Aerogarden Bounty Basic Review – Everything you need to know

I’m often asked “What’s the easiest way to get started with hydroponics?”

My response is usually one of two replies. I either point them in the direction of my website (which you’re helpfully reading!) or show them a turn key solution.

The Aerogarden Bounty Basic is one of the turn key solutions I point towards as a great product to get anyone started growing hydroponically without all the complicated extras that gardeners have to look out for!

What is the Aerogarden Bounty Basic?


While I’m a big advocate for building your own hydroponic system, it’s not always practical, especially if you have very limited room, a busy family life or just can’t be bothered to invest the time yourself to do the research, but the parts and build your own system. That’s where solutions like the Bounty Basic come in.


The bounty basic offers everything you need to get started with hydroponic growing in your own home without the hassle of building your own system. The kit comes with a water reservoir, custom net cups, pre-seeded germination chambers and dimmable LED grow lights.


Aerogarden Bounty Basic Key features

If you’re looking for a turn key solution there are a few items you want to be aware of:

  • The bounty basic comes with the recommended nutrient quantities and types. No need to spend hours looking at labels to work out if you’ve got the right nutrients for your plants
  • Seed pods and seeds included to get you up and running in no time at all. Just plug in and get growing
  • Connects to Wi-fi. You can turn off the grow lights and monitor your crops with the Aerogarden app from anywhere to make sure they’re staying fit and healthy.
  • LED grow lights have better lifespans than traditional grow lights to reduce the need for maintenance and replacement parts
  • Vacation mode slows down water usage while you’re away to avoid your plant running out of water

Why the Bounty Basic?

So why do I recommend the aerogarden bounty basic as my go to turn key solution?

  • It’s compact – I have one that sits in my kitchen on the worksurfaces. It fills a space under a wall mounted cabinet very nicely which makes cooking with herbs from the bounty basic very easy, they’re just an arms reach away from being harvested when needed.
  • Unlike previous models or other competitors the LED lights are dimmable. I sometimes have my bounty basic sitting in the window where it doesn’t need as much light except for evening times. I can save electricity by setting the lights to dim during the day and brighten in the evenings.
  • I love growing hydroponically! Hydroponics delivers the nutrients directly to your plants, this increases yields and reduces grow time so you can go from seed to plate much quicker than in conventional gardens.

Is there anything not to like?

Nothing is perfect! That’s what my mum always told me growing up. Whilst the aerogarden bounty basic is excellent there are a few things you should be aware of before buying.

  • Refill kits – Over time the seed posts need replacing and lights need swapping out (fortunately they’re LED lights so this isn’t very frequent!). As the seed pots aren’t the usual hydroponic net cup size you have to buy refill kits from aerogardens who certainly mark the price up a little. Whilst this isn’t a big problem for getting fresh herbs and veg onto your plate it’s a cost that can catch people out.
  • Price – Whilst the bounty basic is cheaper than its ‘Elite’ cousin it’s still not what most people would call cheap. It is definitely cheaper to build your own system from scratch, having said that it’s not always time effective to do that. If you’re looking for an easy way to get into hydroponics or grow your own herbs then the price shouldn’t put you off.

Recommendations

Whilst the price can put some people off, I’m going to continue to recommend the aerogarden bounty basic as an easy way to get into hydroponics.

From unboxing to planting seeds can take as little as 5 minutes and you can see tasty results in less than two weeks (depending on what you grow!). If you don’t have a garden, are looking to get into hydroponics, or simply want to get homegrown food on your plate. You won’t go wrong with the bounty basic.

Determining the Best Air Pump Size for Hydroponics

One of the most daunting things for a new hydroponic gardener is in maintaining their hydroponic reservoir.

With many factors to consider, it can be overwhelming, yet it isn’t as challenging as it first appears. Gardeners may comprehend the influence temperature has, and the amount of nutrients they require. However, they often struggle with the concept of oxygenation levels in their solution.

You may know it is beneficial to use an air pump; however, you may find yourself not fully understanding, how to determine the best air pump size for hydroponics. While an air pump may not appear to do too much, plants need to receive oxygen from the water to survive. An air pump, in many cases, may not be too large, yet it can harm your crops if it is too small.

Why You Need an Air Pump in Hydroponics?

In a hydroponic system, the gardener must deliver everything their plants require.

Many gardeners know about water, light, and the nutrients, yet equally important is oxygen. While there may be some oxygen taken up by the upper portions of the plants, the majority is taken up by the root system.

If you grow in soil, there are pockets of air between the grains of soil, so your plant won’t be sat in just water.

Once you look at Hydroponic systems and you don’t use an air pump, water loses the oxygen and stagnates. Once this happens, your plants quickly drown as a result.

With the introduction of an air pump, the bubbles add dissolved oxygen into your water. if you could look close enough, you would see these tiny pockets in the same manner as those found in soil

You can also find another couple of benefits of using air pumps. First is to keep your solution mixed, and second is that it can help to reduce the temperature of your solution, particularly if your pump is sucking in cool air.

When you look at some systems, you can get by without using an air pump, yet even these can benefit significantly as plants love all the oxygen they can get. More oxygen means they can take up more nutrients, and they can grow to their full potential.

The Noise of Hydroponic Air Pumps

One drawback of an air pump is that of the noise they produce. While it is the function of your air stones to create the bubbles, the air pumps function is to suck in air from outside the reservoir.

In contrast, a water pump has the noise suppressed by the water. While all air pumps will make a noise, you will find some quieter than others. When checking your pump, you will see the manufacturer places a level on the packaging.

Any pump you purchase should be 45 decibels or lower, and then it will blend with the surrounding noises.

Other Air Pump Considerations

The function of an air pump is simple, yet there are a few other things you need to consider to get the best from it.

Tubing from your pump into your tank should be black as a way of stopping light getting into your reservoir. Most are often supplied with clear, and you may need to change these.

The second thing to consider is the size of your system and the reason for calculating the size of the air pump you require. You can find air pumps that offer one outlet, or others comprise up to eight outlets.

With multiple pipe connections, you have the chance to place air stones in different areas of your reservoir, or you can run multiple systems from one pump.

Many larger-scale growers may opt for two pumps rather than one to act as a failsafe. If one fails and it can cope with your system, then your plants won’t suffocate.

Lastly, it would be best if you were sure your pump matches your air stones. An air stone that is too large may have air coming just from one location, and thus other areas may block prematurely. In addition to this, any air stones you use ought to produce smaller bubbles.

With this, you find the oxygen dissolves easier as the bubbles travel slower, and more of the water surface is disturbed. Larger bubbles merely rise to the surface faster and will break the water surface less.

Air stones come in multiple sizes, yet once you have a pump that can drive air through all of the stone, you can find a four-inch size is ideal.

You may not hear much about this, and the issue stems from aquariums more than hydroponics, though it could be an issue.

If you have a deep tank rather than shallower horizontal, there can be back pressure and water can seep back through the tube into your pump. You will find this can be another reason to have a larger pump than you may think you require.

Calculating the Size of Air Pump for Hydroponics

You can look at purchasing an air pump in many ways, although there is one rule of thumb that a few gardeners use, it is often seen as leading to overkill for your system.

Buying an air pump that has a wattage equal to your number of gallons in your reservoir can lead you to purchase a pump you don’t need. You will see this happens to be a none technical way of selecting your ideal pump.

While you can follow this method, a lot depends on the size of your tank to the extent of the pump you require. One good thing to know is that it is almost impossible to have too much air in your water. The only time this would be an issue is if the water was being thrown from the top of your reservoir.

It is a pump that is too small that causes issues because it can’t oxygenate your solution enough for all your plants.

A pump you need has to deliver at least 500-600 CC (cubic centimeters) per minute. If you see 500-600 ml per minute, the volume of air is the same, and it is a quick 1 to 1 conversion.

For home gardens, even the cheapest pumps can deliver this, although you need to think about your pump in operation.

It is possible to turn your pump off on occasions for limited periods though it isn’t advisable, and your pump ought to be on 24/7. Commercial grade air pumps often come with a single outlet that can connect to a larger hose, and from this, you can connect multiple branches of smaller hose connectors.

Even though these are more costly, they are not overly expensive and will be more durable than smaller air pump variants.

Conclusion

When it comes down to the purchasing decision, unless you have a larger than average garden, you can find most of the available pumps will deliver a steady stream of air to your system.

How long the cheaper models can do this is questionable, so it can be a better option to move upmarket and purchase one that you know will deliver the reliability you require.

Besides this, if you want to go with the failsafe method and opt for two air pumps, you can easily find two middle of the road size pumps that offer plenty of air throughput without reaching the top end of your budget.

Even if you think the pumps appear to be overpowered, you can quickly reduce the number of air stones, although your plants will appreciate the additional oxygen.

Is PVC Safe for Aquaponics and Hydroponics?

More and more individuals are turning toward growing their foods. Since the limited amount of space some people have, they seek alternative and inventive ways to grow vegetables. With this, came the advent of hydroponics and also a fork of this we know as aquaponics.

Many of these systems will be based around piping and tubing to transfer water. It is possible to purchase made for purpose pipes and tubes, yet the DIY nature of many system builders is they turn toward PVC pipes and tubes. You find these components are readily available and highly affordable. However, it does lead to one question.

Is PVC safe for Aquaponics and Hydroponics? There are various standards of PVC, and some are not suitable for either hydroponics or aquaponics. However, there are standards which can deem some PVC as food safe. Before you build your system, it is good to understand the types of PV and the concerns some individuals have.

What Are the Types of PVC?

Here is an overview of the various strains of PVC.

Plain PVC

You will find this in two forms. You have one which is an unplasticized polymer (uPVC) and a flexible plastic.

In the unplasticized form (uPVC), the PVC is rigid and stiff; you will find these two traits make this PVC highly-durable when you compare this to your regular PVC which is much softer, pliable and flexible and also not as durable.

CPVC

CPVC is a chlorinated type of PVC which offers some unique properties. It provides high glass transition temperature, chemical inertness and high heat distortion temperatures. You often find this in use for mechanical, smoke-related scenarios and dielectric. From the name, you can see it contains a higher degree of chlorine than regular PVC.

PVC-M

This variant of PVC is incredibly tough and possesses vast amounts of impact strength.

PVC-O

Out of all, PVC-O is the strongest and offers very high tensile strength. It is often used in applications where this strength will be a benefit.

Are PVC Pipes Toxic?

The main types of PVC you may use for your systems will be PVC or uPVC, and it is here where the concerns lie.

Instead of thinking, PVC is flexible, while uPVC is rigid. You will find more to it because there are reasons this occurs. When there are no plasticizers added, you end up with a rigid product, and thus it takes on the term of Foods Safe PVC.

Food Safe PVC doesn’t have any Bisphenol A (BPA) or Phthalates, and the lack of these make it safe for use in gardening, regardless of the type. If you are unsure, what you need to be aware of is any mark or stamp that shows the PVC is to NSF-51 rating, and thus, safe for food production.

NSF or National Sanitation Foundation is the organization that does all the testing and sets the standards for public health and environmental safety.

Once your PVC has this NSF-51 rating, you know it meets all the set standards for ‘Plastic Material and Components used in Food Equipment.’

Why is Regular PVC Not Safe for Hydroponics?

While you can see standards that are in place and why uPVC is safe, you ought to understand why regular PVC isn’t food safe and shouldn’t be used in your Hydroponics or Aquaponics gardens.

PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) is a thermoplastic polymer they make from various chemicals, which can comprise of Phthalates, Lead and Cadmium. You will find all of these are toxic to humans.

Besides the toxicity of these compounds, when you burn PVC, it gives off a dangerous chemical named Dioxin, and which is a class 1 carcinogenic.

What makes things worse is you cannot recycle PVC pipe. When it faces exposure to sunlight for extended periods, it can pass lead ash through the pipe.

Because PVC has been around for a large number of years, there are landfills and gardens, which are full of PVC pipes breaking down under the force of the sun to create a health hazard to humans.

Even if you are using uPVC in your system and it has exposure to the sun in your hydroponic or aquaponic garden, it may be wise to cover these pipes in some reflective paint or cover. If nothing else, it can help to keep your hydroponic reservoir cooler, which is a good thing.

Gluing PVC Pipes in Hydroponic Systems

With the NSF-51 rating, and the NSF-61 rating determining your PVC pipes are food and water safe. Even if regular PVC is safe if it is out of sight, there is one area which you can find isn’t typically mentioned.

When gardeners build their systems, they may need to glue certain connections. While it is preferable to leave them as a pressure fit, it isn’t always possible to do so.

The problem of over gluing comes into play. Much of the thought goes into the safety and toxicity of PVC, yet the chemical cement is highly toxic. You can obtain a good idea from the smell it gives off, and the feelings of dizziness or you find it hard to breathe if you are in an enclosed area.

PVC cement shouldn’t end up on the skin, and you should never inhale the fumes if possible. When used correctly, there isn’t too much of an issue; it dries quickly and takes you seconds to apply it.

The issue comes from applying too much glue, and when this happens, it can pass into the water. If this were to occur in a hydroponics system, you could clog your pump, yet in aquaponics, it could cause harm to your fish.

What are the Other Types of Plastics?

If you counted the types of plastics in production, you could reach numbers in the thousands. However, here is a handful you may be more familiar with. The FDA sets higher standards for any plastic that will come into contact with anything to do with food or beverages.

  • PET or PETE: Polyethylene terephthalate falls as number 1 in the recycling triangle diagram. It is a clear, strong plastic you will see in use with plastic bottles of water, juice, soda, and peanut butter and spreads. You will find it comes in varying degrees of thickness.
  • HDPE: High-density polyethylene sits in second place in the triangle as is often used for your milk and juice containers as well as some laundry products. You find this plastic thicker than PET and can be clear or colored.
  • PVC: Polyvinyl chloride as we see is best left to what it was designed for, although it can be sued in food production. It is, however, essential to be sure it hasn’t been treated for use in industry.
  • LDPE: Low-density polyethylene plastic is most typically seen in use as bags for frozen foods, bread bags and squeezy bottles.
  • PP: Polypropylene is the one we may see quite often in yogurt or margarine containers and medicine bottles.
  • PS: Polystyrene, is a foam, yet still a plastic. You’ll see PS in plastic plates, cups, cutlery, egg cartons, and meat trays depending on the grade it is made to.
  • Other: Number 7 on the triangle code can be a mix of the above materials or resins not listed. Being food safe, you can find it in use for 5-gallon water bottles, citrus juice bottles, and others.

Conclusion

When building a system, or adding to it, if you choose your PVC safely and make sure it comes with an NSF-51 rating, then you shouldn’t have issues. Keep it out of the sun and try not to use glue, and you will be well on your way to healthy veggies without any worry.

Are Jiffy Pellets Good for Hydroponics?

There is no secret that hydroponic growers are always out to find the best products and techniques to get the most vigorous growth and best yields possible. Because of this mentality, many skip seeds and use seedlings to save time.

When transplanting, there are many options available, peat pellets, Rockwool, coco coir and others. One new kid on the block is the Jiffy Pellets, and for new gardeners, they can be the most straightforward way to get your seeds going.

However, the question remains, because there is a debate on these small plugs.

Are Jiffy Pellets good for hydroponics? Many gardeners say they should use no peat moss in hydroponics when starting seedlings. Once these break down, they end up in your reservoir and can clog your pump. Jiffy Pellets are in mesh, so are these starters any different?

What are Jiffy Pellets?

You will find Jiffy pellets sold as small dry disks. When you add water to the dry peat moss, they will expand. Because of this, and to stop them breaking apart. It contains all the peat or substrate in a fine mesh. This acts as a pot around the material.

You insert your seed in the top and press it into the potting mix. As the seed germinates and roots grow, they arrive at the mesh. Depending on the plant, some roots find the mesh a barrier and remain inside.

Other roots may push through the holes, although as there are no external growing media, they will be root pruned.

Once seedlings are ready, they can be transplanted. All you need to do is drop the Jiffy into a hole and start feeding it.

While very convenient, because they don’t need other pots and potting mixes, and they take up very little space. They are more expensive than a traditional pot and growing media.

Besides this, there are concerns about your plant health, the environment, and if they are actually suitable for hydroponics.

Why I Shouldn’t Use Jiffy Pellets

Hydroponics is a soilless gardening system, and from the seeds to the plants, it is the gardener’s job to deliver the right amount of nutrient solution for their growing needs. Add in lighting, temperature and moisture, and you can find this control just can’t be achieved in soil.

To pass water around your system, you need a water pump, and here is where the debate starts. They make Jiffy Pellets from peat, and as soon as you add water to the flat disks, they expand. Over time the peat eventually breaks down, it can work loose from the mesh and find its way into your system to be flushed to your reservoir, where it clogs your pump.

You will find alternatives like Rockwool or coco coir, or a similar growth media is best for seedlings in hydroponics.

You find that because of the potential pump issues, peat pellets are perfect for seedlings, which you will eventually transplant to soil.

They prove Rockwool and coco coir ideal as growing mediums as they retain water and allow oxygen in the right amounts. Aside from this, they are less likely to break down and clog your pump.

Peat Pots and Environmental Concerns

Jiffy Pellets has claims of biodegradability, and have labels as being composed of natural materials. You will expect the pellets to lose their tidy packaging mesh when it merges with the surrounding soil.

However, there is one thing to note, and that is the lack of given time frame the mesh material is given before it decomposes.

Many gardeners take up the role of growers as they become more environmentally conscious and wish to change their lifestyle to a greener and more efficient manner.

With Jiffy pellets, there are concerns of the biodegradability of the mesh, because there are reports from regular soil gardeners, they don’t decompose as people expect. Even after two years in soil, the Jiffy Pellet mesh is mostly intact, aside from tears where roots work their way out.

Are Jiffy Pellets Good to Use in Hydroponics?

You can find some reports that gardeners do use Jiffy Pellets in hydroponics, yet they place these inside mesh pots to make sure they can sit in their system.

There are reasons Jiffy Pellets shouldn’t be used in your hydroponic system.

Mesh & Roots

If you were to use these pellets in your hydroponic system, you wouldn’t be able to do so as they are. Many plants become rootbound inside the mesh, and you will find stunted growth of your crops. The way around this is to remove the mesh and then remove the peat from around your plant’s roots.

To do this for multiple plants is time consuming and you can cause stress or damage to your plant roots as you rinse them in water to clear away the peat. You then have to dispose of the mesh separately.

Clogs

The consensus between growers is not to use peat or any similar growing media inside a hydroponic system. As your solution flows, you can find the peat accumulates inside your system as it tangles with roots to cause a blockage, or worse, it finds its way back to your reservoir and blocks your water pump.

Should this happen, all your crops can be at risk of not receiving water and nutrients.

Sustainability

Jiffy pellets comprise peat moss as their primary material. While this offers lots in the way of nutrients, many individuals are unaware of the ecological concerns of using peat moss for anything.

Peat moss doesn’t have an infinite supply. Around the world, there are only so many areas where peat moss can be located, and the mining of this occurs much faster than nature can produce it. A peat bog may only grow by 0.02 inches per year.

Mining of the peat is another factor. Peat holds carbon that will be released into the atmosphere when mined, and it continues to do so long after mining ceases.

The miners also need to drain the water from the bogs, and by doing so, this can have a severe impact on the surrounding water table. Such is the effect, peat is becoming less of a primary growing media in any form of gardening, and alternatives are being sought.

Best Jiffy Pellet Alternative

The drawbacks of using Jiffy pellets should be sufficient for any gardener to see they shouldn’t be used. Because of this, indoor gardeners seek alternatives, and one of the best is coco coir pellets. While there is still a manufacturing process, the fibers used to make these pellets were once a waste product in the coconut harvesting industry.

Coco coir has many benefits going for its use. It has fantastic water retention properties, and there is sufficient space in the fibers for rapid root growth and oxygenation. As an aside, you can find insects are not keen on settling in this media.

Coco coir is also reusable depending on how you use it in your system; all it takes is cleaning and sterilization before it’s ready to use again. One downside at present being it is still more expensive than peat to use.

Conclusion

Jiffy Pellets are convenient to use, yet they are more geared to seed germination than cloning. Many hydroponic growers prefer to use cloning as their preferred method of introducing plants into their system.

With this, there are few reasons you need to opt for using Jiffy Plugs in your system as they don’t offer any advantage over other forms of media for cloning.

Last, you can also do your bit by not using them and preserving an extra minor part of the natural environment.

Can You Use Rockwool Insulation for Hydroponics?

Some of the growing media used in hydroponics can become expensive. Because of this, gardeners are always on the lookout for alternatives. One of the most popular growing media you can choose is Rockwool, which is a man-made product where they take rock and sand and heat it to extreme temperatures before they sin it into fibers.

The end product is very similar to the slabs of Rockwool insulation often used in the construction of homes. With this, many gardeners wonder.

Can you use Rockwool insulation for hydroponics? On face value, there is little to distinguish between the two materials. They look and feel the same; however, the differences come with the treatments applied to the insulation. We can use it for hydroponics with some care, but it may not be as effective.

Why Consider Rockwool Insulation?

You may wonder why growers even consider using the insulation rather than the Rockwool, which is made for hydroponics.

A couple of reasons being price and availability. You can find Rockwool insulation at most hardware stores, while hydroponic Rockwool you may need to order online.

Rockwool Insulation Vs. Hydroponic Rockwool

Before thinking you can use the Rockwool with no effect, it is better to understand what the differences are. It would not be very smart to find you have changed your growing media to see your plants suffer without checking what impact a new growing media could have.

Added Chemicals in Rockwool Insulation

Some of the fundamental differences between the two forms of Rockwool are the chemical additives there are. You find these are added to the insulation to make it fireproof and safe to use in your home.

While making them safe for home use, the accumulation of these chemicals over your plant’s life can have a detrimental effect.

Here are two of the compounds added that can affect the growth of your crops.

Asbestos

Using asbestos in Rockwool insulation has been on a decline since they found it led to cancer. They banned the asbestos material from most products during the 80s. However, you can find traces of it in old homes around the country.

When using insulation Rockwool, you can see plants have reduced levels of nutrients in leaves and can suffer from stunted growth as a result.

For humans, there can be irritation of the skin and throat if you breathe in the microscopic fibers. Hence, if you do use this, you need protection if the material is dry.

Formaldehyde

In manufacture, the addition of Formaldehyde is to act as a binder. However, by the end of the production cycle, they remove most of this chemical, though there are still some traces remaining.

The issue here is if you are using blocks of insulation Rockwool to grow numerous plants, then the levels of Formaldehyde in your system can increase. The effects of this chemical on plant growth are around a 27% decrease in the wet weight of a plant. Also, the water content of your crops can decrease by around 5% per plant.

In use, there is the side affects you may face, from eye, nose and throat irritation through excessive exposure to your insulation Rockwool.

Plant Growth Using Insulation Rockwool

One of the visual differences you may notice if you hold the two compounds next to each other is how much more compressed insulation Rockwool appears to be. Because of this, the roots of your seedlings may struggle to spread in their early days.

As a result, you may see a limited amount of growth from your crops in comparison. Some tests also show that several seeds may not make it past the germination stage when using this material.

If you wish to proceed with this material, you need to prepare it first before you carry on using it.

Treatment of Insulation Rockwool Before Use

If you want to use the material, or you don’t have a choice at that moment, here are the preparation steps you need to follow to negate the adverse side effects of using this material.

While you need to go through these steps of preparation, you need to know that the structure will change, and the insulation Rockwool won’t return the same form as it was before treatment.

1# Washing the insulation

The best way to remove chemicals from the insulation is soak the material in a solution of water and dishwasher detergent, for around 24-hours.

2# Sterilization

You often use this step when reusing your Rockwool blocks again. With the use of Hydrogen Peroxide, you can sterilize your insulation and remove any disease or traces of infectious impurities.

3# Soaking

Rockwool has excellent water retention properties; however, the insulation variety doesn’t offer as much as the Hydroponic Rockwool.

With both types, you need to first soak your material in water until no air bubbles come from the water surface. Once there are no bubbles, you are guaranteed moisture reaching your seeds, seedlings or plants if using 4-inch blocks.

4# Adjusting pH Levels

Rockwool has a higher pH (7.8) than other growing media, so you have to bring this back in line, so it favors your crops. If you don’t do this, then you can affect the pH of your nutrient solution.

If you are using the insulation for germination or seedlings, they won’t be in your system, and you may not yet be using any nutrient solution to feed them. You can soak your cubes in pH adjusted solution to bring it in line during these stages.

Cutting Rockwool Insulation

One area rarely talked about when using insulation Rockwool is not the preparation above, yet the preparation to sit your plants in the blocks.

Hydroponic Rockwool comes in cubes of various sizes and can be from starter plugs to larger cubes to use in flood and drain systems. The larger cubes have an out paper covering to help keep the material in shape.

Aside from this, the starter plugs and the cubes mainly come with pre-cut holes. When deciding to use Rockwool insulation, you will need to do this yourself.

Here’s a quick guide on how to prepare your insulation by cutting the Rockwool. You will need to make sure you soak your insulation to prevent exposure to dust and fibers.

  1. Remove your insulation from the water and place it on several sheets of newspaper.
  2. Gently press the top of your cubes or slab to remove some water.
  3. If you have a slab, try to mark out your blocks and cut these to shape with a sharp knife or scissors.
  4. Mark out and cut two diagonal lines from corner to corner of your blocks.
  5. Take your sharp knife and cut through your blocks about 1/2-inch in depth.
  6. Because you won’t have holes to drop the starter cube into, the way you use your insulation is peeling back the four corners in the center of your block.
  7. Insert your starter cube and push the corners back.

Conclusion

One thing to note is that insulation Rockwool doesn’t possess anywhere near the same water retention properties of Hydroponic Rockwool. When you compare, you may even say it repels water.

While there are a few differences in the manufacture, composure and the way it works in a hydroponic system, it is possible to use insulation as a replacement for hydroponic Rockwool.

The primary question is if you want to go through all the effort to use a cheaper material, yet can be harmful to yourself, your plants and the environment?

Rockwool may be one of the best growing mediums for hydroponics, yet you can find many alternatives that are just as good, and coco coir being a quick example.

Can Cereals be Grown Hydroponically?

With many countries looking to solve food shortages, hydroponics has been seen as another way to maximize crop output without using more arable land, which is diminishing each year.

The main staple crops in many countries are wheat, oats, barley, rice and others. This leads to the question, “Can cereals be grown hydroponically?”

The answer to this isn’t as clear-cut as yes or no. With a carefully built hydroponic system, almost any crop can be grown, yet there some plants, which by their very nature are not designed to grow in hydroponic systems, and others which take more effort than the gain form their yields.

Here we will look to see if this question has an answer one way or the other.

What Can You Grow in Hydroponic Systems?

Many growers have systems inside their homes and make use of growing lights. However, there are also gardeners that are lucky enough to have enough space and can utilize a greenhouse to be the home to their system.

This means they can make use of the sun during the day, and then use grow light as an artificial supplement to the natural light.

Greenhouses can offer a gardener more room, yet these can quickly be outgrown with the wrong crops. When you use a greenhouse, you can see larger yields and it is these, which causes the issues.

Some crops, which are ideal for hydroponic growing, are:

Tomatoes: These thrive if grown in a hydroponic system. Depending on the variety, they will need support for their vines. This is the same if you were growing cucumbers, peas and beans.

Strawberries: These are another great crop to grow in hydroponic systems; however, they can be hard for new growers. There are many varieties, some vine while others are bush growers.

Herbs: Many herbs can be grown and take up very little space.

Leafy greens: Lettuce, kale and many other crops are ideal for growing in a system. These shallow rooting plants thrive in these growing conditions, and it is these, which began the hydroponic boom.

Many other vegetables are suitable for hydroponic growing. These can grow throughout the year, so the chances of fresh food all the time is a distinct possibility. Many smaller plants will grow faster than larger ones and take up less resources and effort.

What Not to Grow in Hydroponic Systems

Even though there are many plants, which are shallow rooted and perfect for hydroponics, there are as many, which are not suitable. These can be for differing reasons.

The first category of plants are those that don’t grow very well in a hydroponic system. Potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots and turnips will all thrive better in soil grown condition than in a hydroponic system.

Even if you are a gardener who has a greenhouse, there are still crops that can outgrow these spaces. Squash, melons and many other crops that grow across the ground are not suitable because of the space they take up. These can be grown in hydroponics, yet you will need plenty of space, and then the crops grown per square foot ratio will plummet.

There are a few vining plants that are not suitable for home growers. Depending on the variety, tomatoes and cucumbers can fall into these groups. With trellising and the amount of space needed, they can overwhelm a gardeners growing space.

Adding to this, these large vining plants can drain systems of nutrients, and finally, there will be a continual need for grow lights to be adjusted as the plants grow along their vines. The extra work required can make these plants more effort than the gains that can be achieved.

Plants Which Don’t Make Economic Sense

There are many crops, which don’t make economic sense to farmers and their hydroponic system. Cereals fall into this category although there is a way where growing some cereals can make sense. This we will see later.

If you take wheat as the example, this is one of the most widely consumed cereals around the world. While not being genetically suited to hydroponic growth, there is the factor of the amount of electricity required to grow it.

To grow enough wheat to make a loaf of bread can cost upward of $20 if it was in a warehouse setting. Add to this the amount of space that is needed to grow enough wheat germ to make this loaf. There is no real feasibility for doing so.

Hydroponics is about saving space while growing more. In contradiction, wheat would take more space to grow a sufficient amount of crop, which is any use.

To break this down into a scale that is easier to relate to for a small garden, if you were to have nine square feet of growing area, this would produce around 4 cups of wheat for every harvest. This equates to making a loaf of bread every five months or so.

While this may write off the chances of growing cereals using hydroponic methods, there are ways where hydroponics can be used for cereal production.

Cereals and Hydroponic Water Purification

The American Journal of Agricultural and Biological Science carried out a study back in 2008. While this wasn’t solely about growing wheat, barley or oats hydroponically, it was about using aquaculture wastewater.

This is dependent on the size of garden, and will be geared more too commercial ventures. Taking the wastewater from system flushing can be used for irrigation of these cereal crops. The study showed the seeds were germinated in a hydroponic system where they then received the wastewater from the aquaculture system.

The resulting crops grew faster and didn’t show any sign of mineral deficiency. They did lack any significant amounts of protein, and even for fish food, they would need a supplement to correct this.

Although this isn’t essential growing cereals in a hydroponic system, it does show they are not adverse to absorbing hydroponic nutrients, so the possibility is there is other factors are ideal.

Hydroponic Cereal Sprouts and Microgreens

Sprouts and microgreens are taking the world by storm. These are highly nutritious and tasty. One of the ones which is touted as being a wonder food is “Wheatgrass.”

This is the first few inches of wheat as it begins its growth. Growing wheat or other cereals to maturity may not be cost effective, yet when you grow them to this stage only, they make a lot of economic sense.

You may see wheatgrass around in juice bars or health food stores. It comes with lots of possible health benefits and can be harvested in around 7-10 days.

Any cereal which is grown in this way will be packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. These can be used to help fight inflammation, diabetes and many other ailments.

Most of these can be grown with a weakened nutrient solution in coco coir while stacked on shelves with a grow light above them. They may take minimal watering, yet they still need all the same elements as the rest of a hydroponic garden such as temperature, ventilation and light.

A grower who ventures down this road may be surprised how much demand there is for this kind of small crop. Microgreens are in high demand from restaurants to the health conscious, even if the garden isn’t a commercial venture, it can lead that way, or just deliver many healthy things to spice up the dinner table.

Conclusion

Asking the question of whether or not cereals can be grown hydroponically does leave plenty open to debate. The reasons for not growing wheat is more down to the sense of doing so rather than it can’t be grown to a mature plant hydroponically.

Once you look at sprouts and microgreens, nearly all cereals can be sprouted or grown to a certain age that makes the minimal effort of doing this well worth it for every grower. This way, you can grow more crops in a smaller space and faster than plants reaching maturity.

A defining answer for growing cereals would be yes, but just not in the ways, you expect plants to grow. As you can see above, at the current time, there are many other crops that can be grown in hydroponic systems, yet the ways systems are set up, they are not a viable crop to do so.

Be it for growing constraints or the economic side rules them out, it doesn’t mean they can’t be grown using these methods.

Why Do Hydroponics Need Flushing?

New growers will often become confused when flushing is spoken about. It isn’t so much how to flush that becomes confusing, it is the “Why do hydroponics need Flushing?” which can catch them out. One of the first reasons is purely and simple as a means of maintaining system cleanliness.

The second is a little more in depth because it occurs at a different time, and for a very specific reason.

Here we will look at both kinds of system flushing, why there is a difference between flushing a system after a harvest as opposed to before a harvest, and how you can flush systems quickly and easily.

In a quick summary, here is what routine flushing of systems can help with:

  • Removes excess of salts and harsh compounds
  • Ensures a balance of nutrients
  • Allows you the opportunity to clean a system
  • Restoring crop growth in dying plants
  • Leading to better growth and flavor

Flushing Plants for Maximum Yields and Flavor

This can be the area that confuses new growers, and can cause them to make mistakes which affects the final growth of their plants and crops.

Flushing before a harvest doesn’t need to be complicated, and it doesn’t matter what brand of nutrient mixes you use, it can still offer you many benefits.

Why flush before a harvest?

What growers may not understand is that flushing systems before harvest is an easy method of increasing the final crop quality, to top this, it is free to do.

The reason this helps is, the process plants go through in the vegetative phase where they absorb the nutrients can actually cause them to have a buildup of salts or other compounds, which are not beneficial.

If these are left in the system during harvest phases, it can lead to a compromise in the outcome of the crops. This final flushing has some potential benefits like reducing harshness of the product and removing traces of chemical taste from crops.

This leads to a final improvement in overall plant quality as the plants are not wasting any energy to absorb nutrients as they would usually.

When and Why to flush before harvests?

It does take some consideration when to begin flushing before a harvest as it can have repercussions. If you do this too early, you won’t be just removing these excesses, you will start to deprive your crops of nutrients and leave yourself with nutrient deficiencies.

Growing medium in use can also make a difference. DWC growers can have the shortest flushing time as whatever they do will have an immediate effect. If using coco coir, then this can have the longest flushing time because the medium retains a high level of nutrients.

The ultimate goal is to rid your plants from the excess salts, however, when you use plain water, you are relying on this to cleanse your plant, growing medium and root system of these salts. You are actually starting to starve plants right before a harvest. While this may sound counterproductive, it does force the plants to use any excess nutrients they have in their system.

It is here where plants take on a more natural flavor and smell. There are solutions you can purchase which contain chelates. These can remove the harmful residues from all the areas of plants and systems, as they contain a broad type of chelates for this purpose. End results of crops can be bountiful and these solutions are shown to be effective, yet some can cause shock to plants.

Flushing to Correct Nutrient Lockout and System Cleans

While we have this kind of flushing second, for many growers, it can be the more common kind of flushing they will ever do. It is this flushing, which can be very useful when plants have nutrient deficiencies, or they are showing signs of toxicity.

Growers may be doing everything right, and still they find their plants are exhibiting these symptoms. It can be frustrating, and as they try to correct these problems, they make matters worse and risk losing all their crops.

In most cases, it is the mineral buildup as seen above which causes these issues. There are different methods you can use depending on system type. As we saw, a DWC system or an aeroponics system doesn’t have any growing medium. Flushing this can be as easy as draining your tank and making a complete swap of solutions.

The reason being, there is no growing medium to hold these excess nutrients. If you are using coco coir, Rockwool or any other soilless growing media, then this can be more intensive. To do this, you will need a solution to be pulled through your medium to flush out the excess salts.

As we saw above, you can purchase dedicated flushing mixes, although, you can do this with a diluted solution. A diluted solution may be advisable, as your crops will already be accustomed to this, albeit in a stronger ratio.

Fertilizers can be weakened to 1/8th strength, adding to this, you will need between five and ten times the regular amount you feed to your plants.

Many growers may skip this step, carry out a full system flush, and start again. While this is the definitive way of knowing what your nutrient levels are, and what your pH level is, this can be a solution to correct your nutrient lockout or deficiencies without putting a halt to your system and cleaning while it is full of plants.

Do I need to flush with Organic Fertilizers?

Organic fertilizers work in different ways when they are in a hydroponic system. Many growers do make their own rather than option to purchase the regular three-pack-solution of nutrients.

If you use organic fertilizers, it will be a case of monitoring systems to check the TDS, the PPM and the pH level. In many cases you can find out there is no need to flush during transition as the type of nutrients being administered isn’t changing to such an extent.

Generally speaking, organic will have microorganisms which are breaking down before being fed to plants. This does however take place in soils or growing mediums. Some growers will still flush their system with fresh water in the final week to be sure there is no ill effect.

One thing to notice is there will be no salt build up when using organic nutrients as there isn’t the same composition of salts that normally causes issues.

Flushing Systems for Cleansing Purposes

If you are flushing to keep your system clean, you will find the steps are the same regardless of nutrients used. The only difference being the kind of system you have. Here are the basic steps of flushing to keep your system clean:

Draining your reservoir

If using a water pump, drain down suing this and a run-off hose. Water levels should reach the top of your pump where you then scoop out the remaining couple of inches. Some reservoirs come with drain valves, if you have a drain area, you can drain directly by using this.

Cleaning the Reservoir

Remove any sediment or algae and then top up with water and use the hydrogen peroxide cleaning method for sterilization. This will be easier to clean than using bleach as this needs triple flushing to remove all traces.

Fill the Tank

When cleaned, rinsed and wiped dry, you can fill your system and let it run before checking the pH levels. You can then add your new batch of nutrients and re-check your readings. When these are in line, you can begin adding your plants to your system.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a couple of reasons why and how you can flush your systems. Not every method works for every grower because no two crops are the same. Many growers experiment to find the optimal flushing methods.

This is more the case during transition as there is more of a final effect on the resulting crops (crop dependent); however, this kind of flushing can leave crops tasting more natural.

This alone makes flushing during the final week of growth worthwhile. Having a bumper crop that doesn’t contain any taste of nutrients will be hard to beat in anyone’s book. Not to mention, it can make cleaning your system easier once that time comes around.

How to use Rockwool to Kick start your Hydroponic Growing

One of the toughest challenges for any new hydroponic gardener is to determine which is the best growing medium that will meet their needs. With several to choose from, it can be daunting, yet one keeps rising to the top.

Rockwool is a versatile material and has been used for well over 40 years. It is ideal for seedlings and for use in some systems, yet there are still concerns how to get the best from this material.

Here, we will look at everything you need to know about Rockwool, and how you can benefit from its use in your garden.

What is Rockwool?

Many people will have seen Rockwool, or a very close relative of it without realizing. What was once used as insulation for roofing or building projects was found to be an effective growing medium for hydroponics when there was a slight change to its structure.

Rockwool comes under a couple of different names, and one of the common ones being “Stonewool.” This is man-made, and to do this, they take basalt rock, which is an old volcanic rock, and melt it at high temperatures along with limestone.

Once it reaches a molten lava stage, this is spun into fibers much like cotton candy. Once these fibers are made, they add a binder into the mix and compress the resulting material into a mat. From here, it will be cut into a variety of shapes and sizes that meets the needs of hydroponic growers.

Sizes you can often find are slabs, cubes, croutons, granulate blocks and starter plugs. These are found to retain moisture to almost ideal conditions, it will retain oxygen and because of the fine structure, it never impedes the growing of plants rooting systems. Rockwool can actually promote a strong vigorous growth.

What Can I Grow Using Rockwool?

There are all manner of plants and vegetables, which can be grown in Rockwool. While commercial growers use it for germinating lettuce before they transplant them to NFT systems, home growers can use larger Rockwool blocks for growing all manner of leafy greens, herbs, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers among others.

Growers who use their system for cut flowers find that both Gerberas and Roses grow well when planted in Rockwool.

Once new growers see the benefits of Rockwool, they begin to look at how they can benefit from using it in their garden. For many, the uses do fall down to either germinating seeds, or when cloning new plants, however, larger blocks are more versatile than just using Rockwool starter plugs for this purpose.

No matter what the use, the properties of Rockwool make it an almost perfect growing medium for plants. In comparison to its size, it can hold a large amount of water. This makes it ideal in systems where there are dry periods, and growers don’t want their growing medium to dry out completely.

This feature also acts as a security measure in case there are power outages, or there is a pump or timer failure.

If water retention wasn’t a good enough reason, then the ability to hold almost 20% oxygen between the fibers is. This delivers lots of oxygen to the root zones and makes it hard to actually over water their plants.

Larger 4-inch cubes are used for the bigger plants we saw above, yet the plugs of around 1.5 inches are often used for germination and cloning.

Rockwool makes it easier for new growers, in what could be a stressful time. Using Rockwool, they can keep their seeds damp enough without them sitting in a waterlogged environment.  When it comes to cloning, part of the old plant will be taken from another and planted so it can grow into a new plant all of its own.

This can be a more successful and cheaper way of growing plants for many growers because it will be an identical clone of the original plant, which was the donor.

For this method to be successful there does need to be lots of humidity around the cutting. If it dries out too much, then a plant will revert to self-preservation mode and stop trying to grow new roots.

Any method of growing needs to be in a sterile environment, and the way they manufacture Rockwool means it is 100% inert. The heating process it goes through during the manufacturing process means there is little chance of fungi or bacteria entering into Rockwool.

Steps in Using Rockwool for Planting Seeds

It may appear daunting when planting seeds for the first few times; however, it can be very straightforward and successful when using this growing medium.

Here are the steps to follow when planting seeds.

  1. Rockwool preparation – soak your cubes well in pH adjusted water. They should have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
  2. In the hole in the top of the plug, insert two seeds. Using a fine object such as a toothpick push the seeds toward the bottom of the hole.
  3. Pinch the top of the hole closed or cover with a small piece of Rockwool.
  4. Add all your starter plugs to a nursery tray and place a humidity done over the top. Keep the temperature around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Check every couple of days and make sure the cubes are not drying out. Either water sparingly or mist them with a water bottle.
  6. Once you see your seeds sprouting, remove the plugs from under the dome and place them under your growing lights.
  7. Once you see a dominant seedling, trim back the smaller one to prevent growth. Never try to remove this smaller shoot as it can damage the shoots of the larger seedling.   
  8. Once these reach between two or three inches in height, you can transplant them to your system. When doing so, there is no need to try to remove the starter plug; this can go directly into your growing medium of choice.

Steps for Propagation Using Rockwool in Hydroponics

Propagation of plants can be harder for new growers until they understand where they need to cut from the donor plant. However, the steps for using the Rockwool cubes are no harder than doing so when growing from seeds.

  1. Make sure your Rockwool cubes are soaked will in pH-adjusted water.
  2. Make sure to water your donor plant well the night before you begin propagation
  3. Take the main stem of the donor plant and cut 3 to 4 inches of leaf stem from as close as you can to the main stem of the plant. Be careful not to damage the node.
  4. Take the cut end and dip it into some rooting hormone
  5. Take the cutting and place it into your cube, but make sure it doesn’t start to emerge from the bottom.
  6. Take your nursery tray and half fill with vermiculite of perlite.
  7. Place the cubes on top of this growing medium.
  8. Close the moisture dome to lock in the moisture and maintain a temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Once roots begin emerging, open the lid slightly and increase more the day after.
  10. Remove the dome completely a few days later once the first roots appear.
  11. Once roots are showing through the bottom of the cub, transplant to your system.

Preparing Rockwool for Use

When using Rockwool, it is important to prepare it before use. While there are other growing mediums, which are pH-neutral such as coco coir and clay pebbles (Hydroton), Rockwool has a naturally high pH of around eight.

This occurs because of the limestone that is mixed with the basalt during manufacturing. If you don’t make sure you adjust the medium before use, then this high pH will prevent plants being able to uptake these nutrients.

Plants prefer conditions that are more acidic, hence the adjustment of the pH before use.

The steps for doing so are easy, yet they can be a little time consuming, so allow yourself a few days before you need to use your new batch of Rockwool.

The first step is to soak your cubes in water, which is acidic. This will dissolve the lime, which forms during manufacture. Distilled water is the best option because you know what the pH will be. Water from the faucet can vary depending if you are in a soft or hard water area.

You should adjust the water so the pH drops to around 5.5. If it goes below five, then this can begin damaging the fibers. Once you do this, allow them to soak up this pH-adjusted water for 24-hours. If these blocks are for use in your system, then locate them in position and run your system without plants until your system pH stabilizes at around 5.5 to 6.0.

Things to Do, and What Not to Do With Rockwool

Using Rockwool can be straightforward, and this can be seen from the amount of growers, which use it. However, there are a few things you need to do, and some things you should to gain the full benefits of this growing medium.

Here we will look at all the things you do need to do:

Pre-soaking Rockwool

When you purchase this growing medium, it will feel very light, as it will be very dry. It is crucial to first wet it sufficiently before you use it. To know it is ready for use, you should submerge the medium in water that is balanced to a pH of 5.5 until there are no more bubbles emerging from the blocks.

By this submersion, the water can penetrate all the tiny pores and holes that are on the inside of the medium. While some growers soak for extended periods, it can be enough to be from seconds or minutes for the starter plugs, or several minutes for the larger 4-inch blocks. It is better to leave it as long as you can to be sure it is thoroughly soaked.

Once you have made this pre-soak, then you need to let it stand and drain. Water will flow and then stop, the medium will still be damp as the moisture only comes from the larger pores where it lets oxygen inside. This gives you the ideal water to oxygen ratio for your plants.

Before using for your plants, you should be sure to wet them with your nutrient solution. After the initial drain, the remaining nutrients will be directly available for your plants. Soaking with just water will weaken the nutrient concentration inside the blocks.

Never Unwrap Your Cubes

The larger blocks will come wrapped in a kind of plastic foil. This won’t let any light inside, and it is there for a reason. This has the same function as your other growing pots. Not only will it prevent air pruning by keeping the light out, it will keep the roots inside.

One other reason this covering needs to stay on the block is it helps prevent algae on the sides. In the case of slabs, these will be fully covered. Because you can’t fit these into buckets, you can soak them from the top with your nutrient solution, and after they have stood, you can make drainage holes on the underside.

Make Sure You Have Good Drainage

All plants will absorb more water than nutrients. You will have a buildup of these salts in your growing medium over time if you don’t allow for a full run-off. As your root zones are irrigated, this new solution pushes the previous slats closer to the bottom of the growing medium.

If there isn’t enough drainage or run-off to allow these salts to drain away, it will become unhealthy for your plants. You need to allow between 20 and 30% of the solution volume going in, and draining from the bottom as a maximum. This will help retain the ideal conditions in the plants rooting zone.

Reuse or Recycle Your Rockwool

When you are using horticultural Rockwool, you may read or hear myths, which say you can’t reuse it or recycle it safely after use.

You can in fact use the larger blocks again as long as you are sure there are no roots remaining. These will rot, but you can purchase enzymes that will help get rid of these, and after you do this, you can reuse them again for a different type of crop.

Rockwool in essence is a rock and it can be broken up and added to compost or added directly to soil garden beds. The only area you should be using Rockwool a second time is for starting your plants.

Here are a few things you should never do when growing with Rockwool:

Never Squeeze Rockwool

Because this growing medium retains so much fluid, new growers may be under the impression there is too much water in the block. Growers should never squeeze their blocks to remove excess water. Squeezing removes too much water as well as damaging the structure of the blocks.

The structure is already ideal for plant growth, so all it needs is wetting and letting it drain naturally before use.

Never Over Stack Your Pots with Rockwool

If your system irrigates from the bottom, you should be cautious of how tall your pots are. Water will never wick more than five or six inches, no matter how good the medium is at absorbing water. Gravity will prevent it from rising higher than this. If you are using a bottom feeding system, be sure the tops of your pots are no higher than this.

Top feeding systems are not as much of a problem because the solution waters from the top. This will fill all the fibers sufficiently before it comes to the time to drain.

Rockwool Usage Tips

There are a few things growers should understand before they begin using Rockwool for the first time.

Health Concerns When Using Rockwool 

Because there is such a similarity with home insulation and Rockwool, many growers are led to believe it can be dangerous to inhale any dust or particles.

For any growing medium, it is advisable to wear a mask when handling these in their dry state. This can relieve any discomfort, as can wearing rubber gloves in case there is any skin irritation. The initial soaking should wash away any of these particles, and from that moment, the blocks should always be damp so the particles will never rise into the air.

Preventing Algae on Rockwool

Like any growing medium in a hydroponic system. A surface, which is moist and exposed to light, can be the ideal conditions for algae growth. Many growers know this all too well, and even if it doesn’t cause problems, it doesn’t look very nice.

To prevent this, they may cover the tops of their large Rockwool blocks with dark plastic to stop light hitting the damp surface. This can be the same for any area of your system where light gets to where your solution sits. Tanks, tubing and grow troughs being prime examples.

Conclusion

After you have taken the initial steps to prepare your Rockwool for use, you will find that it will not affect the pH of your system like many growers think.

Because there is such a good water holding capacity of Rockwool, it is easy to see why growers begin to think this. It is the accumulation of salts in the growing medium as the plants absorb water. Rockwool is one of the easiest and most effective growing mediums to use.

Growers who are concerned with their system pH can easily adjust this by reducing the amount of nutrients, or when they top off with fresh water. There can be fluctuations between just over five all the way to just over a pH of seven, and plants may never show any ill effects. There is a reason why so many growers use this man-made material, and once every grower understands the simple rules above, they too can experience great plant growth by using this easy to use and inexpensive growing medium.

Beginners Guide to Vertical Farming at Home

Whilst reading about hydroponics, potential growers may become confused with the term “Vertical Gardening.” This is just another term for indoor gardening, yet it can take on many different forms. What they all have in comparison to each other is they are recognized as being a sustainable way to grow healthy plants and vegetables in the home.

Here we will take a look at all you need to know about this gardening method, and how you can benefit from beginning any of the gardening methods, no matter how large or small your growing space can be.

Vertical Gardening Concepts

This kind of gardening can be carried out in any space you can imagine. Commercial growers are using tall buildings, old warehouses, or even old converted shipping containers. Home growers are finding places that are ever more ingenious where to set up these systems, from basements, sunrooms to spare rooms and attics.

What they all have in common is that the plants they grow are all grown in layers. Every method, which is used, will fall under the same umbrella of controlled environmental agriculture.

Following these concepts, growers will be controlling everything from administration of nutrients, the humidity, temperatures and artificial lighting. While in some cases there is the use of natural sunlight, this isn’t the only means of lighting, and it will be supplemented by artificial means.

One other thing all these growing methods have in common is they will all be based around hydroponics in one way or another. Once we begin looking at growing upward with a central system, which uses far less water, we can begin to see why these methods of growing are beneficial.

The amount of arable land reduces every year, so there does need to be alternative methods of growing crops for the ever-increasing world population.

Adding to this, there are some quick benefits when using these vertical gardens with hydroponics:

  • Can grow seventy-five times more food per square foot than in soil
  • No need for pesticides or fungicides
  • Food can be healthier and safer to eat
  • Food can be grown all year round
  • Food can be grown in regions where it wasn’t previously possible

What is Controlled Environment Agriculture?

This we saw is an umbrella of technologies that are all geared toward the production of food. CEA has the aim of delivering crops the utmost protection while delivering the optimal growing conditions through the entire growing cycle of the crops.

These enclosed growing areas go much further than just using a hydroponic system to make use of a smaller space. The entire growing methods will be optimized where everything is taken into consideration such as water, space, energy consumption, labor and the capital investment.

While this means of growing can also utilize aquaponics, and aeroponics, for the home grower, these systems may not be as feasible as they are for commercial ventures.

One area which is under continual development is that of “Biofortification” where crops are bred to increase their nutritional value. This can be accomplished by selective breeding from different strains of plants, or through genetic engineering and cloning.

These methods vary from regular fortification as they focus on making the food healthier and more nutritious as the crops are growing instead of adding additional nutrients to the crops while they are being processed.

How Does Indoor Small Scale Indoor Farming Work?

Growers who are thinking of utilizing these methods of growing crops will need to go through several factors, which dictate the way the system will work, and how successful it can be.

Unlike a regular hydroponic system, there are plenty more things to consider. Because many crops will be grown in layers, this means that there is not as much opportunity for taller plants in this system type. When you add into this the types of plants which are ideal, it may be the growers ends up growing too much of the same.

It is for this reason, there does need to be some form of a feasibility study conducted. This will show if what the growers wishes to achieve is cost effective, or they may need to design a growing space which allows them to follow the racking growth system for some crops and a separate area for a more conventional system.

Here are some of the factors, which will determine the viability of vertical farms for the home gardener.

1# Layout

The goal of indoor farming is to make full use of the available space. It is here where growers need to maximize the growing capacity per square meter or foot. To do this easily, growing upward is the key.

2# Light Sources

Growers can use natural light sources, and supplement these with grow lights; however, this may not always be possible. There may be a need for reflectors, rotating beds or another means of making sure the same amount of light falls on all the plants for the specified time.

3# Growing Methods

It is here where the different system types come into play. These can be hydroponics, aeroponics or aquaponics. This will be dictated by the growing area and the type of system used.

4# Sustainability

Everything needs to be supplied by the grower, and if this isn’t done in the right manner, or the right amounts, then it won’t be possible to sustain the garden. Included in this can be rain catchment tanks, wind turbines or growing spaces that can be used for other things as well. A vertical garden will also need to be running all year round to maximize crop growth and reduce overall running expenses.

Small Scale Vertical Gardening for the Home Grower

For home growers, there are many ways they can make use of the concepts and build systems. These come in some very ingenious forms, with one of the simplest and most effective being the window garden, which was developed by a professor from Belgium. Willem Van Cottenham came up with a simple kitchen garden system that makes use of natural sunlight and recycled plastic bottles.

This method takes a number of bottles and strings them together; these hand from the upper most part of the window frame and have a small window cut into the sides of the bottles where net cups can be placed on a growing medium of choice.

At the top of the window is a small reservoir where nutrients are pumped with a small pump, from here they then make their way out of drip emitters into the top most bottles. This acts like a regular drip system, yet the nutrients pass through the first bottle and into the second, and then the third.

At this point, they return to a second catchment reservoir to be reused and circulated back to the top at set intervals.

The same simple concept can be used with plants being placed outdoors rather than inside windows, yet this is ideal for people who lack space.

This concept will be limited to what it can grow, yet there is another form of vertical gardening, which has taken the world by storm almost as much as the interest in hydroponics. Micro-greens are the first shoots from plants and are often used as a garnish in restaurants.

However, they have been found to contain many more benefits, such as an increase in the nutrition they deliver. The popularity of these is the way they grow, and how quick they can be harvested.

Micro-greens follow the vertical gardening ethos down to the finest of details. They are grown in shallow trays and will be stacked on shelves with a set distance between each. Hanging above will be a grow light that is used once the seeds have germinated. Once these greens are ready to harvest, they can be any height from around one inch to around three inches, yet this will depend on the seeds used.

Crops in Micro-greens can be harvested in between ten and fourteen days. Such is the popularity and the ease of this kind of crop and the growing setup required there are many businesses formed on the back of this concept because it is something, which can begin small and scale up in any area of a home.

Vertical gardening around the home doesn’t need to be difficult. The concepts can even be used to supplement regular growing spaces because of the limited space they use. When it comes to the feasibility, this method will help growers save money on groceries, whilst delivering healthier foods onto the table.

These systems are sustainable and make it easy for anyone who lacks a suitable area for a full sized hydroponic system to do their part in growing their own food and putting less strain on the environment.

What Can Be Grown in Vertical Farming?

Depending on the base structure of your vertical gardening system, it is possible to grow near enough anything. However, just because it is possible to grow almost anything, doesn’t mean it makes sense to do so.

There is a point where some crops are not worth growing, or they are not suitable for a family. One other thing, which needs consideration, is for growers who are seeking a commercial venture, and are looking at crops that they can sell. The chances of selling your crops and the cost of production are the most crucial factors at this stage.

Regardless of whether you are growing to sell, or for personal consumption, you will need a feasibility study to understand you are heading in the right direction.

At the end of the day, making the right choices of crops is the best way to make sure you will make you vertical garden a success.

Here is a breakdown of how to look at the determining factors, and then a look at some of the best crops you can grow in vertical gardening systems.

1# Economics & Viability

There are many crops that make sense to grow, yet from a financial stance, they make little sense to grow. This is true if you plan to sell, because if you can’t make money from one of your crops, there can be a few reasons for this:

  • Limited profit due to no demand
  • Production costs are too high
  • Wrong kind of climate – heating, lighting and cooling costs are too much

This can be the same for the home grower, but to a lesser degree. However, you don’t want to find you are spending more on producing your healthy vegetables, than it would cost to purchase them.

2# Timing of Harvests

This can affect small commercial ventures as much as it can affect a home grower. When you take the time from your seedlings to the time, they can be harvested and marketed “A Turn,” this needs to make sense.

Crops, which grow fast, or have a fast turn such as mint, basil, collard greens lettuce and other similar growing vegetables, will help growers reduce their liability. From the start, a grower will already know they are no more than six weeks from a harvest.

If you are looking to grow crops that have a slow turn, they will have a higher value when selling. A recommendation for a split to balance each other out is a high percentage of greens to herbs.

For a home grower who is after enough for consumption, the same will ring true. It makes no sense to grow more lettuce than you can consume, likewise, you don’t want to grow too many slow turn crops where you will be waiting for a harvest, and you may need to resort to going back to the supermarket.

Here are some of the best crops for you to grow in your vertical farm at home.

Best Vertical Growing Crops

Kale

There are several varieties you can choose from, although Tuscan kale is one of the more popular. These will take a larger vertical system as they can grow quite large. Aside from that, they can take care of themselves and don’t need too much attention.

Lettuce

Once you understand how fast your lettuce will grow, and how much you can consume, or sell? You will see there is a consistent demand throughout the year. With dozens of variety available, it will never become tiresome when you can have a fresh crispy salad at the times of year you least expect it.

Collard Greens

If you have the right setup, these are ideal for growing at home because you can pluck these rather than harvest the entire plant. Chard is a smaller variety of collard green and can be easier to control. This cooks similar to spinach, and can be harvested on a number of occasions if you only take around a third of the plant as a maximum. This will grow back and deliver a larger yield.

Basil

Many growers find that when they have a vertical garden, Basil shines as it grows better in these methods than many other systems. There is also a steady demand for Basil, so it can be a decent crop to grow for home consumption, or to be the first you grow for a small commercial enterprise. It can be harder to grow, and harvest, yet the benefits of doing so are well worth it.

Woody Herbs

The smaller woody herbs such as Oregano, Thyme and Rosemary can be a little choosy when it comes to growing. Because of their nature, they do prefer a drier footing when growing. They also have a slow turn in comparison to other crops, yet these are so distinct in aroma and flavor, it can be worth dedicating a small portion of a vertical garden to these. Growers can also find there is always a strong demand for these in many different markets.

Mint and Chives 

For beginners, there is nothing easier to grow than mint and chives. These are generally grouped with herbs, yet they have a quick turn. Chives looks like grass and is very easy to harvest as a whole, or you can cut what you require. Mint can take over a system as it has a rapid growth, so it is advisable to not plant too much to begin with.

Conclusion

Vertical gardening may just be a term for indoor gardening, yet there is much more to it than that. With the number of unique designs growing where the most unusual spaces are used. These are pushing vertical gardening to the limits.

Home growers may already have a system in mind, or in place, yet taking a step back and having a rethink can dramatically increase the yields they can expect from their garden as a unit. Something as simple as Micro-greens don’t require too much to set up in terms of cost, or in care, yet what they deliver far outweighs the little space they take up.

Vertical gardening is seen as the way forward to solve the world’s problems for an increasing population, and the reduction in farming land.

It is never too late for any grower to begin using the concepts from above to increase their yields without increasing their impact on the environment.

Is it Possible to Overwater Hydroponics?

Many growers understand that their plants will be growing in a sterile system that is based on water, and without soil. Therefore, when they are asked the questi0on whether or not it is possible to overwater plants in these kind of systems, it can cause some serious thought.

Is it possible to overwater hydroponics? Yes, it is possible to overwater hydroponic plants. There many different facets and reasons why this can happen. Much of it down to the type of system. However, this is what we will look at here.

We will see the areas of weakness in each system, and highlight what new growers need to do to be sure they don’t overwater their plants and cause problems.

What are they types of hydroponic systems?

There are six basic types of hydroponic systems, and the process for delivering water, oxygen, nutrients, and light can be very different between each of these.

  1. Deepwater Culture (DWC) – A DWC system is simple in construction. The system comprises of a reservoir and a lid or raft, which has holes cut into it for the plants to be suspended. The tips of the roots will hang into the nutrient solution while there is an air pocket where the upper roots can absorb oxygen.
  2. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) This system comprises shallow tubes or troughs where water is pumped through a water pump up to the highest point. From here, the troughs angle downward, and by the force of gravity the solution runs back down and makes its way into the reservoir. The tips of the roots are bathed in this thin stream of solution as it runs under the net pot and the root tips.
  3.  Aeroponics – This method doesn’t use any growing medium like other hydroponic systems. Rather, plants are suspended above water jets, which spray or mist the roots with nutrients and water.
  4. Wicking SystemsPlants are rooted in a growing medium, which can absorb water. This upper container sits above a reservoir where a wick passes through the bottom of the container into the solution. Water makes its way up the wick and will soak into the growing medium where the plants can make best use of the nutrients.
  5. Ebb & FlowThese are also known as flood and drain systems. In operation, a flood bed will be filled with a water and nutrient solution, which soaks into the growing medium. Once the pump cuts off by use of a timer, the solution drains back into the reservoir.
  6. Drip Systems – With these systems, water is pumped through small tubing where it drips onto the growing medium and the plant roots. From there, it drains to the bottom of the pot and makes its way back into the reservoir.

Overwatering in hydroponics can take a couple of different forms depending how you look at it. If you take each system, it is easy to point at areas where it appears a grower is over watering. Here is a quick look at how they could be overwatered.

  • DWC the reservoir can be filled to high with nutrient solution. This leaves the growing medium saturated all the way through rather than moist at the bottom. One other thing is why plants don’t drown, and that is thanks to an air pump and air stones where the water is filled with dissolved oxygen.
  • NFT Systems can suffer from the same problems as DWC. If they have cups, which sit to a certain level, and the nutrient solution is pumping to fast so the height reaches the growing medium, then this will be saturated as well as the roots being submerged.
  • Flood and Drain systems can easily overwater plants if the incorrect growing medium is used and it retains too much moisture. Add to this the frequency of flooding the bed. Do this too frequent and plants won’t be able to absorb enough oxygen. Any media needs to drain sufficiently while remaining moist enough between soakings.
  • Drips systems can be one of the easiest to control water, yet if your pots don’t have sufficient drainage or the drain hole blocks, these can fill full of water and subsequently overwater your plants.

Growing Media for Hydroponics

One of the primary reasons plants are over watered is because the incorrect growing medium is used in a system, or it is directly exposed to the solution and remains too wet. The easiest way to prevent this is to understand how each of these mediums perform in retaining moisture, and how they can let oxygen find its way to the roots.

Hydroton Pebbles

These expanded clay pellets are manufactured under high heat. The resulting balls are porous and will retain moisture while offering plenty of support for larger plants. These soak up moisture, yet they don’t remain saturated once the source of the water leaves the growing area. The large gaps between the balls allow water to drain off quickly. You can find these in flood and drain and drip systems more than other systems.

Rockwool

This is one of the more common growing mediums in use, yet Rockwool has the downside of soaking up lots of water. It is this, which when touching a water source can leave plants sitting in water, and leads to rapid suffocation. This will drain, yet it remains moist for longer periods. These can be found in starter plugs or larger blocks. In use, they are often used to cut back on the use of electricity to feed solution to the plants.

Coco

You can find this in either fiber or chips, and each type offers different water retention properties. Both were once considered a waste product of the coconut industry, yet they were found to be one of the best materials for hydroponic gardens. The coco chips allow more oxygen between, so they have a greater degree of drainage. The fiber will hold more moisture and drain slower.

Perlite and Vermiculite

These are two different compounds yet function in a very similar way. They can both wick moisture easily, and are often used as a mixture with another growing media. If these are watered too frequently, they can retain too much water and suffocate plants. Also because of their small size, the amount of oxygen, which can penetrate, is reduced.

River Rock

You can find this in any good garden center or home improvement stores. While they don’t offer any capacity for soaking up moisture, they can be used to create good drainage. You often find these used in containers where they are mixed with coco chips. This can retain moisture and will allow lots of oxygen to plants. Many growers use these in the bottom of pots or containers so the growing media doesn’t sit in a puddle of water and remain saturated. If using smaller rocks, it is possible to use these by themselves such as in drip systems, yet watering schedules will have to be adjusted to prevent root drying out.

Oxygen is Key to Prevent Over-Watering

Many growers understand that plants absorb carbon dioxide and throw out oxygen when they photosynthesize. This they do in the right environment during the day, however, they also need to respire. This is where they absorb oxygen through their rooting systems.

Once roots end up standing in water, they suffocate. This means they are unable to breath, and as the roots are unable to do anything, they can quickly begin to rot.

It is this reason why the choice of growing medium is vital for each kind of system. Growers will need to find the best for their needs as well as make sure that any water levels or frequency of watering are adjusted accordingly. Knowing what to do here can vary between gardens, and a grower will need to carry out careful research to find the best settings.

There are things growers can do to help, and that is by the introduction of extra oxygen. Flood and drain systems and deep-water culture will allow plants pockets of oxygen, yet these are administered in different ways. However, they can still benefit by the introduction of air stones or air diffusers. These use an air pump to fill the water with tiny bubbles, and thus deliver this to the roots.

There are two things that can reduce the impact of this that grower’s need to be aware of. First is the buildup of algae. Live Science defines Algaeas a “diverse group of aquatic organisms that have the ability to conduct photosynthesis.”

These will absorb oxygen from the water for their own growth. Growers can help rid systems from this by the addition of some hydrogen peroxide. This is also a great way to kill other bacteria.

Next is the temperature of the solution. It causes other problems if it is too high, yet a temperature that is too high will reduce the solutions capability of retaining the dissolved oxygen.

Conclusion

Growers may not intentionally over water their plants, and they may be doing most things right, yet as soon as the amount of oxygen in the water reduces, be it from a lack of air pump, or the growing medium isn’t suitable for their indoor garden, then plants will suffer.

These are the two primary reasons plants are over watered, and with some careful thought and experimentation, every grower can eradicate these issues to make sure overwatering is no longer an issue.