What is the Best Fertilizer for Hydroponics?

As hydroponics grows without soil, plants miss out on a vast number of nutrients that are contained in the ground. This is where hydroponic nutrients come into play and are replacements for all of the micro and macronutrients that are found in soil. There are two types of fertilizers you can use, liquid or powdered, and these can come in organic or non-organic varieties. Here we will take a quick look at which one is the best, and also the possibility of making your own instead of buying.

What is the best fertilizer for hydroponics? The best fertilizer you can choose, needs to be one you are most comfortable with as a grower, and at the very least, the best fertilizer for hydroponics is one that delivers all of the micro and macronutrients at each phase of a plants growth.  

If you want to find out the best fertilizer choice you can make for your plants, or you want to find out whether to go organic or not, read on and all your questions will be answered.

What do Plants Need from Fertilizer to Grow?

Macro and Micro Nutrients

The three core macronutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium (N-P-K), and these are absorbed in the most substantial quantities. Here is a quick breakdown of the role of each during plants growth:

  • N (Nitrogen): Responsible for leaf growth, Leaf color and providing proteins, amino acids, chlorophyll synthesis, and nucleic acid.
  • P (Phosphorus): This is responsible for the synthesis of plants RNA and DNA. It also dictates the proper development of Stems, flowers, roots, and seeds.
  • K (Potassium): The primary role is to synthesize proteins and carbohydrates, and in a smaller degree it helps develop stems, roots, and flowers.

Micronutrients are required for plant growth, albeit in smaller quantities than the above. These are Boron, Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Sulfur and Zinc.

Fertilizer Types for Hydroponic Use

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Now we have seen what components plants need, we will take a look at powdered nutrients and the liquid type before taking a look at organic, and also how you can make your own.

Powdered Fertilizer

Although fertilizer in a powder form is customarily used in commercial scale hydroponics, there is nothing to prevent anyone from using these. One of the significant differences, when you compare them to liquid fertilizers, is, you are not paying for water to be shipped.

Powdered fertilizers come in different ratios for N-P-K, and the one you choose will depend on the plant types you are growing. An example being, the ratio will be very different for lettuce as it is for tomatoes.

With this aside, you will have three core mixes to fertilize your hydroponic system:

  1. N-P-K fertilizer mix
  2. Calcium Nitrate
  3. Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts – never buy with added dye or scent)

Your plants and crops will be pulling oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon from the water and atmosphere, so there is little need for worrying about these apart from making sure your roots are not waterlogged.

The N-P-K primary nutrients will be provided by your first fertilizer, and are then followed by your secondary nutrients which are your calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. The magnesium and sulfur are supplemented by the Epsom salts.

After this, all you need to worry about will be the micronutrients, and rather than purchasing a system that will automatically add these, we suggest monitoring your plant’s growth and dealing with any deficiency as it arises.

With these components, you can mix them all together, or you can add them to your system one by one, but the crucial part is making sure they are all thoroughly dissolved. The quantities you are adding will be on the product packaging, as will the amount of Epsom salts which will be included.

Liquid Fertilizer

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For many home growers, it is well-known liquid fertilizers hold the edge slightly over powdered fertilizers. This can be for ease of use because it is much easier to measure out than figuring out the ratios of powders to add.

Liquid fertilizers come in 1-2 or 3 part solutions and depending on your plants, or the phase of their growth, the amount from each bottle will be changed. Along with this, there is no adding of additional supplements because everything is already included.

There are many brands on the market, and growers prefer one brand over another. This, of course, is down to the grower who has found the best liquid fertilizer for their use. Mixing is as easy as adding to water and stirring it before you add it to your nutrient reservoir, and on most occasions, the quantity is per gallon of water which makes it easier than needing a weighing scale.

An often overlooked benefit of liquid fertilizers is that there is less chance of residue build-up in piping or water trays within your system.

Out of these two, a lot of it depends on the scale of operation. Buying in bulk for commercial farms makes more sense, and they will be geared up to face the minor problems which come with using this type of formula. Liquid fertilizers for many are highly convenient and eliminate a lot of the issues. Many also come with pH level buffers so there won’t be as much need to adjust pH levels manually.

Now, we will take a look at if it is better to use organic fertilizers and lastly, how you can make your own. There is a massive debate if hydroponics can be entirely organic, but, leaving that aside, you need to see what using organic fertilizers means for you, and how it affects plant growth.

Organic Fertilizers for Hydroponics

Although nutrients can be organic, it is difficult to get a full range of nutrients from one source alone. It is common for growers to blend two or more fertilizers which are organic to reach the desired levels. Base products often come from a concentrated fish emulsion that is then combined with liquid calcium. After this, there is the chance a source of organic nitrogen might be required.

The most significant downside of using organic nutrients in hydroponics, is that it can be difficult to reach high enough levels of nitrogen and calcium. What happens is that the systems rely on microbes which are found in the root zone to convert organic compounds into nitrogen sources which are ideal for plants to use. In many cases, this process doesn’t happen fast enough for the nutrients to be taken up by the plants.

Although there are many commercial products available which are organic based, the most reliable method for smaller farmers is to use vermiculture (worm farming). It should be noted, plants are none the wiser where their nutrients came from, and if you use inorganic, or organic, they have no preference. Must of the debate about being organic is for the benefit of what we do to obtain the healthiest food possible.

Before Making Your Own Organic Fertilizer for Hydroponics

The best process a grower can use is as we have just seen, vermiculture. This is a highly effective way of processing raw materials into solutions that are fit for use in a hydroponic system. Materials such as manure, blood and bone, seaweed meal, fish meal, and limestone can all be mineralized.

The vermiculture process relies on two components. The vermicast process must be carried out all the way to completion, and then from this, all of the goodness needs to be extracted into water. Growers can purchases worm juices, but, many of these are already diluted and not balanced to use as a standalone solution.

Although many food scraps, weeds, and vegetation can be used, these end up containing lower levels of the nutrient than liquids being produced from high-mineral sources such as the fish blood and bone meal. Another area which causes problems is that of concentration because many organic solutions are not as concentrated as regular salt-based fertilizers. This can leave plants more vulnerable to disease while not growing vigorously.

Whilst this is fine for more experienced growers, who can detect nutrient deficiencies, and even then to adjust these, it might take the addition of further additives like humic and fulvic acid to aid in nutrient uptake.

DIY Organic Liquid Fertilizers

Here are two quick ways of producing organic nutrients for your hydroponic systems.

Worm or Compost Tea:

  1. In a 5-gallon bucket, place 1 pound of either compost or work castings.
  2. Fill the bucket with water and stir well.
  3. Aerate the mixture continuously. Aquarium air pumps are ideal for this.
  4. Sit the bucket out of direct sunlight for 3 days. Be sure to mix every day.
  5. Filter the liquid through a disposable filter to remove all of the solids.
  6. This compost or worm tea can act as your fertilizer.

Plant and Animal Byproducts

  1. In a 5-gallon bucket add one gallon of water.
  2. Add 1 1/2 tsp of fish emulsion
  3. Add 1 1/2 tsp of seaweed extract
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of blood meal
  5. Mix well and use as your fertilizer. Check for any sediment and filter is required.

Related Questions

Should I use Epsom Salts for hydroponics? Epsom salts are used to treat magnesium deficiencies, and not only for hydroponics. They are commonly used in soil based gardens also. Epsom salts consist of oxygen, sulfur, and magnesium (magnesium sulfate).

What is required for hydroponics? Aside from the N-P-K ratios, you need a consistent temperature between 50 -70 degrees for fall crops. Spring plants require 60 – 80 degrees. Additional oxygen is necessary for optimal nutrient uptake.

Can I use my hydroponic nutrients in the soil? Hydroponic nutrients will increase the potency of buds. Plants will also grow too fast. These shouldn’t be used in the soil as soil fertilizers shouldn’t be used in hydroponics.

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Why Hydroponics Fail: 8 Common Mistakes Growers Make

People enter the world of hydroponics for many different reasons, these can be for fun or profit, and in both avenues, it will pay to know what you are doing before you make any form of investment. Like any form of gardening, the more you do, the more knowledgeable you become and the better you are at knowing the requirements and complexities of growing plants in a soilless environment.

It does take an abundant amount of planning and research when starting, and by doing so, you can save on making several common, time-consuming and costly mistakes. These are unfortunately made over and over again by new growers.

Here we will take a look at the top 8 mistakes made by hydroponic growers, and hopefully, you can use this information to avoid making the same mistakes in your hydroponic venture.

Why do we focus on hydroponic mistakes and failures?

There is a learning curve when first starting out in hydroponics, and it is a curve many individuals might try and take shortcuts or rush, rather than taking their time and correctly doing things. We focus on these common mistakes because as humans, we learn more from errors and failures than we do if something is running successfully.

We can also take these mistakes and use them as opportunities to learn and improve our hydroponic systems, from the first beginnings to scaling up operations. There will still be hiccups along the way, but knowing what the most common areas for failure and mistakes, go a long way to making your hydroponic venture a success.

Mistake #1: Grow Space and Hard to Use Systems

Although a hydroponic system can be set up in almost any location, this is no reason to think any space is suitable. This is one thing which catches many growers out because they design systems which become hard to manage.

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When a system isn’t designed with the growing space in mind, things like workflow and efficiency are often forgotten. This leads to growing areas that:

  • Use space ineffectively
  • Are difficult to harvest
  • Can require lots of tending to and transplanting
  • Are not ideal for pest control
  • Access to vital components is difficult

These can vary if you are growing indoors or utilizing a greenhouse. However, all variables need considering before you build your system. This can fall into two categories, growing needs being one, and user needs being the second.

Growing needs

  • Lighting
  • Watering
  • Nutrients
  • Pest control
  • Heating & humidity

User needs

  • Access
  • Convenience
  • Automation
  • Redundancy

A prime example being growers who design systems in a basement. They have their nutrient reservoir sat at the side of their grow table, and when it comes to the time of flushing a system, they have no means of draining their reservoir without the use of a bucket.

Mistake #2: Underestimating System Build Costs

For home growers, a hydroponic system can be built for as little or as much as you want to spend on it. Underestimating these costs regardless of system size can leave growers out of budget, and with a system, they are unable to use.

Different system types do cost varying amounts of investment. Some systems can even be built without the need for purchasing certain production items and using products from local hardware stores. Grow towers and NFT systems being good examples.

Following on from mistake #1, it is better to fully design your system and calculate costs before you being installation.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Crops 

Thinking every crop will grow the same in every type of hydroponic system is one quick way to failure. Not only do all plants have different needs, but some also are not suitable for specific environments. Growing indoors, or outside in a greenhouse or other growing space will have a distinct bearing on this, but, there are three quick questions to ask yourself before purchasing any seeds to grow in your systems:

  1. Are you facing any climate constraints?
  2. What are your growing techniques?
  3. Can you grow the desired crops with your production techniques?

All crops come with very different needs. There are tall plants and short plants, and all these can only be cultured in a certain way. If you are using a raft system, then there is no use in looking to grow tomatoes as an example.

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Climate is also one limiting factor. If you are battling against high heat, then you have little chance of growing cool weather crops, and vice versa. Unless you can control temperatures affordably, there is little reason to attempt growing crops that stand a good chance of failing before you begin.

Mistake #4: Ignoring PH Levels

The first three mistakes can all be attributed to setting up a system before actually growing. Now we are at the stage where plants are at risk when things go wrong. This is one of the most crucial areas of any hydroponic system, and it happens to be one area which is often ignored or mismanaged.

This mistake stems from growers wanting to see results as fast as they can and mix up nutrients and begin watering their plants. The urge for results prevents growers from even considering all the formulas and acronyms they need to know, and the effects of what comes with them.

Knowing about PPM, pH, 18/6 and others can be overwhelming, but they do play an important role. Many of these terms can be somewhat ignored, but pH definitely can’t at any cost. When pH levels are out of balance, it is the plants that will suffer, and they can suffer faster than many growers fully understand.

pH determines when nutrient solutions or plain water are acidic or alkaline. Ordinary tap water has a pH level which in most cases is suitable for use in hydroponic systems. Growing media in most cases is already pH balanced, although something such as Rockwool is more alkaline than other growing media such as coco coir.

pH neutral is a level of 7.0, which is what most soil grown plants prefer. In hydroponics, you tend to find plants prefer a little below this level and have a range of 5.5 to 6.5 depending on the plants in question. Many nutrient deficiencies come from pH problems, so making sure these are in check is vital. You can be chasing issues in other areas, and gaining no ground in solving them because your pH is wrong.

Both a pH testing kit and also pH adjusting compounds are advisable, so you can quickly adapt your nutrient mix to the correct level (check on a daily basis). Once you do so, your plants can take up all the nutrients they need.

Mistake #5: Using Too Many Nutrients or the Wrong Nutrients

Not all fertilizers are the same. First off, conventional fertilizer won’t dissolve entirely and can quickly block pumps and pipes. Additionally, they don’t contain the same nutrients as a good quality hydroponic formula.

With the correct nutrient solutions in hand, you then need to make sure your mixes are at the proper levels. The addition of too many nutrients is way too easy, and it is a mistake a vast number of growers make way too often.

A lot of this problem is not always the fault of the grower, some of the blame is down to the company supplying the nutrients. These nutrient companies often include feeding schedules with their products. Unfortunately, these feeding schedule dosages are set too high.

This quickly leads to nutrient burn (nute burn), and although it doesn’t kill your plants, it will have an impact on how they grow from that point forward.

To overcome this problem, you can follow the same feeding schedule which comes with your nutrients, however, cut the dosage to a quarter of what is recommended.

An example being, if the guide is for 2 teaspoons of nutrient solution per gallon of water, only use 1/2 a teaspoon. By doing this, and your pH levels are in range, you will quickly see if there are signs of nutrient deficiency. If this is the case, you can increase the dosage up to half of the recommended dosage per gallon.

Following this methodology, you can also cut down on the salt buildup that occurs when your nutrient mix is too rich.

Mistake #6: Watering Too Often

Most of us were raised to think plants need sun and water every day. When this attitude is coupled with growers wanting to provide everything for their plants, they often end up overwatering their plants.

This overwatering can cause plants to droop, and in extreme cases, it can cause plants to suffer from root rot and die. If you can catch it in time, you can make adjustments to your watering, and plants can restore themselves to their full glory.

The climate or growing environment can affect this, and you will need to allow for external temperatures and evaporation. One easy way to tell if you have your watering schedule set correctly is to test the top inch of your growing medium. Using coco coir as an example, if your finger pulls away dry and there is no sign of moisture, then it is time to water your plants.

When using a hydroponic pump, it will take some trial and error to find the best balance, depending on your system.

One thing which is worth noting is for DWC (deep water culture) systems is to make sure you have sufficient air stones in your solution. Overwatering is basically a plant being deprived of oxygen, so you can have everything set correctly, but without oxygenating your solution, you are in effect overwatering your plants.

Mistake #7: Not Enough Light

This can be seen as the second most crucial area in a hydroponic set-up. Growers who don’t choose to invest correctly in their lighting rig, more often see their systems fail, or at least they don’t deliver on the yields they receive.

You can easily make or break your hydroponic garden by ignoring the importance of lighting. Here are three reasons getting it right can make a world of difference:

  • Buying too little (small or low power) lighting solutions, and your plants will suffer
  • If you purchase the wrong blubs, then your plants won’t grow
  • If you decide on the cheapest options for your lighting, they might not perform

Lighting will be one of the most critical investments growers can make for their systems, so it is vital some research is carried out to see which is the best solution for your growing space, and for the plant types you are hoping to grow.

Fluorescent lighting: Many growers are led to believe these light types are suitable for all plants at all growth phases. They are also attracted by their low price.Unfortunately, these types of tubes only emit a kind of light. White light doesn’t deliver the full spectrum of light needed by plants at the different stages of their growth.

Fluorescent lights are ideal for your seedlings, but once these enter vegetative and flowering stages, they need all of the blue, red and orange parts of the spectrum.

HID Lamps: these are among the top choice by many serious growers. They also come in two varieties HPS (High-Pressure Sodium) and MH (Metal Halide) and are often seen lighting large areas, such as streets or parking lots.

Although bigger, they are actually more efficient than regular light bulbs. These bulbs also come with a mechanical or electronic ballast that has the function of starting and maintaining the arc in the lamp. These lights do produce lots of heat and are often found inside ventilation chambers.

A good rule of thumb is to hang your lights around two feet from the top of your plants, and to find if this is ideal, put your hand on the top of your plants and see how hot your hand is. If it is too hot for you, then it is too hot for your plants.

LED Lights: These are new to the world of hydroponic lighting. Being energy efficient, they are powered by an external power supply. This power supply in most cases fails before any of the LED grow lights do, but it can be quickly replaced.

LED’s produce less heat and deliver a unique light spectrum that is conducive to photosynthesis.

Choosing the right lighting

When looking at your lighting options, there are a few factors which need looking at. These include budget, enclosure type, ventilation, and plant types.

Low budget growers can opt for regular fluorescent tubes (T5 type) while small-scale growers are better suited to use the newer compact fluorescent tubes. Once you have a more extensive system, you can then opt for the HID lighting systems, but because of their heat output, you need to check ventilation, and also your feeding times might change.

Ventilation also needs to be away from your grow room, cooling costs will increase, and it will be hard to regulate temperatures.

At present, LED’s are left for long-term growers, but over their lifetime, they will save thousands of dollars in electricity bills.

Mistake #8: Sanitation, or Lack of It

One final mistake many growers make is sanitation in their growing area. Because hydroponic systems are a sterile environment, this extends to the entire area, and not only the systems plants are growing. Once there is an element of disease anywhere in a system, this can quickly spread and affect not just one or two plants, it will affect all of them.

Floors should be clean and dry, and all the tools you might use should be for the sole purpose of your hydroponic system or cleaned thoroughly before use. All this is before you even consider the condition of your systems.

Nutrient reservoirs can have algae buildup over time, so when you flush your system, these should be inspected and cleaned as required. The same goes for piping and grow beds.

There will be salt buildup from your nutrient mix, and this will cling to pots, and your growing medium, and if these are not thoroughly cleaned, it can exasperate problems when you add your next batch of nutrients.

Plant waste can be one of the most crucial, and as soon as you see signs of a problem, this plant should be removed as quickly as possible, because any diseased plant will pass it onto the others.

Conclusion

It can be too easy to say it is common sense to avoid making these mistakes. But, this is not the case, and no matter how careful you are, there are elements which creep in you might be unaware of. All growers do make mistakes, and in many cases, it is not through lack of trying.

There are a vast number of variables at play in a hydroponic system to have it running effectively at all times.

Hydroponics doesn’t have to be difficult, but learning everything can be overwhelming while you are first learning. Hopefully, you can use all the information above to design and implement a well-functioning system that can bring you hours of happiness and bundles of healthy plants.

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The Top 5 Pros and Cons of Hydroponics Every Grower Should Consider

Hydroponics has become one of the hottest and most popular ways of growing crops and plants. You do this by using a nutrient-rich solution, rather than the more conventional means of using soil. With these methods, crops can grow all year round, and with the right equipment, they can be grown indoors and are not reliant on natural sunlight.

Hydroponics has been termed the farming of the future, and it does have some great benefits for bringing food to people who would otherwise not be in a position to have such crops.

However, like many things, there are upsides and downsides for anyone who is considering growing hydroponically. If you wish to have healthy crops, these are things that you need to consider because they can help avoid many common mistakes.

Below, we will list the top five advantages and disadvantages of growing hydroponically. We will also address some common questions asked about hydroponic systems and growing without soil.

Top Advantages of Hydroponics

No Soil Required

Crops can be grown where there is limited land, it doesn’t exist, or the growing conditions are far from ideal or contaminated. Because you mix nutrients into the water, all a plant needs after this is something to support them while they grow. Inert growing media such as perlite, coco coir, horticultural grade Rockwool or Hydrocorn (clay pebbles) are common favorites.

It is the function of these growing mediums to allow proper aeration to plants roots while giving support and allowing nutrients to locate the roots of the plants. There are also many types of hydroponic systems, which are suitable for use in different areas or regions, such as wick systems, ebb, and flow (flood and drain), nutrient film technique, continuous drip, and aeroponics systems. When compared, at least 20% less space is required than soil gardening, delivering higher yields.

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Uses Less Water than Growing in Soil

This is one of the things which attracts many people to growing hydroponically. Water usage drops by 90% when compared to growing crops in soil. As well as growing in areas where there is little soil, areas such as countries with arid (drought-ravaged) climates such as central Africa can have the ability to grow crops.

Crops or plants in a hydroponic system take water and nutrients as needed, and the run-offs are caught ready for recirculation by means of a high quality water pump. Because of this, water loss only comes from two areas, evaporation and system leaks. Evaporation will vary depending on the systems implemented, but it is still minimal when compared to conventional farming methods.

All other water usage comes from what the plants need. As it stands, there is an estimation, that agriculture in the US uses 80% of ground and surface water, so it is obvious why hydroponics is an excellent solution in areas with limited water supplies.

Controlled Nutrient Application

Although the growing methods are very different, the principles are the same for both soil gardening and hydroponic gardening when it comes to fertilizing crops. Soil fertilizer can lose its effectiveness when it leaches into the soil, whereas, in a hydroponic system the nutrients circle around the system and plants take what they need.

With only a few tablespoons of nutrients per gallon of water, these are more cost-effective and are tailored for different stages of growth. Nutrients can differ for the growing phase and the flowering stage. There have been debates about if hydroponics is organic in the past, but now it is possible to purchase organic nutrients, although with a slightly higher cost.

Nutrients come in two varieties, powdered nutrients which is the cheaper option, but takes more work when mixing solutions, or the ready mixed which is more expensive, but they fully dissolve in water and also come with a pH buffer.

Better Growth Rates

There is a slight misconception when it comes to plant harvesting from hydroponic systems. This is that, people think hydroponics will produce larger plants that can be obtained when growing in soil. This isn’t the case, but what hydroponics does do is allow plants to reach their full genetic potential. In turn, this does equate to more abundant and healthier crops because there are fewer limiting factors, which reduce a plants growth.

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Now the grower is in control of the entire growing environment, all of the grow lights, temperatures, moisture, and nutrients are all directed at delivering the ideal conditions for the plants. Once this happens, and unlike soil, plants no longer need to search for nutrients as they are delivered directly to the roots.

Here is a quick overview of what determines higher yields from hydroponic systems

  • Year round gardening – crop yields can be increased by 2x to 8x when growing year round and utilizing indoor growing.
  • Higher plant density – plants can be grown closer together than in soil, and they can be grown vertically or in layers. Plant density can increase from 4x to 16x in hydroponic systems.
  • Sufficient lighting – with full spectrum grow lights, which deliver an abundance of light, plant yields, can increase by 1x to 2x regardless of what the sun or weather is doing outside.
  • Water management – because plants can take what they need, there is no waiting for rainfall and no chance of drought. With correct water management, yields can increase by 1x to 2x.
  • Temperatures and CO2 – growers can see an increase in yields of 1x to 2x if the temperatures are kept in the 75F to the 85F range. Additionally to this, with higher CO2 levels, plants can flourish by 1x to 2x in hydroponic systems.

Weeds, Pests, and Insecticides

If you have previously made any type of soil gardening, and have made the switch to hydroponics. When you have a system set up and running, there are a few things you will notice. The first thing you will see is, you have no weed problems. This not only makes gardening more comfortable by not having to pull them, but weeds are also one of the things, which prevents a plant from reaching its full potential of growth due to stolen nutrients.

Next up are pests, even though pests are less with hydroponic plants, they are still attracted to hydroponic plants (spider mites). With the right conditions, these can be easier to regulate because you are dealing with a limited environment that you control.

Because there are no weeds and pest number are reduced, there are far fewer chemicals in use, and insecticide or herbicide usage can be cut, which is one of the primary benefits of growing hydroponically. This cuts down on cost, work, and plants are healthier as a result.

Main Disadvantages of Hydroponics

Hydroponics isn’t a perfect form of gardening by any degree, and although you might find the concepts cool, this type of gardening might not be for you. There are advantages, which can outweigh the disadvantages depending on what you’re looking for.

Initial Set Up Costs

Depending on the type and size of the hydroponic system you want, this will have a bearing on your set-up costs for materials. If you are growing indoors, you need to consider ventilation and grow lights as two of the primary factors. Grow lights can soon become expensive, and ventilation will be required because of excess heat.

Compared to soil farming, which only takes a handful of seeds and a shovel to get going. Pumps, reservoirs, nutrients and grow lights, etc. do work out expensive, but this is a one-off cost, and the increase in yields can make this investment worth it.

Time and Commitment

In soil farming, you have some room to maneuver with your plant’s growth. If you forget to water on one day, you can quickly water the following day. Weeding can also be left for another day if you don’t feel the urgency to do it.

Luckily, there is no weeding with hydroponics, but if your plants go without water for any reason, you will be left with dead plants. The amount of time you spend tending to your plants can be vastly reduced, but if your engagement with your garden isn’t reliable and punctual, you will fail very quickly. Hydroponics can be easy and demanding at the same time, and you do only get out what you put into it. With plenty of time and commitment, you will reap the benefits.

If you are new to hydroponics, then you need to be ready for some setbacks early on. Trying to keep the right balance all of the time can become stressful, and many farmers, in the beginning, do have crops, which are unsuccessful.

Water Borne Diseases

Soil-borne pests are eliminated in hydroponic systems, but this doesn’t mean there are no pests or diseases present. This is very far from the truth because there are pests and fungi, which spread through water. To help prevent this, there is a need for an additional filtration system and thorough cleaning of all the components in the system.

If untreated, the generated moisture and heat in your irrigation system is the perfect place for water mold to develop (Pythium and Phytophthora). These pass around the system due to circulating water, and it can take as little as 20-hours for the entire system to become infected. Hydroponics uses a sterile environment, and keeping it this way with regular cleaning can help to combat these fungi, which lead to invasive root rot.

System Failures

First up, water and electricity don’t mix very well, so you need to take precautions to make sure you have no vulnerable areas where the two can meet. Additional to this power outages can be a nightmare for hydroponics growers, almost all hydroponic systems rely on electricity at some stage. The levels of reliance on electricity can increase to full automation of systems for watering, lighting and to automatic windows in greenhouses when it gets too hot.

Although these can be for the more serious grower, the impact of a power outage is the same for anyone unless there are standby generators in place. A hobby or home grower won’t go to the added expense of generators and backup batteries initially, but as soon as you have a power out, you can quickly see how vulnerable a hydroponic system is. A full crop can wither and die within a few hours as soon as these electronic items are not working for an extended period.

Grower Experience and Technical Knowledge

Hydroponics is a long-term investment in both a financial and from the grower. The investment from the grower will be repaid through experience and gained knowledge that will be required to maintain efficient systems.

There is little point deciding to implement a system without understanding what it entails. Many elements can affect success, such as designing a system that is ineffective, to mixing the wrong formulation of nutrients that can set a grower off down a path to failure.

It will be when faced with problems that knowledge can really pay dividends. Not all plants need the same nutrients, so seeing the signs of something being wrong is crucial. Aside from this is the different effect region can have on systems. Cooler environments, for instance, can have problems with iron deficiency when roots are saturated in water, and with a pH level that is too high.

In this scenario, there is the nutrient mix, and the pH levels to attend to which will need very different problem-solving skills and understanding of what really makes a hydroponic set-up tick.

Weighing up the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

When you look at the upsides and downsides of hydroponic systems, the negatives can be more of a quirk more than a reason for people not to try it. Systems can cost as much as you want to spend, but on a small scale, you can set up a system for next to nothing. Many individuals, in fact, build their own systems from everyday materials and are highly successful.

Once you find the plants you can grow, and the ones you can’t in hydroponics or in your region, you can tune your system to grow crops that will thrive. If you have an interest, your time and commitment will bring experience and knowledge. This leaves power outages and waterborne disease, both of which you can do something about.

Hydroponics has lots to offer, but at the end of the day, failure or success comes down to the grower, and how much they want their systems to succeed.

Top Questions Asked by Hydroponic Growers

There is no question about it; there are many failed attempts of hydroponic growers. These can have also resulted in plenty of lost investments, so knowing answers to some of the most common questions asked can help to make your hydroponic venture a success rather than it being another statistic.

We learn more from mistakes than we do from things that go right, so looking at mistakes as a tool for further learning, you can see areas where you can save heartache and financial loss.

How often should I flush the system and change nutrients?

The only way to be entirely sure of nutrient levels is by mixing a new batch. Water is lost through evaporation, and what plants use for nutrition. If water levels drop too quickly, the nutrient solution becomes concentrated and can lead to root burn. The safest way of knowing is to know how many gallons you first added, and then top up with plain water as needed until the total reaches half of your first tankful, this is then a good time to change.

What is the difference between an inorganic fertilizer and one that is organic?

Organic fertilizers come from fish bones, worm castings, and numerous other organic compounds. Inorganic fertilizers (nutrients) are inorganic compounds and made through a chemical process.

It is these inorganic fertilizers, which cause individuals to question hydroponic crops as being organic, but as far as your plants go, they have no concern whether you are using organic or inorganic nutrients.

What is the ideal grow room temperatures?

This is where plant variety and region can play a massive part because not all plants like the same temperatures. More tropical plants like temperatures around 80F while plants like broccoli and kale like lower temperatures of about 60-65F. The most common range of growing is between 70-75F so choosing plants that like these temperatures can give you a head start.

Additionally, to this, it is worth noting insects thrive more over 80F. Growing medium will dry out quickly as you lose more water due to evaporation (nutrients become toxic faster) and there is a reduction of oxygen in the nutrient solution.

I have scum in my tank. How do I get rid of it and prevent it?

The buildup in your tank (nutrient reservoir) might be bacteria, algae or fungi. These organisms rob reservoirs of oxygen and nutrients, and can also clog pumps and drip feeders if not attended to on a regular basis. The usual cause of this, is light entering your reservoir along with high mixture temperatures.

To fix this, you should first make sure your reservoir is covered, and your nutrient mix is running cooler. It might be the whole room needs cooling, or you need a reservoir chiller. The addition of hydrogen peroxide when you change your nutrients can help prevent this buildup, but making sure your system is clean between crops helps the most.

When should I change my HID bulbs?

These come in various strengths and provide a variety of spectrums that meet many needs for indoor gardens. With continual use, the lumens and PAR will drop quickly. You can see the difference in yields from using bulbs that are new, to ones that are between 8-12 months old. It is at this stage your HID bulbs should be changed for new ones.

How do I stop the powdery mildew on my leaves?

This fungal infection is caused by poor ventilation and high humidity. You can prevent this by keeping humidity below 65% and having plenty of air circulation. Ceiling or oscillating fans can make a huge difference. If you already have this on your leaves, you can spray or dust the leaves with Sulphur. Neem oil and pine tree oil are also suitable for preventing and removing powdery mildew.

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