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Self-contained Box Gardens: Some stacker stuff I have experienced.

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Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 8, 2009
5:03 AM

Post #6520415

Some of this stuff might be usefull to new stacker owners. I have been playing with them for about 5 years now and have made some misstakes and some discoveries. Forgive me if I repeat some stuff I have mentioned before.

A fast draining mix like coir or coir/perlite or perlite/vermiculite are ideal for stackers. Peat based mixes work fine too but what problems you can have with peat mixes can be amplified in stackers. The one time I tried peat mix, I ended up with a big dried out gob of peat that was only fit for the compost pile. You just have to get used to how fast your stacks drain and how often they need watering and the right grow mix is an integral part of that. That varies a lot with the weather too. Also the size and maturity of your plants. Large leafy plants suck a lot of water in hot and windy weather. If you plant the complete stack in one type crop that gets water hungry, be prepared to water about 3 times a day.

It is best to have a fast draining mix...not one that holds a lot of water for a long time. And it is important to put enough water through a stack to flush out the fertilizer salts. This is called a "drip to waste" system and you really do wont some of the water/fertilizer to drip to waste.

A probe type moisture meter is an invaluable tool to help you understand what is taking place with your stackers. You will find that the top pots of drain thru stackers dry out faster than the lower pots. This is only natural since water goes in the top and and drains down through all the pots and out of the bottom pot. Some type of small pot should be mounted on the center pole of your stack in the top pot. It is called a "diffuser pot" and in the attached photo, you can see the little green pots at the top of all my stacks. The small pots diffuse the flow of water so you dont blow your expensive and fluffy grow mix out of your pots with a blast from your water hose. I have not seemed to have any problems with the lower pots holding too much moisture untill this year. I was planting my stackers even before the danger of frost was past...living dangerous. :-) But then we have had an unususal cool, wet, spring. Lots of overcast weather and drizzling rains for as long as four days at a time. During the extended periods of wet weather, I did get some indication of overwatering in the plants in the lower pots. Nothing serious since I use a fast draining mix, but I thought I should mention the possibility to you. In the previous years, I never started gardening so early and never noticed any problems like that. In those years, I just set all my stacks up with a regular watering schedule and everything worked fine. I usually started out with one'a'day watering and increased it to two'a'day as the plants grew larger and summer conditions set in. Larger leafy plants might require three'a'day watering. If you are having cool wet spring conditions where you live, I suggest you stab your pots with a moisture meter and hand water untill warm weather stabilizes and then go to a scheduled watering system.

I have some "un-balanced" stacks. Just goofing around, I have sunflowers growing in the top pots of two stacks. As you can see in the picture, these are 4 pot stacks. On the few full sunshine days we have had, I can look out my kitchen window and see the sunflowers began to droop. Like tomato's, sunflowers will tell you right quick when they need water by looking real sad. A moisture meter tells me the 3 lower pots in those stacks still contain plenty of moisture but the top pot is sucked dry by the sunflowers. No big deal...I just give them an extra shot of water on the hotter days.

The higher you stack your containers, in other words, more pots to the stack, the more chance's you have of having what I am calling an "un-balanced" stack. Meaning unbalanced water requirements of individual pots on the same stack. When you see those amazing pictures of a large commercial operation with acres of stackers, remember, they are usually growing all the same crop per stack (strawberries for instance) and growing in a grow mix that drains so fast that it is almost impossible to over water. They can just pour the water and fertilizer to them and Let Er RIP!! I try to copy them as far as grow mix and watering schedule is concerned but I am doing this for fun and I like to mix my plants up on the same stack...and that is how I sometimes create an "un-balanced" stack. If you notice in the attached photo, I have converted all my EZgro stacks to four pot stacks...and still goofed around and ended up with un-balanced sun flower stacks and petunia stacks. I have petunia's and dusty miller growing on the same pole and they are both doing fine. The dusty miller is supposed to like semi-dry conditions. Maybe the petunias are sucking up most of the water the dusty miller is saying that fine with me. I dont know but I have often grown plants on the same stacks that reportedly liked different moisture conditions.

I mostly grow flowers and dont know beans about beans and vegetables...except I always play around with tomato's each year. I think some of these things I have learned will still apply to growing vegetables though.

In top watered drain through stacks, plants with agressive root systems ( in my experience, tomato's and sweet pea flowers) will send roots from an upper pot down through the drain holes into a lower pot. In Boca Bob's recent experiment with a lot of beans all planted on the same stack of 7 little 12 inch NJ stackers, he experienced this. He told me he was using the original NJ stackers which were a drain through system. In the newer NJ stackers with the "self-watering" grids, each pot will be isolated from the others and roots will be contained in each pot. The Vege stackers are a drain through system as is the EZgro's and roots can migrate from pot to pot.

I planted all sweet pea flowers in 5 pot EZgro stacks and the root system literally bound the pots together. I lifted all the pots off their pole and could carry them around the yard by holding onto only one pot. The pots had to be cut apart by sliding a kitchen butcher knife between pots. Now this migrating root condition ain't all bad. For instance, I am trying to make use of it by planting two tomato's in the top pot of a four pot stack. I will let them grow down into the lower pots as far as they wont to grow. Each pot holds two and a half gallons of grow mix so the four pots have a total of ten gallons and if the tomato's wont to use all ten gallons, more power to them. They are looking good right now. The other 14 plant sites on that stack are planted in stuff like little globe basil's and some of those signet marigolds that actually smell good, kind of a minty smell. They may have to fight the tomato's for some grow mix but we will see how it goes. What I think I have learned from this is that plants with agressive root systems should be planted in the upper pots and combined with shallow rooted plants on the same stack.

Everybody has their own ideas about fertilizing their plants and I am sure you will wont to continue that with your new stackers. Over the years, I have decided that any type of "organic" gardening should be relegated to actual dirt farming and any type of container gardening shoud be non-organic. But that's just me. My best results were with
a water soluable fertilizer in a weak solution mixed in with each watering. You could even call that hydroponic gardening I guess and be correct. But it works great. I have also got good results, maybe not fantastic but good enough, experimenting with MG soluable fertilizer applied to the stacks every few days. I have also mixed some slow release fertilizer into each pots grow mix, didn't kill anything, and stuff looked good to me...flowers Im talking about mostly. And I have thrown a half hand full of slow release pellets into the diffuser pots on top of the stacks and in about a month of hot summer weather, most of it was melted and used up. I dont keep records, and am not very scientific minded, unfortunately, and am not about to get myself in trouble by recommending any sure fire method of fertilization...but I will go out on a limb and say that the "hydroponic" type fertilizers that you can buy from places like http://www.instagarden.com ain't bad. Taint bad at all...just dont hold me to that.

Let me try to sum this up. The grow mix is all important. Don't try to conserve water by using a gummed up mix in stackers that holds a lot of water for a long time. You need fast drainers that is almost impossible to overwater. Even after 4 days of solid wet weather, I only had a small problem with overwatered plants and then only in the lower pots. So hang loose with a grow mix that hangs loose. And since your grow mix is fast draining, set up a watering system that makes sure your plants get water when they need it. A moisture meter is a good tool. Stackers use a small amount of water compared to some other growing systems so dont skimp on the water. Dont be stingy...flush the water/fertilizer through the stacks and let some drip to waste. Flushing the stacks with plain water for a few days doesn't hurt anything and it flushes out any excess fertilizer salts that may be in there. It might confuse the bugs if you dont plant all the same plants on one stack. You might mix in some stinkers and bad tasters that the bugs dont like. And that is about all I can think of at one setting. I hope some of this is useful to you all with your new stackers. It is sure nice to have some company. For years, I met dead silence on the forums when I tried to get a conversation going about stackers. Have fun, ya'll.

Thumbnail by Jaywhacker
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Jeannie63

Jeannie63
Mequon, WI
(Zone 4b)

May 8, 2009
1:11 PM

Post #6521142

Great information Jay! I am just starting out this year with stackers - one for strawberries (June bearing) and one for herbs and leaf lettuce. I'm printing out your information so I can refer to it often!

I have an over-abundance of coco coir, so I'll be using that in both my stackers :)
kraehill
Muscoda, WI
(Zone 4b)

May 8, 2009
8:19 PM

Post #6522860

Thanks Jay!
This is my first year also Jeannie. I have learned a LOT from all the posters here and can't wait to get started with my own stacks. Since I'm in Zone 4, too, I have a question about strawberries in stackers. Will you try to overwinter them in the pots or do you need to replant every year? Thanks! Kelly
Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 8, 2009
9:04 PM

Post #6523023

Kelly...while waiting for Jeannie to help with the zone 4 question, let me give a personal opinion on strawberries and other perennials planted in the stackers. I have 36 of them in little 12 inch NJ stackers. It has dawned on me that those stacks are forever tied up with strawberries...whether they are producing or dormant. At some point this fall I am going to move the strawberries to one gallon pots and reclaim my stackers to use for cycling short season vegetables or flowers in. I think I can make a lot better use of them than letting the strawberries have them forever more. Or maybe Jeannie or someone can tell me if I could transplant the strawberries out of the stackers and into one gallon pots at this time of year without effecting their production too much.
thistle5
Alexandria, VA
(Zone 7b)

May 8, 2009
9:19 PM

Post #6523070

Jay,
Your info is so helpful! Since this is my first time w/ the stackers & coir, all your tips & advice are appreciated. I'm still trying to get mine mounted (bit of a problem w/ center pipe cutting), but I know I'm going to love it, once it's set up.

I'm LOVING the coir, either straight or mixed w/ perlite, nice & fluffy! I've been using a mix of mostly pine fines, perlite, & some potting mix for most of my container plantings, but wasn't sure if the pine fines would work w/ veggies. Right now, I have 6 EBs set up w/1 box for 6 peppers & the other 5 w/ 2 tomatoes each. I have 3 of those bloommaster pots that I used for eggplant last year, I'll either do eggplant again or cukes this year.

I'm thinking about putting 2 peppers on the top of my 6 cell agro-towers(going w/ 4 stack towers, per your advice), what would be good for the other cells? maybe basil?
I'm with you on the daily watering of a fast-draining mix (although I'd like to set up an automated system, just to see how it works). There's nothing more relaxing than going out in the morning or evening & watering your plants, as you check them out.

As for strawberries, I'm also in a warmer climate, 7a, my (ornamental-pink panda)strawberries were mixed in w/ container plantings last year, jumped ship over the sides & rooted in the grass, & overwintered. The strawberries & euphorbia made it out of those containers, coleus & lemongrass died.
Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 8, 2009
9:42 PM

Post #6523182

Thistle...On cutting the conduit with a hacksaw...I have almost every woodworking tool known to mankind...except for a table mounted vise. To firmly hold the conduit so I could hacksaw it, I locked some vise grip pliers on the conduit and then sat down on the conduit/pliers to hold the conduit steady enough to saw it. Sometimes it OK to sit down on the job. :-) Some folks with a "broader perspective" of the job would probably have less trouble holding the conduit steady than I did.

About the pine fines mix...If I ever get around to it I wont to try Tapla's 5-1-1 mix (pine fines, perlite, peat) in these grow poles. I dont see why it wouldn't work good. I have been playing around with coir/perlite mix this year. Started out with 60/40 coir/perlite mix but then modified it to 40/60 coir/perlite. By the end of this grow season, I should know what I think works best for all the type of stuff I grow. I wont a mix that will be good for a wide variety of plant types mixed up on the poles.

Here is a pic of my strawberries. Some went mushy/moldy on me during an extended wet spell but its over 90 degree's here today and things are cooking out there.



This message was edited May 8, 2009 4:46 PM

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Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 8, 2009
10:27 PM

Post #6523343

You mentioned possibly growing basil. Normal sized basil grew so large and lush in my stackers that they had a tendency to break their main stems if they are not kept trimmed. I mixed some red rubin basil in with flowers last year both for their color and their fragrance. I like to walk by and brush them (or slap them) just to stir up their fragrance. And I dont know whether I read this or just imagined it but I have an idea that the odors of some fragrant herbs wafting around the stackers helps repel some bugs. This year I have started from seeds some Basil Plenty as a big large leafed one and Globe Basil for a smaller one. Globe basil should make about a 10 inch ball shaped plant with tiny leaves and small flowers.

There is a small type marigold, signet marigold, that smells sort of minty herby also that I am trying this year.
Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 8, 2009
11:22 PM

Post #6523541

I have had to add another short extension to the center pole of my tomato stack. I have already tied the two tomato plants to the center pole once. These things are really looking healthy. Their roots are already reaching down into the second pot and they are getting water twice a day now.

Thumbnail by Jaywhacker
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Jeannie63

Jeannie63
Mequon, WI
(Zone 4b)

May 9, 2009
3:21 AM

Post #6524673

Hmm. This is my first year trying strawberries. I was thinking that "June Bearing" meant I would have berries this year, and the plants would die off in the fall?? Then I would just buy new plants next spring? I have to admit, this is one topic I did not do any research on.
Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 9, 2009
4:08 AM

Post #6524816

This is my first year with strawberries too. Im growing everbearing types. I think commercial growers grow the June bearers like you are planning, throw them away, and start each spring with new plants. I can see where those using the stackers would wont to clear their stacks after junebearers quit producing and use the stacks to grow other crops. I think I should have bought June bearers too and cleared my stackers for other plants.
50glee
Huntersville, NC

May 9, 2009
4:42 PM

Post #6526285

Hello all -
Im new to this Coir and stacker growing - my first year for both.
(Recently relocated to zone 7b from NYC I have faced a learning curve!)

I'd like to know which is advisable for stacker growing soil?
- the sea soil Ive read about to mix with the coir in a stacker;
- use the coir alone
- mix coir with MG potting soil
- mix coir with perlite and some of that moisture retention stuff
(yep ive got all that and usually use with container plantings)

My horrid reality is in zone 7b what is called FULL SUN here
- is NOT the same as mere full sun in NYC!
(Im too embarrassed to tell how many plants got fried
- from my obvious erroneous interpretation of Full Sun . . . *sniff-sniff*)

permit me to share a point of reference for those not familiar
- ye ole faithful newspaper - not promptly removed prior to 11AM
- WILL have a Strong Yellow-Tea-Bag tinge!

Im assuming it will not self-ignite but dye (color change) it will!
Devota
Johnson City, TN
(Zone 6b)

May 9, 2009
5:15 PM

Post #6526408

Jeannie63, Your June bearing strawberries will bear this June and then you can safely transplant them to an area of the yard that you aren't using. The mother plants will make baby plants and you will have many more next year but the mother plants will be exhausted and need to be removed. Everbearing are a different story for another post.
I'm doing Everbearing in stackers. Devota.
joy112854
Crestview, FL

May 9, 2009
5:48 PM

Post #6526556

Jaywhacker: I have a problem in this part of Florida with too much water; also, we are in the upper 70's and lower 80's right now that is why all my stuff is doing so well; but, we have constant rain up here too. I know that southern Florida goes through their draughts, something we rarely if ever experience up here and immense heat.

I live upwards from town on a vast type hill; so when it rains to get to town I have to use the interstate, as the bridge floods out every time. LOL My ground is flat; but, I do live upwards from where the people in the city live. That is why coir doesn't work for me, I need good drainage with my potting mixes, not one that will absorb it. With that in mind, I'm wondering if I do purchase some stackers if the Taplas' would work for me, right now, I'm using Jungle Grow for Professionals for Hanging Baskets, mixed with perlite in most of my hanging containers and my bloommaster. I'm sure you can see the difference, remember the bloommaster filled with coir? The cukes died in there, this one is with the Jungle Grow for hanging baskets mixed with perlite : All 30 plants are thriving because the excess water can now drain out the holes in the bottom of the bloommaster. I do add fertilizer to the bloommaster of course and then follow with a Miracle Grow spray fertilizer also, as when it rains the water washes out many nutrients. I notice that mulch covers help a lot on my containers also.
joy

Thumbnail by joy112854
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Jaywhacker
Kerrville, TX

May 9, 2009
10:28 PM

Post #6527353

50glee...Wall now pardner, I dont mean to be argumentifying with you bout that puny little old sunshine you got up there in the Carolina's but compared to what us Texans got down here, you folks are enjoying a cold snap.:-) The sun gets so hot here we can fry our eggs on a flat rock in 5 minutes. In Houston, the weather is so hot and humid that you can leave an egg outside for 10 minutes and you got a boiled egg. If the temperature drops down to 80 degrees by midnight, we have to turn on our heaters to feel normal. Plants here dont breath air...they gasp for it. Dogs refuse to be taken for a walk in the middle of the day. Along about noon time, the old waddyloopy river stops flowing and starts boiling. Frog legs and crawfish tails come parboiled and pre-cooked straight from nature. Other than that though, the central Texas hill country is a beautiful place to live, God's gift to deserving Texans.

All BS aside...there are lots of grow mixes that I am not familiar with. My experience with stackers has been with combinations of coir and perlite or perlite and vermiculite. My personal preference at this time is coir straight or with enough perlite mixed in to make a good draining mix. From comments made by others, the amount of perlite you might wont to add can vary depending on some variables such as weather patterns, size of containers, type of plants, etc. It is a learning situation for all of us. My thinking right now, for my particular type of growing is 60 percent course perlite to 40 percent coir. But check back with me at the end of this growing season.

docgipe
NORTH CENTRAL, PA
(Zone 5a)

May 9, 2009
10:57 PM

Post #6527424

Thanks...this is an interesting and helpfull thread. Last year was my first year using NJ stackers of the new type. I experienced no major problems but I do not like the small NJ pots.

My medium was heavy in coir and vermiculite with about ten percent water crystals. Being an organic nut I had to have some soil, worms and compost in there. My feeding was all teas including compost aerobic, kelp, fish, bat guana, worm cast, alfalfa and yucca. I fed light teas weekly. Foliar was not the intent but became an issue because of my sloppy watering.

Made one conclusion...large bulbs have no place in those small NJ pots. I used spring onions all season to eat and use as spikes in the floral arrangement. Mixed in herbs with asundry flowers. The total turned out to be darn good. Our big surprise was that we had more humming birds than ever choosing the stacks over the usual feeders.

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joy112854
Crestview, FL

May 10, 2009
1:29 AM

Post #6527929

Jay: I didn't realize Texas got that hot. I know from living in south Florida for 25 years it is way too hot, has a shortage of rain water, bringing draughts, and they have what is called the sticky factor for humidity, I have a bad back and bad discs and could hardly move down there; up here, I love it. But, Florida is such a long state, for instance, if I were to drive to south Florida, going 70 mph, I'd probably be there in 10 hours safely, on the greyhound bus, it takes 17 hours on the express bus, people don't realize how long a state Florida really is until they have driven it. Florida also has 3 growing zones, 10, 9 and 8, I'm the 8B, south Florida the 10. Add to that that south Florida gets draughts and we get floods, it is super hot and humid in the Spring and Summer there, not as bad here, you can understand the different growing conditions need to be addressed. Here you need to use lots of perlite in pots and such for drainage or the plants drown from rain water. LOL My sister-in-laws son came down for the first time in quite a while today and was shocked, he said my onions and cabbages will probably be ready to be picked this next week or next, and my maters, eggplants and peppers in about another month. They already are forming green balls and flowers! I'm excited to say the least. I'll still be able to have 2 crops this year.
joy

Jeannie63

Jeannie63
Mequon, WI
(Zone 4b)

May 10, 2009
2:15 AM

Post #6528092

Devota, thanks for the strawberry info. I don't really have any place in the garden to put the strawberries, so I'm probably just going to get new plants next spring. This year is just a lot of experimenting for me anyway :)
Devota
Johnson City, TN
(Zone 6b)

May 10, 2009
2:24 AM

Post #6528125

Well you have my blessing to have fun fun fun in your garden Jeannie.

Jeannie63

Jeannie63
Mequon, WI
(Zone 4b)

May 10, 2009
2:44 AM

Post #6528202

Thanks! I certainly am enjoying it!

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