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.

This is Why Hydroponic Tomatoes Split

One of the best crops any hydroponic grower can grow is fresh tomatoes. These can make a huge dent in any grocery bill, and they are in most cases larger and tastier than store bought varieties. Not only this, but they can be grown throughout the year instead of just being enjoyed throughout the summer months.

One of the most frustrating things for any hydroponic tomatoes grower is to see their fruits ripening nicely, and the next thing they see is they have split.

Here, we will look at the reasons why hydroponic tomatoes split. Gardeners shouldn’t be frustrated and think this is a problem with hydroponics because the exact thing can happen with solid grown varieties as well.

Before looking at why they split, here is a quick summary of what affects their overall growth, and possible factors that lead to split tomatoes skins.

  • Nutrients: Tomatoes require specific nutrients in comparison to other crops. They can be heavy feeders, so they require nutrients they can easily absorb, and have an equal balance, which are nitrogen rich.
  • Temperatures: Tomatoes need a temperature of between 55-85 degrees Fahrenheit; they can however handle higher temperatures up to no higher than around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Light: This can be one of the most vital things for good tomato growth. They will need around five or six hours of good strong light, be it sun or artificial lighting.
  • Environmental conditions: Tomatoes suffer if they are in windy conditions, vast temperature swings or there are cases of insects or other plant disease. Many of these can be negated in indoor gardening, yet the possibilities are still present.
  • Pollination: For growth, fruiting tomatoes do need pollination. If a grower won’t be manually pollinating, they do need to use wind or the presence of insects to do this.

Types of Tomato Splits

Growers can be faced with two different types of splits or cracks on their tomatoes. These you can see here:

  • Radial cracking. This type of split will run down the length of the tomato from its stem to the bottom blossoming end of the fruit.
  • Concentric cracking.  Circular cracking at the top of the tomato and make their way around the stem. These splits don’t appear too appetizing yet they are not as serious as the previous splits.

Growers will find that if their first few tomatoes show splits, and then there is a high likelihood that all their fruits will start splitting in the same manner.

Why do tomatoes split?

Tomatoes most often split when they begin to ripen; however, the main reason is they have a huge intake of water. Once they do this, the skins are not elastic enough to allow for these excess fluids and will resist as much as they can before giving way and finally splitting or cracking.

Another reason they can split is a sudden temperature change, the way this causes fruits to split is the increase of gasses inside the fruits. This then has the same issue as too many absorbed fluids, there is no skin elasticity and splits or cracks form.

One final area where tomatoes are prone to splits is a sudden drop in the EC levels of nutrients. This is more common with outdoor gardens, and occurs if it rains heavily for prolonged periods just as the fruits are ripening. This sounds similar to the plants taking on more water, yet it is because the nutrient levels are lower.

You may be thinking how you can stop tomatoes absorbing too much water in a hydroponic system. The actual system itself will affect how tomatoes grow because these kinds of plants are not suitable for every kind of system.

Here we will take a look at all you need to know about everything which relates to growing healthy tomatoes without high chances of splitting or cracking.

First, we will look at the best kinds of tomatoes to grow in hydroponics as this also has a bearing on splits and cracks.

Best Hydroponic Tomato Varieties

One of the errors that new growers can make is by not understanding the best types of tomatoes to grow. While there are countless varieties, all of these fall under two kinds.

  • Determinate: These are bush kinds of tomatoes which rather than growing upward, they spread across the ground. This kind is better for hydroponic growers because they will grow to certain heights, which can be around two to four feet. Once these flower and bear fruits, the growth of the plant will be reduced
  • Indeterminate: This kind are what we usually see and are vining plants that like to grow upward. These don’t have any upward limit for their growth, and with the right pruning, there is no limit to the length they can grow, or how much fruit they can bear.

Lighting for Hydroponic Tomatoes

Because tomatoes are often grown outside, they will stop bearing fruits, as the winters get ever closer. Fruit size on tomatoes plants is a direct reflection on the amount of light they receive. This in turn decides the degree of photosynthesis that can occur for each plant, and thus affect size and quality of fruits.

For good growth, tomatoes like between eight and ten hours per day of light. Nevertheless, some varieties produce high yields when they have up to eighteen hours per day of good light.

Once your plants mature, they need eight hours of darkness so they can fully respire, and following this, you can give plants sixteen hours per day for maximum fruit production.

When it comes to lighting choices, Metal Halides are proven to deliver the best growth because of the powerful light output. Fluorescent tubes and LED’s can be used, yet the grow isn’t as much.

Best Temperatures for Hydroponic Tomatoes

Tomatoes are warm weather crops, so they like temperatures between 65 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the day. They are quite hard and can stand a temperature that falls no lower than 55, or reaches up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperatures that fall or rise outside this range can kill tomatoes, so as a grower, you will need to maintain consistent temperatures in this range. One way to be sure you keep these temperatures is by using a grow tent. These enclosed spaces make it easier to warm, easier to control and more cost effective to do so.

Nutrients, EC and pH Levels for Hydroponic Systems

Tomatoes are fussy for their requirements, and it is this reason why they are often skipped for new growers. To obtain the best, they do need a few different elements that are in the correct ratios.

Growers can use 3-pack nutrient mixes, yet if they wish to maximize the yields, there are also some specific mixes solely for use with tomatoes, or 2-part mixes which are more geared to these plants.

Tomatoes require high levels of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous, and for the pH they like the range of 5.8 to 6.3 which is a little higher than for other plants. Nutrients will need to be mixed correctly because the EC levels for optimum growth need to be between 2.0 and 3.5 milliMhos.

Tomatoes will show you quickly if they are deficient in anything. By any of the following:

  • Yellowing leaves signal low nutrients or high pH
  • Curling leaves or red stems are a low pH
  • Leaves which curl down are signs of high nutrient levels
  • Flowers which begin falling early show a potassium deficiency

Growing Media and Hydroponic Systems

This one area can lead to too much water in your plants. Not only this, but the growing medium will need to deliver support for these plants as they will be heavy once they begin bearing fruits.

  • Hydroton clay pellets – used in DWC, NFT and drip systems
  • Coco coir – use in passive systems
  • Rockwool – ideal for ebb and flow, and drip systems
  • Vermiculite and Perlite – Used in drip systems. NFT or can be mixed with any other medium

All systems can be suitable for tomatoes, yet as they feed heavy, and the growers need to be sure they can control the amount of water at harvest time, the best two systems can be the drip system and the flood and drain system.

Both of these are ideal as a grower can have more control over the amount of water tomatoes can receive.

Conclusion

It can be almost impossible to prevent tomatoes splitting; yet being on top of everything can reduce the effects. Once they start, it can mean they are prone to rotting and parasites can get inside.

If they split, the good news is they are still edible, although they may not look as appealing. Growers can look forward to healthy fruits, and as soon as they see a sign of any split, it could be a sign to begin harvesting early as this can be one way to be sure they won’t grow any bigger and suffer from this issue.

Can You Use Tap Water for Hydroponics?

Many individuals understand that hydroponics is the growing of plants without soil. Rather, the root systems are either supported in a growing medium, or suspended with the tips of their roots dangling in the nutrient rich water.

One of the most common mistakes new growers make before they fully research hydroponics is the use of tap water. Therefore, this begs the question of whether or not; you can use the water from a faucet in a hydroponic system?

The answer to this question is yes, water from the faucet can be used, but not as it is. Growers need to carry out additional steps to protect your plants from the chemicals and minerals, which are present, and will negatively affect the health of plants.

Here we will look at the reasons why water from a faucet isn’t ideal, what can be done for its preparation so it can be used, and what are the other water options open to growers.

What is in Tap Water?

In most areas, it can be safe to drink water from the faucet; surely, this means it is good enough for plants? However, this may not be the case. In soil gardens, it may be because they are taking the nutrients they need from the soil. In a hydroponic system, the nutrients will be provided in the solution from the grower.

It is because of this that growers need to understand what is in regular faucet water, and why it makes such a difference.

Tap water is treated to remove bacteria and all the impurities. This makes it safe for our use, yet it is these treatments, which render it no use to a hydroponic plant.

Here is the process they generally use to clean and purify water before it is available for home use.

  1. Chlorine and or Chloramines are added to kill off harmful waterborne bacteria
  2. Aluminum sulfate is added which makes impurities coagulate (stick together)
  3. Impurities settle where the clear water is then removed and filtered by various means
  4. The water has its pH levels adjusted that are safe for human use

Chloramines and Chlorine

Chlorine is the most common addition to water to kill off waterborne bacteria. However, this is also one of the micronutrients that is needed by plants, yet in minute quantities. As a result, this would mean a grower would not have to add any; the problem is, in concentrated nutrient mixes, these chloramines and chlorine are already present.

This addition means plants will absorb too much. Results of this mistake can be stunted growth, and the beneficial bacteria on roots will be killed off.

Hard Water and Soft Water

These two terms are often heard and can have a major impact on hydroponics. Hard water is where you can see the accumulation of hard crystalline substances on the ends of faucets and showerheads. It is also the hard water, which leads to the breakdown of dishwashers and washing machines.

When you live in a hard water area, this contains more minerals, and it is these which bind together to form these deposits. When you look at how it affects hydroponic plants, there will be a much higher level of minerals in the water, some of which they only need small amounts.

Two primary culprits are magnesium and calcium. While these are necessary for plants to thrive, they are only required in small amounts. With the increase of these two minerals, the PPM (Parts per Million) can increase dramatically. For the majority of water from the faucet, the PPM will be 150 part per million as a minimum of salts that are unwanted.

This causes problems with nutrient absorption in plants. Most of the nutrient mixes you can purchase are all designed to be mixed in pH neutral water. When the faucet water has an increased pH, this can cause nutrient lockout. Issues you can see are wilting plants or worse.

If growers attempt to adjust the pH levels for hard and soft water, they can complicate matters for themselves. The pH adjusters will contain potassium and phosphorous which are common nutrients in the mixtures.

To deal with hard water problems, there is usually only one course of action. That is the use of a Reverse Osmosis system or other filtration system to remove impurities and bring water back to a neutral pH level.

Hydroponics and the Use of Chelates

When companies make the nutrient solutions, they need something to make sure these are suspended in the solution. This is the purpose of chelates. If it weren’t for these, there would be some of the system elements that begin to latch onto each other. Once this happens, they become useless to the plants.

Chelates are formed in several ways and can be chemicals such as ETDA or an organic compound like humic acid. One of the key problems here is that as Chlorine is a micronutrient and will be affected by the chelates. Once it meets them, there is more likely an uptake of this from your tap water into your plants.

Preparing Water for Hydroponics Use

There are a few ways you can prepare water from the faucet for use in a hydroponic system. This does depend on what you are looking to clear from the water, and each element could take another step of preparation.

Removing chlorine from water can be quite simple yet it is a lengthy time consuming process. The first step for any of the processes is to find out what your local municipal water supplier does to their water in way of adding chlorine or chloramines.

Here are the ways to begin preparing water from the faucet for use in your hydroponic system.

Removing Chlorine

Although this takes time, it can be one of the easiest things to remove from tap water. All you need to do is let your water sit in strong direct sunlight for a period of 24-hours. Here the UV rays break this down and the chlorine can escape from the water. This off gassing is easy yet if you have large amounts of water to deal with, then it could be difficult to accomplish.

Removing Chloramine

This compound doesn’t break down in the same fashion. However, it can be easy to treat water if it has been treated with chloramine. You can buy Campden Tablets, which you add, one tablet per every 20 gallons of water. The good things with these ae they can also remove both chloramines and chlorine. Other ways are to run your water through an activated carbon filter. These are similar to water filters you purchase to cleanse drinking water.

Hard Water and PPM

This treatment can be one of the hardest as it takes repeated testing. The aim is to remove the calcium and magnesium. A basic water filter can suffice for small systems, yet you will need to change these quite often. The nest way if by using reverse osmosis filters. These can be fitted to home plumbing systems, so you can gain benefits in other areas.

If you buy one that is specific for hydroponics use, these come with carbon and sediment filters in place. While these can be costly, they work out cheaper than losing crops because of using tap water in your system. Another downside is they can produce wastewater while they are producing the clean water.

Additional Water Solutions

Here are a few other ways you can get safe water for use in your hydroponic system.

Harvesting Rainwater

This can be one of the most cost effective ways of collecting water for your indoor garden, but a water collection system will needs some construction to be sure it leaves you with the cleanest possible water. Building a system can be as easy as placing large drums at the bottom of downspouts. Nevertheless, you will still need to make sure excess water can escape down the drains as you can cause flooding around the home if you bypass your drain system.

One thing to note is there are some local laws, which dictate how you can go about collecting rainwater. Before commencing for any rainwater collection system, check local and federal regulations.

Distilled water

This can be purchased almost anywhere, and is seen as a great option for its ability to provide a sterile environment for hydroponics. None of the previously mentioned contaminants is found in distilled water, yet you may need to be wary of the lack of calcium and magnesium, as all traces of this will be removed. If your nutrients don’t contain enough of these two minerals, you can purchase a dedicated calcium and magnesium solution to help adjust these levels. Care should be taken as you can be just be creating hard water again.

Deionized Water

This is created by taking regular water and exposing it to electrically charged and processed to remove all of the excess salts from the water. It is very pure and after treatment leaves you with a solution which is very similar to distilled water.  

Conclusion

New growers need to understand that water from the faucet is very different from other forms. In some areas, it may be suitable for use, yet a few miles down the road can be a very different story. Water is the lifeblood of any hydroponic system, and if this isn’t right to begin with, then there will be no going forward to have a successful garden.

How to Transfer Plants from Hydroponics to Soil

Many growers who have hydroponic gardens are happy with the plants and crops they grow, and that is sufficient for their needs. There are however others who use hydroponics as a means of growing plants and then transferring them to soil.

This can be for several reasons, yet no matter what the reason for doing so, there are some steps and things growers need to do to ensure their plants make the transition without receiving a shock to their system and suffering as a result.

The same can be done in reverse where plants are moved from soil to a hydroponic system, however, for a method it can be easier to accomplish, as there is no soil to contend with on your plants.

Why Would I Transplant into Soil?

One of the primary reasons for doing this is to use hydroponics as a means of having a healthy start to an outdoor garden. When outdoor growing seasons begin, there is the choice of growing from seeds, or from seedlings.

Seeds take time and there can be some failure rates encountered, commercially bought seedlings can be expensive and on certain occasions, they can be hard to find.

Any grower, who has an outdoor garden, can take advantage of growing their own seedlings in a fraction of the time so they can make the most of their outdoor garden and the growing season with fewer failures.

These indoor systems can also help alleviate any issues that crop up with the unexpected forces of nature, which can interrupt what should be a successful start to a growing season. Not only that, but using hydroponics to start off your seedlings means you are ready to go as soon as you harvest outside after some slight soil preparation.

It doesn’t matter if you are transplanting out of choice, or because it is essential you do so, there are some things to be wary of. From what can easily be a daunting task can become straightforward for any different hydroponic scenario that you face.

Transplanting Hydroponic Clones and Cuttings

While seeds are an option for gardeners, there is more of a swing toward using cuttings and seedlings, hence the increase in the need for transplanting from a hydroponic system back into soil.

The two most common areas of hydroponics that take place before these transplants are the domed incubation grow trays where small rockwool starter plugs are used, or the more complicated mist propagation systems.

The great news for gardeners is that both of these systems are perfect for outdoor gardeners to use, and are compatible with their soil systems once the seedlings or cuttings have begun to show a good healthy rooting structure.

One primary reason this is a good option apart from getting a kick-start, and missing the chances of bad weather is that growers can over time find an ideal mix of environmental factors, genetics and mix of nutrients. For this reason, many experienced growers preserve the donor plants. Here they can carry on the genetics of the plants and thus they are ensured a level of consistency for good harvests.

One other factor that growers have no need to grow from seeds which could deliver either male or female plants. This is another level of consistency as they will be aware of what they have when they begin growing their seedlings or cuttings.

Steps for Transplanting into Soil

Here are the easy to follow steps for transplanting into soil from your hydroponic system.

  • Take a suitably sized pot, the larger the plant, the bigger the pot you will require. These should be roughly four to six inches wide. Plants being transplanted into soil will need more space for their roots. Give them around four to six inches of space to allow them to grow.
  • Fill it with a growing medium that adds some buffer for your plants until they are ready to be fully transplanted into gardens. Many growers opt for soilless peat mixtures, which have a better pH than planting directly into soil.
  • Make a hole in the center of the pot, which is larger than the plants rooting system, and the starter plug if used. If you have plants, which are growing together, you will need to separate the roots carefully as this can cause plant shock easily.
  • Sprinkle the hole with mycorrhiza. This beneficial fungus helps as a growth enhancer. This helps plants absorb nutrients from soil as it helps to increase the area of absorption.
  • Place the plant in the hole and then cover with additional dirt
  • Once you have planted, you do need to water immediately. Hydroponic plants are accustomed to being watered regularly to help minimize plant shock levels they will experience. You can use a quarter strength nutrient solution in the beginning until they start finding their own nutrients from the earth.
  • After about a week, you can cut back on watering until you only have to water as the top inch of soil is dry.

One you have done this your plants will need to be in areas with plenty of light, yet they may not be directly accustomed to the outside temperatures. There will be a period of hardening off they need to go through for a week before they can last in outdoor temperatures.

Soil Transplanting Tips

If your plant is large, it can help to trim back some of the foliage. This pruning will help the plants, as they don’t need to search for nutrients for more leaves and can start to grow steadily.

Most gardeners who use rockwool cubes or plugs intend to transplant into soil. A gardener that uses the larger cubes around the six-inch size won’t be looking to move plants into an outdoor garden or soil filled pots.

Net pots will be entwined with a plants rooting system if plants are more than a few weeks old. If these do need to be planted in soil, it can be a case of planting the entire net pot as well as the plant. Trying to remove the intricate rooting system can kill the plant.

Plant Shock When Moving into Soil

If you have done everything right, your plants will take hold and begin growing as they should. However, if they are suffering from shock, there are some signs you will notice. This can happen quickly, or it can happen over the first couple of weeks after moving into soil.

Leaves can turn yellow to brown and may wither up and darken. These can fall from the plant with a light touch. At this stage, leaves and stems begin to wilt and dry.

There are some things you can do to try and cure plant shock, yet these may not work in every case.

  • Trimming back the plant by at least one-third can help plants focus on their roots.
  • Keep rooting systems moist is vital. Because there is a difference in the watering, there will be more onus on good drainage through the soil. It can be easy for plants to find themselves in standing water.
  • Add a water and sugar solution. While this isn’t 100% proven, it can help and even if it doesn’t work, it won’t harm your plants.

Conclusion

Moving plants from a hydroponic system is a feasible option for many gardeners. By taking this route, even if it can be a little hard for new growers can be worth the effort. Growers can have seedlings or growing cuttings that offers up more plants to move outside.

Rather than using seeds and having to wait, plants will be instantly growing. This offers the chance to plant more crops throughout the year they may have previously not been able to.

If things don’t work out as intended, there is still the option for growers to carry on growing in their system. It can be a win-win situation, and there will be less overall wasted effort in the outdoor side of a garden.