of its clones will be of the same gender.

TurboKloneCloning machines work by holding your precious little cuttings over a mild nutrient solution and gently spraying water at their stalks. This coaxes some roots to form to keep her alive. When enough roots have formed it is time to transplant her to a more permanent media.

In our store, we have been using a 48 site machine made by TurboKlone. What sets this machine apart is the built in fan, which both cools down the water/nutrient in its reservoir, and adds fresh air to the rooting chamber.. These little baby clones don’t like to overheat. While we’ve never had all the sites occupied it’s nice to be able to take a cutting and have some room in the machine to make a new clone at any time. What keeps the cuttings in place are round, polyethylene collars, which are pre-slit to hold the small stalks.Some growers prefer neoprene collars which will also fit the sites.

I’ve just finished bleaching our collars to remove algae that can grow on them, other folks might just buy new collars instead, they hold up real well but what’s your time worth?

We have also sold quite a few Daisy Cloners made by Botanicare. The machine we sell has 8 sites, it’s easy to use and clean and the good folks at Botanicare and at TurboKlone have always been very responsive to our questions and needs.

Well, I’m finished with my w/c-

Talk to you later,