Principles Of Hydroponics Gardening


  • Crops are grown in beds which are really shallow tanks or troughs that serve as a container for gravel or coarse sand. If there are several of these beds, they should be set up in a series at the same level and of a similar size.
  • These beds should be about 3 feet wide and any convenient length, although 100 feet is common. The sides are about 8 inches high and with a V bottom so the center is 11 or 12 inches deep at the center.
  • Beds intended to survive massive earthquake damage should be wooden frames lined with heavy vinyl sheeting. Pipes or other fittings should be plastic for increased flexibility and ease of repair after earthquake damage.

layout

  • This permits an arrangement whereby a half-tile or similar device through the center of the bed will feed or drain the solution rapidly from one end of the bed to the other. It is very important that the slope be precise, with no low areas from which solution will not drain.
  • Drainage in the beds is not only pointed toward the V bottom of the bed, but also toward one end of the bed, so that the V at the drain end is 2" lower than at the high end of the bed. This is a slight slope in the bottom of the trough.

drainage

  • There must be a pipe connection to the lowest point in the V at the drain end of the trough. The nutrient solution can then be pumped into the trough through that pipe and will drain out again when the pump has been shut off. The quantity of solution in the tank should be just sufficient to bring the water level up to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the top of the gravel or sand in the beds.
  • The entire hydroponics system is relatively simple to operate and may be made at least semi-automatic. In cool weather, pumping solution should be done once a day, but in warm, dry, or windy weather, it may be necessary 2 or 3 times a day. Installation of a time clock allows the start and stop of the pump to be automatically.
  • A centrifugal pump of sufficient capacity to fill beds in one-half hour is generally best for forcing the solution into the beds. With a centrifugal pump, the solution will flow by gravity through the pump back into the tank.

centrifugal pump

  • For those without a pump, a simple pail and flexible hose system to give the hydroponics beds their daily nutrient bath works well.

pail/pulley system

  • Gravel for the bed should be fairly uniform in texture, about 1/2 to 1/4 in diameter, and washed. If you use sand, it should be coarse and it also should be washed. Beds should be filled to within 1 inch of the top. The mix should be sterilized with heat or steam to prevent mildew and fungus problems.
  • Use the best seed for seedlings, planted in disease-free soil or sand and six inches or more high before transplanting. Loosen the planting media around the roots so that there will be as little injury as possible to the roots during transplanting. Rinse the planting media off the roots with water before planting in the hydroponics beds.
  • Supporting structures may be necessary to hold up the plants, as plants loaded with fruit, for example, are heavy. Do not attach supports to the ends of beds because the weight of the plants may warp the structure and cause leaks or draining problems. All supporting wires are suspended from overhead supports that are spaced at intervals alongside the troughs.

trellis

  • Cooling of the hydroponics area can be achieved by ventilation, as transpiration of moisture off the leave cools the plants just as perspiration cools the human body. Slats or windows that allow the air to circulate should be included in the arrangement.
  • Plants produce oxygen during the day, under lighted conditions, and carbon dioxide during the night. Hydroponics areas attached to living areas thus can oxygenate and cleanse the air of carbon dioxide, but should be closed off during the night so that oxygen is not depleted from the sleeping areas.
  • Pollination can be done either by bees or by hand, by manually shaking or tapping the flowers once a day, going flower to flower so as to spread the pollen. Pollination helps increase fruit yield, and for some produce makes the difference between a high yield or no yield at all.


FAQ About Hydroponics Gardening


Q. What is hydroponics?

A. Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil. The plants thrive on the nutrient solution alone. The medium merely acts as support for the plants and their root systems, and perhaps to hold moisture around the roots. The growing medium, if any, is totally inert.

Q. What are the advantages of hydroponics versus soil grown plants?

A. No soil means no weeds or soil borne pests and disease. Plants will maintain optimum nutrient and moisture levels in hydroponics systems, which has several benefits: healthier plants, faster growing plants and plants that will be more disease resistant as they are not stressed by drought. The root systems stay smaller on hydroponically grown plants, so the plant can concentrate it's growth energy on producing plant mass, rather that roots. This can result in up to 30% faster growth. This also allow the grower to have more plants per square foot of garden space. Hydroponically grown plants never get root bound, so they do not need repotting. Hydroponics produce has a longer shelf life than soil-grown produce. Hydroponics is clean, so it adapts easily to indoor culture, but may also be used outdoors and in greenhouses.

Q. Isn't hydroponics gardening complicated?

A. No! If you can follow directions, you can garden hydroponically. A few simple steps must be followed on a regular basis to insure that your plants thrive. Once you get used to the routine, it is a snap!

Q. Is it expensive?

A. Just as with soil gardening, you decide how elaborate or simple you would like your hydroponics garden to be. You can build a system from items you may have already in your garage or home, and complete hydroponics growing kits start at only $50.00. The yearly costs of fertilizers and pH control products for a mid-size system that can produce about 200 pounds of tomatoes annually averages to be around $60.00 to $80.00. That is about three cents a pound!

Q. Can plants be grown organically, hydroponically?

A. Organic and hydroponics growers have typically regarded each other somewhat suspiciously and the two growing methods were at one time thought to be incompatible. There is some common ground, however, and more people are finding that with a little experimentation, they can grow a successful organic, hydroponics garden. Hydroponics gardening is based on immediate and 100% nutrient availability. Organic fertilizers typically break down over a period of time via bacterial action in the soil. Enzyme activators such as NITRON FORMULA A-35 which hasten the breakdown of organic fertilizers may make your hydroponics, organic garden more successful.

Q. What types of plants can be grown hydroponically?

A. Anything can be easily grown, but some plants prove to be more space efficient. Some plants we suggest are tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot chiles, lettuce, spinach, chard, squash, cucumbers, broccoli, beans, snow peas, herbs, flowers of all types and house plants.

Q. Do you really get better yields in less time?

A. Absolutely. The plants, receiving everything they need, tend to be healthier, faster growing and generally more productive.

Q. What about taste? Will the flavor compare to produce from my outdoor, organic garden?

A. You bet--perhaps even better! This is simply due to the fact that the hydroponically grown plants are getting everything they need, when they need it. Don't be fooled by "hot house" produce grown commercially. The growers' primary concern is shippability and storage, not flavor. When you grow you own vegetables at home, you can expect nothing less than excellent results.

Q. Will I be using any pesticides? If so, what kind?

A. Generally, indoor environments demand less pesticides for obvious reasons. Hydroponics growing eliminates soil borne pests, as well. However, if pests do become a problem, on can choose to use insecticidal soaps, natural pyrethums and, in some cases, beneficial insects. These controls will be completely safe to use on edible crops and are also environmentally safe. Outdoors, your soil borne pests will be eliminated and simply hosing off you plants with water may prove to be an effective control of aphids and mites. Otherwise, we suggest trying the insecticides listed above.

Q. What is the best growing medium?

A. There is no clear cut answer to this questions. Different mediums work better for different situations and different crops.

Rockwool will allow the grower an easy set-up, since it is pre-formed and modular. It holds a tremendous amount of water and offers a buffer against drying in the case of electrical outages or pump failures. Rockwool slabs may be used successfully in a "hand-water" system since they stay moist so long. Rockwool will will maintain a 60/40 water to air ratio even when completely saturated, which makes for extremely healthy root growth. For starting seedlings and cuttings, rockwool is without equal. Rockwool is not degradable or reusable and must be repurchased for every use.

Geolite is a ceramic, kiln-fired pebble developed specifically for plant growth. It is completely inert and sterile and each piece is completely rounded so it will not cut roots. It is light weight and holds a small amount of moisture between irrigation cycles. It may be cleaned and reused again and again, so it is an economical choice. Geolite is not a good choice for most hand-water systems, as it does not provide enough of a moisture buffer. It may be difficult for anyone who is physically challenged to clean and rinse without assistance.

DFT Irrigation, or "media-less" culture, will be the most economical method of growing as it only requires 1" rockwool starter cubes. This can be an excellent choice for some growers, but beginners sometimes find that they are less successful with a media-less system as it does not buffer the roots against temperature changes, nutrient strength changes and uneven watering the way that rockwool and geolite will. This is a consideration for growers who experience frequent power outages and for beginners who will be more prone to initial mistakes, such as leaving a pump unplugged! Actual growth in these systems is excellent and DFT irrigation is a good choice for many conscientious growers.