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Mon Mar 10, 2014, 03:17 PM

My hydroponics thread, 2014

I thought I'd start a thread on my hydroponics adventures this year. This year I'm experimenting with a few different methods to find out what works and what doesn't as far as how I plan on implementing it. I'll update this thread as I go along if there's enough interest in it.

First I'll describe what hydroponics is and go into a little detail on how I plan on implementing it. This might give some of you some ideas as hydroponics can be both very simple or very complex depending on how you do it. Hydroponics as I understand it is simply growing without soil. Rather than soil you either grow the plant directly in water, or you use a grow media which can be porous like perlite or non-porous like gravel. All the nutrients the plant needs will be contained in the water you use. Most decent sized cities should have one or more hydroponics stores which you can buy supplies from, or you can order them online.

The first thing I've done, and the stage I am at right now is simply starting my seeds in hydroponic media, namely rockwool grow blocks. It is possible to start either seeds or clones in soil, wash off the soil, and then grow hydroponically, but I think it's best to start them hydroponically if you're going to grow hydroponically. The peppers I tried didn't come up so I'm either going to have to find some more seeds or I'll buy some seedlings locally and try washing the soil off and see what happens. The method for starting is pretty much the same as it is for soil. I planted the seeds at the recommended depth into the rockwool blocks, watered, and placed them inside a terrarium style seedling planter. Once the seedlings started to come up, I put up a simple $6 clamp on heat lamp type fixture fitted with a normal CFL bulb directly over the seedlings as close as I could get. The plants that I'm experimenting with that did come up are zucchini, roma tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, bush beans, and red lettuce. I think I will also try 2-3 different varieties of peppers, and perhaps 2-3 more varieties of greens.

The first hydroponic system I plan on trying is the Kratky method which is by far the simplest of the bunch. Reportedly this method lends itself best to non-fruit bearing plants like lettuce, which is what I plan on growing with it. You can certainly use this method for fruit bearing plants as well, but it takes a much larger water reservoir so it's not as practical. All you do is suspend the roots of the plant in a closed container filled with nutrient solution leaving an inch or so space at the top for oxygen. As the plant consumes the nutrient solution and the level becomes lower, the plant's roots grow downwards. For lettuce, a 1 gal container seems to be about right. You can use just about anything. I plan on using a 3.5 gal bucket (which is just a short 5 gal bucket) with three holes drilled in the lid for net pots, along with some 1 gallon coffee containers for individual plants.
http://www.instructables.com/files/orig/FUT/0KJR/HH2VW4QQ/FUT0KJRHH2VW4QQ.pdf

The next method I plan on implementing is called Deep Water Culture, or DWC. This method is similar to the Kratky method, except the level of the water is maintained to about the same level, and an air pump is used to oxygenate the water. I plan on growing fruit bearing plants with this method, but I'll probably try lettuce as well to see what happens.
http://www.instructables.com/id/My-Indoor-DWC-Hydroponics-System/step2/The-Deep-Water-Culture-Design-Materials-and-Method/

The third method I will use is a flood and drain system which is the most complex I'm going to try. It basically works by flooding the grow media with water, then shortly after draining it. It's easy enough to build your own system to do this, but I decided to go with a 6 bucket commercial package that gives me just about everything I need except for the nutrients and grow media. The thing about the flood and drain system is that I can easily convert it to an acquaponics system or a dutch bucket system later on if I so desire.
http://www.htgsupply.com/Product-Big-Boy-Hydroponic-System

All of these systems lend themselves to growing indoors either under grow lights or in a greenhouse. I'm not going to do either, but I do have a southern facing decent sized covered back porch which gets morning and early afternoon sun, so hopefully it will be a pretty good location to try this. The grow media I plan on using is Hydroton which are little porous clay pebbles. The nutrient solution I'll be using is made by General Hydroponics and is called their Flora series. It basically consists of 3 different nutrient solutions which you combine with water in different concentrations depending on what you are growing or where in the life cycle you are.

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Reply My hydroponics thread, 2014 (Original post)
Major Nikon Mar 2014 OP
opiate69 Mar 2014 #1
Major Nikon Mar 2014 #2
Major Nikon Mar 2014 #3
KurtNYC Mar 2014 #4
Major Nikon Mar 2014 #5
Major Nikon Mar 2014 #6
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #7
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #8
bettyellen Apr 2014 #9
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #10
bettyellen Apr 2014 #11
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #12
bettyellen Apr 2014 #13
Major Nikon Apr 2014 #14
Major Nikon May 2014 #15
Major Nikon May 2014 #16
Major Nikon May 2014 #17
Major Nikon May 2014 #18
Major Nikon Jun 2014 #19
laundry_queen Jun 2014 #20

Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Mon Mar 10, 2014, 05:53 PM

1. Bookmarking for when I have more time to read the links... great stuff, Major.

 

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Response to opiate69 (Reply #1)

Mon Mar 10, 2014, 07:46 PM

2. This guy's youtube channel is pretty good

It's mainly geared towards greenhouse growing, but there's a ton of great information, most of it related to the dutch bucket system but other methods are described as well.
http://www.youtube.com/user/mhpgardener

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sun Mar 16, 2014, 01:29 PM

3. Learning more than I ever wanted to know about fertilizer

The idea behind growing hydroponically is to maximize production out of minimum resources. Since your plants will be getting all of their resources from the water you supply them with, you must put everything the plant needs in the water supply. I understood a little about the N-P-K ratios found on all commercial pre-mix fertilizers, but for hydroponics you must understand at least a bit about the micronutrients as well. Then you have to understand a bit more about PH and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). You also have to understand a bit about what's in the water you're using.

Hydroponic fertilizers are recommended because they contain at least some of the micronutrients the plants will need that you might not otherwise find in regular soil based fertilizers. They are also designed to be water soluble. There are pre-mix fertilizers that are available that take most of the guess work out of it, but I wanted to go with a system that is a bit more customizable so I went with the General Hydroponics Flora series, which is a 3 part solution. Once I learn a bit more about this stuff I can move on to other solutions that are cheaper, but for now the Flora series does what I need it to do.

I don't really have to get this detailed at this point because the basic mix recipes that are on the bottles are probably good enough, but I want to be able to try different fertilizer ratios to see what works best on particular crops so that I'm not using any more of this stuff than is needed.

My seedlings are doing pretty well for the most part. I had to remove the bush beans and zucchini because they outgrew the seedling tray. The tomato and lettuce seedlings haven't done much since they sprouted. I didn't adjust the PH of the rockwool or the water I used, so I think this is the problem. I splashed them with a bit of PH adjusted weak nutrient solution I mixed up, so we'll see how they do from here. In a week or so I plan on starting some more seedlings.

I almost have my fill and drain system ready to go. After I get this going I'll start working on my DWC buckets.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Mar 19, 2014, 01:00 PM

4. I bought a copy of Resh 2 years back and it is mostly so dense and technical that

I have had little pragmatic use from it. I got a better understanding of hydroponics in general but he goes through so many options for everything. One of the more intriguing methods he shows was outdoor hydroponics where they laser level a field, an acre or two and then make channels about 60 inches wide and line them with plastic. Then they float rafts of lettuces in the channels, filling them up as the days go by and eventually rotating harvested floats back to seeding. The method avoids the major expenses of greenhouse growing -- the structure, the heating system, the heat -- but of course you have to have weather that works. They were doing this in California where it only rains twice a year.

I have seen somewhat similar outdoor hydro used to strawberries. They come pre-started in bags of coco-fiber and you just daisy chain your water. One picture showed the bags laid on top of a kind of running bench, about 4 feet off the ground -- perfect for tending and picking and probably avoids some small critter damage.

I punted and bought 2 Aerogarden units on ebay at around $45 each. They have been great and I can't keep up with the romaine and spotted Simpson that I have in them right now. Greens sprout in 25 to 48 hours and are ready to pick at 20 days or so. Would like to do more hydroponics this year, maybe tomatoes outdoors in buckets.

Happy gardening MK! I look forward to updates.

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Response to KurtNYC (Reply #4)

Wed Mar 19, 2014, 04:52 PM

5. I thought about trying an Aerogarden to do seedlings

However, instead I'm building a more home-made contraption. The most expensive part is the lamp fixture, which I got for $50 at Home Depot. I might have around $75 total in it so far with the rockwool and everything.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Fri Mar 28, 2014, 09:59 AM

6. Update

The flood and drain system is fully operational now. The PH of the reservoir was adjusted to 6.1. The hydro nutrients were added at a rate of 95-38-125. Calcium and Magnesium supplement was added. The TDS came to right at about 1,000 PPM which seems like a very good level at this stage from what I've read.

My bush beans and zucchini had outgrown the seedling planter and were developing a lot of root growth. With the warmer temps at night I decided to start planting what I have for now. I planted 3 seedlings in the flood and drain system. Each plant gets a string to grow on which leads up to the ceiling of my porch. The flood and drain system is fully automatic. One pump fills, another drains, and both are controlled by timers. I have them set to 3 flood and drain sessions per day.

After showing initial promise, most of the seedlings didn't do much. I'm going to start over with new seedlings and hopefully this time read the instructions for the rockwool.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sat Apr 5, 2014, 12:16 AM

7. Update: First week in April

My first attempt at seed starting didn't go so well. Where I went wrong was to pretty much export my dirt seed starting methods to the hydroponic material. It also didn't help that my tap water is 8+ on the PH and I didn't correct it down.

The 2nd try is going much better so far. In fact, I've never seen seeds start this fast or as well before. I'm using rockwool cubes, and I figured out they must be PH corrected before you use them. A few drops of muriatic acid to a gallon of water brought the PH down. I also added some hydroponic fertilizer (diluted to about 1/3rd normal strength) and a product called Rapid Start to give things a jump start. Final PH is 5.5. Mixing up the nutes and correcting the PH is the hard part (it isn't that hard). The rest is pretty simple. I laid down a heating pad, a towel on top of that, and a 1020 tray filled with the water and rockwool cubes, then just dropped a (single) seed in each hole. I covered the tray and placed a light over it set on a timer for 12 hours per day. This was last Sunday and now just 5 days later I am already starting to transplant today. 5 of the 7 bush bean seeds I planted are already 5" tall and have a 4" tap root with the other two not far behind. Practically every single seed has germinated. My tomatoes and lettuce should be ready to transplant pretty soon as they are taking off very fast as well. Most of the pepper seeds are just starting to break the surface and the others are just a bit behind.

The fill and drain system is fully operational with 6 buckets and is filling and draining 3 times per day like clockwork. I have 5 DWC buckets all ready to go with one operational. This weekend I should get about 6 Kratky buckets built which I plan to use for lettuce.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #7)

Sun Apr 13, 2014, 05:35 PM

8. Update: Second week in April (how-to for the easiest hydroponic method)

My seedlings are coming along nicely. Since the roots of my lettuce seedlings are just starting to emerge from the rockwool blocks I decided to get 4 of my Kratky buckets going. Since Kratky is the simplest method for hydroponic growing I'm using, I thought I would write this post in more of a how-to format in case anyone else wants to try this. The Kratky method lends itself very well to lettuce and that's what I'd recommend starting with. You should be able to get some of the stuff at your nearest hydroponics store, or you can order online.

Materials:

Lettuce seedling in a 1.5" rockwool block. See post above for how to start the seedling.

2" netpot (I cut the bottom circle out of mine just to make sure the roots emerge properly)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004HXF0VU

~ 1 gallon wide mouth bucket with lid. I'm using left over 3lb coffee cans from the coffee fund at work. You want something that holds about 1 gallon because that's about how much 1 head of lettuce is going to consume from start to harvest. You will not be adding additional water with this method.

2" drill bit/hole saw

Hydroponic nutrients. You want to use hydroponic fertilizer for a number of reasons. I'm using a 3 part solution which can be tailored to various N-P-K ratios for various crops. To keep things simple, I recommend this one or something similar which should work quite well for most varieties of lettuce:
www.amazon.com/General-Hydroponics-FloraNova-Grow-Pt/dp/B003Y36BJO

1) Mix the nutrient solution. For FloraNova Grow, 1 tsp per gallon should be about right. You'll want to correct the PH to 5.5-6.5. Most municipal water supplies run in the 7-8 range. To bring the PH down you can add lemon juice. For a few bucks you can get a PH test kit at any aquarium store. If you just want to guess at it, I would go with about 1 tsp of lemon juice per gallon of water which should get you in the ballpark, but I highly recommend a cheap PH test kit.

2) Drill a 2" hole into the lid.

3) Place the net pot into the lid, put the lid on the bucket, and fill with nutrient solution until the water just comes up to the bottom of the net cup or just to the point at which the bottoms of the exposed roots will be submerged in the water.

4) Put the seedling block into the 2" net cup.

That's about all there is to it. Just give it a good source of light and in about 30 days you should have a nice head of lettuce. You should not have to add any water or do anything to it until harvest. You do want to keep it out of the rain as changing the water levels in the bucket will be a very bad thing. I'm trying 3 different varieties of lettuce (bibb, red, and romaine) to start with. With a grow light indoors you could actually do this year round, which is what I plan on doing if all goes well. I hope to be able to produce about 4-8 heads of lettuce each month this way. Hydroponic lettuce goes for about $2 ea at the grocery store from what I've seen around here and the heads are quite small compared to what I'm seeing on the youtubes from other hydroponic growers.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Wed Apr 23, 2014, 12:10 AM

9. Any fungus gnat isues? I had a situation this winter indors and it sucked.

 

Used mosquito dunk stuff to get rid of them. Heard it's a common problem with hydro, but I got it from some very organic soil and they were suddenly all flying out of gift amarylli, during Christmas week that i gave to people at work. Embarrassing!

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Response to bettyellen (Reply #9)

Wed Apr 23, 2014, 06:51 AM

10. I haven't seen any

But it's still pretty early so time will tell. Since I'm not growing inside a greenhouse I fully expect to have some issues with pests, but so far so good.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #10)

Wed Apr 23, 2014, 03:39 PM

11. When I googled the gnat, 90% of issues were with hydro people, so I wondered. They can damage

 

the roots, think their eggs feed on them or something. In soil, they hang out quietly hidden in the top layer, then when you soak the plant, boom! a little swarm suddenly emerges. And for some reason, they are attracted to faces and just fly right into them. Quite embarrassing at work. I had to water everything with mosquito dunk flakes for 3-4 months before they all died out. Because I bought some very organic mix, that apparently needs to be sterilized. Also got a lot of ghost mushrooms out of that bag.

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Response to bettyellen (Reply #11)

Wed Apr 23, 2014, 03:51 PM

12. Root damage can lead to pythium root rot which is a serious problem with hydro

I suspect that's the main issue. I inspect my roots regularly and if I start having problems I'll add some hydrogen peroxide to the mix.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #12)

Wed Apr 23, 2014, 04:00 PM

13. Interesting. I'm mostly outdoor but starting seeds a bit. Big problems are keeping cats from

 

knocking over the tray, or munching on them.
The weather has been so g-damned erratic here, it's been frustrating. It appears that 1/2 the bulbs I planted last fall have rotted. Not a great start, but in the end, you can't fight nature.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sat Apr 26, 2014, 11:37 AM

14. Update: last week in April

I've had some successes and some failures so far. I haven't really been able to get any tomato plants to take off and some have failed completely, but I think most of that has been due to transplant issues and not having my nutrients mixed right. I think I have most of that worked out now, and I've got a few tomato plants that while small are doing OK and should start to take off. My bush beans and zucchini have been doing well. Soon I'll be running a string and training them vertically. I'm getting a late start on my pepper plants as well and I've had a few issues similar to the tomato plants, but I think I have two that are doing well now and I may transplant one or two more as I still have some seedlings. Lettuce in the Kratky buckets have been a total failure. I will work on that more later on my next batch of seedlings. I've had pretty much no issues with stuff I've planted in the flood and drain buckets. I did have some issues with the DWC buckets, I suspect because I put too much water in the buckets and even though the water is getting aerated very well, I think it still drowned the roots. I'm trying again with those and this time setting my water level lower. I bought some strawberry plants from the nursery, washed off all the dirt and planted them in a DWC bucket yesterday. So far today there's no sign of transplant shock which I was fully expecting. I put some B vitamin in the mix, so perhaps that did the trick. One problem I have is my covered porch still exposes everything to rain if I put them too close to the edge. I don't want to introduce rain water into the system, so I've been keeping them back a bit, but I don't think everything is getting enough sun as they are in the shade by about 2pm or so. I think I'll put up a 22% greenhouse tarp on the edge of my porch which should keep out most of the rain and protect the plants from the hot Texas sun. It's already getting up to 90F here.

Bush bean in the flood and drain system:



Pepper plants in the flood and drain system:



Tomato plant in the flood and drain system:


Strawberries in the DWC:



Zucchini and tomato plant in the flood and drain system:

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sun May 4, 2014, 07:45 PM

15. Update: First week in May

The bush beans and zuchini is coming right along. I had to string up the bush beans, so now they have about 10' of vertical space they can grow.

My tomatoes and peppers are not coming along as well as I'd hoped. They look healthy and have plenty of nice healthy looking roots, but just not much vegetative growth. I'm pretty sure it's because they are just not getting enough sun. I had my plants positioned in about the middle of my covered porch to keep the rain off of everything, which is bad for hydro, but this meant about 2 hours less sunshine and since everything is in the shade by about 4-5pm there wasn't any to spare.

So I ordered a 22% shade tarp to keep the rain off the buckets. I needed a shade tarp anyway because the Texas sun is just too intense. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting when I received it, but I think I like it better. It's basically a nylon net type material which is nice because it lets some of the wind through. I'm not sure how much rain it will block, but it should keep most of it off the plants. Now I have all the plants pushed farther forward and they are all getting more time in the sun.

I'm hoping 22% will be enough to keep things healthy in July and August when it really gets hot here. Since everything is in the shade by 5pm, I suspect it will be OK.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Tue May 13, 2014, 04:03 PM

16. Update: Second week in May

I've gotten a lot of vegetative growth in the past week or so from most everything except for the strawberries which I transplanted late from nursery pots grown in soil. I wasn't expecting much from them and they haven't done much, but they haven't died either so I'm going to just let them keep going and see what happens.

The zucchini has a lone fruit and a lot of blooms so I'm expecting a lot more. I had been plucking off the blooms until it put on more growth, but it's quite large now so I'm going to just let it do its thing and see what happens. My two bush bean vines are doing well and starting to put out several beans. I wish my tomato plants were farther along, but they are finally starting to put out some significant growth now, so I'm hoping that in a month or so I should start getting fruit from them before it gets too awful hot. My pepper plants are also much smaller than I'd like, but they too are just starting to take off so we'll see how that goes.

The challenge will be to get some vegetables before 100+ temps get here in July and August. I think I will order another shade tarp so I can knock the sun down by about 50% or so. I can't really do anything about the ambient temps since everything is open, but I'm hoping that if I block enough of the sun I can keep producing even during those months. Even if I can just keep everything alive, hopefully I can get a good harvest in the fall.

My long term plans are to get this hydroponic thing figured out so that I can eventually build a greenhouse and with shading, ventilation, and an evaporative cooler in the summer and perhaps some sort of heat supplement I can grow year round with enough production to satisfy all of my vegetable needs for the wife and I without having to do much canning.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sat May 24, 2014, 06:36 PM

17. Update: 3rd week in May

I'm starting to get some production from some of my plants. The one zucchini plant has pretty much exploded in the past couple of weeks and It's starting to put out some squash. The squash it produces has been on the small side, which I think is due to the nutrient solution I'm using. Right now the nutrient solutions I'm using are still formulated for mostly vegetative growth. In a couple of weeks I'll be upping the amount of phosphorus to encourage more blooming and production. Unfortunately the zucchini is in the same ebb and flow system that some of my other plants are in, so I'll need them to catch up before I can start optimizing the nutrients for fruit production.

The tomato plants are about 18" high now and although they aren't as big as I'd like, almost all of that growth has come in the past 30 days. They are just starting to bloom, so perhaps in a few more weeks I'll be getting some fruit production out of them with any luck. All the tomato plants have a very extensive and healthy root system which is also the case with everything else. I haven't noticed much difference between the plants in the ebb and flow system and the DWC system.

I've gotten a small amount of green been production. Unfortunately the vertical growth from the vines has just about stopped and I'm not sure why. I suspect it's because I've allowed them to bush out too much on the bottom, so I've pruned one of them up pretty aggressively, and I'll retrain one of the suckers to go up. I don't have a lot of horizontal space so I'm trying to train them up a string, ideally to the roof of my covered porch and then I'll let them bush out as much as they want. I'm pruning the tomato plants to a single stem for the same reason.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Tue May 27, 2014, 05:29 PM

18. I got a harvest from my Kratky bucket lettuce

Out of the 4 I tried, 2 made it to harvest after 44 days from the seedling stage on April 13th. The two that didn't make it died early on, most likely from transplant mistakes I made. Had I waited a little longer to get a better root structure before transplanting, I think all of them would have made it.

The heads were a bit smaller than I would have liked and about the size you'd get from the hydroponic lettuce you can find at the supermarket. A big part of my problem was that I was growing them on my covered porch and they really didn't get as much sunlight as they really needed. However, as far as a proof of concept, I think I'm going to label this one a success worthy of trying again.

I think this time I'm going to grow them indoors, perhaps all the way to completion under my homemade shop light stand that I use for seedlings. At the very least I'm going to let them get to a decent size before I move them outdoors. I'm not sure that the folgers cans that I'm using are quite large enough as they hold a bit less than the recommended 1 gallon per head, so it may very well be that even if I am able to improve the process I may not get really large heads as I'd like, but I'll just have to see how it goes.

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Response to Major Nikon (Original post)

Sat Jun 7, 2014, 11:26 PM

19. It's been a couple of weeks since the last update

I'm getting some good production out of my one zucchini plant. I was out of town on business during the week and I came back to find a zucchini about a foot long and as big around as my forearm. Had I been there during the week I wouldn't have let it get that big, but it was interesting to see. It tipped the scales at 25 oz.

Green bean production is still steady. I'm getting lots of blooms on the tomato plants and have a few romas starting to appear. The pepper plants should start producing soon. One bell pepper has appeared.

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Response to Major Nikon (Reply #19)

Sun Jun 8, 2014, 02:55 AM

20. That's a nice-size zucchini

Great thread, by the way. Very informative.

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