In short hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Hydroponic is Latin and means ‘working water’. There is a wide variety of hydroponic systems but the majority of them fall into 6 main categories as follows:
- Water Culture
- Ebb and Flow
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Instead of soil helping plants to grow, using hydroponics means using water and adding nutrients. To be successful water must go to the plant root system and this again can be done several ways.
- Directly hanging in solutio
- Enclosed in a container or grow tray filled with a soil substitute – known as a substrate.
Substrates comprise of differing materials – for example sand, wood chips or pebbles. It is necessary for them to have good water holding ability and still allow gas exchange.
Rooted in history
Hydroponics as a practice of growing plants began back in the 18th century when it was discovered plants could take on nutrients in water.
Soil is not an essential ingredient to plant growth, however the mineral nutrients that it contains are. It is these nutrients that are exchanged via plant roots in the process of hydroponics. Plants can thrive in these conditions and in fact the majority of terrestrial plants can grow using hydroponic methods.
Hydroponic systems can be used for growing plants. As soil isn’t required it can make it possible for plant growth where there is poor soil quality or no soil available at all for growing.
When starting out there are some essential items needed to establish a hydroponic system. As time progresses this equipment can be duplicated or expanded for larger yields.
Having a grown room or grow tent is how some like to house a hydroponics area. Others use greenhouses or a frame to host hydroponics and finding what works best is usually down to personal preference or impacted by the space available to dedicate to hydroponic growing.
Grow lights can be used to nurture crops however others rely on natural sunlight and again depending on the scale of the system or the desired result usually informs how extensive the hydroponics equipment needs to be.
There are various other tools a person may require to get started, hydroponic filters, an air pump, timer and a reservoir that holds the nutrient solution are just a few suggestions.
Engaging with a hydroponics specialist could prove useful as they would have the knowledge and experience to help build a suitable hydroponics system that meets individual requirements and could then, if desired, be scaled up once the basic principles are in place.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is commonly described as growing plants without soil; however, this is not strictly true. A better definition would be that hydroponics is ‘providing all of the plant’s nutrient requirements in soluble form as you water’. Therefore, put in its simplest form, this means you could grow a plant in soil of poor quality, by feeding when you water. Hydroponics is also often considered to be a watch word for indoor gardening as it is seen to cover everything. Some believe hydroponics to be very complicated, but this need not be the case, it is only as difficult or complicated as you make it. There is no doubt it is a more efficient method of growing, but a problem will be seen more quickly and may be much worse.
How Do Plants Grow?
All plants have the same basic needs of light, carbon dioxide (CO₂), oxygen, water, heat and food in the form of nutrients. These nutrients only make up approximately 2% of the mass of the plant, which it cannot synthesise for itself from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn CO₂ and water into organic compounds, primarily sugars:
If plants are not given enough of all of these essential elements, then it can have a detrimental effect on their growing. Different plants require these elements in differing ratios, but they are all needed whether the plant is in the soil or grown hydroponically.
When you grow hydroponically, you can control and enhance all of a plant’s basic needs and you even have the ability to ensure adequate oxygen is available to the roots.
Hydroponics Can Be Practised Anywhere
Hydroponics will be used by NASA to feed astronauts fresh vegetables during long flights into space; even lettuces are grown on submarines using these techniques. Due to the different sizes of systems available and the unlimited design that systems can be made into, you can grow in any location. As the systems are self-contained, lightweight and clean, they can be used indoors during the winter – in a conservatory, greenhouse, cellar, attic, garage or kitchen. Then they can even be moved outside in the summer months.
Hydroponics Has Existed For A Long Time
Often the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are considered to be hydroponic, yet this is not strictly true. The first truly hydroponic method was developed in the 19th century by Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop and following this in the 1920s the first complete nutrient solutions were developed by William Gericke. This is ultimately what is being used now as the basis for hydroponic solutions. Today, hydroponic methods are spreading throughout the world and hydroponic installations can be found all over the globe, from Australia to America, Spain to Thailand. Many commercial growers now use hydroponic techniques to produce such items as, lettuce and tomatoes, on a large scale
Commercial crop growers have been using hydroponic techniques for many years. The reason for this is because these methods allow the growers more control over their growing environment and therefore, are able to produce a higher quality crop. The worry about soil borne pests and diseases are reduced dramatically and weeding is considered a thing of the past. The rapid harvests and the higher yields are some of the reasons why commercial growers use these methods; in addition to the fact that it is often the only way to make it viable.
Grow All Year Round
Purchase a grow light and you can literally grow all year round. It is easy, clean and productive, meaning you can enjoy fresh herbs and produce, no matter what the weather is like outside. By altering the time that the grow lights are on, you can stimulate winter or summer day lengths, enabling the plants to fruit or flower earlier or later in the season. You are in control!
Benefits Of Hydroponics
o You can grow all year around – both indoors and out
o Conserves water and plant nutrients are controlled
o More plants can be grown in a given area and crop flavour is enhanced
o Plants grow quicker with increased yields
o No need for weeding
o Soil borne pests are eliminated, leading to reduced needs for pesticides
o Less need for re-potting as the plants do not get root bound
Put simply, propagation is about creating new plants either from seeds (sexual reproduction) or cuttings (vegetative reproduction).
Propagating from seed means there will be some genetic variation and a decreased likelihood of disease and pests. The start of this process is called germination, where the seed splits and the first leaves and tap-root appear. As long as the propagating media is suitably sterile and can hold sufficient water, the seed should germinate in a few days.
Propagating from cuttings enables you to produce a plant with the same genetics as the mother plant (as long as the growing conditions are replicated). This is a rapid method of propagation and generally offers a higher success rate because the quality of seeds can vary greatly. There are a number of different cutting methods, dependent on the plant type – stem cutting, leaf cutting, air cutting, splitting, from runners and tissue culture. It is important that you control the moisture, humidity and temperature as this will help to prevent disease that could occur otherwise.
The method that you use, very much depends on what you want to achieve from your propagation. The key to successful propagation is maintaining consistent optimal conditions which is why we suggest the use of propagators.
Steps To Grow From Cuttings
- If using cubes/plugs/sponges, pre-soak with a young plant nutrient or a weak ‘grow’ nutrient solution. If using compost, make sure it is moist, but not soaking wet.
2. Select your cutting – it should be softwood (young, soft, green stems). Choose stems that are healthy and have at least three sets of nodes.
3. Using a sterilised blade, make a slanted cut underneath the nodes, leaving a significant selection of the stem below.
4. Remove the lower leaves, so energy is not wasted in maintaining them.
5. Apply rooting gel to the dibble holes.
6. Transfer your cutting into a propagator. In the summer, it is fine to leave your propagator on the windowsill; whilst in the winter months, it is important to control the heat and light, by using items, such as, a propagation lamp and a heat mat.
Steps To Grow From Seed
- If using cubes/plugs/sponges, pre-soak with a young plant nutrient or weak ‘grow’ nutrient solution.
2. Place the seed in the dibble hole of the cube/plug/sponge, with either the cracked or ‘pointy end’ facing downwards as this means the seed uses less energy to orientate itself.
3. Place the seed in a propagator or cloche as this will help to provide the optimal conditions for germination.
4. Once the seedlings are well established, plant them on into a growing system or pot.
Generally speaking, hydroponics can be divided into two fields – Passive and Active. Passive kits or systems are fed either by hand-watering or through capillary action, which can be through direct contact or through the use of a ‘wick’. Whilst Active kits or systems, which come in a variety of designs, uses a ‘powered’ hydroponic technique, whether it be with a Pump or Air-Pump. The most important thing to remember is that the best system for you is the one that suits your experience, budget and situation.
Passive Kits And Systems
Passive kits and systems consist of hand- or capillary-watering.
Hand-watering is exactly what it says – watering by hand. This method depends on how much effort the grower is willing to put in, but does not really offer much more than traditional fertilisation techniques.
Whilst capillary-watering can be achieved through a range of techniques – using a valve from a reservoir; having pots that sit on a regularly watered capillary matting; sitting pots in a shallow reservoir, where the capillary matting draws the solution up to the media; or placing individual pots in trays or saucers that the solution is put into. This is a simple, cheap and easy-to-maintain method, but can be prone to over- or under-watering.
Flood And Drain
Flood and Drain is a re-circulating timed hydroponic system. This method is also known as Ebb and Flow and Flood and Drain. There are two types of Flood and Drain system – Table Systems, where media is spread on a table or the plants are in pots spread out on a table; and Bucket/Pot System, which consists of individual pots being flooded with an inner pot containing the media.
The main principal of Flood and Drain is to bring fresh water and nutrients to the root zone, therefore flooding the system and then drawing fresh air (oxygen) to the root zone, therefore draining the system.
It is a media based system, which theoretically can be used with any growing media, though a free-draining media like clay pebbles can be flooded more frequently than a retentive media like stonewool. This in turn refreshes both the nutrient solution oxygen more frequently. The Flood can be delivered from the top (flushing the old nutrient through better) or from the bottom (much simpler fittings required).
NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)
NFT is a re-circulating continuous flow hydroponic system, which uses no growing media except for any starter blocks used. In this growing method, the plants rest in a flat, but sloping tray or channel (gully), often with no support, but using propagation cubes/sponges or small net pots filled with coco coir. A thin ‘film’ of nutrient solution continuously flows down a shallow channel with a slight incline. It is essentially a bare-rooted growing method that has the roots growing out of the planting block to spread across the channel and form a ‘root mat’. It is important that the roots are always in contact with the air allowing easy access to oxygen.
As the system is usually run on a constant basis (during daylight hours) the management of NFT systems has to be more diligent than other types of systems. Should the re-circulating pump fail, the plants will die due to lack of growing media to hold water and food for them. Regular ‘solution changes’ are required to refresh the nutrient solution – the more frequent, the better – and the reservoir should be maintained as close to full as possible to prevent EC, pH and temperature fluctuations.
This is essentially a non-re-circulating active system that is usually a drip irrigation set up. This method is commonly used for large scale commercial hydroponics.
Run-To-Waste works by the nutrient solution running into the growing media from a single reservoir via an irrigation system and drippers, sprayers or sprinklers. Ideally there needs to be a certain amount of run-off (about 25%) on a daily basis, as this helps to refresh the media content continually. This method nearly always uses timers.
This is an effective method that involves suspending the roots of the plants that are being grown in a darkened sealed chamber, where they are misted with a nutrient solution. Due to the high oxygen levels in such a system, rapid growth rates can be achieved. This system involves a similar management system to the NFT system.
Growing media is the material in which you grow your plants. In any type of gardening, whether it is hydroponic or soil-based, you need media to anchor the roots and hold nutrient and moisture for the plant. There are two main categories of growing media – ‘Inert’ and ‘Soil and Soil-type’. The two most common ‘Inert’ media are clay pebbles and stonewool, whilst ‘Soil and Soil-type’ media cover an array of products, including soil, compost and coco coir. We offer a range of growing media that have been selected due to their high quality and superior capacity for holding nutrient solutions, whilst still retaining a good balance of oxygen and moisture.
Soil, Compost And Soil Mixes
Soil is nature’s best effort at a growing substrate and it acts as the support for the plants, as well as a source of food and water. Soil comes in a range of forms, from light and sandy to heavy and clay-like. Compost is the best example of a ‘Soil-type’ media, which has been formulated to emulate the different types of soils depending on the plants that are being grown. There are a variety of soil mixes available on the market that have been specifically developed and have special mixes to enable you to achieve excellent results. Many pre-mixed composts contain peat due to its high water and nutrient holding abilities. However, with the growing concern of peat bog depletion, some composts now contain less peat, but still have high water and nutrient holding capabilities due to the ingredients they have been replaced with.
Coconut coir is rapidly becoming the media of choice for both passive hydroponic and soil-based gardeners, who are concerned with the depletion of rare peat bogs. It is a waste material from coconut production and is sustainable. Due to the structure of this growing media, it means that it allows for better drainage and air retention.
Coco coir has usually been pre-treated or washed to help eliminate the high levels of salts that can be found in this media. Naturally, coco coir has a slightly acidic pH and holds practically no nutrient content of its own, apart from potassium. Due to the natural breakdown process, coco coir naturally lets go of potassium, which is one of the main nutrients plants need and so, it is important to use a coco specific nutrient, as it compensates for this.
Clay pebbles are inert, baked pellets that are usually between 4mm and 16mm in diameter. The inner core is porous and will absorb and release nutrient and water to the plants as required. Clay pebbles will not compact, which means that there is excellent aeration around the root zone. Clay pebbles can be reused, but it is important that they are thoroughly re-washed first.
Clay pebbles are a pure hydro media that can be used in pot culture, but can also be used to mix with other growing media, at the bottom of pots, to aid with drainage and aeration or as top dressing.
Tip: Always rinse your clay pebbles with fresh water before use. This will help to eliminate dust and small particles that can block drippers and pumps. It will also assist in ensuring that the clay is pH neutral before your plants are placed in the system.
Rooting sponges are a good growing media, based on a mixture of peat and bark, which are bound together with plant-derived biodegradable polymers that allow the product to biodegrade. Due to their structure, they are able to retain the right amount of water. These easy-to-use rooting sponges have great aeration properties and can be transplanted into any system with minimum transplant shock.
These plugs come in both coco coir and peat varieties that are compressed and expand into a small plug once wet. Expanding plugs are ideal for propagating, as you are able to drop in the seed or cutting and place it in a propagator. As neither peat nor coco coir are inert media, this means that the expanding plugs are not either and therefore they hold the properties of coco coir or peat respectively. Expanding plugs are great in NFT systems, drip irrigation systems and pot culture.
Stonewool is made from molten basalt rock spun into a dense, candy floss like material. It is a popular substrate used by hobby gardeners and commercial growers alike. This growing media is available in small and large starter cubes, round plugs, slabs and mini cubes.
It is important to pre-soak the media with a nutrient solution with a pH of 5.5-5.8 once before use, as this helps to neutralise any particles that may be left over from the manufacturing process. The substrate is inert and therefore can be used as hydroponic growing media.
Other Media There are other growing media that can be used, such as, gravel, vermiculite and perlite. Vermiculite is ideal for propagation and water retention, whilst perlite is suitable for improving aeration and drainage.
However, whichever media you decide to use, it is important that you take into account the issue of compaction, and the air to water ratio.
Nutrients And Additives
If plants are grown in ‘inert’ media, the plant’s nutritional needs must be met by the nutrient solution supplied. Nutrients are the collective term for the mineral elements that a plant requires to grow. There are 13 essential mineral elements that a plant requires, which are split into three groups – primary, secondary and trace. It is vital to use a nutrient solution that is designed for the specific growing media, as it helps to provide a complete and balanced feed to your plant.
Nutrient ratios are commonly noted as NPK ratios, which stand for Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K), which are the three main mineral elements required for plant growth. Secondary elements are, for example, Sulphur (S) which is needed for photosynthesis and Calcium (Ca) to help with transportation of nutrients around the plants; whilst the trace elements are, for instance, Boron (B) for building cell walls. It is important that a balance of all of these elements is included to achieve the best plant results.
All of our nutrient brands contain everything that a plant requires in exactly the right ratios to obtain maximum results. All the nutrients are mineral elements, which are water soluble, so as to be readily available to the plants in the system.
Types Of Nutrients Available
There are a range of nutrients available on the market, that are tailored for all growing methods – whether that be hydroponically, in soil or in coco coir. These nutrients come in one-part, two-part and three-part and the choice very much depends on the amount of control a grower wants over their growing.
Vegetative and generative are the two different stages of plant development and depending on the type of crop you are growing depends on whether you plant will pass through both stages or just one. The term vegetative is the stage your plant goes through when it is growing from a seedling into a mature plant and also encompasses all leafy crops, for example, lettuce, that do not produce flowers or fruit. Whilst generative refers to the ‘bloom’ stage of the plant’s life cycle, in which the plant flowers and reproduces seeds and fruit.
Most nutrient manufacturers have developed separate formulations to help the plant at different stages of it's development – ‘grow’ and ‘bloom’. The ‘grow’ nutrient is to be used for plants in vegetative growth, as it contains an increased level of Nitrogen, which the plant needs at this stage of development. This type of nutrient can also be used for plants which do not flower or produce blooms or fruit.
The ‘bloom’ nutrient is specially designed for the generative stage of the plant’s cycle. This is because it has an increased level of Phosphorous, which is needed by the plant at the flowering and fruiting stage as it helps with flower and seed development.
Some nutrients are also supplied in hard and soft water varieties. In the UK, most of the water is termed as being ‘hard’, and as such, contains high levels of bicarbonates and calcium and magnesium. In addition to this, by using hard water there can be issues with pH, as the pH level can rise and this can lead to some nutrients becoming unavailable to the plant. In these circumstances, it is best to use a hard water nutrient mix, as this has less of certain minerals that are already in the hard water and therefore, compensates for this.
An additive is anything that is added to the nutrient solution as a way to supplement the main nutrient, boost growth or improve the overall health of the plant. Nutrient additives come in a range of different forms – boosters, stimulants, beneficial microbes, health tonics and quality enhancers.
All of these products can really boost the results you get from your plants and it is important to use the right one for your plant’s growth stage.
Tip: To get optimum results, we recommend using additives alongside a plant nutrient as some additives work by encouraging more nutrient uptake. If there is little nutrient in your growing media, then you will not see the benefit of the additive.
Have I Got Hard Water?
Some nutrients come in both hard and soft water varieties. The easiest way to tell what water you have is to look inside your kettle. If there is a build-up of limescale inside, then you live in a hard water area. Whilst if you live in a soft water area, soap and shampoo will lather up easier than when using hard water.
What Is pH?
pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the nutrient solution is. The pH scale runs from 0 to 14. 7 being neutral, below 7 is classed as acidic and above 7 classed as alkaline. The majority of plants prefer it to be mildly acidic when growing hydroponically, therefore somewhere between 5.8 and 6.5, as otherwise nutrient availability can be affected and some elements become unavailable to the plant.
Most tap water is between pH 7 and 8. Monitoring the pH is vital, as it helps to ensure that the plant has the optimum amount of nutrient mix available to it that it needs. As you can see from the chart, some elements are less available to the plant, when the pH is out of the optimum range. Please note that adding nutrient alters the pH of the overall solution.
Measurement Of Nutrient Strength
Different plants need differing strengths of nutrient mixes throughout the growth cycle, especially when fruiting or flowering is to occur. To measure the strength of a solution, a CF (Conductivity Factor) or EC (Electrical Conductivity) meter is needed. CF or EC is the measurement of how much dissolved nutrient is contained within the solution. Therefore, the higher the number, the stronger the nutrient solution.
In general, leafy vegetables like lettuces will need a weaker strength solution than a fruiting or flowering plant, such as peppers, tomatoes or roses.
Organic & Soil Based Growing
There are many options available to growers who want to grow using soil, but also organically. HydroGarden supplies a range of products to offer you peace of mind, whilst still ensuring great yields and quality end produce.
Nowadays, people are more aware of where their food is coming from and any products that may have been used on them in the growing process. Pesticides are used in both organic and non-organic commercial production, the only difference being the products actually used. The only way to be sure what has been used, is to grow your own, whether that be hydroponically or soil-based. Hydroponically grown crops tend to be stronger, healthier and therefore, more resistant to disease. There are a number of physical action ‘contact’ pesticides and biological controls available to the hobby gardener to control insect attack.
Attention Soil Growers…
For soil-based growers, whether in hand fed pots or using automated drip feed systems, we supply everything from the pots and saucers to soil-based growing media, from nutrients and soil-growing additives to watering and drip feed systems and more! Remember, that you can still enjoy the benefits from growing under the HID lighting when growing in soil and many hydroponic specific nutrients work very well when applied to soil grown plants, due to the full spectrum of minerals that they contain.
Attention Organic Growers…
We also offer a number of organic products for those keen to grow using traditional organic methods, or for those wishing to combine organic nutrients and additives with a hydroponic system. This last method is known as Hydro-Organics and is well established in the USA. Our range of organic growing media, organic plant nutrients and beneficial bacteria additives, such as, VitaLink BioPac are very popular. All are naturally derived from organic sources and are made from environmentally and sustainable materials.
Hydro-Organics An Explanation…
While some more traditional organic growers will keep their distance from the idea, there are a growing number of people who wish to ‘take the best of both worlds’ – by combining a hydroponic system with using organic nutrients and additives. This method of growing enables the plant to utilise traditional organic plant food source, yet also combine the water saving and wider environmental benefits of hydroponics. We fully support this hybrid of traditional and modern growing methods and believe it will become more popular over time.
Light is the most important environmental factor to consider whether you are growing indoors or out. Depending on where you live and where you want to garden, the sun will not always be there for you. With the right grow light, you can grow literally any plant, anywhere and at any time, therefore making gardening a year-round hobby!
Based on proven horticultural technology, you need three individual items:
- A reflector, which protects the lamp and directs the light to where we want it
2. A ballast, which contains the components necessary to ignite the lamp and to regulate the current when the lamp is running
3. A lamp
Horticultural lighting is easy-to-install and cheap to run. All units are supplied wired and are ready-to-use – simply, hang your chosen reflector, install the desired lamp and plug the reflector into the ballast unit. Once this has been done, plug the ballast into a 240v power supply, via a contactor and switch it on. Reflectors, due to their light weight, can be hung from a simple ceiling hook or hangers.
HID Grow Lamps – HPS And MH
Sunlight is undoubtedly the cheapest source of light for growing plants. However, there are times when there is insufficient or no natural light available, for instance, when growing indoors, in winter or at night.
The High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps that we are most concerned with are High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps and Metal Halide (MH) lamps. HID lamps are very bright, require external ballasts and can be used as a substitute for natural sunlight, as they have a similar colour spectrum.
HPS lamps are used by commercial growers, to ‘supplement’ the natural light and to extend the ‘day length’ that a plant is subjected to. This type of lamp puts out a ‘redder’ light and can be compared to the light of an autumn sunset. The addition of HPS lamps enhances flowering in many crops and are the preferred option, if natural daylight is also available.
Metal Halide lamps give off a ‘blue’ light which is more suitable for young plants and vegetative growth.
Quality, Value And Safety
There are many different reflectors on the market today. Some reflectors are more efficient than others when being used for specific growing environments. Reflectors can be made from aluminium, steel sheet metal or stainless steel. Aluminium dissipates heat more quickly than steel. The steel is either cold-rolled or pre-galvanised prior to the application of a reflective coating.
Our specially designed horizontal reflectors direct all the light down to your plants, therefore ensuring a broad intense spread of light. All PowerPlant and LUMii reflectors are made using highly reflective material that is anodised and manufactured exclusively for the lighting industry. The anodising protects against corrosion and is scratch resistant.
Some suppliers use low cost flat mirror or other unsuitable reflector materials in their products, neither of which are meant for use in HID lighting. Mirror reflectors are not ideal, as they simply reflect the hot spots produced by the HID lamps, therefore giving a less even distribution of light. This in turn causes unequal growth or produces ‘hot spots’ of light and heat. Mirror shades should only be used for low intensity CFL lighting.
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL)
CFLs are fluorescent lamps, which are smaller in size, yet still deliver the same power. They are not as bright as HID lamps and generate little heat. They disperse more light than fluorescents and are available in Cool White (‘bluer’ light) and Warm White (‘redder’ light) spectrums.
We have a range of compact fluorescent lighting that offers growers the choice of low energy growing where heat or cost is a concern. Our Sun Mate Propagate compact fluorescent unit is a top of the range propagating and overwintering unit.
Our unique EnviroGro CFL unit features ultra-high output, compact fluorescent lamps that are powered by a dedicated integral power unit. The lamps can be easily interchanged from Cool White to Warm White, by simply screwing the new lamp into the same reflector unit. This offers the ultimate in energy efficiency, flexibility and affordability.
The EnviroGro CFL units and Sun Mate can be used for side lighting or mounted over the plant for intense growing power and offers a low energy alternative to HID lighting units.
The range of light energy emitted from any light source is measured in nanometres (nm) and ranges from ultraviolet to infrared. This information is critical for the correct lighting of your plants. Certain plants and plant growth stages respond better to certain wavelengths of light.
T5 lamps are long, glass fluorescent tubes that are available in a variety of lengths. During the first few weeks of existence, seedlings and cuttings can be rooted under fluorescent strip lights. These lamps provide much less light than HIDs, which is why they are ideal for this particular stage of a plant’s life. They promote developmental growth by supplying cool, diffused light to cuttings and seedlings. However, they can also be used for vegetative, low level plants where even distribution is required and supplementary flowering.
In order to minimise potential growing problems, it is important to consider the growing environment, in which you are going to place your hydroponic system. There are many factors that need to be considered but we are essentially referring to the atmosphere and air in which your plants grow in.
It is not just the nutrient solution that is an important source of nutrition for your plant, but also the carbon dioxide that is made available to the plant in the growing environment. In a typical plant, water accounts for the vast majority of its total weight, with the rest being made up of ‘dry matter’. The vast majority of the ‘dry matter’ is in the form of carbohydrate, which is sourced from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and then, converted by the plant.
Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain adequate air exchanges in the growing environment, so as not to starve your plants of the carbon dioxide that they vitally need.
In addition to this, air exchange also helps to control the levels of temperature and humidity within the growing environment. These factors are usually, but not exclusively, controlled by ventilation.
Unwanted smells and outside air quality can be a concern for some growers and we offer a range of products available for use within the growing environment to help control this issue.
Carbon filters work by filtering the exhaust air using activated charcoal. This completely removes the airborne odour and outside particles when used as an air intake. Carbon filters will last between 9 months and 3 years dependent on the quality of the charcoal used.
We also offer ozone-producing products, such as, Hydrozone. The Hydrozone introduces a small amount of ozone into the growing environment, which reproduces a natural freshness and kills unwanted smells and disinfects the surface.
An alternative method of odour control is that provided by the Vaportek range of products. These use a unique cartridge with essential oils that treat the air as it is passed through the unit by the small integral fan. This is a proven, safe method of odour control for the environmentally concerned grower.
We offer odour neutralisers as well. NOdA is an odour eliminator, which masks the smell, but traps and neutralises it therefore, getting rid of the problem.
Ventilation and air circulation are vital in controlling temperature and humidity. Plants often grow best in a temperature range of between 18°C and 23°C and in a humidity range of 40%-75%. If you are unable to control these factors, you are likely to experience problems with your plants in terms of disease, lack of acceptable growth, yields and problems associated with various insect pests.
When growing in an enclosed space, it is advisable to use both an extractor fan and an intake fan. An extractor fan will remove the moist (high humidity), warm air as well as other respiratory by-products produced by the leaves. This helps to replenish the carbon dioxide deficient air and reduce plant stress. The size of the extractor fan depends on the size of the growing environment, the number of HID lamps in use and whether carbon filters are being used to help with odour control.
It is recommended that you place an intake fan (in a low position) at the opposite end of the growing environment to the extractor fan (positioned higher up), as it helps to control both the humidity and temperature and introduces carbon dioxide into the environment.
We supply a range of ventilation control equipment, including RAM AIR-PRO Fan Speed Controller, which will control the intake and extractor fans. More complex atmospheric control products are also available, such as, Autogrow Intelliclimate. In a larger growing area, we recommend the use of air circulator fans, which assists in reducing the temperature fluctuations and increases the CO₂ distribution throughout the growing environment.
cO2- Carbon Dioxide
It is possible to increase your plant’s rate of photosynthesis and therefore, growth rates and yields by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide available in the growing environment. Double the growth rates are possible by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide from 350 ppm (normal atmospheric levels) to 700 ppm.
We supply a complete range of carbon dioxide enrichment products, including sophisticated CO₂ monitoring and dosing products. Remember that carbon dioxide is an asphyxiate and can be dangerous if levels are too high in the growing environment when entered.
Pest And Disease Control
Pests and disease cause issues that can have a very detrimental effect on your plant and it's health. A disease can be genetic, bacterial, viral or fungal in nature; however it is likely that you will only experience that latter of this list.
Therefore, it is important that you employ good practice in your growroom to help prevent pests and disease.
Keep the floor clean and keep all algal biomass off the surface of your growing media, as this can provide the perfect breeding ground for pests. Regularly using ESSENTIALS BlockClean will help to keep the biomass at bay.
Growers’ tools often carry many microscopic pests, disease and fungi that could ultimately destroy your crop. This means regular sanitary precautions must be taken. A separate set of indoor tools are easy to keep clean. Disinfect these after each use by soaking in or washing with ESSENTIALS RoomClean. This is also the case when taking cuttings. Always make sure you have cleaned your scalpel and board with ESSENTIALS RoomClean, otherwise you risk not giving them the best possible start.
Take care not to leave decomposing organic matter in your nutrient solution or any trays; as if it is not removed it can cause depletion in oxygen. Lack of oxygen around the root zone is a leading factor contributing to root death. Roots need oxygen, so that is why it is important to get rid of any decomposing organic matter. In addition, roots should never sit stagnant in nutrient solution; always aerate it with an air stone or air pump.
To limit outbreaks of Botryits (Bud Rot) and Pythium (Root Rot), it is good practice to wash down all equipment, reservoir, walls and floors with ESSENTIAL RoomClean in a concentrated form and flush irrigation lines in between crops; then allow to air dry. Spray any mother plants down with a neem oil solution, such as Neem Repel before you reintroduce them as an extra line of defence.
Keep an eye out for insects, which may attack your plants. Always hang sticky fly traps in your growroom or greenhouse to trap any unwanted visitors. This will also allow you to identify and treat any possible infestation at an early stage. Avoid using inorganic chemicals whenever possible, especially if you are nearing harvesting. Some insecticides and fungicides are highly toxic and could have a detrimental effect on your plants. If you use an insecticide, be sure to use one based on natural active ingredients, such as, Guard’n’Aid PestOFF; after all, you will probably be consuming part or all of your plant sooner or later – don’t poison yourself.
Common Pest Problems
Spider Mite- These tiny mites are difficult to see with the naked eye. They are devastating to a wide variety of plants. The first sign that your plant may have Spider Mite is speckling on the leaves, followed by distorted leaves and stunted growth. In the case of a severe infestation, webbing may appear. Spider Mites prefer it hot and dry, so it is important to raise the humidity around the plant.
Thrips- They are a very small insect that leave silvery brown ‘dry’ patches on the leaves with black dots. The adults are tan and dark with wings and are difficult to spot due to the fact that they ‘flick’ off easily. They deposit their eggs on young leaves and in flower buds and this can lead to shoot tips and flower buds becoming distorted if they have been damaged by the insects feeding.
Aphids (Greenfly) Aphids – of which the most well-known is greenfly – are small sap-sucking insects that can be green, peach, black or almost see-through. Often the first sign that a plant has greenfly or aphids is the appearance of white shells that these insects shed at each stage of their development. They produce a sticky waste called ‘Honeydew’ which quickly develops a black sooty mould that coats the leaves. This will lead to new growth being distorted or stunted.
Fungus Gnats- Most species are black in colour and are very small (less than 1.5mm), although a few species may reach up to 7mm long. Their key identifying features are long legs and long thin wings. They lay their eggs in the root zone, the larvae hatch and then they eat the plant roots.
Whitefly- These insects are kite-shaped ‘white’ flies, which means they are easy to see on green leaves, but difficult to catch as they fly off. Whiteflies can leave a sooty mould on the leaves which can lead to distorted and stunted growth. In addition, they also carry fungus and disease.
Raise fish and grow plants in the FishPlant enclosed ecosystem to eat or to enjoy, the choice is yours.
o Educational and fun
o Healthy produce
Developed in combination with universities and leading horticultural companies, the FishPlant range brings hydroponics, aquaculture and education to your home.
The technique of growing plants and raising fish together and creating a symbiotic relationship is called aquaponics, the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics.
You can raise fish and grow plants in an enclosed ecosystem with beneficial microbes providing the bridge that converts the fish waste to usable plant nutrients. When you feed the fish, you are also feeding the bacteria and the plants.
How Do The FishPlant Systems Work?
The system is based around a plant bed and a fish tank, both working together. The fish water feeds the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish, all you need to then do is feed the fish.
The Plant Bed of the FishPlant system is based on the ‘Flood and Drain’ hydroponic technique – the ‘Flood’ bringing water and nutrients to the plants roots, the ‘Drain’ drawing fresh air (oxygen) into the root zone. It is ideal for growing our favourite herbs and salad crops. The design ensures constant water circulation and helps oxygenate the water for the fish.
FishPlant is finely balanced. As you raise the fish they produce more waste, this provides more food for the plants, the plants grow larger taking up more waste product, cleaning the water for the fish. Fish and plants grow in tune with each other.
What species of fish can I farm?
This depends on whether you intend to eat them or just keep them for pleasure. While the principle of aquaponics is primarily to grow food, it may be that you prefer to grow ornamental fish, such as, Koi Carp or Goldfish and just eat the plant produce. If you want to farm edible varieties then you can successfully and consistently farm Tilapia, Carp, Perch and, with practice, even Trout.