Plants in the Hydroponic System Water Q&A

Rix Dobbs shows the roots of a lettuce plant g...

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Q: I have a NFT hydroponic system. I can’t seem to find away to stop the plug (in which I started the seed off in) from sitting in the flow of water. Please can you help?

A: Some moisture in the transplant plug is usually desirable to prevent the roots in the plug from dying. However, some plants do not like to be fully submerged in standing water. Depending on how deep the nutrient solution is in the channels of your hydroponic system, you have a few different possible solutions.

One idea is to use very small netted pots. The strategy here is to place a seed (or clone) into the transplant plug, then to place the plug directly into a netted pot just big enough to hold the transplant plug. You want to do all of this before your seed (or clone) grows any roots. Once you see the first sign of roots, you want to place the netted pots into your hydroponic system. Ideally, the very bottom of the plug come into contact with the nutrient solution just a little bit. This allows the plug to “wick up” the moisture it needs until it can grow roots down into the bottom of your channels.

Another strategy is similar to above, except the plugs are suspended an inch or more above the nutrient solution (usually because of the design of the system). In this case, you may want to consider adding a drip system. This will provide enough moisture to each transplant plug until your plants have the opportunity to grow roots down into your system.

If the nutrient solution is shallow (about 1/2- 1 inch deep) you may want to consider anchoring your transplant plugs into 3″ netted pots with a few clay pellets, then sitting the netted pots down into the channels of your hydroponic system. In this strategy, the netted pots sit right down on the bottom, but the re-circulating water is very shallow and therefore stays well oxygenated. The pots also can wick up the moisture they need until they can grow roots down into the system. With a little modification to your system, the netted pots can even be lifted out of the standing water and suspended above the nutrient solution once there is significant root growth.

Lastly, many plants will tolerate being grown straight in standing water. Even plants that prefer fast draining soil will grow well in these conditions, as long as an effort is made to keep the nutrient solution well oxygenated and to keep the temperature of the nutrient solution between 68 and 72 degrees. This is true with my most successful hydroponic system. The whole strategy can be found at the link above, and the system works very well with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, spinach, and many other plants. I hope this helps you out, and Happy Growing!

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.

About Hydroponics Gardening

Hydroponic gardening doesn’t just involve growing plants in water; it actually uses a wide variety of organic and inorganic materials. The plant derives its nutrients from the nutrientsolution circulated through the hydroponic system, instead of drawing them through its roots from the soil. This method of growing is often called nutrient-solution culture.

Let us go into the history of hydroponic gardening. Growing terrestrial plants without soil was first discussed in the 1627 book, Sylva Silvarum, after which water culture became a popular research technique. In 1929, a researcher at the University of California publicly began promoting solution culture, which by now was defined as not growing in an inert medium.

In non-aggregate or liquid hydroponics systems, no rigid supporting media are necessary. Such systems are closed, since plant roots are exposed to the nutrient solution without the mediation of a growing medium. The solution can be re-circulated and reused. The most common method of engineering a liquid hydroponics system is the nutrient film technique. The nutrient solution flows through supported polyethylene film liners or PVC piping that contains the plants roots.

A capillary mat in the channel prevents young roots from drying out. The solution is usually monitored for its salt levels. The nutrient film technique calls for a greatly reduced volume of hydroponic solution and temperature adjustments to the system are easily possible.

Aggregate hydroponics systems have an organic or inorganic medium of support which is solid. Hydroponics systems can also be open – where the nutrient solution is delivered to the plant roots and not reused, or closed, where the surplus solution can be recovered, replenished and recycled.

Hydroponics must pay attention to the special needs of every crop. Hydroponics gardening systems are evolving fast, as scientists help create newer organic nutrient formulae that are ecologically sound and sustainable solutions while being able to drive up plant yield significantly. Moreover, hydroponics gardening is a solution for every space – hydroponics is possible even in deserts and space stations!

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