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:

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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!)

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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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.

Mixing

  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.

Applying
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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Happy PVC staining!

Categories: R&D

Adventures in 3D Printing

3D printing has long been on the Boswyck Farms radar as a tool for advancing hydroponics. This year, the dream was fulfilled. Early in February, our very own pre-assembled Printrbot PLUS arrived and it has been chugging along ever since.

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While technology for additive manufacturing (creating by adding material rather than removing it) has been around since the 80’s, ‘affordable’ 3D printers were not really available for commercial or home use until very recently. With increased interest in DIY projects and the advent of the Maker Movement, pressure has been on to get 3D printers into more hands, to help explore the realm of possibilities that this tech could offer.

For us, 3D printing was a way to start prototyping hydroponic parts that were not only improvements upon what was available on the market, but parts we needed -hydroponic or otherwise- that simply did not exist (yet):

NFT Rail Clips 

NFT Rail Clip Progression

You can see an evolution in the design of the clips, starting at the bottom left.
(It’s still a work in progress.)

Power Strip Mounting Brackets

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 Joints for PVC Polyhedrons

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Truth be told though, the first print to come off the bed was a wooly sheep  from Thingiverse a that looked very much like our own mascot, Boswyck.

The Strange Sheep Menagerie

This first sheep will be a business card holder.

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You may notice that some of the sheep above have not yet reached their final form. For all of the success we have had with our Printrbot, it would be unfair to gloss over the trial and error process of finding the best settings for a complete print. 3D prints can take hours to finish, depending on the complexity and size of the design, and it can be frustrating to find out that a print failed after waiting so long for it to finish. Patience is of upmost importance.

One common problem is failing to get a print to stick to the heated print bed at the start of a print. We’ve found that hairspray and/or painter’s tape can help with adhesion. Luckily, you can tell within a layer or two of printing if this is going to be a problem and cancel the print before it goes much farther.

More frustrating is having a print dislodge midway to being finished, but not see it happen until after the printing is done. Maybe the workstation moved or perhaps the print was tall enough to sway with the motion of the extruder as it moved around the print area. What ever the cause may be, you may come back to a print that is more spaghetti than actual object.

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Intricate prints are more susceptible to this problem, as there is less support for the design the higher it prints. The recommended printing software (we are using Repetier Host with Slic3r) will print auxiliary structure to support upcoming layers that can be removed once completed, but it consists of thin fibers of plastic that can get loose or catch on the extruder as it moves around. Again, it is a matter of trial and error, a work in progress.

This completed polyhedron is the same design as the previous photo. (Support structure success!)

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While perfect printing every time is still a goal to strive for, we’ve got some bigger plans for experimenting with new materials and parts. We want to get creative with multicolor prints and start testing out nylon. (The prints above are all ABS and PLA plastics.) A new aluminum extruder head is also in the works, which should improve the quality (smoothness and precision) of our prints.

We’ll be sharing more of our 3D works as we go!

 

 

Look ma, we’re on CUNY TV!

Andrew Falzon of CUNY TV made an excellent half hour special segment on the Food Revolution. He talks about vertical farming, and swings by to inverview Lee! Lee’s part begins around minute 15, but you should really check out the whole thing — see the YouTube video version of the broadcast embedded below. Thanks for coming by, Andrew!

Hey Teachers! Come have lunch with us.

What are you doing this Columbus Day? Come by for a potluck lunch at our Bushwick Starr rooftop farm! We’ll be hosting NYC teachers (K – 12, public, private, and parochial) from 12 – 2 PM for a special presentation on hydroponics in the classroom. Plus we’ll have farmers on hand to answer your questions, printed materials to take away, and a great crowd of colleagues to chat with.

See the flyer below! No need to RSVP, but if you have any questions, just email us: education@nullboswyckfarms.org.

Please note: the event will take place at the Bushwick Starr. That’s 207 Starr Street, 2nd Floor. L train to Jefferson Street.

Wyckoff Farmhouse: old building, new project.

We’ve been thrilled to work with the folks over at Wyckoff Farmhouse, the oldest building in Brooklyn, to install a new hydroponic project. We’ve partnered with Sustainable Flatbush on the solar capacity. This is our first project that will be run off solar power, and we’re really excited to see how things shape up.

For now here’s a photo of the build in process (and one of our van loaded to the greatest capacity yet!), but we’ll keep you posted with more. We already got a shout out in Edible Brooklyn for this work, so we’re pretty psyched.

Bushwick Open Studios

Hello to everyone visiting us this weekend for Bushwick Open Studios! We just wanted to leave you a note to say we are at the Bushwick Starr, not at the loft space. Join us at 207 Starr Street.