Friday, May 22, 2009

Hydroponic Nutrients

Here is a simple guide to help you understand basic management of hydroponic nutrients.

To get started, lets cover the basic needs of plants:
  • Light
  • Water
  • Air
  • Minerals (Nutrients)
  • Proper temperature
  • Proper pH
Plants need light, but hydroponic nutrients do not. Hydroponic nutrients are best kept in cool dark places for storage and use. Use dark colored U.V. resistant plastic for nutrient reservoirs to inhibit the growth of algae in your hydroponic system. Algae will not directly harm your plants, but it will use minerals from your nutrient solution that your plants need and cause your nutrient pH to drift.
Start with good water. Do not use softened water or chlorinated water to mix your nutrients.
Rain water is best with an EC (electrical conductivity) of about 10. RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water is next best with an EC of about 15-60, depending on the quality of the RO unit and the initial water quality. If you are not sure about your water, have it tested.
Plants need air for both their leaves and roots. Adequate ventilation of growing area and aeration of hydroponic nutrients in solution will help you to grow healthy and happy plants.
DO (dissolved oxygen) levels in hydroponic nutrients can be monitored with a DO meter available at pond supply stores. Try to keep dissolved oxygen levels at or preferably above 6ppm. The best way to aerate nutrient solutions is to use aquarium stones and air pumps, or by circulating nutrients or causing nutrient solutions to fall or flow.
Minerals and Nutrients
Always use hydroponic nutrients and not fertilizers that are for soil growing. General Hydroponics are a supplier of high quality hydroponic nutrients. If you are hoping to mix your own hydroponic nutrient, look for "solution grade" or "agricultural grade".
Proper Temperature
The optimum temp. is different for each type of plant. Hydroponic nutrients can be heated or chilled to maintain optimum growing conditions for each specific crop. A general target for temperature is 60-65 deg F. For hydroponic lettuce or living lettuce crops, any nutrient temp. below 58 degrees F will significantly impede growth, resulting in tough and chewy lettuce. Any nutrient temp above 75 deg F will cause growth to occur too rapidly, resulting in bitter tasting lettuce.
The pH of your nutrient is of utmost importance in hydroponics. If your nutrients pH drifts from the optimum range, certain nutrients will become unavailable to your plants. The best pH for each type of plant varies, but a good range for most hydroponic plants is from 5.8-6.2.

Keep good records of these variables and it will help you to fine tune your hydroponic nutrients to make the best of your hydroponic system. Weather you grow for food fun or commercially for profit, getting the maximum yield possible is always a good thing. In order to get the highest yield possible from your crops, you need to learn and practice techniques for good management of hydroponic nutrients. Remember to take good notes and keep things clean!

God Bless and Happy Growing!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hydroponic System Basics

Hydroponic systems can get pretty fancy, especially when aeroponics are incorporated. To get started growing hydroponic vegetables or any hydroponic plants, a simple system will suffice. There are lots of do it yourself hydroponic guides out there, but if you want to be creative and try your own design, here are a few basic requirements you will need to plan to incorporate into your hydroponic system:
  • Plants need light to perform photosynthesis, hydroponic nutrient reservoirs are better off without light. Dark materials and thermal insulation are good for making nutrient tanks. They can also be partially or completely buried to help control nutrient temp.
  • Optimum nutrient temperature varies for each variety of plant or vegetable, but in general hydroponics nutrient solutions should be kept between 60 deg. and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Aquarium heaters and commercial chillers are the best ways to control nutrient Temp.
  • The best hydroponic systems have a design that provides plants with a well oxygenated or aerated nutrient solution that is at the right temperature for the crop of choice. As the temp. of the nutrient soln. increases, its oxygen holding capacity decreases. DO, O2, or dissolved oxygen meters are not necessary, but they can be a valuable tool for the hydroponic grower.
  • Hydroponic systems must provide the roots of plants and vegetables with oxygen. There are some simple ways to aerate hydroponic nutrient solutions, but aquarium air stones and air pumps are the easiest.
  • Simple timers and small magnetic drive pumps can be used to circulate hydroponic nutrient solutions. Magnetic drive pumps are the best pumps to use for hydroponics because they are efficient and do not allow harmful oil based lubricants to come into contact with and contaminate your growing system.
  • Growing mediums must be compatible with the type of hydroponic system that they are used in. Coco-coir is great when mixed 50/50 with lecca or hydroton in auto pot systems, but may clog pumps in circulating systems such as NFT, ebb and flow or flood and drain, and deep water culture or lettuce raft systems. Sure to grow and rapid rooter plugs are great for circulating hydroponic systems and can be used with lecca or hydroton in net pots to support the growth of larger plants and vegetables such as peppers and tomatoes as they mature.
Keep your design simple. When it comes to hydroponic growing systems, the less complicated the safer the plants and vegetables will be. When systems fail to give plants what they need plants are likely to suffer or if the roots are allowed to dry out the plants will likely die. For healthy and happy hydroponic plants plants monitor pH regularly. Keeping a pH of 5.8 -6.2 will keep most plants and vegetables happy, but check for plant specific pH requirements.
Remember to treat growing with your new hydroponic system as an expiriment. Keep written reccords of your growing trials to fine tune your system making it as productive as possible. Make adjustments to your system as needed and don't forget to have fun!

God Bless and Happy Hydroponic Growing!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Do Hydroponic Vegetables Taste?

Are you wondering if the hydroponic peppers or tomatoes at your local grocery store taste as good as they look?

Yes they do! Hydroponic vegetables are delicious! Just like rare field grown crops that are grown in absolutely the best of conditions, hydroponic vegetables are provided with the best nutrients in perfect proportions, giving them a flavor and texture that is consistently better than field grown vegetables. It is up to the grower or greenhouse manager to provide the hydroponic plants with the specific nutrient solution in the optimal pH range and to maintain the most efficient levels for temperature, light, humidity and CO2. There are many variables that the hydroponic greenhouse grower must be accountable for, but the benefits of hydroponics are clear. When the hydroponic grower is good at what they do, the proof is in the produce!

Hydroponic vegetables are often more nutritious and with no dirt, they are cleaner. With recent advances in nutrient formulation and nutrient management technology, organic hydroponics are gaining in popularity. If you are thinking about growing your own hydroponic produce or simply trying the hydroponic vegetables that your local grocer has on their produce isle shelves, I am sure that you will not regret it!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Growing Healthy Hydroponic Vegetables: Preparing a Greenhouse for Hydroponics

Ready to start growing with hydroponics? Growing hydroponic vegetables is a great green business idea and a great way to produce healthy food for you, your friends, and your family! Beginning to grow with hydroponics means making time to start cleaning. The best environment for hydroponics is a clean one. Dirty growing environments equal problems for those who are growing healthy hydroponic vegetables in a hydroponics greenhouse or indoor growing system. If you want to get the best yield from your crops and minimize problems for your plants and flowers, here are some tips:
  • Clean, Clean, Clean and then sanitize with at least a 10% solution of bleach and water, then rinse well with good water. Hydrogen peroxide is also an option for sanitizing hydroponic systems as its residue will be less harmful to plants growing in the set up.
  • Problems can spread rapidly through a hydroponics growing system. Sanitizing all equipment between crops can save you a lot of trouble with bacteria and viruses which can spread through your whole crop of hydroponic vegetables or flowers in a very short time.
  • Use a sterile growing medium or media such as Sure to Grow, coco-coir, hydroton, lecca, perfect starts, or rapid rooter plugs.. Keep it free from contamination by dirt or any foreign organic matter.
  • Keep pets and pests both away from your hydroponic growing systems. They can introduce contaminated particles of organic matter as well as physically damage the plants, vegetables, or flowers growing in your set up. You also would not want to pay for Fido to get his stomach pumped after he decided to taste test your hydroponic nutrient.
  • Loose dirt and wind blown organic matter can also cause your hydroponic plants problems, try to use screens on vents which will also help to keep out pests. Thrips are small enough to pass through a regular window screen so look for special greenhouse vent screen that is designed to keep pests out.
After thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing it is time to mix your hydroponic nutrients into a nutrient solution. It is wise to have a water analysis done before choosing your hydroponic nutrient formula. If possible, use rain water or water purified by reverse osmosis. RO filters can be expensive, but they can clean your water well enough to avoid building up minerals in your nutrient to levels that can be toxic to hydroponic vegetables. If you have to use a water source that is not as clean as you would like, hydroponic nutrient supply companies can make nutrient solutions that are specifically tailored to your water and plant needs.

God Bless and Happy Growing!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Growing Healthy Hydroponic Vegetables: Getting Started

First harvest of Lapham's Living Lettuce

Basil growing in a homemade Hydroponic / Aeroponic Hybrid growing chamber in a homemade greenhouse built using a carport frame and left over scraps from a commercial greenhouse

These are some pictures of my first trials growing hydroponic vegetables. Just get started on a small scale and do not be afraid to make mistakes. Growing healthy hydroponics vegetables indoors is fun and easy! Experiment with different plants and different systems to see what works best for you.
  • I had great success growing organic basil from seed in rapid rooter plugs.
  • Growing Living Lettuce was best with the STG cubes in a raft or deep water culture system.
  • For growing tomatoes I had the best results witha 50/50% mix of hydroton or lecca expanded clay pellets and coco-coir.
  • In the hybrid hydroponic / aeroponic growing chamber, I also had good results growing a variety os peppers which were started from seed in rapid rooter plugs then placed into grow cups and filled in with lecca or hydroton expanded clay pellets. This was the same method used for growing basil and it prooved to be very successful.
In order to get started growing healthy hydroponic vegetables, all you need is to do some research online, read some books or make a trip to your local hydroponic supply store. They should be able to get you set up with the materials that youll need to begin indoors or outdoors. Do not feel pressured to buy any expensive growing systems or kits. You can do it your self for much less money.
God Bless and happy growing!

Friday, March 6, 2009

General Hydroponics Nutrient: Grow Hydroponic Vegetables

General hydroponics nutrient consists of twelve main nutrients called macro nutrients and some micro nutrients. The macro nutrients are available in larger quantities than the micro nutrients. All of the nutrients must form a solution that stays in suspension in order for the hydroponic vegetables to thrive. If any imbalance occurs in any of the nutrients concentration, problems can cause crop loss or total crop failure.

When mixing general hydroponics nutrients in liquid form, be sure to use accurate measurements. A good graduated cylinder or graduated beaker are best, but a measuring cup will usually suffice. It is also good practice to double check the nutrient concentration with a ppm (parts per million) or e.c. (electrical conductivity) meter. These can be obtained through your local hydroponics supply store or from an online hydroponics supply store. All meters are not the same, so do a little research on meters before you buy. Hanna makes excellent commercial grade meters that have many different options. I recommend getting an all in one pH, temp. and e.c./ppm meter. These functions are all necessary components of a meter for any hydroponics grower. The temperature function is also best for calibrating the other settings. Calibration solutions are labeled with adjustments for temperature and having to use a different meter for temp readings is a hassle.

When mixing general hydroponics nutrient in dry or powder form it is best to measure with a scale or an electronic balance, but measuring spoons or a measuring cup will do. It is best to use warm water when mixing dry nutrients. This will help the nutrient to dissolve completely and form a solution that your hydroponic vegetables will love. I have used General Hydroponics FloraMato Dry from Growco in Grand Rapids, MI and I had good success.

Speaking of Growco, Jay and his staff are great! A couple of years ago, I wanted to start growing hydroponic vegetables in my brothers commercial greenhouse. Our family has been in the flower business for 48 years and I wanted to branch off of our already successful business. Growco gave me all of the info that I needed to get started growing with hydroponics. The first time I went to Growco, I was there for about four and a half hours. They answered every question that I had, and I had a lot of questions. Since then I have made several orders and they are always at my house or my greenhouse a day or two early.

Back to general hydroponics nutrient, the hydroponic grower needs to adjust pH on a regular basis. Different plants have different requirements, but a good general rule for nutrient pH is 6.2. Anywhere between 5.8 and 6.5 will do, but I think that for most hydroponic vegetables 6.2 is best. The pH level is very important because as pH drifts certain nutrients will become unavailable to plants. Fluctuations in temperature and changes in nutrient concentration as caused by evaporation of water from the nutrient solution, or the absorption of nutrients by plants are common causes of pH drift for which the hydroponic grower must compensate. General hydroponics nutrient supply stores offer a variety of different products for balancing pH. Phosphoric acid is my favorite, but it is also dangerous to handle as it is a very acidic solution. There are lots of other buffers available, so don't feel like you need to use something that you aren't comfortable working with. Some companies even make organic pH buffers that work pretty well.

Hope someone finds this information helpful!

God bless and happy growing!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Greenhouse Growing: Grow Healthy Hydroponic Vegetables Indoors

It is that time of year again! Time to get into the greenhouse and start planting those healthy hydroponic vegetables! It is fun and easy to get started growing hydroponics in a greenhouse. If you have never tried to grow your healthy hydroponic vegetables in a greenhouse before, here are a few tips to make getting started a little easier:

  • Buy a completye greenhouse kit. This saves a lot of time in construction. Complete kits come with many different options, so do your homework and find one that suits your needs.
  • Start seedlings in your house. Heat is expensive. Any growing that can be done inside your house will save you money on heating your greenhouse.
  • Spend some time researching what type of growing mediums you will use. Different mediums are better for different hydroponic systems as well as different vegetables. Coco-coir, hydroton or lecca, and S.T.G. or Sure To Grow cubes are my favorites.
  • Use the space in your greenhouse wisely. Try to grow the most you can in the space that you have. This will help you to get the most bang for your buck. Try growing vegetables like peppers that need lots of light up high and vegetables like lettuce that need less light below. If the plants get lanky or leggy, they are starving for light and should be given more.
  • Consider using supplemental lighting to extend your growing season. When day light hours start to drop off some plants, like lettuce, will begin their reproductive phase giving you bitter lettuce. Daylight compact florescent or blue spectrum metal halide are good for vegetative growth while red spectrum sodium bulbs are good for flowering/ fruiting plants.
  • Good ventilation is key to growing healthy hydroponic vegetables in a greenhouse through hot summer months. A greenhouse that incorporates an opening roof vent is the most economical means of ventilation. The implementation of a vent located high in the peak at one end of the greenhouse and a fan blowing outward high in the peak at the other end is also an effective method of removing hot air from the greenhouse.
Most importantly, don't be afraid to experiment and have fun! Reading and research can save you a lot of time and heartache, so do your homework. Before you know it you will have all of your friends, family, and neighbors raving over how delicious and beautiful your healthy hydroponic vegetables are!