Wednesday, 1 January 2014


After initially defining what will be produced in response to the brief I realized that I needed to collect more research. The grow guide will inform users of growing techniques, nutritional information and general plant upkeep, however I currently have no information on these areas and therefore further research needs collecting. 

Unfortunately, due the tight timescale of the project I have no time to collect primary research into these areas, and therefore will have to rely on secondary research collected from books and the internet. Luckily the Windowfarms website offers all the information needed through their online community, posts are made openly available offering information on plants and growing. Additionally, there are also sections addressing solutions to common problems. 

The nature of the information is very relevant and applicable to my outcome as it directly relates to my project, and audience. Moreover, the information is also reliable as it has been composed by people the people producing the commercial project as well as people involved in their own personal D.I.Y grows. 

The information was divided into six main sections each relating to the up keep of a windowfarm and the plants that inhabit it. My guide could communicate information regarding each of these six sections to ensure my audience can successfully grow and maintain their windowfarm.

  • Light
  • Water.
  • Compatibility.
  • Nutrients.
  • PH & Feeding.
  • Diseases.  


The first section on the list was light. It is made apparent that light is not a massive issue if you select your window wisely and your garden receives at least four hours of natural light each day. However, to get the most from your plants users need to optimise growing conditions for the plants, to achieve this the addition of a grow light is required, a piece of equipment that is available on the online windowfarms store.

  • Unless your garden sits in a window which receives direct sunlight for a few hours a day then users will need to install supplementary lighting above the grow area.
  • I will ensure that my guide highlights the importance of choosing the correct window, users should analyse the amount of sunlight each window receives to help them select the optimum space for growing. 
  • Growlights are available on the windowfarms store (online website)
  • The LED growlight provides supplementary light by delivering a combination of red and blue spectrum light that your plant needs to thrive and grow. Additionally, the LED lights don't use a lot of electricity and are designed to work alongside any daylight that reaches your plants to ensure that the optimum amount of light reaches them. 
  • When installing the light place it approximately 3-inches from your plants, ensure that this distance is increased if the light emits any heat. Moreover, users will need to continue adjusting the lights position as the plant grows higher.
  • The more light that the plants receive the more they will thrive!
  • Baby plants need around eight-teen hours of light to thrive, however more mature plants require less, around ten hours is the minimum amount of light a larger plants needs to grow well.


The next section covered by the website was an important one, water.

  • You need to water your plants if you want them to grow and thrive, one default watering schedule is once every hour for fifteen minutes. When deciding the increments for your watering schedule ensure that you take into consideration that different plants thrive on varying levels of water. 
  • The second part of watering is the flow rate, it should be enough to create a steady drip of water through the system even when the water supply goes a few inches below the minimum fill line of the reservoir. 
  • A flow that is too high will unnecessarily consume power and create noise. On the other hand a flow that is too low will not deliver liquid to the top planter.
  • Each windowfarm has its own microclimate (refer to section...) which is effected by outside elements such as the temperature outside to the varying humidity of the house. The watering frequency and rate may need to be adjusted to compensate for the small changes a microclimate can undergo, otherwise the plants could die. Keep an eye out for the signs listed below and adjust the water accordingly. 
  • UNDER WATERING - If the plants are under watered the clay pellets will become too dry and the plants will be staved of nutrients and water, this can lead to root damage and the death of the plant.
  • If your plants are wilting them it is a sign that the watering frequency needs increasing.
  • Regularly check your water flow and make sure that water goes up and down the tubes at a consistent rate. If the flow rate is inconsistent it can mean that the reservoir needs more water. Check that the reservoir water is full and also make sure that the pump is not set too low. 
  • The default recommendation is to water plants once an hour. However, if plants are wilting and the clay pellets are dry experiment with increasing the water flow.  By experimenting with the water flow of the Windowfarm you will find a schedule that allows your plants to thrive. 

  • OVER-WATERING -  If the plants are severely over-watered green algae will begin to grow on the clay pellets, the plant may begin to look yellow as it will take up too much water and not enough nutrients. Additionally, the roots can become brown and slimy from the lack of oxygen.  
  • If you suspect that the plants are being over-watered remove the net cup from the bottle and assess the roots as this is the best way to tell if the plant is being over-watered. If the roots look brown and slimy and there is also fowl Oder then this is a sign that bacteria is present and is growing on the oxygen depleted roots. 
  • If the plants are being over-watered try decreasing the frequency for each watering.
  • WATER SUPPLY - Water will naturally evaporate from the system and so the reservoir will need to refilled. Expect to add water to the reservoir around 2-3 times a week. Despite this you need to be observant as the conditions of the microclimate will vary and affect the rate at which water is needed.
  • Wet humid conditions will require less additional water than dry heated environments that require more frequent reservoir top-ups. 

  • WATER CHANGING - It is recommended that the water in the reservoir is completely changed once a week, this will ensure that your plants are receiving the optimum amount of nutrients needed for vigorous growth. 
  • You may find that plants respond well to the cleaning period, or 'flushing'. Flushing is where you run clean water or water with a salt remover through the roots instead of your usual nutrient solution. Flushing should only be done a few days at a time to mature and well established plants.
  • Each time you replace the water in the reservoir you need to ensure that the correct amount of fresh nutrients are added, and that the waters pH is at the optimum level. Remember to always add the nutrients first and then adjust the pH accordingly (see section...).
  • Sometimes tap water is not best suited for watering purposes due to high amounts of chlorine and fluoride, try letting the water settle overnight in a bucket to let the minerals dissipate, then use the clean water in the system.  
  • WATER STAGNATING - Stagnant water may look slightly scummy on its surface and is bad for your plants. To prevent your water from becoming stagnant oxygen needs to be regularly pumped through it, if water continues to become scummy increase the flow of oxygen.  
  • Solution two - If the pump is running too infrequently the reservoir water may become stagnant. To overcome this problem simply increase the frequency of the watering schedule. 
  • Solution three - Another solution to a continuing stagnant reservoir water problem is to buy a second pump to pump extra oxygen into the water. 


Next, the website covers compatibility, specifically referring to the comparability of the plants/vegetables and the micro-climate that users will create. 

  • A microclimate is the environment which users create when they build their windowfarm, it is made up from elements such as sunlight (artificial & natural), fresh air, temperature and humidity. Each of these elements is affected by changes in the outdoor weather, the different seasons and varying indoor conditions. 
  • If plants look unhealthy or start to die it could be due to a clash between the plant and an element of the microclimate, by knowing the characteristics of the specific plants grown users can optimise growing conditions and account for any changing elements that could affect plant growth. 
  • Another factor that can affect the growth of your plants is their compatibility, some plants will grow well together and others will not. For examples, some plants prefer different amounts of water and fertilizer, lettuce flourishes with very little quantities of nutrients, where as basil does not. The amount of nutrients required to grow a batch of healthy basil would be harmful to the growth of a lettuce. Therefore, when selecting plants for the windowfarm considerations must be given to these varying factors. 
  • Once way to overcome plant incompatibility is to simply follow the guide an add an additional column to the windowfarm, any plants that clash can then be placed in separate columns to avoid any harm. 
  • The problem could be to do with light, as different plants thrive with varying amounts of light. Tomatos love lots of light and are happiest in a warm, light filled window, contrasting this, kales optimised growing conditions cooler temperatures and partial sunlight.
  • Some plants are incompatible with each other and do not get along in a growing environment, for example, strawberries can impair the growth of plants in the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale. 
  • This section works well at informing users about some of the reasons compatibility can be a problem, but does not offer users the information needed to check if their plants and microclimates are compatible. My guide could include information on the plants optimized growing conditions and compatibility with each other. 


After compatibility the site informs readers about nutrient feeding, this is applicable and also important to my target audience as the bioponic system utlilsed by Windowfarms feeds plants using an organic nutrient additive which is mixed with the systems water.

  • Nutrient solutions are water soluble liquid fertilizers that deliver the nutrients needed for healthy growth straight to the plants roots. When grown in soil plants have to grow a large root systems to search for water and nutrients.  However, the delivery of nutrients and water straight to the plants roots means that the root system is no where near as vast and focuses more of the plants energy on aerial growth. The nutrient solution is consistently delivered to the roots of the plants through the automated watering system installed when building the windowfarm.  
  • The system is built in a way that allows the nutrient solution to drain off allowing oxygen to access the roots, this process provides the roots with the necessary amount of oxygen needed for healthy growth.
  • Maintain healthy roots will ensure the optimum uptake of the nutrients needed for vigorous growth. Hydroponic plants grow quickly because all the nutrients they require are provided to the via the nutrient solution. 
  • The nutrient solution contains both macronutrients and micronutrients that are needed for your plants to thrive.
  • REGULARITY -  Regular nutrient feeding is on of the keys to the success of your windowfarm. The nutrients are delivered to your plant by the hourly watering schedule giving your plants the adequate water and nutrients needed. If the plants are not watered and fed regularly the roots will dry out can the plan can become deficient.  
  • PRECISION - Observing and maintaining the precision of the nutrient solution is also key to the success of your plants. The nutrient solution is affected by the roots taking in nutrients at different rates, consequently altering the proportions of nutrients in the solution. Moreover, the plants also take up water faster than the nutrient solution resulting in a more concentrated nutrient solution, this is one of the reasons it is important to regularly add fresh water to your reservoir and change the nutrient solution. 

  • My grow guide will include a similar table to allow users to quickly refer back to information regarding nutrients and plant feeding.


While browsing through the online community I came across some additional information that has relevance to the points covered in the nutrients section displayed above.

  • EC (electrical condustivity), TDS (total dissolved solids) and ppm (parts per million) are units for measuring the strength or concentration of the nutrient solution. They all measure the same thing, but different growers prefer to use different units of measurement. However, the most accurate, reliable and available unit is EC.
  • To read the EC of a nutrient solution users will need to purchase a special meter available at the online windowfarms store. The devices are expensive, but are one of the most helpful tools a windowfarmer can have.
  • By measuring the EC of the nutrient solution growers can precisely determine if the plants are receiving the proper amount of nutrients needed for vigorous growth. As mentioned in the compatibility section of the guide, different plants require different amounts of nutrients. More nutrients in the reservoir makes for a higher EC level. 


The next topic covered is pH and refers to the levels of acid and alkaline in the windowfarm system. 

  • The table displayed is really useful as it provides users with an understandable visualization of the specific nutrients available to plants and at what pH level they are most apparent. My guide could include a similar reference table for users.
  • pH is a scale that measures a growing mediums acid to alkaline balance. Although there are certain plants that prefer more acid or more alkaline based growing medium, for your windowfarm plants to thrive the pH must maintain a range of 5.5-6.5.  Maintaining the pH within this range ensures that all of the necessary nutrients are provided in the reservoir and are freely available to the plants.
  • Once the windowfarm is set up growers will need to add the nutrients to the bottom reservoir. After adding the nutrients the pH levels of the mix will need adjusting using baking soda or vinegar.
  • Each time that the system is flushed, and the water replaced (see water section) you will need to text the pH levels using the pH testing kit provided in the pack.

  • The above information was taken from the Maintenance section of the build guide, in my outcome this information will be displayed in the grow guide as it holds more relevance to the content featured.
  • To test the pH of the solution first immerse the testing strip into the reservoir solution for a few seconds. 
  • Next, remove the strip from the water and wait around 10 seconds. Then compare the colour of the strip to its closest match on the reference card. The pH of properly balanced water is 7.0 - 7.5. You want the nutrient solution to be in this range so that the plants' roots can most effectively absorb the nutrients. 
  • The most common time the pH will need checking is after new nutrients have been added or after the systems water has been replaced.
  • In order to raise the pH level you need to make your own solution more basic. The simplest way to do this is to add a pinch of baking soda. In order to lower the pH level you need to make your solution more acidic. The simplest way to do this is to add a few drops of distilled vinegar to the solution.
  • After applying the baking soda and/or vinegar wait for everything to dissolve into the solution, then, retest the solution's pH to ensure the levels are optimum. 


The final main section of the online guide relates to plant diseases, this section is important as a disease is a problem that could completely jeopardize every plant in the windowfarm. 

General rules/checks.

Keep things clean;
  • Remove dead leaves from plants or plant debris from the floor.
  • If a plant is dying/dead remove it from the farm and dispose of it outside. 
  • Dedicate one set of tools for the windofarm garden.
  • Use a separate set of tools for any other houseplants.
  • After use, disinfect tools with a bleach-water solution.  
  • Wash your hands!
Maintain a good environment;
  • Keep the air circulating.
  • Keep th humidity 50-60%.
  • Remove weak plants because they are susceptible to infestation. 
  • If a plant is infested remove it immediately and dispose of it outside. 
Keep close observation;
  • How does everything look? Healthy, clean and green?
  • Examine the leaves, top and bottom, there should be no bugs or mold.
  • Check the roots, do they look fresh and healthy? or brown and slimy?
  • Check the reservoir is full of water.
  • Check the flow of the watering system.

Sometimes, despite regular checks and a well maintained growing environment, bugs and pests can still find their way onto your plants. In this kind of situation there are certain procedures you can follow to get rid of any pests while maintaining a healthy, chemical free growing environment. 
  • If there are only a few, pick them off one by one and throw in trash/outside.
  • If pests are on one plant it is likely they are also on the others, carefully check each one.
  • Isolate the infected plant to stop any infestation from spreading.
  • Wash the plant with water pressure to force the pests off and down the drain. Repeat daily.
  • Spray plants with a mild dish-detergent solution.
  • Treat plants with Neem oil, made from the Neem tree (good for aphids, spidermites, whiteflies, mealybugs and thrips).
  • Treat with Rosemary oil from Rosemary plants (good for aphids, spirdermites and whiteflies).
  • Invest in ladybugs (completely natural pest control).

Aphids - Aphids arrive and multiply at a terrifying rate. Plant leaves may start to curl up or just not look green and healthy. To check if the plant is experiencing an aphid infestation examine the plant, especially at the underside of the leaf, as this is where aphids are commonly found.

If you are experiencing an ahphid infestation you should;
  • Isolate the infected plant to keep the infestation from spreading.
  • Wash the plant with pressurized water to blast the aphids off.
  • Invest in a colony of beneficial bugs - Ladybugs love aphids!
  • Use organic, cold pressed Neem oil, it can protect your plants from chewing insect and fungal diseases. The oil takes time to remove the pests because of the way it works, it confuses the pests, making them forget to eat, mate and lay eggs.
  • Use safter soap; votes the 'best orgainic treatment insectidal soap by Per Mother Earth News, 2005. The soap breaks down the pests protective cuticles so they quickly become dehydrated. Applications of the soap should be repeated.

Spider mites - A good way to spot if you have an infestation of spider mites is to check for the webs the pests sometimes spin near to the top of the plant. In the beggining of the infestation you may notice small yellow-white specks on the leaves, if this is the case check the leaf underside for the pests. 

If you are experiencing an spider mite infestation you should;
  • Isolate the infected plant to keep the infestation from spreading.
  • Wash the plant with pressurized water to blast the aphids off.
  • Invest in a colony of beneficial bugs - Phytoseiulus persimilis, Neoseiulus californicus and Mesoseiulus longipes all love spider mites!
  • Use organic, cold pressed Neem oil, it can protect your plants from chewing insect and fungal diseases. The oil takes time to remove the pests because of the way it works, it confuses the pests, making them forget to eat, mate and lay eggs.
  • Use safter soap; votes the 'best orgainic treatment insectidal soap by Per Mother Earth News, 2005. The soap breaks down the pests protective cuticles so they quickly become dehydrated. Applications of the soap should be repeated.

Fungus /Root Rot - Roots of plants may decline or die for a number of reasons. Unfavorable environmental elements can result in waterlogged or drought conditions, both are common causes of poor root health. If major roots are affected by the infection the plant can die very quickly. On the other hand, if only small 'feeder' roots are affected the plant will undergo a slow decline and will become unproductive and eventually die. 

  • Make sure the windowfarm is in an area with enough ventilation to help reduce excessive moisture.
  • Regularly clean the reservoir.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide (3 - 4% strength) to the reservoir water, then repeat every 5 days.
  • Treat with 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide (3-4% strength) per reservoir gallon. Change this solution every 5 days until the situation is under control.

POWDERY MILDEW - Powdery Mildrew starts with a few tiny white spots and can then spread to cover a whole leaf. The disease weakens the plant, causes leaves to turn yellow eventually causing the plant to die. Powdery Mildew is caused by high humidity, possible over-crowing of plants and a lack of air circulation.

  • Isolate the plant from the rest of the plants. 
  • Turn on the fan and keep leaves moving.
  • Lower the humidity in the room (open a window/turn on air conditioner).
  • Use organic, cold pressed Neem oil, it can protect your plants from chewing insect and fungal diseases. The oil takes time to remove the pests because of the way it works, it confuses the pests, making them forget to eat, mate and lay eggs.
Home remedies;
  • Coffee solution; One part black coffee to 10 parts water.
  • Baking soda; One table spoon per gallon, add a drop of heavy dish detergent and a drop of vegetable oil help the solution to bind to the leaves (baking soda raises the pH level reducing mildew growth).
  • White vinegar; One part vinegar to three parts water.
  • Treat with organic funhicide such as 'Safer Gardens Fungicide', it contains a natural sulfur that is toxic to fungus and discourages mildew growth.

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