Staying on top means staying alive to how growers grow. We’d never tangle with the proven principles and mechanics of our systems. However, we are always alive to the possibility of adjustments that might optimise them for contemporary use. How about a huge 5mm AQUAvalve inlet to accommodate the increasingly diverse range of nutrients favoured by growers? Bigger fittings and pipework to serve the new AQUAvalve, delivering visibly faster flow to the modules for an astoundingly quick fill? All of this new kit compatible with existing trays, lids, and pots – the current range having been test-proven to function perfectly with an AQUAvalve5 and 9mm fittings?
Fine ideas, and so to test-proving. As it’s to become the beating heart of our systems for years to come, we’ve had to get rigorous on AQUAvalve5. Our R&D area has been crawling with the devices for umpteen months now. AQUAvalve5 is ubiquitous in there. Everything that is anything that is growing something is growing with AQUAvalve5. Large-scale, final-phase tests are on tomatoes with mineral feeds and Asparagus Peas with organics but the sheer volume and variety of other, smaller AQUAvalve5 tests are equally significant. It is showing us it’s massive potential with aubergines, chillies, loofahs, dahlias, electric daisies, melons, onions, watermelons, kalettes, cucumbers, plus any number of herbs (including micro-herbs) in every guise of AutoPot Watering System.
In the mineral-feed tomato trial we’ve got the AQUAvalve5s sitting pretty in sixteen easy2grow modules. The flow and fill is just plain fun to watch, it’s so damn fast. Each module holds two pots, so that’s a total of thirty-two plants of identical tomato variety. Four modules have been potted up with Mills Coco Cork, four with Biobizz Light Mix, four with 100% Perlite, and four with Mills Light Mix. The doubters and naysayers be damned, you’ll be amazed at the capillary action facilitated by 100% Perlite. The valve is doing its job beautifully. The fit on the tray and that of the new fittings is long since perfected but it’s still great to see so many of them operating in unison.
Increasing the bore of the parts obviously speeds the flow but has also provided an opportunity to fine-tune the spec of pipework and fittings. Blue 16mm pipework cannot fail to have caught the eye. Apart from looking gorgeous this has been re-specced as co-extruded pipe with metre markings along the length to help when cutting. As with existing systems, the 16mm pipework serves smaller pipework that in turn serves the modules. In the past the smaller variety was 6mm but, as befits the new valve, that is increased to 9mm, also with a colour change to blue and metre-marked up.
Having been potted up at a height of about 6-12 inches the tomatoes are shading 4ft tall or more just a month later. That progress is due, in part, to the propagation domes we use on each individual pot at early stages of growth. We reckon these are absolutely indispensable in establishing micro-environment for young plants. Tomatoes thrive in constant humidity of 65-70%. Lack of humidity in the immediate area of the plants is perhaps the number one cause of young leaves curling. Transpiration stops when leaves curl to protect the plant against a lack of local humidity. When transpiration stops everything else does. Nine times out of ten stalled growth at this stage has nothing to do with the system, the feed, the substrate, the water, or the lights – it’s the lack of a micro-environment. Whether you use a homemade stick-and-bag arrangement or spend just a few pounds on some of our own, AutoPot-tailored propagation lids you will not regret it. Once the plants fill the dome they can be let loose and their growth will absolutely rocket.
AQUAvalve5 is going through its paces with organics too. Asparagus Peas are on a beautifully conceived system of primary and secondary reservoirs to allow liquid organic nutrient feeding via pipework and fittings. Liquid organic nutrients have always presented a challenge for watering systems. Thirty years of testing and dialogue in the cultivation industry has taught us that no pipework-based system is immune to the blockages associated with liquid organic feeds. Liquid organic feeds naturally drop out of solution over short periods of time. If fed via reservoir and pipework the sediment left by organic nutrients may cause obstructions, increase maintenance and prove detrimental to plant nutrition regimes. This applies to liquid organic nutrients, additives and boosters alike. But where there’s a will, and there is a will, there’s a way.
Eight 1Pot modules make up the organics test, all potted with the same variety of Asparagus Peas. Four of the modules are getting plain water, the other four RO water. Once a week the water supply is disconnected for 48 hours. Within that 48 hour window, 24 hours of organic feeding takes place as each module is connected to a second, organic nutrient-filled reservoir. Two of the plain water modules get Biobizz in solution. So do two of the RO modules. Following exactly the same routine, the other two plain and RO water modules get Mills Organic – a brand new organic feed.
We’ve thrown in a wild card running alongside for comparison. Doing something we’ve never recommended, we’re running organic feed in solution constantly from a standalone reservoir to a standalone module. It’ll be intriguing to see how the system handles it, so far all of the plants are kicking on very nicely indeed.
Whether ‘results’ are defined by flavour, size, yield, health, purity or enjoyment, nothing is more important to a grower than ‘results’. If a grower’s preferred means of getting results isn’t open to them they will surely find another way. Hence the changes we’re about to make – changes that keep our systems in line with contemporary use and allow our growers to get exceptional results however they grow.