Hydroponic Gardening Tips and Tricks

We have seen many people try hydroponic gardening once or twice and fail, never to try again. The reason usually falls into one of three categories…

  • lack of knowledge– you don’t know how things should be or what you need to do
  • lack of discipline– you know how things should be and you know what needs to be done, but you don’t take the time or put forth the effort
  • lack of ability– you know how things should be, you know what needs to be done, and you are eager to put forth the time and effort… but you do not have necessary hydroponic gardening equipment or supplies

The tips list/explain below will help you identify (and eliminate) problems in your hydroponic garden. Even after reading advice like this myself, it took two years of making mistakes and learning things the hard way before I changed my approach and took these lessons to heart. As a result, I had the most successful garden I ever had. So, follow the tips below to shave years off of your learning curve and skip right to excellent results!

Tips and Tricks – The Short List

  • Know what equipment you need and why
  • Know the nutritional requirements of your plants
  • Know the light/photoperiod requirements of your plants
  • Use a professional three part hydroponic nutrients product
  • Do not use additional nutrient additives your first time
  • Have a written plan/feeding schedule before you start
  • Have all necessary equipment and nutrients before you start
  • Garden indoors when it is 55*F or less outdoors (or use AC)
  • Keep the ballast for your lights in a different room
  • Check and adjust your nutrient reservoir solution every day
  • Minimize light exposure to your nutrient solution
  • Have an extra reservoir of plain water waiting for your next nutrient change
  • Change your water and nutrients completely every two weeks
  • Use a digital timer to control your dark period
  • Keep your dark period completely dark and uninterrupted
  • Clean and sterilize your system between crops
  • Quarantine new plants for two weeks before adding to your garden
  • Do not visit your garden after visiting another garden or being outdoors
  • Do not allow pets in your garden
  • Visit your garden after a shower and a fresh change of clothes
  • Make any visitors to your garden follow these same rules
  • Put a screen or filter over your air intake and exhaust (if outdoors)

Having a Plan

Hydroponic gardening success begins with having a solid plan. Having a plan means knowing your plants nutritional requirements and photoperiod requirements and having the supplies and equipment necessary to meet those needs. Actually having a written week by week feeding schedule, complete with nutrient strengths and nutrient changes, would also be very helpful.

Feeding/Nutrients

Know the nutritional requirements of your plants before you start. Know how strong the nutrients should be each week of your plant’s life, and know what the nutrients should consist of each week. Many plants need more Nitrogen at first, than switch to needing more Phosphorus to produce fruit or flowers.

Do not try to mix up your own plant food. Instead, start with a professional hydroponic nutrients product. These are usually three part systems and are complete (and easy to use). My favorite is BC Nutrients. Once your hydroponic gardening system is up and running and producing excellent results, than you can try mixing up your own special plant food if you like. At least than you will know exactly what the problem is if things don’t work out!

The same is true for using nutrient additives. Don’t try to improve your results by adding a bunch of extra things to your nutrient reservoir (at least not at first). Start by feeding just the basic three part nutrients until your hydroponic gardening system is working smoothly and producing excellent results. Than if you like you can try adding vitamin B1, liquid seaweed, or silica (or all three).

Finally, you need to check and maintain your nutrient reservoir every day. After using the same nutrients for two weeks, you need to start over with fresh water and fresh nutrients. The most beneficial way to do this is to have two nutrient reservoirs, one with nutrient solution for your hydroponic gardening system and one with plain water for your next nutrient solution change. I can’t stress how important this tip is! The second reservoir allows the water to dechlorinate and come to room temperature, both protecting your roots.

Root Health

If roots become damaged, they cannot take up nutrients to feed the plants. Any damage below ground will result in damage above ground as dead leaves and sick plants. Protect your roots by maintaining your nutrient solution properly, by using two hydroponic nutrient reservoirs (one with plain water for your next nutrient change), and by minimizing the amount of light that comes in contact with your nutrient solution. This will prevent algae, which will prevent fungus gnats, which will prevent root damage.

Adequate Lighting

There are very few shortcuts when it comes to lighting an indoor garden. You need a minimum of 40 watts/sq.ft., but 60 watts/sq.ft. would be better. Either high pressure sodium lights or metal halide lights will do a very fine job and are the most popular choices. For various reasons I recommend a 600 watt LED grow light 3w, check out How to choose the correct lighting arrangement for hydroponic gardening.

Controling Temperature

HID lights put out a lot of heat, making temperature an issue in an indoor garden. Placing the ballast for your light outside the grow room will help, but it is not enough. A centrifugal fans or squirrel cage fans are an absolute must, but if you use LED grow light, don’t need to buy an extra fans.

Photoperiod

Many crops require shorter daylight periods to trigger flowering/fruiting. Two keys to success here: First, the lights need to be turned off and back on at exactly the same time each day (tip- use a digital timer!). Second, the plants should be kept in absolute complete UNINTERRUPTED darkness during the dark period. Plants can be extremely sensitive to this, so don’t try to skirt around this. For more info, check out my flower forcing page.

The Right Equipment/Tools

Don’t start your garden unless you have all your bases covered from the beginning. You will need a completely dark area, a high powered fan, an adequate light, a hydroponic gardening system, hydroponic nutrients, an oscillating fan, a TDS meter (or EC meter), a pH test kit, and possibly an air conditioner. Minimum. A thermometer and a digital timer would come in handy too.

Planning your Medical Marijuana Grow Room

You will need to think about the following equipment to get a grow room up and going.

  • Growing medium;
  • Reservoir tank and water;
  • Grow systems;
  • Final plant size – how big do you want these ladies to be?
  • Lighting, type and distance between the lights and the plants;
  • Fans and air control including ventilation;
  • Power outlets, timers, and meters (temperature, EC and pH);
  • Room to work around the growth.

Spend some time planning your marijuana grow room in advance. A well planned grow room will be easier to work in and leaves less room for costly mistakes and accidents. Any space that can be made into an enclosed, lightproof environment will be suitable; from a whole garage or attic, down to a cupboard or even a tented off area of your room. But remember that you will need ventilation and space around the plants to tend to them.

Ideally, you should have at least 6ft (1.83cm) of headroom and easy access to power sockets. You can grow in smaller spaces but you will need to train your plants downwards on wires on a daily basis as they grow quickly under lights.

Think about discretion. Fans, bright lights(ie 600w LED) and pumps can sometimes attract unwanted attention and so should be kept away from neighbours or living accommodation where they may prove a nuisance. It is also important to think about odours. You’re burgeoning crop may begin to smell quite strongly, even from outside your house or flat. More information on eliminating odours can be found here.

Safety is a crucial consideration when planning the growing environment. Electricity and water don’t mix. Keep all electric appliances away from water and up off the floor in case of flooding. Before starting to grow, double check all timers, pipes, leads and electrical connections. It is usually a good idea to buy new gear but well inspected used gear can save you a lot of money. We would always buy new LED grow lights though as they do have a longer life expectancy and old traditional grow lights can offer poor results.

Give the whole system a dummy run first to be sure that there have been no errors in setting up. Watch that reservoir systems do not overfill on to the floor, that light does not escape the room and that the temperature does not fluctuate or get too hot or cold in the air and the reservoir. Remember to keep a fire extinguisher to hand in the grow room. I am not joking.

Cultivation requirements

Cannabis needs certain conditions to flourish.

Growth medium
Soil is required, except for cannabis grown with hydroponics

Sufficient nutrients—commercial soil bags usually indicate this as “N-P-K = x%-y%-z%” the percentages of the fundamental nutritional elements, i.e., Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. Nutrients are often provided to the soil via fertilizers but such practice requires caution.

pH between 6.0 and 7.0. This value can be adjusted – see soil pH. Commercial fertilizers (even organic) almost always make the soil more acidic (decrease its pH).

Warmth
The optimal day temperature range for cannabis is 24 to 30 °C (75 to 86 F). Temperatures above 31 °C and below 15.5 °C seem to decrease THC potency and slow growth. At 13 °C the plant undergoes a mild shock, though some strains withstand frost temporarily.

Light
Light can be natural (outdoor growing) or artificial (indoor growing).

When artificial light is used, from the germination until the flowering stage, the plant typically remains under a regime of 16–20 hours of light and 4–8 hours of darkness, although the plant can use a full 24 hours of light without harm. When the plant reaches the flowering stage the regime is typically switched to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.

Water
Watering frequency and amount is determined by many factors, including temperature and light, the age, size and stage of growth of the plant and the medium’s texture. A conspicuous sign of water problems is the downward wilting of leaves. Too much water can kill young cannabis plants. Plants are occasionally sprayed with water to fend off under-watering in small steps.

Nutrients
Fertilizer burn on a leaf

Nutrients are the food of plants and come in the form of fertilizers that can be chemical or organic, liquid or powder and may contain several elements (see also: fertilizer). Commercial fertilizers must indicate the levels of NPK (mentioned above). During the vegetative stage, cannabis needs more N than P and K, while during the flowering stage, P is more essential than N and K. The presence of secondary nutrients (calcium, magnesium, sulfur) is recommended. Also there are seven micro nutrients (Iron, boron, chlorine, manganese, copper, zinc, molybdenum) that are not extremely important and rarely manifest as deficiencies.

Fertilizers are vital for good cannabis growth but must be used frugally to avoid burning the plant. As a general rule, half the amount suggested in a bottle may be given each time.

Because cannabis is acclimatized to virtually every growing region on Earth, its nutrient needs vary widely with its genetics and can truly only be determined with experience. Chemical plant foods vary greatly maker to maker, and some can be used at full strength, or the strength listed for plants with large fruits like the tomato.

Hydroponics Feeding Tips

How to grow hydro is really about how to maintain your nutrient reservoir. After all, there is nothing you can do to MAKE your plants grow. You can only provide all the best conditions, sit back, and let plant growth happen.

Assume your plants are getting enough light and air and are kept at a good temperature. Plant growth will happen (often quickly) as long as you provide the best conditions in the nutrient solution (everyday).

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Beginning Water Quality

Learning how to grow hydro starts with your beginning water quality. Check your tap water with a TDS meter. Anything over 200 ppm and you should probably use a reverse osmosis filter, or else use bottled spring water. While not necessary, it’s not a bad idea to treat your water using hydrogen peroxide.

If you really want to complicate things, you can get a complete water test. In this case, you can use tap water with up to 300 ppm as long as no more than 150 ppm of the total is from calcium or calcium carbonate and sodium.

How to Grow Hydro with Additives and Supplements

Through the water, the plants will receive all of their food. This water needs to contain primary nutrients (N-P-K), secondary nutrients (calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur), and all trace nutrients. I recommend using a professional hydroponic nutrient product for this.

In addition to regular food, there are a few additives that make a huge difference in the healthy development of your plants. These are vitamins (like Thrive Alive B1), trace nutrient supplements (like Maxicrop liquid seaweed), and plant hormones (in any type of seaweed). Another useful additive is silica, which is used to boost the immune system of plants.

Many expert gardening articles I have read by people who know how to grow hydro recommend adding Thrive Alive B1 and Maxicrop to every drop of water you give your plants. Use 10 ml (2 tsp) per gallon of each. If you are using a seaweed based fertilizer, it is not necessary to add liquid seaweed.

Nutrient Solution Ph

If you want to learn how to grow hydro well, you must know about Ph. The nutrients are only good to the plants if the Ph is right. The maximum nutrients are available to the plants in a Ph range of 5.5 to 6.5. In hydroponics, the nutrients are often kept at about 5.5 because the plants absorb the nutrients slightly more quickly at this Ph.

Also, the natural tendency is for the Ph to creep up over time, and so it is your natural tendency to adjust the Ph down to the low end of the range when you make an adjustment.

Nutrient Solution Strength

People that know how to grow hydro use a total dissolved salts (TDS) meter or an electrical conductivity (EC) meter to tell how strong or how weak the nutrient solution is. The ideal strength of your nutrient solution depends on what type of plants you are growing, and also what stage of the plant life cycle they are in. Check this section out to find out what strength to keep your nutrient solution.

Maintaining your Nutrient Solution

In a ten gallon reservoir, you will need to check the strength (TDS or EC) and the Ph of your solution twice a day. With a larger reservoir, the changes in the nutrient solution take more time. I would still recommend you check your nutrient solution once a day, no matter what size reservoir you have. People that know how to grow hydro usually use a larger reservoir.

If the Ph is up, than add some Ph down. It is a good idea to check the Ph first, because the addition of Ph down will change the strength of your solution a little (TDS or EC).

If the nutrient strength is a little weak, add a little fertilizer. If the nutrient strength is a little high, add plain water. It is a good idea to let water sit out overnight in an uncovered container. This lets the water dechlorinate, and also lets the water become room temperature. Adding cold water will shock the roots, causing root damage as well as above ground damage.

Change it Every Two Weeks

After two weeks of using the same nutrient solution, it is time for a nutrient change. The plants may have been using some nutrients more than others, and now you might be heading for a nutrient imbalance. Keep an extra nutrient reservoir full of plain water waiting for your next nutrient solution change. This ensures you will have dechlorinated, room temperature water that will not damage your plant’s roots.

It is a good idea to run a tank full of plain water (or 1/4 strength nutrient solution) for a day in between nutrient changes, to flush out any nutrient buildup. Some experienced gardeners do this every four weeks, or every other nutrient change. During every nutrient change, consider using hydrogen peroxide to keep things clean and healthy.

The Final Tweak

Once you have a simple feeding plan that is working well, you can try to maximize your results. The best advice here is to make small changes, one at a time, and to let each change show its effects before making another change. Sometimes this will mean waiting two weeks, other times it may mean waiting a whole crop cycle for the results.

The Final Flush

Pros that know how to grow hydro usually do a final flush just before harvest. This can be done by replacing the nutrient solution with plain water for the last 7 to 10 days. It will help if you change the water each day with fresh, plain water for these last few days.

Flushing the crop helps remove any fertilizers in the plant tissue. Flushing will improve the flavor and aroma of the produce in your garden.

Get expert tips on growing premium indoor medical marijuana

Growing weed indoors has many advantages, it is a fact that growing medical marijuana outdoors makes it very easy to lose your crop from theft or possibly the law if it is illegal to grow where you live. By growing medical marijuana indoors you can control the ambient conditions just exactly as you want them and grow a nice healthy cannabis plant.

Feminized medical marijuana seeds are an excellent choice when considering growing pot indoors.

Plants grown indoors will not appear the same as their outdoor cousins. They will be scrawnier, appearing with weak stems and may even require you to tie them to a growing post to remain upright, but they will supply more resin if looked after correctly.

Get expert tips on growing premium indoor medical marijuana.

About Hydroponics
Hydroponics is the name given for a variety of techniques for growing weed without soil. It was realised by researchers studying plant metabolism that plants took in their nutrients as simple inorganic ions, and that soil, while a source for such nutrients, was not essential. While a plant’s nutrients come from the soil, the only nutrients a plant can successfully absorb are those that dissolve into the plant’s water supply. When the required nutrients are introduced into a plant’s water supply artificially, soil is no longer required for the plant to thrive.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
In this method, the plants grow through light-proof plastic films placed over shallow, gently sloping channels. A steady flow of nutrients is maintained along the channel, and the roots grow into dense mats, with a thin film of nutrient passing over them (hence the name of the technique). A downside of the technique is that it has very little buffering against interruptions in the flow eg power outages, but overall, it is probably one of the more productive techniques.

Basic Kit to Grow Indoors


Simple Pot and NFT Set Ups

You don`t need a lot of kit to start growing great flowering plants in a cupboard, wardrobe, attic or grow space. Apart from the plants the lamp is the most important thing.

Plant growers are interested in LEDs because they are more energy efficient, emit less heat (can damage plants close to hot lamps), and can provide the optimum light frequency for plant growth and bloom periods compared to currently used grow lights: HPS (high pressure sodium), MH (metal halide) or CFL/low-energy. However, LEDs have not replaced these grow lights due to higher price. As mass production and LED kits develop, the LED products will become cheaper.

As we know, the HPS, Incandescent Lamp and Fluorescent Lamp emit all the spectrum of visible light & some sightless light, but LED Grow Lights only deliver the colours of light used by plants for efficient and healthy growth!

LED Grow Lights are the newest and most efficient way to grow plants indoors! This revolutionary form of light is different from other traditional lights, such as High Pressure Sodium (HPS) or Metal Halide (MH). LED Grow Lights bulbs are comprised of multiple low-watt light sources, working together on a single board. HID lighting is extremely inefficient; it generates a lot of heat while only producing 30% photosynthetic light. Unlike HIDs, 1W LED emit very little heat because all the power is efficiently converted into targeted light wavelengths for plants. For this reason, additional fans, ducting and AC are rarely if ever necessary. Additionally, LEDs will last 50,000 before they’ve lost even 30% of their initial output, not to mention they’re still 100% functional! So there is no need for yearly or bi-yearly bulb changes, as 50,000 hours is 6 solid years, and after that you can still continue using the light! Lastly, LED grow lighting use 65-70% less energy than traditional HID lighting, while producing the same or better results. With no additional cooling costs, bulb costs, and decreased electrical costs every month, imagine what you can do with the extra money!

 

Basic Kit to Grow in Pots

1. High Pressure Sodium Lamp (600 watt is the most efficient but a 400 watt may suit a smaller space).
2. Fan running 24 hours a day if possible and oscillating.
3. Pots, trays and chosen growing medium. 50% potting compost 50% Perlite is a basic mix. Raise the pots in the trays with bricks or bits of wood so they don`t sit in a puddle when watered.
4. 24 hour timer to control light periods. This should be used with a high power switch known as a contactor or relay switch as grow lamps can easily burn out regular timers used on their own.
5. A pH tester to test water and nutrient feed solutions.
6. pH adjuster such as phosphoric acid to adjust water and feed solution to around pH 6.0 – 7.0.
7. Nutrients, ones aimed at growing the plant you want to cultivate are best.
8. Matt white paint or white plastic to cover the walls of the grow space.

Also useful are a measuring bucket, measuring jug, large syringe and pea netting or string to support top heavy plants. If you can afford it a great help is a Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter. These allow you to check the nutrient levels of feeding solutions to make sure they are optimised for your plants.

Growing hydroponically in a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Tank is really simple and not something to be afraid of. In fact some beginners to growing may find it easier than using soil mixtures in pots. You do not have to judge if the plants need watering or feeding so much using NFT, as long as you follow the simple instructions supplied with the tanks the plants should look after themselves.

Basic Kit to Grow in NFT Tanks

1. High Pressure Sodium Lamp (600 watt is the most efficient but a 400 watt may suit a smaller space).
2. Fan running 24 hours a day if possible and oscillating.
3. NFT tank with pump and spreader mat (these come with the tank), Rockwool cubes.
4. 24 hour timer to control light periods. This should be used with a high power switch known as a contactor or relay switch as grow lamps can easily burn out regular timers used on their own.
5. A pH tester to test water and nutrient feed solutions.
6. pH adjuster such as phosphoric acid to adjust water and feed solution to around pH 5.2 – 6.0.
7. Nutrients, ones aimed at growing the plant you want to cultivate are best.
8. Matt white paint or white plastic to cover the walls of the grow space.

Also useful is a measuring bucket, measuring jug, large syringe and pea netting or string to support top heavy plants. If you can afford it a great help is a Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter. These allow you to check the nutrient levels of feeding solutions to make sure they are optimised for your plants.

Also…

Wherever you decide to set up your grow space remember that the plants night time or dark period is very important. Check that when the light goes off the grow space is in total darkness. Proper ventilation for the grow space should also be considered as the area can become very humid. Opening up the space daily may be enough but larger areas may need extactor fans to avoid problems.

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