So you wanna grow something hydroponically? Chances are you’ve been watching YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Forums, Books and countless other sources for anything and everything hydroponic, organic and gardening alike. (If not, I suggest you do.) While these are great places to start they can be misleading and not tell the full story. A lot of new customers often walk in our store and immediately ask about LED light and Deep Water Culture, not always in those words, but “the purple lights” and “five gallon buckets” are usually a dead give away that this person has maybe had too much YouTube, and not enough experience. While these methods are attractive, they are by far two of the most costly options in the hydroponics market.
LED’s have been out for quite a while, initially with products like the UFO and now with products like Fluence Bioengineering’s SPYDRx Plus & Spectrum King’s SK602GH, the technology has come along way. Initially the issue with LED’s was intensity, these lights just couldn’t deliver the yield and penetration that conventional HID lighting offers; aside from always being on the expensive side. Now a days, growers on Instagram & YouTube will show you that the newer light deliver every bit of quality an HID would offer while being low on heat and low on power. These factors of course are offset slightly by the initial cost of the light.
FOR EXAMPLE: Lets say to cover a 4’x4′ area with a 1000W HPS cost roughly $50 a month to run and provide cooling to the garden. Then lets say it cost $20 a month to cover the same area(4’x4′) with either of the units mentioned above(SPYDRx Plus / SK601GH). The difference in energy cost is roughly $30, theoretically this savings would go towards the difference in the cost of the two units(~$500 vs. ~$1500), nearly 3x the cost. After about 34 months of saving roughly $30 a month you would have paid off the difference in cost and now you are truly saving money.
*I only break this down so people can see the math of what costs more, or less, and what is meant when a company makes claims that a light saves money.
IF YOU WANT TO PRODUCE WHAT YOU ARE USE TO BUYING, QUALITY LIGHTING IS #1.
**There seems to be a common misconception that a closet LED garden does not need air exchange and will not generate enough heat to warrant a cooling systems. THIS IS FALSE. Even closet LED gardens are susceptible to over heating. Please consult us before making a mistake so many have made before.
For reasons of confusion and misunderstanding, we have assembled a list of hydroponic systems ranked from easiest and least expensive(represented in this scale by a #1) to hardest and most expensive(represented in this scale by a #10). I call it…
Hydroponics Scale of Efficiency
Hand Watered Soil-less Container Garden
Self Watering Container Garden
- False Bottom Containers that allow a limited amount of soil to stay in contact with the water resivopir at all times allowing the plant to wick up moisture from the bottom of the container.
- Recommend Products: Tomato Bucket, Auto Pot, BluMat System
- DIY: Cut the rim off a net pot bucket lid so the net pot sits at the bottom of the bucket. Find the spot where the top of the lid and the wall of the bucket meet and drill a 1″ hole below that line with the top of the hole right under the bucket lid. Fill with your favorite potting soil and water from the top a few times, never filling up the bottom reservoir, after the plant is established(1-2 weeks) you can begin filling the bottom and monitoring the water levels.
Drip System (Manual)
- Manually Mixing & Pumping Nutrients Through an Irrigation System As Needed
* Due to infrequent use, it is recommended to install a bypass valve to flush you irrigation lines after each feeding.
- Daily Ten(10) to Fifteen(15) Minute Irrigation Cycles Once a Day, Every Morning.
* Pargro & Grodan are made by the same company(Grodan), the difference is in the direction of the fibers. Pargro Quick Drain(white wrapping) blocks have the fibers arranged vertically to drain rapidly. Grodan (silver wrapping) have their fibers arranged horizontally to better retain water between cycles.
Intermittent Drip System
- Water Cycles No Longer Than Five(5) Minutes, Typically Every Couple of Hours
* Pargro & Grodan are the same company, the difference is in the direction of the fibers. Pargro Quick Drain(white wrapping) blocks have the fibers arranged vertically to drain rapidly. Grodan (silver wrapping) have their fibers arranged horizontally to better retain water between cycles.
Ebb and Flow
- Periodic Filling and Draining of a Tray or Container
*Alot of people have the misconception that the term is “Flood & Drain”, were the grow tray is flooded for the majority of the watering cycle. While this term maybe easier to say for beginners, the definition is:
- a recurrent or rhythmical pattern of coming and going or decline and regrowth.
Meaning, the focus should be more on the filling and the draining, where slower is better.
Nutrient Film Technique
- A Small Film of Water (1/4″-1/2″) Slowly Flowing on the Bottom of a Growth Chamber Being Gravity Fed Back to the Reservoir.
- Recommend Product: DIY- 4″ Plastic Fence Post/Post Covers
- Constant, or Intermittent, Spraying of the Root Zone with a Fine Pressurized Mist
- Recommended Product: Aero Flo2 – COMING SOON!!!
(Recirculating) Deep Water Culture
- Constantly Circulating, Water Chilled, Float Valve Controlled Deep Water Culture System
- Recommended Product: Under Current System from Current Culture – COMING SOON!!!
hy·dro·pon·ics – the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil.
*1930s: from hydro- ‘of water’ + Greek ponos ‘labor’ + -ics.
hor·ti·cul·ture – late 17th century: from Latin hortus ‘garden,’ on the pattern of agriculture.
*late 17th century: from Latin hortus ‘garden,’ on the pattern of agriculture .
Basics to Indoor Gardening
The Who, What, Where, & Why
Having the right environment is critical for your garden. Key elements to a successful garden room include relative humidity, temperature, CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and air circulation/exchange. The ideal humidity for a garden room falls between 40 & 60 percent. Some plants like higher humidity, but know that higher humidity can lead to problems with fungus and disease. Temperatures in your grow room should be between 68 – 75 F degrees. Temperature changes will lead to variations in humidity levels. Avoid drastic temperature changes over a short period of time. Your plants need CO2 to grow. Assuming you have good air circulation/ exchange, your garden room will naturally have between 300-400 PPM (parts per million) of CO2; higher CO2 levels should accelerate growth rates. If you choose not to supplement CO2 in your garden room, it is important to address the air circulation/exchange so that your plants will receive fresh CO2.
- VPD is defined as the difference (deficit) between the amount of moisture in the air and how much moisture the air can hold when it is saturated.
- i.e. At 75°F optimal Relative Humidity Range is between 65% – 70%.
The water you use for your plants will determine how well your plants will grow, regardless of what you add in terms of nutrients and supplements. PPM (parts per million) or EC (electrical conductivity) are the measurement of the salts in a solution. Neither PPM nor EC readings will tell you what is in your solution / water, but rather are indicators of the solutions ability to conduct electricity. Ideally, you want to start of with a low PPM or EC then you can add nutrients specified to your plants requirements.
Seedlings & Clones: 200 – 500ppm
Veg: 500 – 1000ppm
Bloom: 1000 – 1400ppm
* Some plants have been known to take larger than normal doses of nutrients, sometimes ranging in the 2500-3500ppm range, while this is rare it is not unheard of.
Users can reduce the PPM of their water by using a Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) unit then build your nutrient solution around what your plants need. Customers who use “city water” or water from a “Municipal Utility District” should be aware that these facilities are not only using chlorine these day to clean our water, they are also using chloramine. Chloramine does not evaporate from water like chlorine and must be removed via filter. Thankfully the folks at Hydro Logic have created a replacement carbon filter call the KDF85 carbon filter. This should be used by anyone using water with chloramine in it, especially any customers using beneficial microbes such a fungi and bacteria.
pH (potential hydrogen) measures the acidity or alkalinity of your solution on a scale of 0 – 14. A solution is considered acidic below 7 and basic at 7 or higher. When working with hydroponics you typically want your pH to fall between 5.8 and6.2. When growing in soil or coco you want your pH between 6.0 and 6.8. The most important rule to remember with pH is to avoid extremes, as a general rule of thumb we recommend staying between a pH of 5.5 – 6.5. Nutrient “lockout” occurs with high and low pH levels, however a pH “swing” can be natural in hydroponic system, especially in systems where the water is moving more often(i.e. Deep Water Culture), finding the range your plants like and that your nutrients stays stable at can be very important. If the pH is 6.5 in your hydroponic system, but the plants look happy, maybe stop adjusting it and see how the plants react before wasting extra, un-needed pH down.
** To figure PPM(TDS) to EC or vice versa, multiply the EC value (i.e. 2.0) by 500(for the PPM 500 scale, the most common scale for TDS), this would give you 1000, meaning a EC of 2.o is equal to 1000PPM; to go from PPM to EC divide by 500.
As stated above in the, Hydroponics Scale of Effiency:
Ebb & Flow gardens fill and drain a tray of plants with a nutrient solution at regular intervals.
Drip Systems provide nutrient solution to the plant through tubes & emitters (drip stakes) to each plant.
NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) gardens create a slow moving nutrient solution -‘film’- that flows over the roots of the plants.
Aeroponic growing mists an oxygenated nutrient solution directly to the roots of a plant.
Deep Water Culture aerates the roots that are submerged in water with a diaphragm based air pump to optimized oxygen levels around the root zone. This style of gardening has been klnown to produce some very like plants, however not every genetic has the capacity to do what other may and often time what the “cool” photo’s leave out are the 2 – 4 month veg times required to produce a plant of such large size.
Organics have become a preferred method of growing. Choose the size container you want, an organic soil/medium, an organic fertilizer and water by hand. Some gardeners have begun using Earthworms directly in their fabric containers in a style called “no till”. These gardeners seem to utilize organic gardening methods to reuse and recharge their soilless growing medium to be used over and over again, reducing both cost and waste.
*Beginners and professionals alike hand water container gardens as it is by far the least expensive and highest yielding of all the styles of gardening of your average growing environment and genetics.
Growing mediums act as the anchor for the plants root system. Some add nutritional value to your plants while others simply give the roots something to hold on to. Some mediums to consider are soil-less mixes, coco, hydroton, rockwool, or simply, water.
Coco is available in both a loose and compressed form. Coco is made from the husks of a coconut, and it is very pH stable and provides good moisture retention and natural aeration qualities.The only issues anyone ever has with coco is salt build up or cal-mag deficiency. Be aware, Be Prepared.
Hydroton, or clay pebbles, are made from expanded, pH neutral clay. They tend to hold water well and have great oxygen to water ratio; this makes hydroton suitable for hydroponic and soil gardens. With proper sterilization techniques, hydroton can be reused indefinitely.
Rockwool is made from stone that is heated then spun into fibers. It is then compressed into starter cubes, grow blocks, or slabs. This medium has excellent oxygen to water ratio. Rockwool tends to have a higher pH, so flushing with 5.5-5.8 pH balanced water or a rockwool conditioning solution is recommended. Rockwool works best in an drip system, and some ebb & flows systems.
Ideally the question is how often do you want to mess with your garden, the more often the medium dries out, the more often they need to be watered, at some point an automation system is required. While automation is good, should a part or pump fail, this usually results in total crop loss. So if you are going to automate your garden, install your system, monitor it, and ensure all the parts are moving smoothly for at least a couple cycles to ensure no surprises in the future.
Like humans, plants require food (nutrients) to grow. Nutrients come in organic and synthetic varieties and are available in both liquid and dry form. Nutrients can be separated into two categories, macro and micro nutrients. The macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. The micronutrients or trace nutrients include iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum and chlorine. If the nutrients are deficient or are abundant you may see burning, curling or yellowing. You do not want to over or under fertilize. There are many different types of nutrients/fertilizers available on the market. You can purchase organic, synthetic (chemical) or a combination of both. Most nutrients/fertilizers will have an N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) on the front of the bottle. In the vegetative or growth stage the “N” will typically be higher. In the flowering or bloom stage the “P” will typically be higher. You may also consider implementing additives/supplements into your nutrient mix. Additives/supplements can bolster microbial activity at the root zone, increase size, flavor and aroma. When used together, nutrients and supplements will help you achieve maximum results.
We are often asked “What is the best nutrient?” A very subjective question. The analogy we always use is based on the idea that as humans we all might have a different favorite food, but at the end of the day, it’s all food, all be it some healthier than others, but food non the less. Same goes for your plant, some might like a lot of food, some might like a little, some might like organics nutrients, and some might like synthetic nutrients, as a grower, your job is to interpret and test what your plant likes and provide as little stress as possible. In this way, you know what additives to give and when to give them to get the best result out of your garden.
High Intensity Discharge (HID) is the preferred lighting in a garden room. The two types of HID lighting commonly used are HPS (High Pressure Sodium) and MH (Metal Halide). HPS lamps deliver more of an orange/ red spectrum, which is ideal for most plants in the flowering/bloom stage. MH lamps deliver more of a blue/green spectrum, which is ideal for most plants in the vegetative/growth stage. Another type of lighting ideal for plant growth is T5 lighting. T5 lighting is a high-output fluorescent light with low heat and minimal energy consumption. It is an ideal light for cuttings, mother plants and short growth cycles. All plants require light in order to grow and bloom. Most plants grow and bloom according to the amount of light they are given. In the growth or vegetative stage plants typically want 15-18 hours of light. In the bloom stage you reduce the amount of light your plants get to 10-12 hours. You want to make sure the light comes on and of at the same time everyday (just like mother- nature). The best way to accomplish this is by putting your light on a timer.
*While not discussed here, refer to the intro of this page to read more about LED’s.
HID = Best, LED = Better, T5 = Good
Veg -> Metal Halide -> 18 hours light / 6 hours dark
Bloom -> High Pressure Sodium -> 12 hours light / 12 hours dark
There are many different meters available for testing pH, PPM, EC, temperature, humidity, CO2 and light levels. Single meters are available as are combination meters that test and/or monitor your environmental conditions The important thing to remember is your garden will only be as good as the limiting factor. Water, nutrient, light, temperature, humidity, CO2 & circulation are the elements to a successful garden room. By “dialing in” these elements, you will ensure a successful and bountiful garden.
There are many items available to help your garden grow. Organics, controls, fans, blowers, plant stakes, relays, nutritional supplements and the lists go on. Consult with your retail supplier to discuss what the best accessories for your garden are. Happy Gardening!!