BEFORE YOU GROW, WHAT TO KNOW.
Cleanliness is the key! This goes for all environments or methods of growing. Even down to how you get your plants. Cleanliness is one of the key factors that will make your grow a winner or a loser. The only way you lose in the case of cleanliness is if you never consider what could be a threat. Keep this in mind, and you will have success even as a beginner.
We will be discussing why hydroponics is the most efficient means of growing in the case of cleanliness in the garden. First off we aren’t dealing with soil which is capable of supporting all sorts of life deep within its workings. There are many growers out there who have had successful harvests in soil. Yet they are still oblivious to the micro-life living in their soil. In hydroponics there is less of a threat for insects to thrive a hydro environment, because of the nutrients that are used in the system. The nutrients themselves are kept at a fairly acidic level. Generally these nutrients operate at pH levels ranging from 5.8-6.3, some plants or nutrient lines do better at levels as low as 5.5. When you pick the nutrient line you’re going to run with, the optimal pH levels will be provided by the manufacturer. This acidity seems rather drastic in comparison to soil grows that keep a pH of 7, this is referred to as being base. As your pH drifts up it becomes alkaline this is not desirable to the hydro grower or the soil grower. Hopefully as a hydroponic grower you never have to experience levels this high. Thankfully in hydroponics its pH and acidity provides a harsh environment for most pests. If your reservoir which holds your nutrients becomes contaminated in early stages of growth there are flushing techniques that can help rid or control pests that have found their way into your garden. If you never break the rules of “keeping it clean” you won’t have to resort to these methods. If pH drift becomes an extreme problem where you find that it’s unstable on a day to day basis you have to ask yourself, “when was the last time I changed my reservoir?”. Most hydroponic growers do this at least once a week, or every two weeks. The dedicated grower will follow the once a week change as well as check pH morning and night until they are familiar with their plants rate of feeding. Once you are comfortable and understand what your plants demand the need to check pH becomes an every 2-3 day routine.
Now that we have covered the benefits of Hyproponic nutrients and how it can minimize or eliminate the need to fight off unwanted pests. let’s look at the growing medium itself in comparison to soil. Hydro uses a soilless medium to grow. What do I mean by soiless? Well, first of all this isn’t to be confused with soilless top fed potted plants, that is a separate method from soil or organics. You’ll find multiple forms of soilless or soil free mediums for your plants to root in or even without! Most beginners in hydroponics find themselves using what is called “Flood and drain” systems. A similar method to “flood and drain” is “Ebb and Flow” the principle between the two are practically the same and some growers use the term interchangeably. Whatever you call it, they both take advantage of the use of hydroton clay pellets that look an awfully lot like reddish brown cocoa puffs, don’t use cocoa puffs! They get soggy and turn your nutrients brown. Really though, these wonderful clay pellets play a great role in hydroponics because it allows for air to make its way down into your root zone. Clay makes a poor environment for pests to thrive in. Without organic material to feast on pests don’t last long. The use of hydroton isn’t limited to E&F systems. They are also used in top feed systems that use drip emitters or drip rings. Another form of hydro systems is the Aeroponic system where plastic net pots are filled with hydroton pellets that your root zone is allowed to grow out of while suspended in open air. Some growers avoid the need for hydroton by using neoprene inserts that hold your plants in net pots. The benefit of this is when you want to check your roots for pests you have that option without digging around in the soil. Piece of mind can be a great thing. There are so many systems out there that it is impossible for me to cover them in one tutorial.
Moving on, we’ve discussed some of the benefits to keeping it clean in your hydroponics system. Now, let’s talk about your room in general. Your plants are alive and like any living thing they need some kind of air. We want the best for our babies so we should give them the best. They will thank you for this! Airflow is so important. I can’t stress this enough when it comes to crops that can be plagued by diseases like Powdery mildew, botrytsis, any kind of mold or fungus really. This is why you must always have some form of filter on your air intake. Some growers use hepa filters designed for indoor systems, which are great when you have the budget to afford it. There are guerilla methods that can be put to use. They aren’t nearly as effective but you can get away with it if you keep the environment around your grow as clean as possible. Some use nylon stockings, modified hepa filters from a local hardware store, or simply the dust cover from your carbon filter. Next question is, ”How else do I keep these spores molds and funguses out?” Well, it’s quite simple, garden naked! No seriously, some people do their gardening straight out of the shower. I am guilty of this! If you aren’t the nudist type you should not allow outside elements in by keeping garden shoes and clean clothes readily on hand. Some gardeners also keep latex gloves that they wear even after washing their hands. Even if you choose not to use latex gloves for handling, you should always have them around for taking cuttings. If you take these preventative measures you should not experience any out breaks of the terrible molds.
Some novice growers are always eager for harvest and would love to speed things up. However patience is a virtue when it comes to loving your garden. Think Bob Ross, think happy trees. Some growers prefer to skip the vegetative cycle. They do this by acquiring young plants or clones from indoor nurseries or from other indoor hobbyist that may already have something going. Knowing the environment and source of you genetics is important for pest and disease control. If you take the risk and get genetics from an outside side source it is best to keep vegetating in a quarantine room until you’ve had a chance to observe it for pests, pre-treat with fungicide, neem oil, and watch for healthy growth. After about 5-7 days you should see healthy happy growth. At this point your new baby should be ready to meet the family. If the grower you know is as good as you think they are you should be able to skip such a process and introduce you new baby immediately. Most experienced growers won’t touch another person’s plants because if they follow the rule of cleanliness they will want to start from seed. I never had any problems until I brought plants in from other sources unknown. I didn’t know what powdery mildew, aphids, and spider mites were before that. You have to set the controls, it is a discipline that pays off will healthful fruitful plants.
Cleanliness is next to godliness. You are the care giver of life, breathe on those babies. If you are lacking fresh air because you aren’t drawing fresh air from an outdoor source it is advised to add some form of a co2 injector system. You can obtain co2 from time release buckets or systems that require a regulator and tank. A system with a regulator will aid in maximizing the richness of co2 in your environment, as well as maximizing growth and yield. People in high altitudes have the luxury of co2 rich air to pipe in from outdoors. That just makes for less co2 used when regulated. Sweet beans!
Every indoor gardener should have an assortment of cleaners to keep their room tidy. Common cleaners found in use amongst gardeners are as follows: Rubbing alcohol, Antibacterial dish soap, peroxide, vinegar, and diluted bleach. Bleach isn’t advised for use around your plants. Seeing that the fumes aren’t good for humans, your plants most likely won’t like it either. If using bleach, wipe twice over with clean warm water with new rags, or sponges. We don’t want foreign chemicals to linger! Reservoirs, buckets and feeder lines can build up scale. So, when picking out sponges look for the ones with scrub pads. Some nutrient manufacturers advise running peroxide in your system to prevent scale build up and anaerobic bacteria. When using Ammonium nitrate based fertilizers there is minimal salt build up when cleaned regularly and when peroxide is added. Peroxide Aids in disease control in organic hydro systems as well. Warm water and a scrubby sponge is usually good enough for regular upkeep with salt based nutrients. You will find with some hydroponic fertilizers that add humic acids will build up a bit more scale and require a little more scrubbing but they are well worth the addition to your fertilizer collection. They seem to add strength and a glow to your plants. You notice these differences when you have grown a particular crop the same way for some time, then you introduce it to humic acids! The Bottom line when it comes down to cleaners is don’t use harsh chemicals, and wash twice if not three times. Kind of like, measure twice cut once. There are tons of books out there that will give rates of dilution with these cleaners. Everyone needs a couple gardener companions, don’t be afraid to cross reference and check their work, just because it’s in the book it still might not be the complete story.
One important factor that ties in with air flow is keeping it cool. If you run lights you generate heat and it has to have somewhere to go. Managing your temperatures is important for stress free growth and keeping molds or funguses from growing. Plants like to be kept at 72-75 degrees when lights are on. At night you shouldn’t let temperatures drop below 65 degrees this can slow or even stop growth temporarily. They can tolerate up to 86 degrees. I said tolerate! Not live at such a temperature! If you put your hand just over the top of your canopy (your garden) and the heat from your light is uncomfortable then odds are your plants are too. Signs of heat stress can show up as yellowing or discoloration on new or flowering growth. You can even weak elongated growth in your veg period. This type of stress caused by hot spots in your garden can make your plants susceptible to spores that may have come into your environment. Sometimes people mistake these burns or hot spots for nutrient deficiencies or a sign of botrytsis. Hydro gardeners who are successful don’t spare on air flow (Too much movement can also prevent your plants from having the chance to take in c02). They will run multiple fans to keep temperatures right. One intake fan draws in fresh air while another fan pulls air out through a activated carbon filter that removes unwanted odors, some fertilizers can be stinky. On top of that they will use oscillating fans to keep air movement that provides plants with fresh air and moves them enough that they develop strong branches. This is like the affect of making small breaks in bone to cause micro-fractures that build calcium. It’s the same concept. The last thing a serious grower loves to incorporate is the use of air cooled lights. One more fan, with a filter preferably if drawing air out of your room from the hood, is added to the light to keep heat from building around your plants. These types of air cooled hoods or enclosures are used with Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium lights. All other forms of air exchange is required even with the use of compact fluorescents grow lights.
Other benefits besides cleanliness, is that your hydro system is automatable, and will feed your plants while you’re out at play! Gone for the weekend? No biggie, you’ll just be amazed by the growth that goes on when you aren’t around! Some systems are run by computers that monitor, or even adjust the pH and nutrient levels in your reservoir. The things that amazed me when I started using hydroponics was that the rate of growth and size of my yield really showed. When maintaining a hydro garden you find that there is far less of a mess than soil is. If you happen to have a drain nearby you can simply use the pump in your system to empty reservoirs. This saves your back and knees in comparison to having to keep moving soil around.
That’s about it for what one needs to know about starting a grow room and some of the factors that keep your grow clean and productive. Next time I will be addressing various methods of cloning, as well as the uses of different light cycles and their affects on plant growth. I hope this has given you a good idea as to what some of the benefits of a hydroponics system can do for you as well as general rules of cleanliness. Peace and love to all!