Flavor comparison- hydro/ aqua vs Al's mixes vs potting mix

gardenweb88(9)April 14, 2013

For those without the luxury of growing in ground, how do the flavors of tomatoes grown in different growing mediums compare to each other? Can the same be said for all vegetables when grown in the different styles?

1) Hydroponics/ aquaponics- Either uses no soil or uses a sterile growing medium. All nutrients from liquid fertilizers.

2) Al's mixes- Highly regarded on the Container forum.

3) Commercially available potting soil with added amendments like worm castings, slow release fertilizer, teas, etc...

This post was edited by gardenweb88 on Sun, Apr 14, 13 at 15:21

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I fear your proposed comparison isn't really possible simply because there are so many variables that can't be controlled. It is all those variables plus variety genetics that determine taste. So it would require the same set of taste buds for all three methods. :)

Flavor/taste is such a subjective thing, so personal to each individual, that the only way to even begin to compare them is if the same person grew all three at the same time, with the same growing conditions of weather etc., and using the same variety. That wouldn't be very practical to grow using 3 different methods at the same time. Plus the majority of hydroponics are grown in a controlled environment. not outside. that adds another variable.

I have tasted hydroponic tomatoes grown by others and compared them to those I have grown in Al's mix or in my containers with other mixes. There is no comparison. Either tomato grown in the mixes is much better than the hydroponic ones, much more flavorful.

But they were also different varieties (unknown hydroponic variety) and grown at different times under different conditions, even in different sized containers, so it isn't even close to a valid comparison.

Nothing wrong with Al's Mix IMO but my preferred mix for containers is ProMix BX for several reasons.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 7:57PM
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Do you mind explaining why Promix BX is your preferred? I've got little gardening experience and the brand is new to me.

Hydroponics assumes that the growing medium is sterile and devoid of nutrients. Is that not the same approach of Al's mix as his focus is on the size and porosity of his medium particles? Which is the reason for the thread- I was wondering why a sterile pot medium like Al's mix was able to produce more flavorful tomatoes than hydro.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 11:32PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

i think you are using sterile in a different way than most use it. To me, sterile means without soil microorganisms. Neither hydroponics nor Al's mix is sterile or devioid of nutrients. Hydroponics growers must supply all the necessary nutrients in solution in a balanced mix. Al's 5-1-1 mix (the one recommended for tomatoes) includes lime for calcium and magnesium. A controlled release fertilizer is often added, and regular application of a complete fertilizer is required. Without fertilizer of any kind, you can't grow tomatoes or much of anything else. In containers, I have used promix combined with compost and I have used 5-1-1 and in both cases, the tomatoes tasted great. I prefer 5-1-1 in my growing conditions because of its excellent drainage. The hydroponically grown tomatoes I tasted were not good, but as Dave said, they were of unknown genetic stock. I've never tasted a commercially grown tomato I liked.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 12:47AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I was wondering why a sterile pot medium like Al's mix was able to produce more flavorful tomatoes than hydro.

Ahhh, that question is easy to answer. In hydroponics the nutrients are delivered to the fruit via water. Lots and lots of water. All that water is absorbed along with the nutrients and flavor is much diluted.

With any well draining potting mix there is much less water absorption, less dilution of flavor.

As Ohiofem said, "sterile" in gardening means without pathogenic bacteria and/or soil dwelling parasites as are found in dirt.

I prefer ProMix BX because it drains well, doesn't drain as fast as 5-1-1 does and in my climate I need that slower drainage, and because it contains beneficial soil bacteria that assist in the nutrient absorption of the nutrients I supply.

Another factor is that only certain varieties, not always known for flavor to begin with, are used in hydroponics. Varieties bred specifically for hydro growing. Using potting mixes allows for growing any variety.


    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 10:28AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

deleted duplicate post

This post was edited by digdirt on Mon, Apr 15, 13 at 17:09

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 5:07PM
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Regarding Pro-Mix -- I recently bought the HP because while I really liked the Eden Valley Blend I tried -- I wanted to try both Happy Frog and Pro-mix since so many rave about both. I've never used the BX. But it was also a rare moment when I was out of bark, so for a few days, I had some of my extra Serrano seedlings in HP plus additional perlite, just to get them out of the seed starter pots. I also potted up a Bougainvillea I had knowing how much water that guzzles up over summer. I always intended to move the peppers but was thinking of keeping the Bougainvillea in the HP.

On the Serrano, the first leaves that immediately emerged a day or two later were significantly and a bit alarmingly yellow and all of the cotyledons took on a yellow tint. That compelled me to run out for bark (doesn't pay to be lazy lol) and I took all four seedlings and moved to 5:1:1. One had not sprouted first leaves whereas three had. Interestingly, the last to sprout did sprout green leaves in the 5:1:1. Could be coincidental...

The Bougainvillea, which could just be transplant and root pruning shock, was also showing yellow tints after a week (and I had watered once, drenched it through and never watered again as it was still nicely moist), I just moved that to 5:1:1, too.

So I am curious -- how different is your BX and how do you use it that it works so ideally?

Incidentally, the Pro-Mix HP *IS* the peat portion of the 5:1:1. Everything looks okay and on track at this time as far as I can tell. In the photo below, note the one on the right is the one that sprouted first leaves in the HP, and the other is the one that did so in 5:1:1 a couple days later.


And 3.8 cu. ft. is the largest thing I have ever seen, OMG -- I will be using this until 2025!!! (Side note.)


    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 3:49PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Grace: First, let me say that I'm really glad you started participating in GW. Your posts are always lively and thoughtful, and they often make me laugh. Sometimes they leave me a little breathless though, especially when you talk about moving a plant from one medium to another so rapidly based on tiny signs that things may not be going as well as you would like. Remember that plant time is not as fast as people time. I believe that transplanted roots (especially if they have been bare rooted) take a break from performing their function of taking in nutrients, water and oxygen for a while. This is why they sometimes wilt. When that happens, I find they almost always recover in a few days.

I don't believe plants experience dramatically different reactions to the different high quality potting mixes we're talking about here within the first 24-48 hours. The difference between Promix BX and HP is only a slightly higher proportion of perlite in the HP. They are both peat-based mixes. Most growers are very happy withe the results they get from either mix. When you use one or the other to replace the peat in 5-1-1, the difference is negligible.

The last thing I want to say (and I'm sorry we are way off topic here) is that I definitely think bougainvilleas will do much better in gritty mix than 5-1-1. They are notorious for suliking when transplanted, and many advise not watering for at least a week after transplanting. But IME, they love the gritty mix. I've transplanted two in less than good conditions (one had a bad whitefly infestation and the other was transplanted during a heat wave) and they didn't show any signs of transplant shock. Both produced healthy new leaves within a week.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 10:44PM
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Ohio, I know! Haha, my boyfriend is constantly calling me the tinkerer because I can't leave the plants alone, lol. With yard plants, I felt like I could only amend as much as I could -- but now being limited to containers and so much on the web (especially here), I'm out of control, peering into each plant and noticing if even one thing is not like it was an hour ago. Luckily I am almost out of room and only a few seedlings left to mess with and then I'm done -- for this season, lol.

With the only-HP seedlings, whatever happened did happen in about 24 hours, so I guess it wasn't the soil. I thought maybe it was too waterlogged or _______, and hence turning yellow. And perhaps coincidental but the growth since putting it in 5:1:1 has been green. Bizarre -- but fascinating.

Re: Bougainvillea -- I would have never considered GM for it. (See? Now I'm thinking, "Hmm....maybe I can try that!" LOL!!) I would have thought, Ohio, in full sun in the heat of summer, it would be a mess in GM. I had one that was 20 feet plus at my old house, and it was a mini project to sit there and water that thing in the ground. That was my logic, anyway, in why I attempted pure Pro-mix HP first...

Thanks for the reply, Ohio! :-)
Speaking of whiteflies, now I must go find if that's what I saw this morning. I am all grossed out right now and will post on the pests forum. Blech.

Gardenweb88 -- sorry for hijacking your thread for a moment!


    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 3:28PM
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I grew two Willamette tomato plants last year. One in a five gallon planter with black gold potting soil and 25% perlite mixed in, and one in a five gallon bucket with 95% perlite and 5% grow rocks untop of the perlite. Both were grown out side. Toward the end I added some fertilizer to the blackgold plant. The perlite plant was grown with General Hydroponics 3 part flora nutrients from beginning until harvest. Both plants produced great tasting tomatoes.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 5:49PM
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