February 16, 2022

September Brief

September Brief

HYGROPRO headquarters has relocated and prototype testing has been put on hold for the time being. I want to take this opportunity to provide an update on the progress achieved in the past year with the Metheus as well as my personal experience during the grow. to summarize, it was a lot of fun but it needs some work. I want people to have the opportunity to experience controlled environment growing, but I want it to be a little bit easier for them to set up their operation.

Build Brief

The Metheus design is challenging to implement because it is never ending. Even the form it had at the end of the grow before dissembling was just a step in its evolution. Every piece will change before it is available to the public, like the ship of Theseus.

The main things I had to accomplish before experimenting with it was completing the vault door and accommodating all the actuation. My CNC connection helped me create the gear and pinions that I freestyle mounted to the door with some scraps from the first grow box. It was a simple first edition solution, but it felt good to open and close. The solid thunk of it completely locking and the patter of the meshing gears remains a source of joy to me.

I struggled with multiple, failing 120VAC relay systems before settling on one that was more robust than what I could fabricate. After settling on this I was able to test the software with the actual components for the first time. I used a software from an independent developer to operate the actuation and read the sensor data. After some quick tests and some water chemistry I was ready to begin.

Grow Brief

I began with three tomato seeds in a plastic container on the kitchen table with a heating pad. I decided to name them Ham, Shem and Jupiter after the three sons of Noah. Unfortunately, Shem did not make it past germination. I'm still tickled as to how that turned out. Ham and Jupiter were thus dubbed and put into the container on a beginner level water solution and light schedule.

In the beginning I manually operated the lights and water pumps until I had a good idea of what was a reasonable amount for the flood pump duration and cycle frequency. Operating the box in this way was challenging but engaging. Since I had no water source installed, every third day I would open the door and add to the basin. Other times I would just use the software to access the camera I had put inside. Below is a picture of Ham and Jupiter at the beginning of the grow.

It was captivating to watch them grow. It happened very fast. Once I was able to allow remote access to the software I was able to monitor the brothers while I went away. Always on my return I would be blown away at how they had grown. Unfortunately, in the beginning, Jupiter was cut off from access to water and when I had returned he looked as though he would not make it. I was patient and hopeful for his recover and he eventually did. For a while he was stunted but eventually grew taller than Ham.

As the grow went on and the brothers could handle more resources the schedules were locked in and I was able to create functions using the mycodo software to handle the light and fan cycles. I still needed to do nutrients myself because the water schedule was manual. Sometimes I would lean on my roommates to pop open the box and dump some spring water into the reservoir. Sometimes we forgot. The plants were well taken care of but there were some trying times in there, I'm sure.

On one occasion I returned home from a trip to find that Jupiter had began creating tomatoes. I was not expecting any for at least another week or two at least, but he began to produce a new tomato every 4 days or so after this point. Jupiter was focusing on recovering at this point. Once the plants were of fruit bearing size, the conditions of the box were apparently expressed on each plant in the form of curled leaves and root tubules extending up the vine. This means the box is too hot and I over watered them, something I did not know for certain at the time. Nevertheless, the experiment continued and Ham gracefully gave us everything he could.

In the photo you can also see the zippering of the fruits at their base, also related to excess heat fluctuations. The colors of the tomatoes never reached the purple hue of the expected Cherokee beefsteak tomatoes but remained green, only reddening on Ham whose leaves and vines were always more purple than poor, traumatized Jupiter. I believe that the conditions in the box were insufficient for the Cherokee purple beef steak tomatoes to fully express themselves. They are more adapted to a cool Appalachian Tennessee environment.

I let the tomatoes get as far as they could. One time I did actually try an unripened tomato. Sliced and fried in butter, one of Ham's tomatoes underwent exactly one taste test. I was very surprised to get a delicious burst of tangy tomato flavor on my tongue. Unfortunately, a couple of chews further into the experience the flavor soured and tasted like chemicals. I attribute this to the wildly fluctuating nutrient solution. I think if I let the plants live in a more constant environment, they can develop a nice, even flavor from start to finish.

After the taste test I did my best to homogenous the plant brothers' experience and see if they would produce better fruits. After a certain point it was clear that the conditions in the box were just not good enough for them to show off like they wanted to. I drained the reservoir and planted them outside in Northern Alabama, a little bit south of their native environment to see if they might ripen finally if given some room to stretch their legs. The results were inconclusive. The tomatoes got significantly larger, but never purple or red to my knowledge. Since we had to move the operation, I don't even know what the brothers look like today. I hope they are doing well.

Final Thoughts

Controlled environment growing is frustrating when you don't have total control over the environment. You want your plants to be happy and bubbling over with joy into fruits that you can share with your friends. I spent some time at a community garden that sometimes would have grow failures and I think the same frustration was there albeit hidden in a professionalism and necessity to convert the loss to a gain. There's also a sense of sadness in not properly caring for a living being. These feelings drive me forward along with my will to make this device beautiful and available to the country and maybe the world.

During this first grow, the box was unbalanced. It lacked harmony and the plants expressed their dissatisfaction through their posture and output. However, there are missing components that I decided not to wait on when setting off on this grow that would drastically change the control features and plant environment. I am hopeful that I can upgrade the current device to be able to make a tomato plant absolutely gush with flavor and fruit.

"The box," as it is now affectionately referred to, is dissembled and stored for the near future. I can see clearly what improvements to make and will have the means to execute them in short time. If you want to stay updated on what's happening with HYGROPRO, check back in to this website. I will post again when I embark on the next phase. I will also try to post other things besides updates like my thoughts and philosophies about plants and what I've learned so far. I hope you will read that too.

Thank you for reading and have a blessed day.