Gardener's Guide: Tips For Hydroponics

Tips on starting and growing a hydroponics garden.

Hydroponics is primarily considered the act of growing plants in water. The science of hydroponics has grown to incorporate other mediums in which to grow plants such as sand, gravel, clay, Perlite, Rockwool and numerous others. It has been around for centuries, helping gardeners save space and soil while still producing high quality plants and produce.

If this is your first foray into the world of hydroponics, you might consider a starter kit. These kits, available at many gardening supply stores, are available in a wide variety of sizes and prices for those wanting to understand hydroponics on a smaller scale.

Whether you choose to use a kit or build your own hydroponics garden from scratch, you will need to decide upon the best system for you. There is a little more to growing plants with this method than placing them in water and watching them grow. Here are a few of the more common systems to choose you might choose.

The Ebb and Flow System: This system requires a pump to flood the trays filled with gravel, clay or another medium, where your plants will be kept. The trays will be flooded periodically during the day, bringing nutrients and moisture to plants. A timer works best with this sort of system. Flooding two times an hour is usually sufficient. When the water recedes, it is allowing your plants to get the required oxygen to keep it healthy.

The Nutrient Film Technique or NFT: This system does not need a growing medium. The plants are suspended in pots or tubes with their roots dangling. Sometimes the upper roots of the plants are left exposed, so that they can get valuable oxygen. The nutrients are pumped from a reservoir underneath the plants and continuously poured back over the roots and back into the reservoir.

The Wick Method: This is a very basic method and often what people with a low budget might want to consider. The plants, placed in a medium such and clay pebbles and held over a tray or container of nutrient rich solution and a wick placed between them to distribute the nutrients to the plants.

Whatever system you choose you will want to find the right growing solutions and fertilizers for your plants. You should ask your local nursery or garden supply shop for the right solutions, as they will usually vary with the different types of plants you will be growing. The fertilizer you use for your soil-grown plants is not suitable for a hydroponics garden. There are minerals plants naturally get from the soil that will need to be replaced with the right solutions.

You will want to test your pH levels in your garden often. If you cannot find a pH tester in your local nursery, you might want to try a pet shop nearby as they use them for fish aquariums as well. An optimum pH level for most plants is in the 5.0 to 6.5 range. An acid such as phosphoric is often used to help lower pH levels if they get too high.

Lighting will be another important thing to consider when planning your hydroponics garden. The type and amount of light you will need often depends on where you plan to do your gardening. A closet space or basement area for instance will require much more help with extra lighting. If your plants are in a well kit area or greenhouse environment outside, they will need considerably less lighting help. Many gardeners believe that the type of light makes a difference on plant health as well.

Metal halide lights are a popular choice when it will be the only light source or for extra light in the winter months. It will help promote growth in your plants and produce. Fluorescent often only used on seedling or young plants to help them start. Incandescent lights are used the same way as fluorescent, for seedlings and starter plants. Whatever lighting you choose, know that most plants do best with 12 to 18 hours of light and a period of dark that mimics a natural night.

Whether you are a novice or experienced gardener, your local nursery is often an invaluable source of information when starting out in hydroponics. Whatever method you choose, hydroponics can be a rewarding and exciting new way to enjoy your plants and produce year-round.

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