Like a lot of our customers, Alf is a passionate vegetable grower, he likes to grow his veggies the traditional way, outdoors on his allotment. He grows not only to eat fresh wholesome food, but Alf is also a competition gardener. Every year he invests time, effort and pennies in trying to produce the best in the country, his veggies are carefully grown, selected and presented among many other entrants and the fruits of his labour go head to head with the produce of his competition grower peers! A frequent visitor to Grown Up Hydroponics, mainly in the spring when he is preparing his allotment, he leaves the shop with handfuls of irrigation fittings, hose and organic supplements for his soil. His task now is to set up his elaborate irrigation system to get much required water to his potatoes.
Last year when the growing season had almost ended Alf came in with a mission to come up with the blemish free potato, he had a theory that if the spuds had a constant flow of water running over them, they would be blemish free - a sure winner!
This had us pondering. We have always grown our spuds the traditional way – in soil. We are in no doubt that a nice rich soil in the garden is the best way to grow spuds, but when most supermarket tomatoes, peppers, chillies, salad etc are grown hydroponically, the population is growing and workable land becoming less available, we decided to have a go at growing hydroponic potatoes indoors, to see if we can produce a sustainable way of growing, what is probably the countries’ most popular vegetable, and we might even be able to answer Alf’s theory!
We decided that the Nutrifield Hydroponic Pro Pot would be our hydroponic system of choice. Comprising of 2 components, the bottom reservoir has a 3 different positions for where the second bucket sits, allowing for height adjustment. The top chamber has a mesh base which allows water to pass through easily. We used a Sicce Nano pump to move the water through a watering ring. We enriched our water with Dutch Pro Grow and Bloom Hydro/Coco.
Clay Pebbles - test 1
OK, so we know that growing root vegetables in stony soil doesn’t usually have a happy ending with the fruits of your labour looking deformed and somewhat nobbly. But we had some curiosity to satisfy, so our first experiment was done with Clay pebbles - A standard medium that people generally use to hold their pepper, tomato and chilli plants in place when growing hydroponically. The first few inches of the bottom of the mesh bucket was filled with rinsed clay pebbles and then 2 seed potatoes were placed on top. More rinsed clay pebbles added on top and a watering ring was fixed in to place. The watering ring was being fed from the bottom bucket which was half full of water with added nutrients, the addition of a pump helped feed the watering ring which constantly dripped water through the top bucket. As soon as the green potato leaves emerged from the surface of the clay pebbles, we added more rinsed clay pebbles, this was to simulate the common practice of “earthing up” – where in the garden you would add more soil on top of the potato plants, this is to protect the potatoes from the frost (not a problem in a grow tent) but also to encourage more potatoes to grow by giving extra room to grow.
Perlite – test 2
Perlite is often added to soil to help lighten the consistency of the soil. It can also be used as a medium, much the same as the clay pebbles, perlite can be used the help keep plants in place. The bottom inch of the mesh bucket was filled with rinsed clay pebbles (purely to keep the perlite from falling through the bottom of the mesh bucket, the perlite was then poured in, about an inch thick and two seed potatoes were place in and covered with more perlite. Much the same as with the clay pebbles, the perlite was used to earth up when the green potato leaves appeared.
Coco Coir - test 3
Coco has the same appearance as soil, but is incredibly light and contains absolutely no natural nutrients, of which soil has an abundance. Coco, as with clay pebbles, and rockwool for example, holds the plant in place and when used to grow plants is generally referred to as passive hydroponics. We like to use coco for growing our chillies, mainly because it is so light and airy, the roots thrive because they can breathe and we know exactly what nutrients the plant is consuming and can adapt the feed should the plant appear deficient in any way.
Much the same as the perlite and clay pebbles, we filled the bottom of the top bucket with rinsed clay pebbles, just so that the coco didn’t fall through the holes in to the bottom bucket, coco was added and then the seed potatoes were placed and then covered up with more coco. This time we didn’t have the drip ring on constantly as the coco holds on to the water and we decided this would have been detrimental to our experiment, again the potatoes were “earthed up” when leaves started to appear.
With all 3 experiments, the leaves of the potatoes, grew quickly – much faster than if it was growing outside in the ground or a potato sack. It is well known that growing hydroponically often means plants will grow quicker, this may also be a result of being grown in the grow tent, “sunshine” was always guaranteed and the immediate environment within the grow tent was monitored on a daily basis – not something that is possible with the good old British growing season.
We harvested the potatoes in the following weeks:
Clay Pebbles – 57 days
Perlite – 52 days
Coco Coir – 51 days
And this is what they looked like!
Clay pebbles – Upon first inspection, we were pretty happy with these. Only a few slightly mis-shapen spuds, we were surprised by the amount that we got from two seed potatoes. Alas we knew there would be something to complain about though. The potatoes had a bit of an off putting “fishy” aroma to them, which made us not want to eat them!!
Perlite – Well, nothing to complain about here. 2 seed potatoes produced a nice handful of spuds, with quite possibly one of the biggest “Charlotte” new potatoes we have ever seen.
Coco Coir – These have to be the cleanest “just dug up” potatoes that we have ever seen, literally ready to be chucked straight in to a saucepan without any scrubbing. Not the biggest amount of potatoes produced but definitely the smoothest and happily blemish free.
The experiment was just that, an experiment. It wasn’t a strictly controlled side by side test as we didn’t grow the potatoes under the same lights or in the same tents. The clay pebbles and coco grew in a Budbox grow tent under a MaxiBright Digi Pro Select 600w and Philips Son T PIA Plus lamp and the perlite potatoes were grown in an LED Qube under a Spectrum King 400+ LED. This experiment was done to see how successfully we could grow without soil, hydroponically using different mediums and to satisfy our curiosity.
In conclusion we would definitely grow potatoes in coco again and the Nutrifield Pro Pot worked incredibly well for us. Ideal for growing large plants, easy to fill, empty and clean.