root-mass photos what do you think?

eeaieeaioh(6a)February 28, 2014

Self-watering bucket Yr 2 Help

FYI, last year I chose to do the "single bucket" global bucket where the lid is used to make a platform that separates the reservoir from the soil instead of the usual two-bucket method. (A video describing this type of single self watering bucket can be found on YouTube.) So, what you are looking at here is a bucket turned upside-down, bottom-up. From the bottom of photo up you can see soil, then the white platform and wicking cup, and finally the roots that gathered in the bottom of the bucket.

Last year my garden did not do very well. My peppers did alright but all of my tomatoes failed miserably. The melons did even worse. I'm already working on solving two major problems (with the help of people on this forum: God bless your hearts.) I'm curios to know if anything can be determined by looking at these photos that I can learn from before this season begins.

Do you notice how the roots have grown down through the wicking cup, filling the resevoir? Is that normal? Oddly when the soil was broken up the center of the soil-mass was practically free of roots. It seems as though the roots stayed around the interior perimeter of the buckets and inside the resevoir. In my mind i envisioned it differently. I assumed all the soil would be a giant root-mass. What do you think about this?
Click in the photo for a closer look that is right-side up.
Thank you.

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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

I think the massive root growth is fairly common for SIPs. Last year, I had tomatoes grow roots into the rez, out of the rez and into the wood beams supporting them and then into the soil. They're crazy aggressive and go right after the water source.

That said, I din't know why you're having problems with tomatoes -- what issues were you having? With SIPs, it's either an issue of water uptake or fertilizer. If your peppers did well but not tomatoes, I'd say you're having an issue with the potting mix you're using. Last year I grew in all commercial potting mix and that worked just fine. Also, be aware, they do run out of fertilizer crazy fast -- I found I had to keep on the heavy fertilizer regimen to keep up with the massive tomatoes that were growing.

I've decided to go to all fabric pots this year -- they're much cheaper, don't need to be protected from the sun, stay cool and air prune the roots. The downside is they use more water than a SIP, but the advantages are worth it.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 5:40PM
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The grow bags are a good idea. They will require lots of water though. I have thought about doing a couple grow bags with homemade terracotta ollas buried in the soil. I'm hoping this will keep the bags from drying out if I'm away for a day or two. Just a thought.

About my buckets, I have 20 buckets connected by 1/2 inch tubing to a 55 gallon reservoir. The roots were so invasive, like yours, they grew through the soil, into the water, and through the tubing thus blocking the flow of water to the other buckets. To solve this I have decided to line the bottom of the bucket with weed barrier fabric. That should stop the roots from going places I don't want them to go.

I agree that part of my issue with the tomatoes was fertilization but it was more than that because I maintained a fertization regime. On last years plants, the few blooms that did get pollinated and produce green fruit never ripened. On other plants, they'd rippen slowly but have really bad blossom end rot. In general, all the tomatoe plants looked leggy and weed like. Not very hardy looking plants. Stems were thin and woody.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:05PM
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Jay Part Shade (Zone 10B, S21, Los Angeles)

Strange, tomatoes should be great in the buckets. If you're getting BER, that means you don't have enough calcium in your mix. I think you'll need to quadruple your fertilization routine, just go at those tomatoes until they explode.

It does look like you're getting moss and mold growing inside the buckets, which could be a problem. The white buckets don't help -- light is getting through. Wrapping them in mylar like you're doing will probably improve the situation. Not sure if that's causing your problems.

Also, one of the reasons to do double buckets is that you can pull the top bucket out and prune the roots if they get too crazy.You might want to try doubling up on the buckets.

Is the picture you posted from the tomatoes? Or the pepper?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:16PM
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The moss you see (I think) grew since fall. I left the soil in the buckets over the winter. I just uprooted the bucket you see here today. I didn't have that green on other buckets I uprooted last year.

The picture is of a tomatoes plant.

Good point about the double buckets. Hmmm I'll consider buying more buckets but I believe the weed barrier will contain the roots.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:24PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Take a look at page 13 of Raybo's Earthtainer construction guide linked below. He found that tomato roots getting into the reservoir caused problems, so he recommends using landscape fabric to prevent that. He says:

Roots penetrated through the aeration holes and into the water reservoir. Cleanout was terrible, and the tomatoes had a bland, hydroponically grown taste.

Now, that may not be what your problem was, but it's worth considering as a contributor to BER. I would also consider that your potting mix may have become saturated because there wasn't enough of an air space between the container bottom and the water. That could cause the roots to circle the outside of the mix in search of oxygen. Finally, I really think 5 gallons is not large enough for most tomatoes.

I have been using 20- and 25-gallon fabric pots for my tomatoes. The roots seem to fill the container from center to edge. If you use larger pots, they really don't dry out as fast as people think. I generally only have to water every other day even with full grown tomatoes in a heat wave. My friend with Earthboxes (which hold 15 gallons) had to top them off with at least a gallon of water every day. He used less water than me but had to water twice as often.

Here is a link that might be useful: Earthtainer Construction Guide

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 6:51PM
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Thank you ohiofem. Very good info. I agree that 5 gallons is not enough to facilitate maximum growth of a tomatoe plant. By using 5 gallon buckets I hoped to have a more portable and space friendly garden. I may not get a high yield off the plants but I should at least yield something, in theory.

I wondered about the roots not getting enough air. That would explain why they avoided all the rich soil in the center of the bucket. I will lower the water level in the reservoir to just barely 2 inches, leaving another 2 inches for an air reservoir. Also, maybe a few more overflow holes to increase circulation (?)

Thank you!!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 7:06PM
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Hi all.

I have a simple solution to the root invasion issue. Much less expensive than grow bags or "Walmart" bags.

Take a 36" x 20" piece of landscape fabric and fold it in half (long side) so you have an 18" x 20" rectangle of landscape fabric. Now either sew or heat seal two (2) of the open ends. I prefer to use my Seal-a-Meal to fuse the open sides. Then turn the "bag" inside out and insert into the 5 gallon bucket with the 18" side down and tuck into the wicking cup.

Fill bucket with water until it comes out of overflow hole. Pack planting media into wicking cup and continue to fill bucket with media, wetting occasionally to ensure proper wicking action.

This will allow some overlap on the top of the bucket to secure the grow bag you just made. This can also be used as a stand alone grow bag.

Hope you find this useful.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2015 at 1:27PM
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