For an introduction to the AutoGardens see the fine blog of Jennifer Hausler (Sept 7 and July 29 posts)
See below for Parts 1 and 2 of this series
AG-05 Outdoor AutoGarden for vines
Of the seven types of autogardens, this was probably the most experimental this year. Going into the growing season, I surmised that growing large, vine-type plants in relatively small containers would challenge the ability of the plants to get enough sustained moisture and nutrients.
As will be seen here, the autogarden had mixed results but most of the issues were not related to the ratio of the plant size to the pot volume, they were due more to the reliability of my construction technique and the lack of attention during my summer vacation travels in late July and early August.
But first, a general description of AG-05 - the autogarden for vines.
The main layout of the garden was a 30-foot long rack made from wood and covered with plastic that was about 10 inches wide and sloped from a height of about 5 feet to about 3 feet. At the high end, a long Archimedes water lifter (AWL) raised water from a tank on the ground to the end of the rack. At intervals of approximately 5 feet, secondary racks were constructed consisting of horizontal wood frames with metal fencing on the upper surface. The fencing served as support for the vines and, eventually, the squashes and melons. The secondary racks were connected to the main rack at 90 degrees and the widths of the secondary racks was such that there was a narrow open area between each rack.
At the lower end of the long rack, the water drained into a large plastic container and that container was connected by a siphon hose to the tank at the upper end of the rack. Additional reservoirs were connected to these two tanks by siphon hoses so that the entire volume of water stored was quite large.
A solar panel was provided to power the motor of the AWL whenever the sun was shining.
The plants were put into 2.5 gallon blue buckets and placed on the racks. Most of the plants were obtained as seedlings from a local garden supply store.
The entire garden was in full sun for most of the day.
This autogarden was a moderate success. It certainly confirmed that the standard size pot was adequate for growing the vines and that having the entire plant off the ground was not harmful. No animal damage was noted at any time even though ground hogs and rabbits were often seen within the garden plot perimeter.
Until the water system failed completely, the watering system seemed adequate. Some of the squash plants showed evidence of wilting during the hottest part of the day -especially when it was windy. The plants recovered fully during the cooler parts of the day and evening and were fine when the days weren't too hot.
While I was on vacation, the bracket that held the motor for the AWL failed and caused the coil part of the pump to start rubbing on the edge of the rack. Though the motor continued to turn whenever the sun was shining, the rubbing action eventually wore a hole in the side of the coil and the water was no longer raised into the high end of the rack. When I returned from my vacation in early August I harvested what I could and abandoned the autogarden. The results and photographs below reflect the successes until the system failure.
These grew quite nicely and were on their way to about 6 small melons. At the time of the failure I harvested the ripest of the fruit and tasted it. The fruit was soft and very sweet.
I collected a dozen or so before the failure. The cucumbers were full size and very tasty
None of these reached maturity but seemed to be heading for a healthy crop
Since I don't especially like the large baseball bat size fruit, I collected these while they were under ten inches in length. These plants didn't have a vining habit so all the squashes were found in the pots
Like the cantaloupes these melons did not reach maturity before the watering failure
I grew two pots of strawberries for harvest next year. The plants grew nicely and had a dozen or so runners that descended from the rack down to the ground in the garden plot. I shall over-winter the plants in their pots in the side yard of my house.
Recommendations for next year
Add a water controller so that the pump only runs when needed - this should avoid wearing out the motor and the bracket that holds the motor.
Have someone check on the garden while on vacation
Possibly grow a second crop of leafy vegetables under the racks that hold the vines. There seems to be plenty of light getting through before the vines have extended across the rack and then the vines should provide shade to the plants when the sun is its hottest. A second AWL would be needed to water this second system.