Sedona Creations

Hydroponics

Written By: Michael

tomato

Back when I was in High School,  one of my science teachers had a hydroponic system in his classroom.  I though it was so cool I was hooked on the idea, though we didn’t have the internet so getting information and supplies was different then.  Many times through the years I thought about it, I wanted to run it from my fish tank.  Though the time wasn’t right.

Years passed and then I moved to Hawai’i, hydroponics was like second nature to them, the thought of hydroponics came to life again.   I had gone to a hydroponic supplier on the Big Island, though they sold supplies the employees didn’t give me any real information.  So I played around with a seed tray and that was about it.

Two and a half years went by, when my partner and I returned to the Mainland we were given another Caretakers position on an old farm.   Since the house and property were quite large, the thought of hydroponics came to mind.  This time we did it.

Please keep in mind this is my first year up and running, so the information I’m giving you is from my experience.  It is a simple process, there are some basic things that are necessary.  Number one, ya gotta love what your doing!  Problems will and do arise!!  If you don’t love what your doing you may give-up.  Secondly, why do you want to do this?  What are you looking to gain from this.  Knowing this will help you determine what’s going to suit your needs and how much will it cost.  I will tell you in advance, this type of hobby can run you some bucks.

So let’s get started.  I found this book, “How-To Hydroponics,” by Keith Roberto.  You can copy this link and past it into your browser to get to the book, http://howtohydroponics.com/ .  I decided to download the book, I was impatient and I wanted to get started.

There are some basic tools that you really will require to do the job right and avoid simple errors.

1- PPM Meter

2 – pH Meter

3 – Hydroponic Nutrient Solution

4 – Safer Soap – Organic Bug Spray

5 – Root Riot Cubes

6 – An exacto knife

There are four systems that I am aware of, Aeroponic, Drip, Raft and Ebb & Flow.  These are the four styles of hydroponic systems that I worked with.  Going back to the book for a moment, what I really enjoyed about the book was that he did a good job of explaining the principles and then he left it up to your imagination to create your system.  An Aeroponic system allows the roots to hang in mid air while a spray occasionally mists the roots.  Very cool system, I really like that one.  A Drip system allows a mixture of air and water, (nutrient solution) to drip, simple with great results.  A Raft system allows plants to grow in a raft while the raft floats on top of the nutrient solution.  The last system is Ebb & Flow.  A simple way to describe this, think one gutter’s water running into the next gutter.  Good system, though I wasn’t overly impressed with the results, it partly had to do with my design too.

aeroponic_roots

This is what healthy roots will look like in an Aeroponic System

 Now let’s take a look at the tools list above.   What is a PPM Meter?  A PPM Meter, measures the Parts Per Million that are in your water and or your solution mixture.  To give you an idea as to what it’s measuring it is copper, iron, salts, calcium etc.  What you don’t get from the meter is a list of what’s in your water.  The reading you get combines all that together and for now that’s perfect.  I will tell you that they do have different types of meters that give you a different end results.  There is an EC measurement a CF measurement and a PPM measurement, if you do some research on the net you will find people that attest to this is the only meter that you should use.  I read a very good article from someone with far more experience then myself,  he said, if you understand the meter you are working with and you are getting good results, than stick with it.  I work with the PPM meter also know as a TDS meter.  TDS means, Total Dissolved Solids in water.  When you are working with your PPM meter you will first measure your water, “tap water,” write that number down.  For instance my well water measures 240.  Let’s say you want you nutrient solution to be 500.  Add your solution mixture to your tap water, again test your water.  Your new reading says 740, don’t worry you didn’t over do it.  This is the formula that you use, Tap Water Reading (-) Nutrient Solution Water.  What we get is, Tap Water Reading 240 (-) 740 Nutrient Solution Water = 500 PPM and that was what we were aiming for.

Next tool, a pH Meter.  This is extremely important.  Let’s just say for example you live in a beautiful home but the house is 95 degrees all the time.  You probably would enjoy your home though be uncomfortable with the temperature.  It’s the same for the plants, the nutrient solution may be at a perfect level though the pH is way out there.  The pH level that you will be working with is in a range of 0 to 14, with 7 being mid-range or neutral.  Anything less then 7 is creating more acid, anything greater than 7 is more base.  From the experience I have, plants usually fall in the range of 5.5 to 7.  I generally aim for 5.8.   You will want to purchase pH increase and pH decrease to make your adjustments.

Hydroponic Nutrient Solution is specially designed for hydroponics.  Regular plant food will not work!  Ok, maybe for a short time.  The reason for this is both house plants and plants grown outdoors all grow in soil.  Soil has both micro and  macro nutrients.  When you by regular plant food, the fertilizer leaves out micro and macro nutrients because they are naturally found in soil.  When you’re working with hydroponics, there is no soil.  So when you buy hydroponic plant food it includes the micro and macro nutrients.  Got it?  A little side note when you are ready to through out your Nutrient Solution Water give it to your house plants, out-door plants, spray your lawn etc.  Yes you’re giving your plants food, you are also putting back into the soil micro and macro nutrients.

When I started my hydroponic system, I planned on starting with six plants.  Well it was easy enough and my pump was large enough, I wound-up creating another system and while that one was being put together a third system was under way.  Before I knew it, the six plants turned into eighty.  Currently I am working with around one hundred and twenty plants.  There is one problem sooner or later you going to have a bug problem.  With the right environment it can become an infestation.  I had a couple of spider mites, the next day, well it seemed that way, I had an infestation.  So if you pick-up some Safer Soap you are prepared to nab a possible problem in the butt.

There are many types of planting cubes on the market.  I prefer the “Root Riot Cubes.”  I have worked with a product called, “RockWool Growcubes.”  They do work and they do a pretty good job, the only reasons why I dislike them is because they are made with Fiber Glass and in the process of making them they are a pollutant.  Below is a picture of  a young tomato plant being grown in a “Root Riot Cube.”  As you can see the roots are beginning to grow out of the cube.

Root_Riot

In the past, I really disliked starting plants from seed.  Prior to working with hydroponics it was a fifty fifty chance that the seedling would become a plant.  Usually it was more of the fifty percent they didn’t survive.  When I started my system I went ahead and planted  my seeds.   What I learned was, if you want two plants, then plant at least five seeds.   There are two good reasons for this, the seed may not germinate, two the seedling maybe weak and it would make a poor plant.  Remember, you can always give away unwanted seedlings.  While I’m discussing seedlings, remember if you are growing a plant like lettuce, you may want to create a rotating crop.  Planting a few extra seeds may help you stretch your current crop until the next is ready.  Ok, now we get to the part I love, propagation.  There is nothing like taking a good strong, healthy plant and propagating it.  In general I have found you can cut about six weeks off the time that it takes a seedling to become a good plant.  Propagating is fun, cut the shoot and plant it, it’s pretty straight forward.  You may want to do some research on the net to get some helpful tips from others who have done it.  One of the important tools to help insure success is an exacto knife.  Make sure the blade is clean and sharp, that means no rust on the blade.  Keep in mind, though the plant can’t talk it is enduring a traumatic experience when you cut it.  Be loving and understanding when you do this.

 

When I decided to play around with hydroponics I was a bit leery, I knew big bucks could easily be spent on something that I didn’t know enough about.   My first experiment was using the bottom half of a soda bottle with a piece of styrofoam floating on top of the nutrient solution.  I started the plant in a “Root Riot Cube” and that was placed in a “Grow Cup.”

netcupst
Grow cups also known as Netty Potshydroponic_roots

This was my first raft style system.  You can see the roots floating in the nutrient solution.

There is nothing like seeing a four foot wall by eight feet in height covered with vibrant green plants.  It’s almost like the plants are thanking you. How does it happen?  By using the right nutrient solution.   As I mentioned early, you must use a nutrient solution designed for hydroponics.   There are practically hundreds of different types of nutrient solutions.  Some may be better than others and others are best suited for specific situations.  A basic understanding of nutrient levels will help you.  Plants that are germinating or in the stage of propagation work well with a PPM range of 300.  Plants that are growing work best at a PPM range of 600.  Plants that are flowering or producing fruit, (and veggies) can be anywhere from 600 to around 2000 on the PPM meter.  It’s best to do a little research on the net so you can give your plant(s) the right amount of food.  The most important part of being a successful hydroponic grower is to have the right tools and you must have an excellent journal of your work.

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