New Tech At The Magic Mountain – AutoPot R&D

We’re as curious as anyone to sample the latest in hydroponic and horticultural products. What could be finer than rigging up an array of spanking new lights, fitting beautifully engineered gizmos, getting one’s mood all fluffed up by a brand new airy mix, or trembling at the dedication invested in a cutting-edge nutrient?

Above: LED test configuration – Dill, English Basil, Kalettes, and Thai Sweet Basil in a garden tray on CocoMat – fed by an AQUAvalve5-kitted easy2GO

Creating such fantasy growing arrangements can really help ignite the imagination. A fresh approach can help you reach new heights in terms of results. But it can also set you back a pretty penny. Thanks to the generosity of this industry’s premier manufacturers we get to dabble with all manner of red-hot new materials to ferociously exciting ends. It behooves us to share in our good fortune. So let’s take a spin around the AutoPot grow rooms. In the sincere hope that our combinations might set ablaze the minds of growers everywhere.

Above: CropMaster PRO 600, a lovely, innovative LED

Let us begin, as in the beginning, with the light. Currently lording over all creation in the grow room are Telos, Fluence, CropMaster, Lumatek, SANLight, Maxibright, Adjust-A-Wings, Heliospectra, and HIGROW. Far from larking about in chiffon and delivering news to census-conscious virgins, this heavenly host have been corralled into doing some proper work. First up, shall we see how six of the LEDs perform head-to-head, each casting it’s radiant glow over the same selection of plants, grown in open trays with easy2GO? I think we shall, if for no other reason than that failing to do so would render that last sentence a terrible waste of time. 

Above: Fluence SPYDR 2, their excellent commercial experience is absolutely evident

It’s hard to imagine a happier congregation of Dill, English Basil, Kalettes, and Thai Sweet Basil than that found under each light. The LEDs selected for this test either bring something completely different to the table or express a common feature in a subtly different way. It’s going to be a sweet thrill to see just how they perform. The contrasting approaches just go to show how much scope there is for lighting development and are testament to the vivid imaginations of manufacturers. 

Above: Lumatek Zeus 600 Pro, versatile with immaculate performance

Passive cooling, as in the Telos 0010, versus active cooling, in the Cropmaster PRO 600. Single-source, all-stage lighting as championed by the Lumatek Zeus 600 versus stage-specific solutions available in the shape of Fluence’s SPYDR 2X and SPYDR 2I. Consider the modular, upgradable features of a great many of the lights. Not least in this regard, the SANlight Q-Series – a product whose precision build-quality signposts it as a long term lighting companion. So much to enjoy.

Above: SANlight Q-Series, beautifully constructed with modular adjustability

Light meter in tray, fitting suspended above, adjust light height until meter reads 500μmol, PAR is set – let Basil commence (along with Kalettes and Dill)! Those plants will be needing something to sit on. Something to provide capillary action. Something to deliver nutrient solution from the easy2GO Kit in each garden tray to the bottom of each pot, and thence up to the roots. What finer means of delivery than our old friend CocoMat, topped with a Root Control Sheet, the latter allowing moisture upwards but ever-ready to prevent root invasion of the tray. These plants are on VegBloom. The nutrient comes courtesy of Highlight Horticulture whose invaluable advice – dilute direct in the reservoir – set us on a sure and delightfully simple path. EC to about 1.7 because this is herbs, Bluelab walking the beat on water monitoring duty – remember, without instruments you are flying blind!

Above: Telos 0010, a rugged and powerful passive cooled unit

Joining in with mineral-fed AQUAvalve5 tests is the BubbleGen, a potential game-changer for those wanting to oxygenate their reservoir with AutoPot Watering Systems. Long have we loved the @customhydrouk BubbleGen design. Now, with our grow room up and running again, we’re finally getting to try it with some of our test grows. At the moment it’s in the FlexiTank Pros that supply the tomato test and a similarly configured Thai aubergine test. BubbleGen runs on vacuum rather than positive pressure so it shouldn’t disturb the water temps, it’s efficient and is stealthily quiet. Following a very positive trip to Canada, where Custom Hydro joined us at Lift, the genius little device is now available in the Great White North via GreenPlanet. Looks a winner, more updates on this to follow.

Above: Custom Hydro’s BubbleGen (pictured at Lift Vancouver) currently on test at APHQ allowing growers to agitate liquid fertilisers without the pH-bothering side effects of airstones

Speaking of GreenPlanet, we’ve a first tilt at growing with their superlative Dual Fuel 2-Part nutrient and Vitathrive propagation fertiliser. Like the minds of those who brought them into being, they are concentrated, clean, and complete. We’ve had both busying themselves in turn on a second run of tomatoes with easy2grow. Next they’ll be tried with melons and cucumbers.

Thanks to Pete and Matt at Highlight we’ve also got our hands on the celebrated Grow Genius Mono Silic Acid. Jason’s dropping it in solution in the FlexiTank Pro on the tomato test. The plaudits that have greeted the Mono Silic Acid are all about the ready-availability of silicon for the plants. There’s no waiting for conversion. The Grow Genius is good to start fortifying natural resistance, enhancing strength, and accelerating growth from the word ‘go’. An intriguing development that we are most keen to see in action.

Above: GreenPlanet Dual Fuel and Vitathrive for the mineral-fed AQUAvalve5 trial, supplemented with Grow Genius Mono-Silic Acid,

Adjust-A-Wings, Heliospectra, Lumatek, and HIGROW have each been allotted a share of the mineral-fed-AQUAvalve5-tomato-test-action. Technologies and design philosophies vary across these lights but the attention to detail on each is sublime. As with the LEDs on test, pursuit of a higher goal is what makes these units so impressive. Having an ultimate aim and working towards it, eliminating obstacles on the way, is always going to result in a superior product. For example, take Adjust-A-Wings goal of getting in close to the plants for deep, uniform light penetration, realised through their instantly recognisable reflectors, and Super-Spreader heat deflectors. Heliospectra’s efforts to draw the maximum in power, efficiency, longevity, and customisation from the LED as a lighting medium. Lumatek’s ability to transfer experience and hardware developed in government and commercial facilities into high-performance, adjustable, accessible lights for all. Extracting an incredible amount of power for minimal cost whilst offering full spectrum LED, the HiGROW shows just how much functionality is possible, affordably. 

Above: The exquisite Maxibright Daylight LED over the AQUAvalve5 organics trial

Making light work of lighting for a seminal organics trial is the gorgeous Maxibright Daylight LED. We’re well smitten with the uniform light coverage and construction whilst the adjustability has knocked our socks off. In system/nutrient terms the aim of the organics trial is to assess performance of the new AQUAvalve5 with liquid organic feeds. 

Above: Envelope-pushing test for AQUAvalve5 – a standalone XL module runs liquid organic feed constantly to asparagus peas

Saints be praised, we’ve got some Biobizz nutrients on the go in said organic trial. Cracking open one of their products is a bit like opening the Ark in Raiders – biblical organic forces! The Holy folk of Etxebarri have sent us this manna from heaven via their diminutive UK disciple. Currently we’ve got Root Juice, Fish Mix and BioHeaven on the veg stage. This’ll ramp up to BioGrow, BioBloom and Top Max come the flowering. We’ve put the Biobizz up against Mills brand-new range of organic feeds. Judged on Mills’ impeccable pedigree, passion for clean solutions, and early signs in this test the new feed looks very exciting indeed. True, the trial is a daring proposition as it involves running liquid organics in a pipework-based system. You can find out more here. We are most excited to see how our new kit fares.

Above: Thai Aubergines in AQUAvalve5-equipped easy2grow modules with a variety of substrates

A Thai aubergine trial sees Jason, our M.D. and grow-meister, dabbling with a riotous palette of substrate combinations in easy2grow. Here two pots have been devoted to Mills Coco Cork, two to Mills Coco with Ecothrive Charge, two are given over to Medwyn’s Powdered Gold, and the final pair 100% Perlite – one of which has Powdered Gold and Ecothrive Charge added. Thai aubergines grow into green and white orbs, impressive and utterly delicious with a hint of bitterness. Other Thai delights are in plentiful supply throughout the grow room. We have abundant sweet Thai basil in the Auto8. The aforementioned tray system is effortlessly feeding eight pots with a substrate retinue that mirrors that of the aubergine test.

Above: Auto8s under another Fluence SPYDR

The science poured into apparently ‘everyday’ products such as grow media and enhancers is no less impressive than that devoted to mechanical tech. Currently we are revelling in the innovation invested in the Mills Coco Cork. They’ve taken their Trico-rich, beautifully developed Coco and really run with it. Light of texture and as adept at managing water as Moses, it also has excellent eco-credentials.

Providing yet more catalysts for growth are Ecothrive – not since Herbie has anyone paid such close attention to Coleopteran movements. Derived from 100% beetle droppings, their Charge conditioner has become an instant classic. So much so that it’s easy to to take its stunning ability to enhance the root zone and plant development for granted.

Above: Biobizz Organics (top) and Mills Organics (bottom) for the liquid organics test

Another product stimulating the kind of vigorous growth we all enjoy is Biobizz Light Mix. In order to get things going ‘down there’ (oooh-err!) you need the soil to produce the kind of interactions that lead to rapidly developing root structures (pardon!?). Happily we’re seeing just such results from this watering-system-optimised media.

Word of mouth plays a big part in what people try and when a 12-time RHS Chelsea Gold Medal Winner tips you the nod on a growth stimulant you’d do well to take heed. Medwyn Williams put us on to the earthy, rich, dark and 100% organic Powdered Gold (NutriMate) and it’s safe to say we are impressed. The Humic and Folic acid therein seem to being their job nicely with the basil and aubergines.

Above: Lucky us – our thanks to all who give us access to their products for testing

We’re acutely aware of just how privileged we are to receive and experiment with such cutting-edge products. It is important that we offer our humble thanks to all those who have given and continue to give us access to their work. Sure we get a kick out of trying it but we also strive to ensure its used in perfecting our systems for contemporary use, giving growers better results than ever – that way everyone’s a winner.

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