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There are plenty of reasons to love hydroponics. You don’t need any outdoor space, you can grow tropical plants, and you can completely control the growing environment. This makes it a super attractive option for any amateur or professional grower. However, if you want to master the art of hydroponic growing, there’s a lot you need to know.
Here’s our beginner’s guide to growing with hydroponics.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. This is where the 'hydro' part of the name comes from. You do need water, but not in the traditional sense. With hydroponics, you’re growing plants with their roots suspended directly into a nutrient-rich solution of water and fertilizer.
Another important thing to note is that you don’t plant seeds or cuttings in soil and then transfer them to the hydroponic system. The idea is to start from seed, taking advantage of the cleaner and more controlled environment. Hydroponic setups range from a simple bucket with holes in the bottom to hold your plant to elaborate grow tent systems with pumps, LED grow lights, and water reservoirs. At Ashton Horticulture, we focus mainly on the latter.
Now that you understand what hydroponics is, here's a step-by-step guide to setting up your own Hydroponic garden!
There are three types of hydroponic growing systems that you can choose from:
Flood and drain - Flood & drain systems work by filling the container with nutrient solution until it begins to overflow out of a hole in the bottom or side of your pot, before draining back into the reservoir.
Water culture - Water culture systems use an air stone connected to an air pump which constantly bubbles nutrients through the water providing roots with 24-hour access.
Ebb and flow - Ebb and flow systems will fill your entire grow tray or channel with nutrient solution for several minutes at a time (approximately once an hour) using either small pumps (usually paired with drip emitters) or larger ones depending on the size and volume of the tank.
Each of these hydroponic systems comes with its own benefits. However, for beginners, we'd recommend using a water culture system. This will provide you with great results and requires minimal interference.
Hydroponics systems are basically soil-free, so you’ll need an alternative to traditional dirt for your plants to grow in. Most hydroponic systems will have their own specific type of grow medium that they can use. However, if you need to choose, there are three main types that you should know about:
Rockwool - Rockwool is one of the best options. It provides excellent drainage and airflow while still being able to hold onto water or nutrient solution long enough for roots to access them when needed. It also helps prevent root rot by keeping everything dry!
Perlite - Another great growing media option is perlite, which helps with water retention and drainage. Perlite also provides excellent air to the roots of your plants while they’re grown in hydroponics!
Coconut Coir Fiber (also known as 'aero coir') - Coconut coir fibre (aero coir) is another great option that has all the benefits of Rockwool - but without having any potentially harmful chemicals. Aero coir comes compressed (into bricks) or loose (like soil) so you can grow right away by adding some hydroponic nutrient solution and letting everything soak for a day before planting your seedlings/clones.
Once you’ve picked your hydroponics system and growing medium, it’s time to decide what you want to grow. There are lots of options when it comes to growing different plants using hydroponics. You should just remember that there are some plants that grow better than others. Here are the best plants to grow in your hydroponic garden:
Fresh herbs - Basil, coriander, thyme and parsley are all great to grow in your hydroponics system. They’re perfect for adding to meals you cook at home or even giving away as gifts.
Leafy greens - Lettuce, kale, chard and other leafy greens can be grown hydroponically. They’re a great addition to any meal as they can help bulk up meals without adding too many extra calories.
Vegetables - Tomatoes, cucumber and peppers make excellent vegetables for hydroponic systems because you can grow them all year round in most climates. They also take up less space than some other plants, especially if you grow vine tomatoes.
Tomatoes - Tomatoes are one of the best vegetables to grow using hydroponics because they’re relatively easy to care for and they produce delicious fruits that can be used in salads, pasta dishes and even eaten on their own.
Cucumbers - Cucumbers can also be grown hydroponically with great results. They’re easy to grow and don’t take up too much space in your grow area (especially if you choose short varieties like “Kirishiki”).
Hydroponics provides growers with more control over their nutrient solution because they can change the levels of pH, EC or TDS at any given time. Plus, they can adjust the grow lighting to ensure plants are getting everything they need when it’s needed most. This makes it a much more predictable environment than a greenhouse.
Once your hydroponics system has everything it needs to run, you’re ready to plant. This is probably the easiest part of growing hydroponically - all you need to do is choose which plants you want to start growing and place their seeds/clones in your chosen growing medium.
Hydroponic plants tend to grow much faster than traditional soil grown so you’ll have a lot more time to flower your plants if needed. That being said, it takes about two weeks for hydroponics-grown seeds/clones to be ready for transplanting into the hydroponics system. There are several steps that can help speed up this process including:
- Adding bottom heat from a heating pad or heating cables.
- Keeping water and air temperatures warm enough.
- Moving clones around in order to promote growth.
Hydroponic systems require daily maintenance. Here's a list of tasks you need to do:
- Check pH levels of nutrient solution until they stabilize between pH 5 and 6 (once a day).
- Check pH levels after they have stabilised (once every other day).
- Clean out any leftover food from plants and make sure plants are getting enough light/shade (every few days).
- Check for signs of disease or rot, remove affected plants right away (every few days).
- Flush the system with fresh water before refilling the pH-adjusted nutrient solution (once a week).
- Clean by taking everything apart and cleaning with a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach - 9 parts water) then rinse well before reassembling the system (every few weeks).
- Replace reservoir solution (every 10 - 14 days).
You’re almost done! In order to harvest your plants, you’ll need to flush the hydroponics system with fresh water and nutrients. This is to remove any leftover nutrient solution from the plant roots and ensure they get a nutritious boost when you feed them again right before harvesting.
Harvesting is super easy. All you need to do is pull the plants from their stem, clean them and store them in a fridge for up to two weeks. In general, most plants will be ready for harvesting anywhere between one month and three months after planting seeds/clones!
Hydroponic growers have more control over their nutrient solution so it’s easier for them to store harvested plant material until the next round of harvests starts coming in. This helps keep costs down and reduces waste/spoilage between harvests.
Now you should have all the information you need to start a hydroponic grow at home. For more information and high-quality hydroponic equipment, contact us here.