Yearly Archives: 2014

Adding automation with Doris the Doser

We’ve been adding some new automation features for ourselves and our clients. This post will detail Lee’s experiences using the GroHaus system. We noticed that the system we used didn’t actually have a name, so we called ours Doris. Doris the Doser.

Meet Doris!


Doris is by far the simplest and most straightforward automation system that we’ve found so far. To set her up, we built our own custom cart, which was probably the most time consuming part of the process.

Custom cart by Boswyck Farms.

Custom cart by Boswyck Farms.

From there, it was just a question of running plumbing, calibrating the system, and setting our target EC and pH levels.

Setting up Doris' electronic insides.

Setting up Doris’ electronic insides.

Plumbing was run between the nutrient pumps and our stock tanks of General Hydroponics nutrients (Flora Duo parts A and B, along with pH Down), between nutrient pumps and the reservoir, and between the reservoir and the sample pot for testing.

Doris' new home at Project FIND!

Doris’ new home at Project FIND!

We installed Doris at our client Project FIND. Their systems are on a rooftop, so we needed to build a weatherproof enclosure to keep everything safe. We used a case that was originally designed to house outdoor computer systems, which has temperature sensors and cooling fans to keep the system at the right temperature in case of warm weather.

All in all, this was a great experience: learning new automation technologies, building custom houses for them, and using existing materials to amplify what we can do in different environments. If you have questions about automation, we’re always happy to help! Just email us.

Five Gallon Bucket Workshop: Monday, October 13th

We’re really excited for the return of our Five Gallon Bucket Workshop on Monday, October 13th. The workshop will run from 7 – 9 PM at our new space in Astoria. Come learn about the basics of hydroponics, and then get hands-on instruction to build your own drip system to take home!

We heard that some people have had an issue with the registration form. You can register by clicking this link. Drop ins also accepted — but remember, the cost of the class is $100 for people who pre-register, and $115 for drop ins. So registration makes sense!

See you on Monday.

Grand Re-Opening Party!

Open House Fall 2014

You’re invited to our Grand Re-Opening event! September 29th, from 6 – 9 PM, join us on our rooftop to celebrate our new Astoria space. We can’t wait to see you. Share the invitation far and wide! All are welcome.

Press inquiries can be directed here.


Daniel’s Visit to Sunsetview Aquaponics

Produce packaged up and ready to go.

Produce packaged up and ready to go.

Last week I (Daniel) took a trip out to Gap, PA to visit the nice folks at Sunsetview Aquaponics and tour their innovative greenhouse. Sunsetview is run by a second generation Amish plumber with the help of his family and a pair of beautiful bovines. Despite its name, it produces all of its produce using Aeroponic systems. With a capacity for 4000 plants from floor to ceiling, strolling through the lettuce orchard is a magnificent and futuristic experience.

Sam, the owner and head grower has been working on designing their own aeroponic systems that were under development, so I couldn’t snap any photos, but what I can say is that they have some truly impressive and innovative systems that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Who doesn't love chickens?

Who doesn’t love chickens?

A large part of the philosophy at Sunsetview is to include the local community and schools with enriching opportunities to participate throughout the growing process. Once a week a group, of handicapped students from the local school district comes in to help with everything from seeding to harvesting. Engineering students from Messiah College helped to develop the water dispersion cap that delivers nutrient solution to the roots in their growing towers. The greenhouse also serves as a community hub for sustainable and green-focused workshops.

When lettuce monsters attack.

When lettuce monsters attack.

My good friend Dr. T.H. Culhane from Mercy College took the trip down with me to give a presentation for local community members on biodigester technology to create natural gas, compost, and liquid fertilizer all from organic waste.

Sam’s greenhouse is truly beautiful – vertical, focused on simplicity and easy maintenance. Sunsetview does tours throughout the year so if you’re interested in touring their greenhouse for yourself give ’em a call! (717) 768-3597

Summer Certification Course: update!

We’re super excited for our upcoming Hydroponic Certification Course. But . . . our new space won’t quite be ready by June 7th. So we’re bumping the course back by a few weeks. Sign up! The summer course will run starting on July 12th, and you can see the full dates here.

Want to know what you’ll be doing? Check out some albums of photos from our previous certification course (in our old space, of course), and then prepare yourself for our awesome new rooftop and indoor workshop space.

If you have questions, just email us.

Construction at the Boro Park Y

BoroPark_LettucesGrowingOur first major construction project in our new space — other than the space itself, which we’ll update you on as we make progress — has been a system for the senior citizens at the Boro Park Y. We’re doing a hydroponics and education program with them, and wanted to use our new space to optimize some new building techniques. Here’s what we’ve got:

We decided to go with a deep water system, as they are easy to maintain and also the most tolerant of pump failure. We’re installing three 2′ x 4′ deep water systems in total, each with its own powerful pump system and air stones to support water circulation.

Because we knew we couldn’t do much construction on site at Boro Park, we were keen on building something that could be loaded, pre-constructed, into our van for transport. As for the construction techniques, we’ve made a few updates to our previous deep water system approaches:


1. Framing. We’ve traditionally used PVC in our frame construction because it’s easy to work with and very effective. For this project, though, Lee decided that wood was a better option, which gave him and Bryant the opportunity to try a few new construction techniques.

2. Which brings us to item two. Lee wanted to try a new method of joinery using dowel pins. This was successful and quick — about an hour to cut the wood and drill the holes, and half an hour to glue.

Once the frames were constructed, it was onto finishing (something that we remembered takes much longer with wood). Luckily Bryant had a spray gun!

3. Pond liner, begone! Pond liner is expensive and not very beautiful, although it does have the upside of being malleable enough to fit any sized box. Luckily, we’ve recently discovered some new hydroponic flood trays that are perfect for the 2’x4′ deep water systems. (They’re also great for flood and drain!)


We drove the deep water systems over to Boro Park (always a traffic adventure) and have them set up to grow red and green oak leaf lettuce. The senior citizens in the class have had amazing success with their germination rate (over 90%), and the systems are now transforming the lobby of the Boro Park Y. We’re having a great time working with our class! More updates to come.

Tiny Tomatoes from a Relatively Tiny Plant

When people talk about gardening, one of the quintessential plants that come to mind are tomatoes. This popular fruit (although used like a vegetable, it is botanically considered a fruit!) comes in many shapes, sizes, and types: some tomato plants are determinate, meaning they will produce fruit and ripen all at once, and others are indeterminate and will grow until killed by frost or other intervention, producing fruit throughout the growing season.

Growing intriguing new varieties of tomatoes has been a regular hobby at Boswyck Farms for the past few years. We’ve had many successes, such as the Green Zebra, which featured both a refreshing tartness and striking coloration.

One of the drawbacks to indoor hydroponic tomato production is that options are limited on how to grow them. Tomato plants take up A LOT of room:


Tomato plants also develop very large root systems to support upward growth and need a lot more space than your leafy greens and herbs. We’ve generally grown our tomatoes in bucket systems, as seen above, to accommodate the root mass.

This winter, we’ve used our indoor off-season to explore a new variety of tomato plant: Minibel. The potential benefit of this cultivar was that, unlike other tomato varieties, this plant was marketed to only grow to be about a foot tall, meaning it could be an option for the home grower with limited (vertical) space. Plus, we reasoned, if the plant would not grow as tall and prolific as the other types, would it have a root mass that would be a suitable match for other types of hydroponic systems?

Putting this plant to the test, we set up two grow spaces:

One batch of seedlings went into an NFT system.


The other went into our custom flood and drain system, housed in a cabinet.



The beginning vegetative cycle for the tomatoes lasted about three months. While we were (im)patiently awaiting the first tomato for a taste test, we were able to satisfy our curiosity about the possibility of growing these tomatoes in a wider range of hydroponic systems.

About a month in, we could see that the NFT systems would probably not be ideal for these tomatoes. First, the standard spacing of the Crop King rail (8″ apart) were too close. The plants were crowded and pushing each other out of the light canopy provided for the system. Second, the root mass was filling the NFT channels and left the system vulnerable to clogging. Hypothesis failed, dwarf tomatoes were not a good fit for an NFT system.


The four plants in the cabinet flood and drain system, however, were looking mighty fine. The plants had much more room to grow, both for roots and vegetation. Definitely a better match than the NFT systems.


(The roots were growing in 4″x4″ pots)


When March rolled around, we started to see our first ripening tomatoes and that meant the final test could take place.


While the red cherry-sized fruits look delectable, the flavor didn’t hold up to our usual bombastic standards. We can safely say they taste better than what can be found in the supermarket, but it’s doubtful we’d grow them in lieu of our past favorites, even with the versatility offered by their unusual height. Tomatoes are resource-heavy plants to grow hydroponically, and it would be better to devote the space, nutrients, and time to a crop that will pack a more palate-pleasing punch.

And that’s is why we do what we do. We like to test out new crop varieties, hybrid systems, and other zany ideas so that we can help create the best matched system (and give ideal crop suggestions!) for our clients. We’ll keep you posted on the next adventure!


Staining PVC: A Boswyck Farms Guide


These are the supplies that you’ll need.

At Boswyck Farms we use a lot of PVC piping, and we’re always looking to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Here’s our handy guide to PVC staining for anyone else who might need to do a bit of the same for their own systems.

Why Stain?

  1. PVC is ugly.

  2. Paint does not adhere well to PVC, and it actually increases the diameter of the pipe, making it hard to use the fittings. (The tolerances are so tight that the thickness of a coat of paint makes a difference.)

How it works.

By using a PVC solvent with dye mixed in, a thin layer of the surface of the PVC is melted, allowing the stain to penetrate. The solvent evaporates, leaving behind a nicely stained (hopefully) piece of PVC.

What You’ll Need

  • PVC Cleaner: a solvent that will melt a thin layer of the PVC, allowing the dye to penetrate the surface. Make sure to use the clear stuff, because purple PVC primer will just dye your pipes purple.
  • Petroleum-based Dye. We used this kind.
  • Disposable pipettes.
  • Nitrile gloves. Don’t use latex as the solvent will eat right through it.


  1. Make sure that you’re in a well ventilated area. The fumes are pretty powerful.

  2. Using a pipette, place a small amount of the desired color dye into a can of PVC solvent. A little goes a long way.

  3. Replace the cap on the solvent can and shake gently.

  4. Test to see how dark the stain is.

  5. Keep adding dye until you get the desired intensity. If you go too far, you can dilute the solution with clear solvent.

We started by using the applicator that’s in the can of solvent. This lead to uneven staining with lots of drips. It was hard to control how much was being applied.


Next we tried using a paper towel. This allowed for much more control. In the beginning it feels like the stain is going on very lightly, but it will darken the more you rub it in. It took a while to get a feel for how to do it, but after a while it went pretty easily.


Using paper towel to apply. No drips but some streaking.


Close up of pipes stained using paper towel to apply solvent.

We were able to play around with blending multiple colors both by starting one at each end, and also by applying a thin coat of a darker color on top of a lighter one. The dark green pipe is an example of the latter technique.
After that, the sky’s the limit. We used the paper towel in a blotting technique to achieve a sponged look. We also tried using tape to mask successive coats, achieving a spiraled effect.


Happy PVC staining!

Categories: R&D