Photo: Lotus grown using AutoPot™ Systems.

Common FAQs Related To AutoPot™ Systems.
For a more detailed reference, the book "Hydroponics Made Easy" written by Jim Fah, the inventor of AutoPot™ Systems is available from your local stockist.
 

Aquaponics - AutoPot™ & nutrients?

Q: Hi, I am interested in Aquaponics and I was browsing through your website and read the pdf about aquaponics using the autopot system. My question is, if you are seeding water all the time, how do you concentrate the build of up fish waste so that there is enough clean water for the fish to live? I mean, in a continuous system, the fish water gets recycled and cleaned, but in your system, there will be less flow and thus, more NH4 build up. Is there any way of concentrating the NH4 build up in a fish tank so that we can pump the concentrate instead? Thx. Adrian

A: Hello Adrian, For AutoPot™ Aquaponics, the principles are quite
different from conventional aquaponics involving re-circulating
hydroponics
- we do not have to concentrate the nutrient at some point
- we draw water from the fish tank containing the dissolved fish wastes and feed directly to the plants
- our smart pump set then automatically tops up hydroponic nutrients to the plants
- the result is the same. We use the same water used by the fish to feed all the plants and the waste contained in the fish tank is an added bonus to our plants
- more often than not, we have more plants than fish so this method allows us to have enough nutrients for our plants without solely relying on the fish
with regards, Jim Fah

How would AutoPot™ Systems fit into an aquaponic outfit?

A:
The AutoPot™ aquaponic system was basically an extension of my existing AutoPot™ system, feeding up to 1,000 plants using around 1,000 L fresh water a day on average. I just have to add an aquaculture intensive culture system to make use of the water first before feeding my plants. To make up for the nutrient deficiencies from the fish wastes, I just have to supplement only three nutrients which can be automatically dosed from theAutoPot™ Smart Pump Set - Potassium (as Potassium hydroxide), calcium (as calcium hydroxide) and Iron (chelated).
I allowed a water exchange of 5% to 10% a day, that means, I culture up to 20 times the total vol. of water used for the plants = 20,000 litre capacity. Since there is no need for the water to the plants to be returned to the aquaculture units, it is pretty straight forward in my case, without the complexities of the quality of used water affecting the fish. Since the water for the fish is always fresh and not used - unlike the recirculating systems. This should be a big advantage!

Aquaponics - AutoPot™ & blockages?

Q: Hi, I have just visited a commercial aquaponics set up. They have used the traditional method of recirculating the water from the fish tanks through the grow beds acting as bio filters. They also had several autopots. They had stopped using them because they continually became blocked with the water from the fish tank. I'm wondering if this is a common problem when using them in this manner, and if so, are there ways to fix it? I would be interested in considering your autopot methods for aquaponics otherwise. Kind Regards Ian
 
A: Hello Ian, Thank you for writing to us.
- if set up and used correctly, the likelihood of blockages will be extremely low.
- we have ours going on for more than 1 year now and have not experienced such problem
- we may get the occasional blockages which are not any worse than just using town water.
- the key is to have the delivery of the waste water from the fish pumped from a pressure pump with at least 10 psi working pressure, also using a pre-filter system before any solid waste is allowed to be taken up by the pump and delivered down the feed line.
- Using an in-line filter as well as a water pump lifting the water in to a filter bag for the larger solids will greatly reduce the lieklihood of blockages.
 

AutoPot™ & Worm Tea as nutrients?

Q: Hi guys, We’re building a roof top garden in Sydney’s inner city and are planning to use your auto pot system to grow a whole lot of vegetables. We’re hoping to use a liquid solution made from worms in the tank, I’ve been doing a little research and there seems to be some concern about the microbes clogging up the motor, ( no motor in your case) but also the lack of oxygen in a hyrdoponic system causing problems with sludge and the like. Do you know anything about this? Or are you familiar with using worm juice in a hydroponic system? Any answers would be gratefully received. Best wishes, Karin
 
A: Hi Karin, Worm tea is generally a good plant supplement, but it poses two key issues in a hydroponic system. The first is that it contains lots of suspended solids. Ultimately these solids will build up in the inside of your plumbing and valves causing blockages.This is not an insurmountable problem and can be addressed by fine filtering, more regular maintenance and a need to replace small tubing on a as needed basis. The second and more interesting problem posed by the use of worm tea is it's actual content of N-P-K and trace elements, both it's absolute analysis and its consistency over time.The advantage of a hydroponic nutrient is that they contain all the minerals and elements and trace elements required for healthy plant growth. A mix like the AutoPot™ High Performance Complete Plant Food provides just these minerals and elements, and no 'growth stimulators' or hormones. The other advantage is that the analysis of our nutrients is always the same, whereas the worm tea most likely varies considerably based on the diet of the worms.
Having said that, we know that hydroponic nutrients are not available in many parts of the world that desperately need growing systems such as AutoPot™. We have an ongoing research program to try and find cheap and easy methods of evaluating local nutrient sources, including worm tea. Which of course brings us to yet another of AutoPot™'s advantages - it is highly modular. Because the growing units are so flexible, it is really easy, and quite cost effective to experiment with different things, or do side by side trials. Because everything is so modular, the cost of a failed trial is low - just a couple of plants. So I would recommend that you give it a try. Do a side by side test. Take some photos as a record, and I'd love to hear the results of your experiments. Best Regards, Barry
 

Copycats - confused about different "AutoPot™ Systems"?

Q: Hi there! Yes! I am the one that contacted you a long time ago and never did anything about the autopots!
Could you help me clarify this? http://homeharvest.com/hydroponicsautopot.html . They dont look the same models at all! Is AutoPot™ has a new model or...??? I am a little bit confused!
Thanks, Roger
 
A: Hello Roger, Thanks for enlightening us. They are actually copies of the original Smart-valve Mk2, please click here to view details:
http://www.autopot.com.au/content/documents/UK%20copycat%20letter%2025.5.2008.pdf
With regards, Jim Fah
Q: Hi Jim! Interesting!
 
"One thing is for sure, I will continue to pour money into R& D towards improvement and coming up with cheaper and better AutoPot™ products. In fact, I already have a few ideas just waiting for funds and timing to start up. Each project can cost anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000 and about a year before it can be put into the market, that is assuming everything goes smoothly.
- quote Jim Fah"


People always think that a plastics object costs pennies to manufacture! They don't always consider another aspect of manufacturing - the "molds". Very very expensive to design and build. For sure once done, it is a money machine., but before getting there, like you said $50,000 / $100,000.00 + the time frame! I can see that the inventor mind of yours never stops to work on new ideas! Keep on working on these!
Jim, I see your invention as a serious solution to the food crisis we have and the bigger one that is coming with these petrole prices! The autopot system with the new giant seeds from China should be a winner. Maybe I am crazy too! I already received an answer! Really appreciated it!
A: Hello Roger, Thank you for being so understanding. AutoPot™ has cost me 30 years of continuous input in time, money and lots of sacrifices. Having given up a promising jobs at the age of 30, and spent more than $3.5Million Aus, and more than 70 tools made, patent fees spent, etc etc...but this is exactly what I want to do, follow my heart and be happy without regrets. On one hand I feel I should not feel too unhappy about people copying because at times I feel I am merely a caretaker of the technology which can hopefully one day benefit mankind. What was most upsetting about the Aqua valve copying was the way it was done and with no reference or appreciation to the creator of the technology. It is more like robbery and I am not surprised they will even try to hijack the legitimacy of the invention. Thanks and with best regards, Jim Fah

Flushing for the AutoPot™ Systems?

A: There is no need to flush the AutoPot™ modules providing you feed the plants correctly. We have heaps of examples of plants grown in AutoPot™ Systems without flushing and under cover protected from rain. As shown below is a fern, Polypodium, which we have been growing in an AutoPot™ hanging basket for more than 10 years and is still growing happily in the same basket now. We have never flushed it.

Nutrient Dosing AutoPot™ Systems & pH

Q: Dear Jim, At this stage I have 13 x 2 pot systems and 4 x 12" systems and intend to build on this with the intention of adding a pump assisted system. I am having a huge amount of success with everything I've been growing and I am now a total AutoPot™ convert with the exception of a flood and drain table used for lettuce - this will be replaced soon with a CapPlus table for that purpose. I am keen to instal the AutoPot™ Dosing Unit with the venturi feeding system and wondered how the pH gets adjusted (I only have bore water and the pH is quite high at 8•1).
What is the price of the Dosing Unit with electronic dosing system compared to the venturi system? Will the electronic system provide for finer adjustments of nutrient? And what is the price of the in-line nutrient monitor please. Also, what is the best cleaning method to remove the caked on nutrient in the pots and trays? Thank you for an amazing product. Kind regards, Chris
 
A: Hello Chris, Thanks for the positive feedback. With AutoPot™ Systems, you do not have to worry about pH at all provided your incoming fresh water is near neutral. The venturi feed system does not provide perfect nutrient concentration. It fluctuates within a range of 10 units (CF). That is fine with AutoPot™ Systems as this will still give very good growth performance. Unlike other systems, there is quite a lot of nutrient buffering within the growing medium. So I would not be too worried about the nutrient range. If you wish to have perfect nutrient dosing, then this will involve combining an electronic doser working in conjuction with the Smart pump set (without the venturi). Alternatively, you can still have perfect CF if you have a large tank of say 1,000 L - all you need to do is to fill up with tank (normally via a built in float valve to cut off when full) and then switch off the water source and and add your nutrients to the to the required CF. From this pre-mixed tank you can now use the pressure pump to draw from your exactly measured nutrients.

Regarding the caking at the bottom of the trays and pots - we use a household bleach to soak the items for half an hour or more before rinsing it out. If your water quality is good like Melbourne water, there should not be any caking at all, If there is, I suspect your water may be quite hard which will cause some precipitation of nutrients (mainly calcium or phosphates). Regards, Jim

Nutrients for AutoPot™ - Single formulation vs Grow/Bloom formulation?

Q: Hi, I have been going through your site and you state that you use your nutrient for both vegetative growth plus blooming. I didn't think this was advisable with some plants as they tend to bud too early and do not grow as well. In fact I think I saw some nutrient product at your store that was specifically for growing AND for budding.
Could you please clarify this for me, I'm confused? Regards, Dave.
 
A: Hello Dave, We have been growing our plants (hundreds of thousands) over 20 years, all plants as seen in our website are only on one formulation, no grow or bloom formulation, just one. So far no indication of poor performance in terms of yields or growth. Just try it out and I can assure you that you would not notice the difference. If we can make it simpler, we would. Regards, Jim
Pictures show the results of a trial of using single formulation AutoPot™ Nutrients versus Grow and Bloom formulations. The row on the left in AutoPot™ Systems with a one formulation and the right in a drip to waste system with a grow and bloom formulation. In fact, the AutoPot™ formulation came out better with everything else being treated equal.

Orchid growing in AutoPot™ Systems & humidity.

Q: Can an orchid that originates from a high humidity environment be grown in anAutoPot™ unit in a low humidity condition?
 
A: The answer is yes. A good example are Slipper orchids. The specimen we tried came from the tropical mountains where the environment is always humid (around 90%). We grew them very successfully in the AutoPot™ Twin Wall Smart Pot (or Okid pots) in Melbourne indoors and the humidity was low averaging around 40%. With theAutoPot™ Systems, the watering is plant determined so the orchid is able to compensate exactly for the extra moisture it requires for its higher transpiration rate in a lower humidity environment. However, with conventional watering, it is just too difficult, in fact near impossible, to accurately provide the extra moisture required by the orchid. Hence, it is easier for conventional growers to reduce the transpiration rate of the plant by increasing the humidity of its growing environment. More on AutoPot™ Orchid Growing - click here.

Organics & AutoPot™ Growing

Q: Dear Jim Fah, What a wonderful invention, the AutoPot™. I'm working for a project for young people without work or education. And the purpose is to teach them how to grow vegetables. I'm very interested in the organic AutoPot™s. Can you tell me more about it? Thanks in advance. Kind regards, D Christiaan
A: Hello Danilo, Thank you for your email.
We can use AutoPot™ systems to grow vegetables organically and still retain the plant driven working principles whereby the plant controls its own timing regarding water (and feed) requirements,
also resulting without water losses through run off.

There is a big difference in organic methods with AutoPot™ Systems when compared to Hydroponics which conventionally means providing for all the plant's feed requirements from a nutrient using soiless growing mediums.

However, for AutoPot™ Organics most of the nutrients will have to be supplied through the growing medium and very little from the water drawn from the reservoir tank. Therefore, we need to use an organic growing medium that is packed with nutrients and must be thoroughly composted (eg cow manure must be aged 6 months or more). Additional organic nutrients (in the form of pellets or worm juice, other organic feeds available from the market) can be applied directly to the growing medium in the pots. Only a small quantity of organic nutrients (must be suitable) can be added into the tank to feed the plants. I will prefer to reserve the tank water for introducing inorganic nutrients (eg trace elements, iron, or whatever that may be lacking) to make up what is missing or low in the organic growing medium.

With Regards, Jim Fah

Potato growing in AutoPot™

Q: Jim nearly time for planting potatoes. Can you please tell me how to do it and get the best results. All else is going great. Thanks, Lyall
 
A: Hello Lyall, My suggestion is to put them in Hydrotray Single 12" modules. Use potting mix and use seed potatoes (cut up tubers) with 3 to 4 pieces per pot. First fill the pot 3/4 full and plant the spuds, top up with more potting mix up to 1 inch below the rim, water once from the top and place in full direct sun. The option of having a cut out pot on top of the bottom is another way but as for me lazy gardeners, it is better to have a single pot. We still can expect 3 to 4 kilos of potatoes at the end of the season. Hope this helps and would like your feedback in the future. Regards, Jim Fah

Plants under lights - problems

Q: Hi Jim, What do you reckon is going on here? The mature leaves of these two BokChoy plants are fine, but the new growth; as the photos show, is abnormal.
As the leaves get bigger the problem is less apparent (as first photo shows) other than the damage caused initially. The only other plant to show a little abnormality is the parsley which has a thin lime green/lighter rim around the outer edge of the leaves. The other plants on the table; including Tatsoi, are fine. I'll be interested to hear your opinion. Do I need to up the nitrogen solution a little perhaps? Cheers, J
Bak Choi grown on AutoPot™ Capillary tables under high-compact fluro lights which give out 4,000 ft-candles intensity. Growing medium was vermiculite in 6"-squat pots.
A: Hello J, From the pictures, it appear that the plants are suffering from nutritional stress, mainly trace elements. I think in the absence of a chemical analysis, which is expensive and not justifiable just for your application, I would suggest to feed them with complete plant food such as AutoPot™ Nutrients mixed to the standard ratio of 5ml A and 5ml B in to one litre of water. The best way to do it is to fill the nutrient solution in to a shallow container and let the pots with the plants soak right through the vermiculite for about 5 minutes.

For future planting, I recommend soaking the vermiculite or other growing medium in the nutrient solution before planting. I believe the vermiculite is "competing" with the plants for nutrients especially when (vermiculite) is used fresh. The vermiculite surfaces can "adsorb" or ionically attract the minerals from the nutrient solution thereby reducing its availability to the plants. The soaking idea is to saturate the ionically active surfaces of the vermiculite first. The used "soaked" nutrient solution is to be dumped or use on other pot plants in soil. Please let me know if this helps. Regards, Jim Fah
My Bak Choy under the same fluro lighting set up and planted around the same time. The difference is I use perlite/vermiculite 50/50 mix as the growing medium.

Rain & AutoPot™ System

Q: Hi, I am fairly new to using the AutoPot™ system.I have started with 4 double pots with cabbage,broccoli,beans and okra which have been in for about 10 weeks and have been growing well,they are outside and I am unable to put them under cover.We are experiencing heavy rain in Perth at the moment and the pots are becoming waterlogged.I have put some slow release fertiliser on top of the perlite.I have turned off the taps to the pots,would you recommend lifting the pots out and emptying the water out of the trays after heavy showers,and turning the taps on and letting units refill when the wet weather passes.I read there is a siphon that can be purchased and fitted to the pots,if so could you give me some info on how to purchase them. King Regards, Scott
 
A: Hello Scott, You did all the right things to apply slow release fertilizer during wet seasons and if you can afford the time and effort, it is certainly the best way to circumvent the problem - i.e. to drain the trays after every rain. We have withheld the Auto-siphon product from release at this stage, despite it being a useful device, I think it will increase the complexity in using the entire system, so to keep it simple, it is always better not to make using the AutoPot™ products overly complex.

One point I wish to make is the effects from rain is more of a concern when the plants are small so you either have to put them under clear cover to be protected from rain or drain the excess water away and also to top dress with a slow release fertilizer as you have already done. But with larger plants, especially when they are fully established, it is never a problem if you choose to do nothing about it as the plants being large will be able to take up the excess water within a day or two and so they have the opportunity to use the nutrient-enriched water from the reservoir tank during the next wet/dry cycle.
If you have rain several days in a row, there is not much option other then to put the plants under a rain shelter or have some form of rain-covers directly over the pots itself. With Regards, Jim Fah

Rain Protection

Q: How do I overcome the problems with rain?
 
A: One way to overcome the problems of rain is to install rain guards over the growing unit to keep the rain water out of the outdoor cultivation. An example is shown in the picture below. Note the plastic cover is used over the double-pot hydrotray units. This is more important in the tropics where rain is far more frequent.

Spacing - what is the recommended for AutoPot™ Systems?

Q: What are the spacing requirements between trays and rows. I can't seem to find that information for planning purposes. thanks. Eric
 
A: Hello Eric, Spacing between trays along the row is 5 cm upwards (say 30 to 60 cm) and between rows 750cm to 1.5M apart. There are no fixed rules except to provide you with convenient access to the Smart-valves or pots and ease of walking between the rows. The number of plants per area is governed by the amount of sunlight. Once you have established the number of plants then you work out the most convenient spacing of the trays. As a guide, commercial growers generally work around 3 to 4 plants per square metre for plants like tomatoes, 3 to a square metre for cucumbers, and 2 to 3 plants per square metre for rockmelons. Hope this is of help.
With regards, Jim Fah

Window boxes - drying out problems..

Q: Hi, we have set up the AutoPot™ starter kit with the double pots and we are growing some plants successfully in them. We also have a four pot and a six pot window box attached. We are having some trouble with the window boxes, in that they seem to be drying out and we need to water them from above like normal plants. They all have the same growing medium in them. What do you think is the reason and are we doing something wrong? Regards, JJ
 
A: Hello JJ, Thanks for the feedback. Your description with the window boxes is more to do with the lack of compaction of the growing medium and thus not being able to soak the water up properly by capillary action. You can optionally use a good quality potting mix together with the perlite/vermiculite mix. Potting mix being heavier and more conductive for water movement, will be a better choice in your case. The most important thing to do is to ensure that the bottom one inch of the growing medium within the 6 inch pots for the window boxes are well compacted to remove as much air pockets as possible so that capillary movement of water is possible. Perlite/vermiculite is more difficult to compact especially when dry. So if you were to use perlite/vermiculite, it is better to wet them first before the compaction. Potting mix will be less of a problem in this respect. The other important thing to do to have the capillary matting within the window box thoroughly soaked through with water. Dry mats will not conduct water properly.
With Regards, Jim Fah

A new AutoPot™ enthusiast

Q: Hi Jim,
We had a wonderful time at GardenSmart yesterday. We were very impressed with your visitor display but what "blew us away" was the visit to "your playground" with the range of trees in grow bags and all the vegetable plants looking so vigorous and healthy. We found it truly amazing that all of the productivity we saw was serviced from one AutoPot™ Smart-pump set supplying the one nutrient solution, no wasted water and no worries about levels catering for a drainage reuse system.

We have looked at a fair number of hydroponic outlets especially ones where we could see displays of what was possible - yours was clearly superior to any other we have seen. In most cases there were a few plants and then areas that were in production but then run down with dead plants and disused equipment. In contrast your areas were all up and functioning and your display was even being expanded - it gave us the feeling that what you offer really does work.
You were also very generous with your time and we were thankful for that. The fact that you left us on a number of occasions to attend to other customers showed us that you are very customer focused and that customers really do matter to you.
As my wife said on the way home as she echoed the words of Martin Luther King - "Today I have been to the mountain top, I have seen the promised land." Her words resonated for me - with water a severe limitation where we live I can see the possibility of "making the desert bloom" using a very efficient hydroponic system. The Yakon plant travelled well and has now been put in a small pot using a perlite/vermiculite mix. We will pot it on into larger container when we get your system set up. Thank you once again.

Now for the questions -
1. The Smart-valve "with careful and correct usage will give reliable and trouble-free results for years" What life expectancy in years could be expect before the smart valve needs replacement? Based on current prices would a replacement smart valve cost?
2. The propagation unit we saw - I take it that it was also supplied by the same nutrient as the rest of the system and that the nutrient itself is exaclty the same and that directed to all the other plants including the fruit trees in the garden out the back. Am I right here and if not then how is it organised?
3. If we were to purchase the CapPlus table with heat cord built in, could it be connected to the system using the same Nutrient as in the main system and supplying that nutrient from the main pressure pump set?
I take it that the heater would only need to be used during the colder/cooler months and that it could be turned off at other times?
 
A: Thank you for the wonderful complimentary message, I am really delighted that you and Nancie appreciate the AutoPot™ technology. It is this kind of message that is so rewarding to me! Thank you once again.

Answers to your questions
- Smart-valves are expected to last a very long time. How many years? I do not have the exact answer just yet. At least 15 years as that is just about the time the product came onto the market and I still have some of those first valves working beautifully. I presume they should lasts as long as the plastic material itself, since the valves require minimal motion to work and have no force loading. You can't even see the movement with your naked eye. The bottom float moves about 1mm at the joint, and top float 0.2mm. Basically, hardly any wear and tear.

- Costs of the Smart-valve. The price is to allow us to recoup our investment which includes two other older designs that were replaced by the current one even before the tool suffered any wear. The main reason for the replacement is that it's so much more user friendly, easier to clean, cheaper to make and far more reliable. For those commercial growers, you can expect less for large orders. In time, I would really like to see the price come down. The price includes the pots and the tray.

- The CapPlus table, can be hooked in to the same nutrient supply from the pump. However, I prefer to use plain water if it is used for propagation. The reason is that with plain water, you do not need to clean the table as often (once a year at most). With nutrients, you need to clean it once every two to three months due to the accumulation of algae.

- The best way to set up the table is to place it on a sturdy stand or bench instead of using the legs. Using the legs is recommended only if your loading on the CapPlus unit is light. Yes, if you wish to add nutrients to the feedline to the CapPlus unit, connect directly to the pump set tubing. For feeding with plain water, I would suggest you set up a separate tank to be connected to the table on its own.
The power to heat the CapPlus unit is turned on right through the year. That is the way I use it. This is because I am too lazy to turn it off. It may not seem a good thing to do to allow the heat cord to work even during summer months, but so far I had no problems with the propagation. The proper and better way is what you have suggested, to turn it off during summer months. Actually, the best way to make the judgement of when to turn off the power is to use a thermostat controller to measure the root zone temperature. If it is too high for the particular crop, then by all means turn off the power.

I hope I have answered you adequately. If not, please do not hesitate to contact me again.
With Regards, Jim Fah

A new AutoPot™ enthusiast - more questions

Q: Hi Jim,
Thanks for your prompt reply last week to the questions I posed, I found your answers direct and helpful. I have been reading your book and pamphlets and considering what might be feasible here.
As I explained to you when we were talking water will be a limiting factor - we have 10x22,000 litre tanks installed to collect rainwater and eight of them can be given over to our hydroponics venture. The last 4 were installed earlier this year and the failure of the spring rains means that they are not filled yet but we have that capacity ready for when the rains do come.
I also explained that my passion is to have a productive food garden - producing a large range of vegetables and fruits for the table with the aim of self sufficiency.

We have an east facing verandah 10x4 metres which will be the main centre of our initial operation. The roof is a combination of galvanised iron and laserlite sheets. We plan to install a mesh ceiling for climbing tomatoes to rest on similar to what you have achieved at GardenSmart. Can I grow two tomatoes in an AutoPot, one a tall growing type like Grosse Lisse and a dwarf Romano type?

Now for some questions about the possibilities of Smart Drippers in normal garden earth. I've already mentioned the lemon tree, a mature 20 year+ tree situated 10 metres from the pressure pump set. A further 25 metres two 5 year old apricot trees and a further 25 metres away to two rows of 1 year old grapevines 35 metres in length. Any delivery problems here - run a main line the length of the run and then take 4mm lines off the main line? What about different needs of different aged trees/vines requiring differing amounts of water. Your material talks about wick size as the method by which flow rate can be varied - what advice would you give about determining the correct wick size in the scenario above? What is the typical litre/day range with the various wicking options? I think I read somewhere that mature fruit trees need a supply of 9 litres/day. What is your view on that figure?

We also have an area 30x16 outdoor area similar to your playground on the eastern side of the house where we would like to employ a number of your grow bags to grow fruit trees, canes shrubs, vines and strawberries. What advice do you have on the spacing of these bags?

Now for some questions about appropriate media to use. The cheapest media I can access from here is scoria. I would hope to use scoria as the main media in grow bags although they wouldn't necessarily have to be the only media used. Perlite (which grade course or fine - which one is best for what?), vermiculite or perlite/vermiculite mix is the most common media used with AutoPots. As it is sold in litres can you give me some idea of the various capacities needed for the range of your pots. I gathered you use a mixture of media. What advice would you give me about media to use to get a good start with the AutoPot system? I realise that you favour a good deal of experimentation, I would like to start with a reliable system to start with and then experiment from there so we would have a good comparison baseline.

I note in your literature that plants such as rhubarb, climbing beans and peas, carrots, pumpkins and bush tomatoes are best grown in the 12" single AutoPot? Is that correct? Small plants like lettuce, spinach etc in the window style 4 pots. How is the decision made as to which pot to use - the 10" 2 pot AutoPot and the 12" single AutoPot?  I understand why you use only water in the CapPlus - how feasible? costly? is it to connect the pressure supply line via a pressure regulator to maintain it at a constant low working pressure. If I was to have my order sent by carrier how would that work?
Finally the Yakon is doing well, as it is a root type plant what sort of container do you advise to grow it in?

Regards
 
 
A: Glad to hear from you. I am glad to have the opportunity to use my expertise within the water constraints that you (like most people in drought stricken areas) are facing.

Answers to your questions:-

1. Assuming you are referring to the Hydrotray Double 10" module, yes, you can have two different plants in the same tray. You happened to mention Grosse Lisse and Roma tomatoes, I have a few things to add. Grosse Lisse is not recommended for hydroponics due to its tendency to develop blossom end rot. It is best to go for medium sized fruit types, like the Apollo or Mighty Red. Roma are fine in these pots (10"), but this is a bush type (determinate) tomato meaning that no pruning is recommended. It is not suitable for trimming into a single stem to reach the mesh. If you want to use this with the mesh, then you would have to install the tray at the mesh level so that it just spreads over the mesh without having to "climb."

2. Comments on your roofing - I assume it is galvanised sheet alternating with laser lite. This is not 100% due to the 50% light cut off by the galvanised sheets. If you use three or four sheets of laser lite, that would be fine.

3. The Smart-Drippers. There are no problems running the main line to feed all those trees you mentioned - around 100M but the ground level needs to be fairly level. The ground level of the fruit trees should not be more than 10 ft lower or 20 ft higher than the pump level.

4. Smart dripping rates. You are right about 9 litres per tree per day as a guide. There are really no fixed rules on this. In your situation, where water is so limited, it is best to start off with one wick, 15mm wide, per dripper per tree, then evaluate later. In a month or two, you will be able to determine if the tree needs more water by whether they are showing signs of water stress. You should be able to see beautiful new growth, otherwise you can either increase the size of the wick, or add another 15mm wick to the dripper if you feel there is a need to increase the drip rate. At times, giving less water to the tree is fine which is a strategy to limit the size of your fruit tree. Though the trees are smaller, I am certain that you would be able to get a sufficient crop for personal consumption.

5. 30 x 16M playground area. Yes large grow bags are good (200L) each. Spacing depends on the size of the crop. I would put them 3M apart as a guide.

6. Growing media.
- for the 10" squat pots in the Hydrotray Double 10" module - 2 x 10" pots = 5L x 2 = 10L.
- single 12" pot = 10L each
- W/box with 4 pots = 4 x 1.5L each = 6 L
- Hanging baskets = each is 3 L
- for the Hydrotray Double 10" module, scoria can be used. Try to use a mixed size of 5mm to 10mm diam. but needs to free from dust. Good for 10" and 12" pots only.
- for Window box use a good quality potting mix or just vermiculite.
- for Hanging baskets use a good quality potting mix or vermiculite.
- for large grow bags, ideally use bulk potting mix from a garden supplier and mulch the top 2 inches with scoria.

7. Yes, for rhubarb, corn, potatoes, carrots and some beans or peas, use 12 inch single pots. Other crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, some peas and beans, cauliflower, broccoli, silver beet, squash, cabbages, zucchini or similar sized plants, use the 10" pots. For smaller crops like lettuce, herbs, spinach, etc. use the Window Box. All these are just guides, you may find a better combination for your situation.
For pumpkins and the like, I prefer to grow them in large grow bags with a dripper serving 3 to 5 plants.

8. CapPlus tables, as mentioned are better using plain water. If your rainwater tank is higher than the table by 3 feet, you can just tap it directly to the tank without any pumping or pressure valve. If not, it is better and cheaper to use a 100 to 200 L tank to feed each table. Not much pressure is needed so long as there is a head of 2 to 3 feet it will work fine.

9. Yakon, can be grown in the 12" pot for this season and you will be able to get some harvest by the end of Autumn. You can also take cuttings to propagate, or use the old stumps which will regenerate next spring. Increase the number of plants to 10 and plant them planted in a large grow bag to be fed by a Smart-Dripper.

10. Your water logistics. 4x 22,000L = 88,000 L
- if you wish to use that amount of water over the next 12 months, you will have an average water availability of 240 L per day. As a rule of thumb, a large tomato plant or similar crop requires 1 L a day. If you allow that, you can probably allocate 100 plants (50 units of Hydrotray Double 10" modules, Hydrotray Single 12" units and Window Boxes) for veggies. For the Smart-Drippers, with a drip rate say of 10L per dripper per day, you can afford a water allocation up to a max of 14 drippers. These are just guides and you can adjust the crop mix as suggested above.

Hope I have answered your questions adequately.

With Regards
Jim Fah

A new AutoPot™ enthusiast - some more questions

Q:Hi Jim
Thanks I enjoyed your email, you are certainly a mine of helpful information.
The verandah roof has 2 sections of three sheets of laserlite side by side so I should be able to take advantage of that if I direct plants to the areas directly underneath the laserlite sections.
Thanks for your tip re Apollo and Mighty Red tomatoes - I'll try and source some immediately and get them on their way.
Thanks for the information re: drippping rates of the smart drippers and media amounts required for the the various size AutoPots. The suggestions about what media to use in the various pots/grow bags is very helpful. Can you expand a little more on how you decide on what is a "good quality potting mix".
The land around our house is relatively flat so I don't think there would be anything like a 10' fall - I will take some meaurements at the weekend to check it out though.
Have noted your comments on the CapPlus table and the water supply to it. Our tanks are located on sheds some distance from the house. They are all interconnected and reticulated to the house as well as other places.. At this stage water is moved around the property via pressure pump - hence my query about a pressure reduction valve. It should not be too much of an issue to supply a header tank with a 3' head above the CapPlus table. Water could be supplied to it and controlled by a ball valve and the water gravity fed to the CapPlus table.

I take it, although I have not specifically asked, that if we were to purchase from you and had trouble getting it set up that we could contact you for assistance to help sort out any problems. It doesn't appear to be too difficult but, as with many things, there are often issues and difficulties that come up later that one did not foresee until brought face to face with the problem.
I am also interested in what arrangements you have with transport services for deliveries from your place to here. Normally we have goods delivered to Horsham and we pick them up from there.
Another issue we have not discussed is your preferred method of payment?

Thanking you once again for your patience and advice, it is much appreciated.

Regards
 
 
A: Many thanks, it is my job to meet your needs.

1. Good quality potting mix
- well, one that is properly composted. A good example of a bad potting mix is one you often find sold cheaply in supermarkets. Cheap is OK but it must be properly composted. If not, it will give heaps of problems with the plant nutrition, causing the plant to yellow despite supplying 100% complete plant food.
- generally, good quality ones are those sold under brands like Debco or similar. If you can avoid one without saturaid in it, it would be better.


- Sure you can count on us providing you with after sales service and I believe we excel in this area too. This is why the bulk of our business comes from repeat customers. Do always feel free to contact me or my staff whenever you need support or for general information. We will continue to provide you with updates and new ideas so that you gain the most benefit out of theAutoPot™ systems.

Payment methods - we are flexible. All major credit cards Visa, Amex, Mastercard. Direct transfer is also an option.

With best regards
Jim Fah