What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the growing of plants in mediums other than traditional soil. The elements, minerals and nutrients present in soil are still required although soil is not. The main principle of hydroponics is a liquid nutrient solution that will be delivered directly to the roots along with increased oxygen to the root zone. A hydroponic system allows complete control of the nutrients contained in the water and therefore increases growth rates and yield, compared to traditional soil gardens where lower oxygen and nutrient levels are present.
The benefit of growing hydroponically, why is it better?
You have full control of the growing conditions, growing seasons sometimes become irrelevant. More plants can generally be grown in the same amount of space when compared to a traditional soil garden and use about one tenth of the water needed in a soil garden. Hydroponics uses less fertilizers than a traditional garden that would produce an equal amount of produce, as nutrients is delivered straight to the root zone. In hydroponic gardening there is much higher oxygen levels in the root zone when compared to a soil garden. Increased oxygen means increased nutrient uptake and much higher rates of growth because its easier to control nutrient levels in a hydroponic garden compared to a traditional soil garden. Generally, hydroponics is a more intensive production in a smaller space.
Can I grow hydroponically outdoors?
Hydroponic gardens can be used outdoors with some slight adjustments as you don’t have complete control of all environment factors. Some challenges you may encounter include; keeping the nutrient solution at the appropriate temperature in varying weather conditions, (a solution to this is using a water chiller or heater). Roots to cold will slow plant growth, and roots to hot can cause harmful bacteria which disrupts the plants health and growth
Is hydroponics organic?
Although there are many organic nutrients available for use in hydroponics gardens, without using certified ‘organic’ products no it isn’t really organic. Hydroponics is a very pure form of horticulture which uses a fraction of the fertilizer and water that soil based gardens use. There is no need for herbicides in hydroponics as there are no weeds and most growers will use biological control to keep pests and insects from causing damage. Most hydroponic nutrients and additives are a mix of premium grade water soluble fertilizers, but some companies have developed certified ‘organic’ products. More care will need to be taken to ensure a clean system when using organic products for hydroponics.
Are all plants suited for hydroponics?
The majority of plants will grow well in a hydroponic system, although some will be more difficult than others. Some varieties will do better in a soilless medium instead of damp, continuous watering conditions such as deep water culture. Most home growers plant fruits and vegetables that excel in hydroponic systems as almost every plant that grows from a seed will flourish in a hydroponic garden
Can I grow more than one variety of plant in the same system?
Yes, it is possible, however having plants with different nutritional requirements in the same system may make it hard to satisfy all varieties. Growing plants that are similar is going to be more successful, for example growing a variety of flowering vegetables such as tomatoes in one system and leafy greens in another is going to be easier to accommodate.
Do I need a greenhouse / grow room?
It is recommended as it provides protection from environmental factors such as heat, cold, wind and insect intrusion, some hobbyists will even use an unused room in their house such as a bedroom or attic. The type of grow room/green house equipment varies widely based on the environmental factors and the size of the grow room. Growing in a room means there needs to be a lighting and ventilation system in place.
Why does the PH of my nutrient solution have to be adjusted?
Adjusting PH to the correct level will achieve optimum growth as it allows the plants to uptake all the nutrients required. Soil has a good capacity to act as a buffer and balance out the pH of the incoming water. In a hydroponic system it is important to adjust the pH manually because there is no soil to act as a buffer and correct improper levels. Manually adjusting the pH involves mixing your nutrient solution into the water and using pH up or pH down to be at the desired pH level. A pH meter will give you the most accurate reading.
Do I have to use distilled water for hydroponics?
Using distilled or reverse osmosis water in your hydroponic garden is not absolutely required. However, the minerals that are found in your water will make up a percentage of your plants feed. If a gardener is looking for complete control of their plants’ nutrient consumption they may use purified water. It can be difficult to stabilize the pH in purified water due to the lack of minerals present and replenishing the calcium and magnesium levels is often required
What is the ideal PH level?
7.0 being a neutral pH level, the ideal pH level of your solution is 5.5-6.3, and the ideal pH level in soil being 6.2-7.2. The nutrients you add to your reservoir are acidic, the natural reaction as your plants consume these acidic nutrients is to see a rise in pH levels in the solution, so it is normal to see a pH up swing which is more desirable than your pH dropping which would indicate you have to much nutrient in your solution. Plants are able to take up specific nutrients at different pH levels more efficiently within the proper pH range. As it goes through the natural pH up swing to 6.3, and then brought back down to 5.5, it is getting good access to all nutrients required for optimal growth. It is very important to monitor your pH levels.
What is a good fertilizer to use?
When growing hydroponically it is important to use a hydroponic specific nutrient, there are many on the market. Majority premium hydroponic nutrients are a two part A&B solution to prevent minerals from binding and therefore not being available to the plant, although there are now some single part formulas now on the market. A nutrient that is complete with both micro and macro nutrients is a key product to look out for. Most nutrients work along side a handful of additives to achieve optimum results.
Is a Two part nutrient better than a single part?
Some would say a two part nutrient is superior to a single part because they separate minerals which could become permanently bound together forming sediment in the bottle and becoming unavailable to the plant. Keeping the nutrients separated in concentrate form ensure a longer shelf life and that all the nutrient you are paying for is available to the plants.
Is organic fertilizer better?
In outdoor or living soil it is beneficial to use organic nutrients because they will aid in building up a healthy and living soil environment full of beneficial microbes that will sustain plant growth. Synthetic nutrients tend to give faster more predictable results, although organic nutrients still produce excellent crops. Use of organics will need more frequent cleaning of the hydroponic system and reservoirs.
What strength should my solution be?
Majority of established plants grow and produce well with a maximum nutrient concentration of 2.2EC. Seedlings (once they have their first set of true leaves) and cuttings (once they show roots) should be using about a quarter of the strength 0.5-0.7 EC, and medium-sized plants 1.0-1.4EC.
How often should I change my nutrient solution?
There isn’t a certain amount of days you can get out of your reservoir, but there are a few factors that will determine when its time to swap out the solution. A good rule of thumb to follow first is to top off your reservoir with plain fresh water, no added nutrient. This is because you will lose water to plant uptake and evaporation, but the strength of the solution doesn’t necessarily drop with the level of water. In some cases, as the water level in the reservoir drops the concentration of the solution actually increases. Once adding only fresh water you will need to adjust your pH accordingly. Keeping a record of how much water you’re topping up with is very important as once the amount of water you’ve added equals that of half of the reservoirs capacity its time to change the solution and rinse the reservoir and growing medium. As an example, if you have a 50-liter reservoir and over the course of 10 days, you’ve added 25liters of fresh water its time to change out the solution. Weekly is a good bench point
How do I test my nutrient concentration?
The best way to check the concentration of your nutrient solution is with an EC meter. EC meters test the electrical conductivity of the water and will give you an indication of how strong your solution is. Having an EC meter is a must for the serious growers
What is the difference between TDS, EC and PMM, Which one should I use?
TDS is the total Dissolved Solids present in a nutrient solution, which is what we are measuring when we check our EC or PPM. EC is Electro Conductivity and PPM is Parts Per Million. EC is the best way to display the TDS of a nutrient solution because it is a universal unit. Unlike PPM which is EC x 0.5 or EC x 0.7 since there are two different conversions of EC to PPM it becomes an unreliable nutrient concentration because you can’t be sure it’s the same scale you have used. As there are two different PPM values for the same EC value, EC is a better way to describe nutrient solutions. We recommend having a Blue Lab Truncheon meter to check your EC.
What types of lighting is suitable for indoor gardening?
Any type of lighting system has its advantages and disadvantages, there are several types that are suitable for indoor gardening, the most popular being:
- High-pressure Sodium
- Metal Halide
- Sulphur Plasma
What is high pressure sodium lighting?
A high-Pressure Sodium light is a gas-discharge lamp that uses sodium in an excited state to produce light. Their ability to produce high-intensity light in the red and orange colour spectrums is why they have been a standard choice in indoor gardening for many years. The HPS bulb has been shown to create large yields of high-quality fruits and flowers. They do however put off a fair amount of heat, so a good ventilation system needs to be in place to reduce temperatures.
What is metal halide lighting?
A Metal Halide lamp is and electric light that produces light by an electric arc through a gaseous mixture of vaporized mercury and metal halide  (compounds of metals with bromine or iodine). It is a type of HID gas discharge lamp, they are similar to mercury vapour lamps but contain additional metal halide compounds in the arc tube. These types of light are ideal for using during vegetative growth. MH globes run very hot so there is a need to have a good ventilation system, another downside to this globe is its short life and rapid decrease in light output over the life of the lamp.
What is L.E.D Lighting?
An LED lamp is a solid-state lamp that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as the source of light. Initial costs of LED lights are higher than fluorescents and incandescent lamps, but they have a long service life and are highly energy efficient. What makes LEDs so efficient is they only emit diodes at the specific wavelengths required for plant growth, giving you tremendous growth with minimal wattage. In situations where low temperatures and high efficiency are a must, such as in small scale gardens where running a HID would put out too much heat, LED grow lights are an ideal alternative.
What is Fluorescent lighting and what is it good for?
A fluorescent lamp, fluorescent tube or compact fluorescent lamp is a very low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamp that uses fluorescence to produce visible light. A fluorescent lamp is more efficient than an incandescent lamp in the way it converts electrical power into useful light. T5 fluorescent lamps are typically used for many small plants such as seedlings or cuttings as they spread the light covering a large area evenly. A CFL is typically used for growing fewer large plants as it is better at covering a small area with a more intense light. When compared to other kinds of lighting, fluorescents tend to excel at growing seedlings, cuttings and plants that do not require a lot of light. Although possible, flowering fruits and vegetables is generally more successful with a higher intensity lamp such as a HPS or MH lamp.
Are HID lighting efficient?
Yes, very efficient compared to standard incandescent bulbs found in your house. For example, one 1000 watt sodium bulb produces as much light as about 87 standard 100-watt incandescent bulbs
What is the difference between high-pressure sodium and metal halide?
The difference between these two types of HID (high-intensity Discharge) lights is the colour spectrum that is emitted from each. The high-pressure Sodium bulb emits light that is concentrated in the red to yellow side of the spectrum and are weak in the blue-violet end. While the Metal Halide bulb emits light that is very balanced and contains all the energy peaks at wavelengths of the visible spectrum. Visually the Sodium bulbs will appear very yellow-orange and the Halide bulbs will appear more blue-white in colour.
Should I use a sodium or halide bulb?
Halide lights are excellent for vegetative growth or leafy plants like lettuce as they have a very balanced spectrum. The Halide bulbs produce between 65-115 lumens per watt which is a measure of the efficiency of the bulb, or how much light is being produced for the amount of electricity used. The Sodium bulbs produce a light that isn’t as balanced as the Halide but is very bright and concentrated on the Yellow to Red side of the colour spectrum. The Sodium bulb will produce between 97 to 150 lumens per watts which makes up for the colour spectrum not being as balanced. Halide bulbs are superior in spectral distribution while sodium bulbs are superior in life expectancy and efficiency, so your decision will be based on what is more important to you.
Why should someone use a metal halide for grow and a high-pressure sodium for flower?
There are a few reasons as to why someone would switch between bulbs, the first being Sodium bulbs have been known to cause some plants to grow leggy and stretched out because of the Yellow to Red spectrum they give off. Metal Halide lights tend to keep the plant tighter with less space between internodes. Some growers will use a Metal Halide light during vegetative grow to keep the structural growth of the plant nice and tight. Switching to a sodium bulb as the plant begins to flower means the plant is getting a very intense bright light to aid in good flower development and fruit set. Although you can use either light throughout the life of a plant and get excellent results. Most growers will like to experiment with their lighting after a little while.
What size light should I run?
Light size will depend on the amount of square footage in your room. To work out the area size multiply length x width, you will want to achieve at least 30watts per square foot. If you have a 4 x 4 area which is 16 square feet and you multiply by 30 watts, you get 480 watts. So, for a 4 x 4 area you will need to use at least a 430 watt light. Remember though that the amount of light required will depend on the kind of plant. With todays technology we would recommend a digital ballast and globe, if it were a 600w ballast you have the option of dimming the output down to 250w, 400w, 600w and then a 10% super output. This gives you more control and the advantage of turning the globe down on hot days.
Do I need a reflector?
Lamps often produce light in a 360-degree pattern, so a reflector is important to ensure all light is directed back towards the plant canopy. The only time you will not have use for a reflector is if you have hung lights vertically between taller plants, since the lamp is surrounded by plants on all sides light isn’t being directed where it’s of no use.
How far should my light be from my plants?
It depends on what kind of light you’re running
- Fluorescent and induction lamps should be 150mm from the top of the plants
- LED lights should be 225mm-300mm from the top of the plants
- 400w HID should be 300mm-400mm from the top of the plants
- 600w HID should be 400mm-500mm from the top of the plants
- 1000w HID should be 450mm-600mm from the top of the plants
Having an air-cooled reflector such as a cool tube could make it possible to have the light closer to the plants, but to achieve optimal growth you can double check by holding your hand at the top of the plants will give you a feel for the temperature if it’s a comfortable heat for your hand it should be comfortable for the plants. Remember if you wish to use a cool tube and pull air through the light, although it will be cooler especially in the hotter weather, you will lose some UV as it filters through the glass tube
How long should I leave my grow lights on for?
Some gardeners will leave their lights on 24/7 to achieve maximum growth, however 18 hours on 6 hours off is the most popular light duration for vegetative plants as it mimics a natural day of sunlight and a dark period. Some plants are triggered into flower by a reduced duration of daylight, so they can be tricked into producing flowers by reducing the light to 12 hours on and 12 hours off. We recommend the method of 18+6 for grow and 12+12 for flower.
Do I need a ballast?
Yes. A ballast is required to start the lamp and to increase the voltage required to keep it running. To get the lamp started the ballast provides a high, fast charge of electricity. After the bulb lights, the range of voltage and current are controlled by the transformer which is why the lamps operate so efficiently. As the technology improves so does the quality of todays ballasts with many now being controllable.
Can I interchange bulbs between systems?
No. Unless specifically made to do so you should never interchange bulbs between systems. For example, using a 250watt bulb in a 400watt system could cause the globe to become unstable and explode, so you are putting yourself at risk by doing this. There are many controllable systems on the market now, so it isn’t worth using systems that aren’t compatible. You should also never put Halide bulbs in a high-pressure Sodium system because you could cause it to overheat and explode as the ballast is running and rated for a HPS bulb. There are conversion bulbs and other products that can be interchanged but we recommend you follow manufacturer instructions.
What is the difference between digital and magnetic HID bulbs?
Magnetic ballasts are the older type of HID ballast. They tend to emit a hum or a buzzing sound while operating and can also run very hot. They are typically only made to fire one type of lamp, either MH or HPS although some newer magnetic ballasts are switchable between lamps. Digital ballasts are newer technology and run much cooler than magnetic ballasts. The power consumed by a digital ballast is used to produce light rather than heat, meaning they are more energy efficient. There are several other benefits with running a digital ballast, such as soft starting lamps, a convenient dimming feature which gives you more control and most importantly the ability to run either MH or HPS lamps on both 120v and 240v power supplies, they are also not as heavy as a magnetic ballast.
Is it safe for my eyes to look at grow lights?
No, looking directly into a grow light could cause serious injury to your eyes. Working in areas lit by HID lighting is acceptable, although you may feel your eyes become strained after a long period of time. All gardeners would benefit from wearing eye protection when working around grow lights as it not only protects your eyes, it allows you to see the environment true to colour by correcting the colour emitted by HID lights. Method seven protective eyewear is available, we highly recommend that you ask and try them on instore.
What type of insects might attack my plants?
There are a variety of insects that could attack your plants. Some you may find are
- Spider mites
- Aphids and Root Aphids
- Mealy bugs
- Fungus gnats
- White flies
Are spiders in my grow room an issue?
No, spiders will eat any other insects in your grow room that may be harmful. Having a spider in your grow room may actually be a benefit
How can I prevent insects from getting into my grow room?
There are a number of precautions you could take to reduce the risk of an insect infestation in your grow room. Sealing up any gaps and cracks will prevent unwanted pests from entering the garden. Working in the outdoor garden first and then entering your sterile grow room is a sure way to bring pests in. changing your shoes and keeping your pets out of the grow room will help in preventing anything from being tracked in. Any new plants should be quarantined before being put into the grow room to be sure they are insect and pest free.
What can I do about the bugs on my plants?
There are a few ways to deal with insects on your plants. Insecticides containing Pyrethrins are good for killing most insects on contact. They come in a concentrated form that can be mixed into a sprayer and they also come in an aerosol can. The active ingredient is derived from the Chrysanthemum flower making it a natural insecticide, only a small amount of the product is necessary to kill insects on contact. As with any insecticide multiple applications will be needed to break the life cycle of whatever pests you are trying to eliminate, usually repeating it every 5-7 is a good way to get on top of the problem. Pyrethrins are known to be effective at combating Aphids, Spider Mites, Whitefly’s and exposed Thrips amongst other insects. Using natural predator insects to hunt down and eliminate the problem bugs is another approach. Every insect has a natural predator that is most affective at eliminating them. Lady bugs are a good all-purpose predator. Predator mites are also available, they eat spider mites and then die off because there is now no longer food available for them to consume.
How do I find out what type of insect I'm dealing with?
The best way to determine what kind of insect is attacking your plant is to capture the insect and examine it under a magnifying glass, your best chance of correct identification would be to find a reference photo either online or in a garden pests book.
I have spider mites that I can't get rid of, what should I do?
The two most common reasons as to why you can’t rid your plants of spider mites are using only one type of insecticide which they may become resistant to, and not applying the insecticide frequently enough. Alternating insecticides is all it takes to combat the resistance issue. You will need to apply the insecticide multiple times to interrupt the reproduction cycle, the aim is to apply it at least every 5 days to kill any as they hatch out of the egg. Whenever an outbreak has occurred you should sterilize the entire garden after harvest by spraying and scrubbing all surfaces with bleach water. Using an insecticide bomb will also eliminate any remaining pests with one application.
There is a white powder on my plant leaves, is it harmful?
Yes, it is harmful as it is most likely Powdery Mildew and it will damage your plants. Powdery Mildew spores are present almost everywhere, but it will colonize on your plants when conditions are favourable. Good ventilation and air circulation along with lower humidity are the best preventative measures to take. There are quite a few fungicide products available that you can apply to the surface of the leaves to eliminate the mildew.
My leaves have black spots on them, what could be the issue?
It is likely to be black spot, a fungal infection of the leaf tissue, it is similar to powdery mildew. Avoiding getting water directly on the plants leaves and lowering humidity is the best way to avoid this issue. There are several fungicide products available to treat this problem.
My flowers have a Black/Grey fuzz growing on them, what is the problem?
When flowers are in areas of high humidity or when they can not dry properly after watering this is a fungal issue that can occur. Keeping the humidity around 40% during flower and proper air circulation will often prevent this from happening. Prolonged periods of moisture will often be the cause of flowers to rot, when possible spreading apart the branches of the plant will improve airflow around the flowers. We recommend switchable fans for in-take and out-take to control your airflow, your fans can be turned up if need be, for example; if you have very hot days you can keep your fans running all the time at a desired speed to help control the humidity.