Friday, July 30, 2010

Green Sky Growers - Rooftop Aquaponic Gardening

Green Sky Growers

If your in Orlando or surrounding areas and are interested in one of the most amazing greenhouse setups I've ever seen, Green Sky Growers will be glad to give you a tour for a low 10$ fee.

These greenhouses are located in Winter Garden, FL on top of a certified green building. This building is very efficient and is one of the first in the country to be 100% certified green building. During the tour, they dig into the background of this project and how it came to be.

Below is an article I found that explains it all in more detail (Im not the best writer, so ill post this instead):

Atop the new brick building attached to the renovated Garden Theatre downtown is the future of urban farming, as longtime citrus grower Bert Roper sees it.

At the rooftop hydroponic garden, hundreds of gourmet lettuce plants float on foam mats in a tank of nutrient-enriched water, intended to make the red oak leaf and tender bibb lettuces fat and happy.

Long vines of gourmet cucumbers hang like leafy draperies along transparent walls. Bushes of cherry tomatoes sprout from white plastic pillars. Columns of green and purple basil plants tower from floor to ceiling.

Not all in the garden is green. Thousands of small tilapia fry swim in tanks, where the water is filtered clean, in part, by the plants.
At 85, an age when most people would have long since retired, Roper has launched his latest venture — Green Sky Growers garden. A ground-floor market also is in the works.

“I’m retired from citrus, but that doesn’t mean I’m retired,” Roper said.

He has teamed with Tim Blank, 39, a former Epcot hydroponics expert, to make this project commercially viable.

“What’s the biggest challenge facing us in Florida?” Roper asked. “Water. Well, right here, we’re growing food with just 15 percent of the water it would take on a traditional farm. When we perfect it, we’ll be down to 5 percent of the water.”

Blank said that as communities continue to gobble up rural land, sustainable gardens could be built on rooftops, making better use of what he calls wasted space.

Faster, bigger
Green Sky plants are fed a perfectly balanced diet of phosphorous, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements. Roper and Blank say their vegetables grow bigger and faster than traditional crops.

Lettuce usually takes two to four months to grow but here takes 28 days from seedling to market. Chives and other herbs can grow 12 inches in a week. The fish should be ready for market in months instead of two years, as in the wild.

“We’re already selling gourmet produce to local restaurants,” Blank said. On Saturdays, fresh vegetables and herbs are sold at the farmers market.

The pair had originally anticipated having the garden up and running six months ago.

“One of the challenges of our journey was learning how to build a hurricane-resistant greenhouse on top of a roof,” Blank said.

The 3,000-square-foot research and demonstration garden is built to withstand winds up to 120 mph. If such a storm hit, Roper said they would roll up the clear curtains, and the wind would whip through the structure.

“We’d lose our crops, but that would set us back only a few weeks,” he said.

‘See what is possible’
Educating the public about new ways to conserve the environment is also part of their mission. The new building has rain catchers on the roof and a 15,000-gallon cistern buried underground. Most of the water they use comes from the cistern and is re-used after being cleaned.

Schoolchildren have already toured the garden, by special arrangement. Small groups will be allowed to tour this weekend for $10 a person during Winter Garden’s ninth annual Spring Fever in the Garden downtown, sponsored by the city and the Bloom & Grow Garden Society.

“We want people to see what is possible,” Blank said.

Roper, whose family has built a successful citrus and farming empire, said he is not too worried about making money just yet.

“I hope to make a profit by the time I’m 100,” he said.

       By Rich McKay @

I have a couple friends that have worked here and are very experienced.

One word "AMAZING"! And if your in town, give me a shout out - I live only 10 mins away from this place... This is the future of urban growing and I'm very pleased to see that an older generation of growers can see this and know the benefits that this can bring to society!

I'm going to be visiting this place again soon, so I will report back with my own photos that are larger.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hydroponic Plant: Patio Princess Tomato Progress

Hydroponics: Tracking the Patio Princess Development

June 16th, 2010
No fruits, but starting to flower like crazy

July 11th, 2010
Tomatoes Developing
July 28th, 2010
Starting to Ripen
July 30th, 2010

The Suburbanites - Author unknown

The Suburbanites

Copied and Pasted from the web

Author unknown

Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all see are these green rectangles.

St. Francis:
It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord…The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

St. Francis:
Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

St. Francis:
Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it…s ometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bail it like hay?

St. Francis:

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.


They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St. Francis:
No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. Francis:
Yes, Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. Francis:
You aren’t going to believe this Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

St. Francis:
You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. Francis:
After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

And where do they get this mulch?

St. Francis:
They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

Enough. I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. Catherine:
“Dumb and Dumber”, Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about…

Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Hydroponics: Blight or Nutrient Burn?

I have a couple issues on a few of my leaves on my patio tomato. It looks like nutrient burn, but it also looks like it could be blight. Everything I've read said that blight is usually spread by rain/wind. Since my greenhouse is somewhat protected from these elements, it shouldn't be blight. I havent gave these plants a good flush in a few weeks, so that might be the case. What do you think?
Damage is more on the inside of the leaf in this pic
Typical Nutrient Burn Symptoms - Burnt Tips

Update: I've gotten a couple responses on a forum I contribute to and it seems this isn't Blight. Blight should have distinct outer rings on the edges and CAN turn the whole branch yellow, very fast.

I will give it a good flush with 5.5ph water @ a 0.0 EC this weekend. I will measure the water than drains through until it is also at an EC of 0. I will write a post on the flushing process and record the improvements. Im also going to use Ubiogrow on the plant to see if this helps also.

Hydroponic Plant: Burgundy Okra

Hydroponic Burgundy Okra
Hydroponic Rockwool Slab Leach Drip Tray System
Okra Pod Ready for Harvest

Flowers Forming

Fried Okra--- yummy!
Rockwool Drip Slab System

Overall, this new Rockwool Slab system is doing great!

Hydroponic Jubilee Turning Yellow/Orange

 Hydroponic Jubilee Vine Tomatoes
Im not 100% if it will be yellow or orange. We will have to wait and see.
First Tomato on stem Turing Yellow/Orange
These are larger than they look!
This might have pollinated with the brandywine that I removed - misshapen and looks different from the rest.
I lowered the tomato because it was getting TOO tall. Now its at a manageable height :)
Hydroponic Jubilee Tomatoes in yo face!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Todays Harvest 7/28/2010

Harvest - Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Hot Peppers & Okra


Very Fresh Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onions 
First Time Cooking and Eating Swiss Chard

Fried Okra

(Recipes and Reviews coming this week)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hydroponic Update

I accomplished 80% of what I have been wanted to this weekend. I hurt my back trying to move an 18+ gallon trash can full of water, dumb mistake, but it wont move itself and I have no help.

Accomplished (15+ hrs of work):
  • Setup the hew hydroponic irrigation drip lines/plumbing
  • Changed nutrient reservoir water. Replaced (27 gallon) square tank with an (18 gallon) round trash can. This should work better, we will see.
  • Trimmed and pruned all plants.
  • Moved electric in the greenhouse.
  • Went bug hunting in my greenhouse and dirt garden
  • Removed collard greens and a few other plants in the dirt garden
  • Organize dirt garden.. weeding & pruning.
  • Much more I'm sure....
  • Setup the plumbing for the drip drain to recirculate back into the reservoir. 
  • Dig a hole in the greenhouse to place the 18 gallon-trashcan reservoir in. (Should reduce the heat of the water and also lower the height so the returning drain water can flow back)
  • Get the NFT gutter system active to start my greens (lettuce, spinach, etc)
  • Start new seeds for fall - greens. Need more rockwool, but I will use some peat plugs if need be.
  • Get 3 more leach trays and rockwool slabs - Im broke, so this will have to wait.
  • Create an indoor controlled environment to start seeds. Use ubiogrow and log results throughout the life cycle.
  • Take pictures and maybe a couple videos. I admit, the traffic on my website isnt very high and I know it could be better. It does take time to get a good web presence and I believe Im going to make a few videos and post them on youtube. Hopefully this will attract more users to my blog.
  • Rest - back is hurting!
Plant Progress:
  • Okra (Rockwool Slab Drip) - Growing like trees. I had no clue until I found a picture of the orka being grown at Epcot- they are huge! I have a orka fruit growing and a couple flowers opened this morning.
  • Beefsteak Tomato (Rockwool Slab Drip) - Doing very well. Starting to flower. Getting tall.
  • Jubilee Tomatoes - (Dutch Bucket Drip) - Tomatoes are starting to change to a yellow color. More flowers forming.
  • Patio Princess Tomato - (Dutch Bucket System) - Doing very well and a few tomatoes are starting to turn slightly red. (NFT System) - I picked 2 tomatoes off and eat them. Pretty good tomatoes. The hornworms are back, so I have to manage them this week.
  • Hot Peppers (Dutch Bucket Drip) - Doing very well. TONS of peppers, more than I know what to do with.
  • Eggplant (Dutch Bucket Drip) - Doing great. I've lost 3 flowers do to dropping, but hopefully I can get one to pollinate because there are plenty more! Eggplants are truly a beautiful plant!
  • Cucumber (dutch bucket) - I separated the two buckets and noticed that the cucumber has a massive root system in the second bucket (what I was aiming for). It still gets a little wilt during the hottest parts of the day. Im thinking about removing this plane from the greenhouse. If I had my camera to take some pics of the roots, it would have already been gone. It has grown too big and requires waaay more water than the other plants.
  • Starter Plants - Tomatoes, bell pepper & Asian cucumber - all doing well. I need more rockwool blocks to transplant a few into, but other than that, all is good. I sprayed Ubiogrow on the starters already in the rockwool and I've already seen a little improvement :)
I think Im only going to grow a couple or few crops in my hydroponic greenhouse environment. Maybe only tomatoes and peppers. Mostly everything else will be in dirt next year. I dont have the space right now, or time, to do that many, all in one system. Lesson learned :)

I will post back with updated pics soon as I find my camera card. It is lost again - I swear something hides stuff in my house.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010


    Ubiogrow  Trial

    It's funny how things work out sometimes. I was lucky enough from Ubiogrow to receive a free sample and try their product. I got it in the mail this morning and Im very excited. My plants look horrible right now and I need to try this product out now!

    I will be using Ubiogrow over the next few weeks and the plants will speak for themselves.

    My wife and I have my son's great grandmother coming over to visit with him sometime this afternoon. So, that should give me some time to get some much need maintenance out of the way in the garden.

    I know how hard it is for these smaller, growing companies and their products to get a good reputation. This is mostly because the BIG companies out their have so much crappy-chemical based products, people are very cautious.

    I've read the story of Tom (owner) and his company Ubiogrow. Tom followed his passion after being laid off and started this company. This is what I hope to one of these days. I want to one day combine my passion for web/software development, with my passion for gardening. I respect Tom and his company very much and I wish him much success in the future.

    I much rather buy from a company where I know my funds will directly effect someone's life on a personal level - a small company like Ubiogrow.

     If I have success with this product, I will be purchasing from them again and spreading the word :) Only time will tell.

    After a little research, there is no reason this product shouldnt work like intended, unless it's user (me)

    Happy Gardening!

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    July 23rd, 2010 - Friday Picture Update

    I've been real busy lately and neglecting my garden (as you might be able to tell in the pics). Its also been too damn hot! Over 100 degrees every day this week. I'm hoping to do some major maintenance this weekend if all goes well :)

    Patio Princess (NFT and Drip)

    Jubilee Tomatoes

    Hydroponic-to-dirt Transplants

    Plumeria in Flower! Beautiful!

    Eggplant in Flower

    Hungarian Wax Pepper

    Rockwool Slab Drip: Okra - BeefSteak Tomato - Orka

    NFT Outdoor Fence Post System w/ Water cooler as the nutrient tank
    This is what happens when you dont check the water level for days and it drys up on you. And in over 100 degree temp, Im surprised they MIGHT come back.

    Bugs - Leaf Footed Nymphs on Cucumber Flower and Black swallowtail eating my parsley