Dracut orthodontist sinks his teeth into hydroponic gardening

James Pelletier, an orthodontist, created a hydroponic vegetable garden in his Dracut back yard to grow a better crop of tomatoes in a smaller space. Watch video at lowellsun.com. SUN photos /Julia Malakie)

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DRACUT — James Pelletier says he’d cry if he ever came home to find his tomato plants wilted.

“The biggest fear every hydroponic gardener has is a power failure,” he says.

The Dracut orthodontist circles around his labor of love on a recent Friday to make sure the solar-powered garden in his backyard is running seamlessly. The Big Boy tomatoes that grow in bato buckets are not yet ripe. All are bright green, some plumper than others.

As the sun bears down on Pelletier and the tight rows of tomato plants, he shares that he has trained them to thrive on one vine. “Because one vine doesn’t allow them to grow bushy and get wet, and get diseases,” he explains, reaching out to pull a velvety sucker from one plant.

Above, the crop; at right, a jar of sauce made from his tomatoes.

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“You only want one grow point, and that’s how you have one vine.”

After years of trouble with growing tomatoes and subsequently running out of space in his yard for more tries, Pelletier, 57, wanted to find a way to grow the vegetables every year without having to move it to a new spot. He wanted something easier than conventional gardening. Pelletier read books on hydroponic gardening — a method of growing plants without soil — and made several attempts at the garden before building his current one two years ago. Three solar panels supply energy to batteries that run two special pumps and an aerator that, in turn, feed the tomato plants. Instead of soil, Pelletier uses coconut fiber and perlite.

He regularly pours different liquid nutrients into a reservoir built into the ground, which are then pumped into each tomato plant. Once the buckets the plants are in reach a certain level, the fluid drains back into the reservoir. The cycle repeats four times a day.

“I’m a scientist in my heart. I just get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it,” Pelletier says. “I am creating something from nothing and tweaking it this way and that way over the years to get it to do exactly what I want it to do.

It’s like a big, huge science experiment and, when it goes good like this, it feels great.”

The garden’s greatest threat according to Pelletier is blight, a plant disease that actually hasn’t affected his garden. There’s also a pesky chipmunk who sneaks into the garden to steal tomatoes. On this recent Friday, the chipmunk made an appearance, having stolen a small, green one.

After the science comes the fruit of Pelletier’s labor. Once the tomatoes have ripened, he and his wife, Karen, pluck them and prepare them for canning, sometimes with the help of their daughter, Mollie Andrews, 30. On the weekends they sit on their deck to can the tomatoes in Mason jars before storing them away.

The irrigation system for James Pelletier’s hydroponic vegetable garden in his Dracut backyard is powered by these solar panels. The garden also includes a bed of asparagus, center. SUN photos /Julia Malakie

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Karen makes sauce from the tomatoes, and dishes that also incorporate the other vegetables growing in their backyard such as zucchini. Pelletier says he also gives out canned tomatoes to relatives and neighbors across the street.

“I love it. He works very hard on it,” Karen, 58, says. “It takes a lot of time, but he enjoys gardening so we get a lot of beautiful vegetables from it.”

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo

Batteries on the top shelf of this cabinet store power produced by Pelletier’s solar panels.

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This content was originally published here.

Smoke From Wildfires and Horse Respiratory Health – The Horse

Smoke is an unhealthy combination of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, soot, hydrocarbons, and other organic substances. Smoke particulates, which are a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, can irritate horses’ eyes and respiratory tracts, and hamper their breathing.

“Owners should limit their horses’ activity when smoke is visible,” said UC Davis veterinary professor John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, ACAW.

During California wildfires with persistent smoke several years ago, the Tevis Cup—a 100-mile endurance race—was postponed based on adverse air quality for exercising horses. This is an example of important management decisions that can protect horse health.

It is important to use human health air-quality advisories and apply them to horse events where horses will be exercising and breathing harmful smoke. If humans’ eyes burn and are bothered by smoke,  you can assume horses will be in the same boat. Providing horses with resting from exercise, limiting smoke exposure when possible, and monitoring for signs of increased respiratory rate or cough should be at the top of owners’ to-do lists when wildfires are near. And should a concern arise, always consult your veterinarian.

“It’s also important to provide horses with plenty of fresh water, which keeps airways moist and helps them clear inhaled particulates,” said Madigan.

If a horse is having difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian immediately to ensure the horse has not developed a reactive airway disease or bacterial infection accompanied by bronchitis or pneumonia. Horses can suffer from constriction of the airways, just as humans can.

In cases of heavy smoke exposure, it can take four to six weeks for smoke-induced damage to heal, during which time the horse should not be heavily exercised. Premature exercise could aggravate the condition, delaying healing and compromising the horse’s performance for weeks or months.

“If the horse has further smoke-related problems, such as persistent cough, nasal discharge, fever, or increased rate of breathing or labored breathing, the owner should contact a veterinarian, who may prescribe respiratory medications such as bronchial dilators or other treatments that will hydrate the horse’s airway passages and reduce inflammation,” Madigan said. “The veterinarian also may recommend tests to determine whether a secondary bacterial infection is contributing the horse’s respiratory problems.”

This content was originally published here.