Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The Mantis (praying mantis) is an effective predator and usually a welcome insect in organic gardening. There are many species of mantis in temperate and tropical climates worldwide.

The mantis is able to see up to 20 meters and has precise stereoscopic vision up close. They possess the unique ability to turn their heads 180º, and use this ability to determine the relative distance of their prey. They wait motionless, relying on camouflage to conceal their presence while other insects wander close enough to reach. They strike within 30 to 50 thousandths of a second with incredible accuracy, and can even snatch flies and mosquitoes from the air. They hold their prey in their barbed forelimbs while they eat them alive. Mantids sometimes prey on animals much larger than themselves.

Mantids usually fly at night, when they are least vulnerable to natural predators like birds. They can hear and avoid the echolocation sounds made by bats. They are non-venomous and have no chemical defenses to discourage other animals from eating them.

Whether the mantis is useful in gardens depends on the intention of the gardener. Mantids prey on any insect they can catch including beneficial insects and other mantids. The common belief that a female mantis will devour her mate is a habit most often observed in captivity when the female is hungry. In the wild, males are very cautious around hungry females.

The mantis is most closely related to roaches and termites. They lay eggs in clusters of 10 to 400 eggs that are available for purchase at garden supply stores. Mantis nymphs, emerging from eggs look similar to adult mantids and often mimic ants. If prey is not immediately available, the nymphs will cannibalize each other. The typical life span of a mantis is 10 to 12 months.

Mantis on a papaya. Photo credit Nate Porter.


Thursday, August 15, 2013


Phosphorus is an essential macro-nutrient for plants and all life on earth. Phosphorus is a component of nucleic acids, ATP and the phospholipid bi-layer that encloses cells.

Phosphorus is a scarce finite resource on planet earth. It is extracted from phosphate rock almost entirely for agriculture use around the world. There are organic and synthetic processes of phosphate extraction in mineral mining.

When is the earth-destructive process of mineral extraction qualified as organic? This has to do with chemicals used in the chelation process of making absorbable phosphate fertilizers from rock. Synthetic chelates like EDTA or DTPA used to strip phosphates from rock appear in trace amounts in non-organic produce grown with synthetic fertilizers. Organic chelates are humic or fulvic acids derived from the natural decomposition of organic material. The phosphates recovered by humic acids are identical to those found in nature.

Optimistic scientists say we have more than 100 years before the end of agriculture (and strike-matches technology). Recycling phosphorus by using manure or animal bones as a source for phosphorus fertilizer on local farms is the approach used by permaculturists. Phosphorus conservation for urbanites and suburbanites can be achieved with hydroponics.

Phosphoric acid is often used in hydroponics to bring the pH of a nutrient solution down.
Plant Nutrition Facts
Phosphorus (P)
Absorbable Forms H2PO4- and HPO42-
Fertilizers Phosphoric acids, super-phosphate, ammonium phosphate, phosphogypsum, apatite, animal waste, bone meal, algae
Symptoms of Deficiency Plant is dark green with purple veins and stunted; burned leaf tips
Necessary in the synthesis of ATP, phospholipids in cell walls and nucleic acids. Promotes growth of roots and shoots.
Plant Nutrition
Phosphorus is necessary during all stages of plant growth. Plants need more phosphorus during periods of advanced expression: blooming and fruiting.
Synthetic: Extracted from phosphate rock using synthetic chelates that appear in trace amounts in non-organic produce.

Organic: (1)Extracted from phosphate rock using organic chelates like humic acids. Identical to phosphates naturally occuring in soil. (2)Recovered from bone meal, guanos, urine or algae.
Adverse Effects
Mineral sources of phosphorous may contain trace amounts of toxic heavy metals like cadmium, flouride, uranium, radium or polonium. Synthetic phosphates contain trace amounts of synthetic chelates. Phosphate fertilizers leaching into aquatic environments promote algae blooms that kill fish. Flourine, as a component of super-phosphates, contributes to soil sterilization.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lady Beetles

Beetles of the family Coccinellidae called Lady Beetles, or Lady Bugs in most of North America, are important insects worldwide. Lady beetles are a favorite insect in cultures on every continent. These beetles have often appeared in old stories, poems and children’s literature possessing virtues associated with good nature and luck. For gardeners they provide effective pest-control of aphids and other harmful insects.

Lady beetles and their larvae prey on aphids and scales. Some species even prey on caterpillars or spider mites.  

The lady beetle lays eggs near their prey that hatch in 5 - 7 days. The larvae emerge with six prominent legs on the upper torso and a distinct lady-beetle head and mouthparts. The larval period lasts around 2 weeks then larvae find a spot to fix themselves for pupation and begin the transformation to an adult lady beetle. The pupation stage lasts 5 to 8 days before the beetle emerges with a soft and less-colorful exoskeleton that will become more colorful as it hardens.

Lady beetle larvae on chamomile
Lady beetle pupae

An adult lady beetle will live 1 to 2 years. Within a year they can have as many as three generations of offspring. They find a warm and protected place to enter dormancy during the winter. This is the reason lady beetles begin to invade homes in the late autumn. Most lady beetles for-purchase from a garden supply store, nursery or online are collected from one species that aggregate for winter in higher-elevation areas of California. 

Lady beetles produce an alkaloid toxin giving them an acrid taste to predators. Their flashy red coloring serves as a reminder to predators not to eat them. Lady beetles may also “reflex bleed” when physically disturbed and force the toxin out from their joints as an appetite-deterrent. The term “ladybird taint” refers to the flavor of wine when ladybird beetles have found their way into the process.

The harlequin lady beetle from Asia was established in the United States in 1988 for aphid control, and has since spread to most of the United States and Western Europe. This species has displaced many native populations of lady beetles, but is uniquely effective against soybean aphids, another invasive species from Asia.

Lady beetles may occasionally bite people. Although the bite is described as only mildly irritating, it can cause some people to have an allergic reaction.

Introducing lady beetles into your garden will more than likely benefit your neighbors. Lady beetles tend to disperse when released. They are not likely to reproduce for weeks while they feed and recover from the stress of relocation. Keeping one plant with aphids in a location away from the garden may improve the likelihood of keeping lady beetles in the area. Lady beetles are compatible with many natural pest-deterrents like soaps, neem and herbal oils.

Original photos by Nate Porter.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Nitrogen (N) is one of the essential building blocks of nucleotides for DNA and RNA and of amino acids for proteins. Nitrogen is necessary for all of life on earth. For plants, nitrogen is the limiting factor for growth and the primary ingredient in fertilizer. Plant’s can only absorb nitrogen as ammonia (NH3) or as nitrate (NO3). These molecules are relatively scarce compared to atmospheric nitrogen (N2) that makes up 78.09% of earth’s atmosphere. 

Before 1913, all of the nitrogen in plants and animals was produced by organic bacteria with special enzymes that convert atmospheric nitrogen to absorbable forms. Today more than half of the nitrogen in our bodies was produced industrially from fossil fuels using a synthetic process of Nitrogen fixation. Industrial nitrogen fertilizers are a major source of environmental pollution.

The nitrifying reactions of bacteria
Atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia:
N2 + 8H+ + 8e- => 2NH3 + H2
Ammonia to nitrite by Nitrosomonas bacteria:
2NH3 + 3O2 => 2NO2 + 2H+ + 2H2O
Nitrite to nitrate by Nitrobacter bacteria:
2NO2- + O2 => 2NO3-
Ammonia is the first product of nitrogen fixation by bacteria called diazotrophs using the enzyme nitrogenase. These bacteria are abundant in low-oxygen environments like soil, mud and decomposing organic materials. Urea, a component of animal urine is also metabolized by bacteria with the enzyme urease to produce ammonia. Ammonia is a weak base and reacts with acids to form ammonium (NH4+) salts. The ammonium ion in water is readily available for absorption by plants.

Nitrosomonas bacteria convert ammonia to nitrite, which is not a form of nitrogen available to plants. Nitrobacter bacteria convert nitrite to nitrate which is available to plants.
Plant Nutrition Facts
Nitrogen (N)
Absorbable Forms Nitrate (NO3-) and Ammonium (NH4+)
Fertilizers ammonium nitrate, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, calcium nitrate, urea
Symptoms of Deficiency Oldest leaves turn yellow and die prematurely; plant is stunted
Necessary for the synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids. Nitrogen is the limiting factor of vegatation and growth.
Plant Nutrition
Plants need nitrogen throughout the grow cycle. Plants use more nitrogen during the vegetative stage to grow and produce leaves. Plants use less nitrogen when flowering and fruiting.
Synthetic: The major source of industrial nitrogen fertilizer is anhydrous ammonia: a chemical gas most abundantly derived from non-renewable fossil fuels.

Organic: Nitrogen is made available organically through decomposition by nitrogen-fixing bacteria in soil. Organic fertilizers use natural sources for nitrogen like animal waste or composted materials.


Monday, August 5, 2013


Aphids are despised by farmers in temperate climates worldwide and for obvious reasons. Aphids will reproduce quickly on certain plants until the stem and leaves are covered in these plump squishy insects. They feed by piercing a plant with sharp mouth parts and sucking sugar-rich fluid from the phloem where sugars are transported. Not only does this starve the plant, but aphids also introduce pathogens like viruses.  

Aphids use a simple but effective defense to escape predators. When an aphid is attacked or under duress it ejects an alarm pheromone from exhaust-pipe looking features protruding from the back called cornicles. This is a signal to other aphids to drop off of their leaf or stem. A once-successful predator that gets marked by the alarm pheromone will have less success catching more aphids.

While the apparent natural defense of an aphid is to simply let go of whatever it is they are attached to, they have another fierce arthropod ally. Certain species of ants will actively farm aphids for their sweet digestive waste called honeydew. These farming ants will manage herds, and even carry aphid eggs underground to nest with their own during the winter. Most importantly, ants defend aphids from other predators like lady beetles and their larvae.  

The first thing to do if a plant is infested with aphids is to wash them off thoroughly with water. Most of the displaced aphids will not find their way back to the plant. Water also washes away the sticky, sugary honeydew that feeds mold. To prevent aphids from recolonizing a plant, spray the plant with an adequately-diluted mix of soapy water and any variety of herbal oils that have been shown to deter insects.

Control ants in the area that may be actively re-establishing the aphids on plants. Check the area around your garden for weeds that harbor aphid colonies like mustards and sowthistle. Aphids can also thrive on the newer growth in the inner branches of trees. Natural predators of aphids like lady beetles (ladybird beetles, lady bugs) can be purchased at a local gardening store or online.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Light for Plants

The absorption of chlorophyll a and b in a solvent. source
Botany is complex. Not every chemical reaction in photosynthesis is understood. What we have learned about plants and light has evolved the standards and design of high-tech agriculture lighting. This is a summary of the colors plants absorb and how they respond to them. (I will be happy to elaborate about any subject mentioned here that needs more explanation in the comments!)

Sunlight appears more red in autumn and winter as the sun rises lower on the horizon. Sunlight must pass through more of earth's atmosphere during these seasons and blue light is reflected away. This is also why sunsets are red or gold colored. Many plants are sensitive to an increase in red light as a signal to begin flowering before winter. In spring, as the sun rises higher in the sky, more blue light penetrates the atmosphere allowing the spring surge of vegetation.

There are 3 groups of plants based on their responses to light: Long Day Plants, Short-Day Plants and Day-Neutral plants. In each of these categories it is the duration of darkness(not light) that stimulates a response from plants.
  • Long-day plants flower in the spring as days are getting longer and sunlight is more blue. Lettuce, peas, turnips, wheat, clover, and carnations are varieties of long-day plants.
  • Short-day plants blossom in the autumn or late-autumn in the northern hemisphere as the duration of darkness increases and sunlight is increasingly red(after June 21). These plants require uninterrupted periods of darkness and do not flower if their night-time periods are interrupted by several minutes of light. These include plants like coffee, chrysanthemums, strawberries, corn, cotton, hemp, rice and sugar cane.
  • Day-neutral plants respond to some other stimulus than light to initiate stages of development. They may respond to changes in temperature, nutrient availability or achievements in developmental maturity. These include plants like cucumbers, roses and tomatoes.
For short-day plants, increasing exposure to red light will provoke flowering just as a change in season(summer to autumn) would. Long-day and neutral plants don't need an increase in red light to flower and will continue to mature under blue light. By changing the duration, spectrum and intensity of exposure with indoor lighting, botanists can control the stages of vegetation, flowering and fruiting.

Plants use many pigments to absorb and react to light. Pigments are divided by their purpose into three categories: phototropins, cryptochromes and phytochromes.

Phototropins are pigments that allow plants to respond to light by affecting the curvature of growth, the triggering of stomatal(pores) opening or developmental changes. Phototropins are the reason plants bend towards light and react in many other ways to light exposure.

Cryptochromes absorb light in the blue spectrum specifically at 380nm and 450nm (pterin, flavin). These pigments mediate phototropism, circadian rhythms and gene expression. Blue light promotes stem elongation, and leaf expansion. Cryptochromes are targeted in the vegetation stage of indoor agriculture with metal halide grow bulbs or other blue-light bulbs.


Phytochromes absorb red(650-670nm) and far-red(705-740nm) light. The color of these pigments alternate in response to the absorption of light. (Exposure to red light changes the phytochrome to preferentially absorb far-red light, while far-red light changes the phytochrome back to absorb red light again.) Gene signalling and expression are driven in the far-red stage of absorption. Without both red and far-red light, plants will become developmentally stunted. Light bulbs like high pressure sodium provide light in the red and far-red spectrum to stimulate short-day plant maturation and flowering.


The apparent(visible) colors of plants are complementary to the colors of light they absorb. The complementary color of absorbed light is the actual color of the plant pigment(s).

Pigments as complements to absorbed light.
absorbed λ absorbed color complementary color
These colors are based on peak values expressed in hexadecimal color.

Indoor Lighting for Agriculture
High Intensity Discharge(HID) light systems use bulbs like metal halide and high-pressure sodium. These systems have an effective light distribution and are the most widely-used for indoor agriculture. They also use more energy and release more heat than alternative agriculture lighting. HID's require a Socket, Ballast & Bulb.

Hoods and reflectors are fixtures that protect and insulate bulbs. Many are designed to be fitted with ventilation ducting to remove heat. Most hoods contain sockets that will take both MH and HPS bulbs from 250 to 1000 watts.

Digital Ballasts  |  Magnetic Ballasts
Ballasts convert the energy supply to a frequency that will light an HID Bulb. Some magnetic/analog ballasts are designed specifically for MH or HPS bulbs, while digital ballasts accept both. Conversion bulbs are made to be cross-compatible with ballasts designed specifically for MH or HPS bulbs. The wattage of the bulb and ballast must match.

MH Bulbs  |  HPS Bulbs
Metal Halide (MH) bulbs provide more blue light for the Grow, or vegetative stage that begins a plant's life cycle.
High Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs provide more red light for the Bloom, or flowering stage at the end of a plant's life cycle.
Please consider all of your energy usage in amps to grow safely with indoor bulbs. Read more: Power Capacity

Alternative Lighting

Fluorescent lighting includes T5 high output and compact fluorescent lighting. These are common because they produce little heat, require less energy and produce reasonably high light output. Compared to HID lighting, plants do not grow as tall beneath the lower intensity of fluorescent lighting.

Light Emmiting Diodes(LEDs) are low-energy, low-heat, long-lived color-specific bulbs used most often in electronics. They are now used in indoor agriculture as a color-specific supplement to stronger light sources. LEDs strong enough to grow plants are less efficient and generate more heat than flourescents with the same output.

The most common function of lighting controllers is to automate the day-night cycle of an indoor garden. Basic timers are inexpensive and worth the money to avoid manually regulating a grow cycle. Specific controllers have many uses, like delaying the power when a bulb is switched on to prevent situations like a hot-start. Multi-system controllers may regulate temperature, CO2 and humidity in addition to high-intensity lighting. These controllers have multiple programmable outlets, but are ultimately limited by the circuit capacity.

New Lighting Technology
Science continues to provide new solutions for indoor agriculture lighting. While new lighting technology is usually more expensive, the cost is offset by lower energy requirements and longer-lasting bulbs. We keep an eye on new energy-efficient lighting systems and their availability in agriculture.

*This content is published with modification on our main website:

-->don't knock wiki sources

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Organic Hydroponics

papaya grown in soil with organic nutrients under T5 lighting

I want to defend organic nutrients, but not the word organic. We're learning not to trust the word "organic" the way we demoted the word "natural" to a synonym of "anything". As in: 'anything you can sell is natural.' Some of our nutrient brands have gone a step further to describe their products as "vegan" to emphasize that they are using non-mined plant sources like seaweed. It's important to understand that hydroponic systems for agriculture conserve more water, energy and mineral resources than open industrial farming by a long shot.

Phosphorus is the reason we have a problem labeling any fertilizer organic. Phosphorus is a scarce finite resource on planet earth. It is an essential element for life, and is extracted from phosphate rock almost entirely for agriculture use around the world. There are organic and synthetic processes of phosphate extraction in mineral mining.

When is the earth-destructive process of mineral extraction qualified as organic? This has to do with chemicals used in the chelation process of making absorbable phosphate fertilizers from rock. Synthetic chelates like EDTA or DTPA used to strip phosphates from rock appear in trace amounts in non-organic produce grown with synthetic fertilizers. Organic chelates are humic or fulvic acids derived from the natural decomposition of organic material. The phosphates recovered by humic acids are identical to those found in nature.

Optimistic scientists say we have more than 100 years before the end of agriculture (and strike-matches technology). Recycling phosphorus by using manure or animal bones as a source for phosphorus fertilizer on local farms is the approach used by permaculturists. Phosphorus conservation for urbanites and suburbanites can be achieved with hydroponics.

Many nutrients labelled 'organic' are made for soil, and include nutrients that promote living microflora. This is technically not hydroponics. Hydroponics, by definition, uses inert soilless mediums that allow easy nutrient exchange with the roots of plants. Soil is increasingly popular in urban gardening because of the benefits of microflora. Plants grown in soil are more resilient to everything. Beneficial microbial life in the soil create these organic chelates (humic acids) that continue to make phosphates and other minerals in soil available to plants for absorption.

Whether the system is hydroponic or soil, in full sunlight or beneath powerful grow-lights, the principles of plant nutrition are the same. If you can identify and abundantly provide the minerals plants need during different stages of growth, the plants will grow large and produce a lot of food. This works in soil as well with the use of organic nutrients.

There are nutrients designed specifically for growth, blooming, fruiting, and as targeted adjustments to mineral deficiencies in plants. There are enzyme catalysts , micro-flora cultures, and amendments for every imaginable application. Insect frass, for example, is insect material that is both a fertilizer, and a trigger for plants to produce their own natural pest-deterring immune response.

Hydroponics is water-efficient. Many systems recycle nutrients until the fertilizer is spent. Even nutrient wastewater from non-organic, or mineral-derived nutrients used in hydroponics is cleaner than grey water from laundry machines and dishwashers. If you live in an area with municipal water treatment, dumping your waste nutrients down the drain makes extra food for the microbes used in water reclamation. The city might notice a bump in organic activity (a proper use for the word organic) at their treatment facility. Some ethically-minded growers make their own ponds to reclaim nutrient wastewater.

Fertilizers that wind up in lakes and rivers produce algae blooms that can suffocate fish and destroy ecosystems. Even organic nutrients will feed algae blooms. This is a manageable problem for industry-scale hydroponics but not for high-input farming. High-input farming has no efficient way to recover, recycle or reclaim the chemical fertilizers and pesticides required to sustain those operations. Fertilizer run-off is devastating to ecosystems as seen here in Florida's toxic algae

If organic is a standard based on input (no chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, etc.), is a tomato grown organically in California still organic in Washington? We can describe produce as 'local and organic', but 'organic' farming is as unsustainable as the farming industry ever was. Sustainable agriculture is local and resource-efficient. This is why we promote hydroponics. 

Sources not linked above:

--> don't knock wiki sources. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Light Stand

Summertime in Arizona is always rough on our plants. Shade houses outside will extend the growing season into the hottest days of June and July, but our most long-lived plants will stay comfortable inside.

This stand cost less than $30 to make using lumber and wood screws from our local hardware store. We made this stand to conserve space in our 1300 SF house. We can fit three of these setups in the same area where two setups barely fit before on a commercial stand.
Three 600 Watt bulbs is the limit on a 20 Amp circuit.

The design is simple and uses minimal materials. Feel free to use and modify the design and share any improvements.

This design measures 42 inches between the tall posts and fits a 3x3 foot flood tray. You will need a saw (or you can get the boards cut before you bring them home), a drill and a 7/64" bit, 3.5" #8 wood screws and the following lumber:

2 4x4 posts @6.5 feet
2 4x4 posts @1.5 feet
4 2x4 boards @37 inches
1 2x4 board @52+ inches

First consider how the boards will come together. There may be knots in the wood that you will want to avoid.

On a flat surface, lay out one side of the stand with the 4x4 posts beneath and one 37" board to connect them. It helps to use the other 37" boards to position the posts apart and keep the frame square. Make sure the 2x4 side is flush with the top of the short 4x4 post. When the side is neat and square, drill holes for the screws. It helps to label each board and the post where you drilled. Do this for every side.

Once all of the holes are drilled, have someone help you assemble the frame. Make sure every screw is snug and flush with the surface of the wood.

Nails will work to secure the top rail to the posts, just remember not to lift the stand with the top rail or it will pop off. We used screws, but we still lift from the base of the stand.

We're using a flood tray in our setup. If we want to convert this stand to grow seedlings or plants in smaller potting containers we can just add boards to the base to make a platform.

I hope this is useful, but please be careful! We do not take any responsibility for the quality of your construction.

This stand will work great for the 400W Complete Coco Setup.

The hood in the picture is the Radiant 8" AC Reflector.

Special order light stands from our manufacturers.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Responsible Agriculture

The energy demand for growing fruits and vegetables hydroponically can be prohibitive, but before we label local urban agriculture impractical and unsustainable there are a few things we need to consider.  

The United States provides subsidies for oil and agriculture. If the produce at your grocery store is not directly subsidized by the government, the fuel required to get your produce to the store is. This makes it difficult to calculate the real cost-per-pound of produce at your local grocery store. What you save on your grocery bill comes out of your taxes.

Problems with American Agriculture About 20 cents from every dollar spent on produce at the grocery store reaches the farm. The other 80 cents represents the cost of labor, marketing and distribution.  

We’ve built an agriculture system in the United States that is high-input. The bulk of agricultural produce is grown on enormous farms where the same species is planted continuously for miles. These monocultures are susceptible to the same infections, diseases and pests. The only defense we have to a national food-supply catastrophe is maintained with industrial fertilizers, pesticides, and genetic manipulation. We’ve exported these technologies all over the world, where the cost of labor is low and environmental restrictions are lax, or non-existent. We import about 25 Million tons of produce (of fruits, vegetables, nuts) from farms overseas.

From the University of Michigan:

“Researchers have recently demonstrated that combinations of agricultural chemicals(pesticides and nitrate) are capable of altering immune, endocrine, and nervous system parameters in mice at concentrations of the same order of magnitude as current groundwater maximum concentration levels. These same researchers suggest that current testing protocols for pesticide approval are deficient in six identified testing arenas and do not adequately address the potential for biological effects under real world exposure scenarios (such as mixed and pulse dosages). They further raise the question of whether pesticides and/or other environmental chemicals might be associated with developmental concerns such as the surge in learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, and orthopedic problems exhibited by children in the United States.”

Industrial Fertilizers The major source of industrial fertilizer is anhydrous ammonia: a chemical gas most abundantly derived from non-renewable fossil fuels, that is injected into soil, or used to derive water-soluble fertilizers that contaminate the water supply. Much of the nitrogen in industrial fertilizer escapes into the atmosphere before it is absorbed by plants, in the form of nitrous oxide: the third major contributor to greenhouse gasses.

“Effectively farmers unknowingly became 100% dependent on 'bought in' water soluble, inorganic fertilizers since the sterilization of soil microflora including its mycorrhiza, reduced the availability of other natural and trace minerals within the soil.”

Problems with GMOs There is a continuing debate about genetically modified foods and their safety. I am against GMOs for the following reasons: GMOs are designed to prevent the problems inherent in monoculture farming, namely the uniform susceptibility of plants within the same species. GMOs have a shelf-life of little more than a decade, because nature itself is a diversifying force. A plant engineered specifically to produce a subtle insecticide, within 10 years of planting, will meet with an insect especially tolerant of that insecticide that never existed before. The geneticists will need to return to the lab and increase the insecticide or create a new splice.

The other problem with genetic manipulation (and I expect some contention on this one) has to do with the difference between genotypes and phenotypes. The genotype is all the dna material packed into a seed, while the phenotype represents the traits the plant exhibits as it grows. Genetically identical plants grown in even the same environment will express unique phenotypes. No scientist  to-date on planet earth has successfully modeled and predicted the complete phenotypic expression of even a single-cell organism from it’s genetic material. GMOs are not meant to hybridize with other species or leak genetically-spliced traits into the natural environment, but they do. Put simply, industrial GMOs are a threat to our global ecosystem.

Organic Farming Local, sustainable agriculture provides surprisingly simple solutions to these billion-dollar problems.

Organic farmers use a process called companion planting which is shown to reduce the vulnerability of plants to pests and diseases without insecticides. Plants will have a stronger immune system in gardens with a wide diversity of species, including beneficial insects.

Organic soil is rich with nitrogen-fixing bacteria(diazotrophs) that convert atmospheric Nitrogen and composted organic material into compounds that are available to plants: Ammonia and Nitrates. Organic farmers use Nitrogen sources like poultry litter, compost, worm-castings or wastewater from aquaponics to fertilize their crops. None of these fertilizers are “hot” like industrial fertilizers, and will not kill the microflora in soil. Organic fertilizers also release nutrients more slowly, providing a sustained nutrition source for growing plants.

Sustainable Hydroponics

According to the USDA the thriftiest family of 4 will spend over $500 a month on food for the household. Double that if you are committed to foods that are highly nutritious like organic fruits and vegetables.

If you live in an area with a favorable climate, nothing beats an organic soil garden in full sunlight. If your goal is to produce your own food, look for space outside that can easily convert to raised garden beds with good drainage. We use hydroponic trays filled with soil in our yard to grow fruit and vegetables that have longer life cycles, and feed them with organically-derived nutrients.

Saving Electricity

Inside we use lower-wattage metal halide lighting systems to grow high-yield, perpetually producing plants like salad greens, strawberries and tomatoes.

We don’t get any breaks on electricity, but here in Arizona our power company is fully invested in renewable and emission-free energy sources. SRP produces 20% of their energy emissions-free, and uses the most efficient energy sources first including hydropower, solar, and nuclear.

To run a 400W hydroponic system 12 hours a day where we live costs between $20 and $30/month. That assumes the cost of a kWh varies seasonally between $0.13 and $0.20.

Hydroponics is also dramatically water efficient.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Light Stands

Lights need to be hung carefully on a sturdy frame.  We’ve built many frames for only a few dollars using parts from our local hardware store. A hood and bulb can weigh up to 50 lbs., and lighting stands should support that weight with the possibility of stress from all angles.

Never cut corners with construction. Lighting fixtures are a fire hazard if they are not properly secured and have adequate clearance. Learn how to make your own light stand.
Stands designed specifically for hoods and trays are available on our site through special order only. These stands are steel, and expensive to ship which is why they are not included in our online inventory. Email us for a specific quote on stands.
Active Aqua Tray Stands (special order only): 2x4: $166.95; 65.0 lbs.
4x4: $261.95; 72.0 lbs.
8x4: $379.95; 90.0 lbs.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

About Development

I’m proud to introduce This felt like writing a novel in algebra, and I’m anticipating at least another 3 months of edits. It would be enormously validating if this website went on to become a huge success. However, even if I move on to do other things, it gives me a strong sense of accomplishment. is clean, efficient, requires little maintenance, and could run forever. There’s a sense of pride in listening to the hum of an engine that you have been working on for a long time. Sometimes you sell that car for less than you put into it, but that doesn’t remove the satisfaction of knowing it works. is an organic website, developed specifically for urban gardening retail. All open-sourced and original content. You can define your own standards for organic, but my focus has been to build a resource that is sustainable (opensource), with virtually no overhead, that can be expanded and maintained with even a little revenue. The content of the website is the local, real experience of gardeners here in Arizona. We welcome content from contributors and sponsor an affiliate program.

We don’t use any facebook plugins on our main website. This is because we take our privacy policy seriously, and even an unclicked facebook like button recovers the IP address of the vistor, the page URL, and the date to the millisecond. This is not important to most people, but a few people appreciate it. Our blog, however, is fully integrated with social plug-ins as well as our youtube channel.

The advantage has is that it carries no subscription to expensive licensed software because all of the code is original or opensource. The majority of online retailers pay monthly for software that manages their inventory and transactions for them. We manage the entire directory we use for the website, and can recover and launch the website and data anytime if we ever needed to.

This website could not have been possible without the help of my brother Nate, an expert on hydroponics, and the participation of local retailers.

I appreciate any feedback, especially critical feedback!