Category Archives: Hydroponic Systems

Different Types of Grow Lights For Hydroponic Gardens

Different types of grow lights for hydroponics

Choosing the right grow light for your hydroponic garden is an important decision. Not all lighting is the same. There are several factors that come into play when choosing which grow light will work for best for the garden you’re growing.

Fluorescent Grow Lights

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)

Compact Fluorescent Grow LightWhen I first started doing indoor hydroponics I mainly used CFL’s as the light source for my gardens. They were convenient to use since I had them around the house and worked well for the custom lighting I was making. CFL’s don’t give off too much heat and can be used when there is not a lot of space. If you use enough CFL’s this source of lighting can be intense enough for both vegetative and flowering stages. Recently though companies have begun to phase out the production of CFL bulbs in favor of LED.

Fluorescent Tubes

Fluorescent Tube Grow LightThe most popular fluorescent tube light used for indoor gardening is the T5. T5 tubes come in several lengths, covering a good amount of growing area and can be placed close to your plants since they give off little heat. Fluorescent tube lighting is not very strong so is not typically used for flowering and fruiting stages. This type of lighting works well for leafy greens since they don’t require intense light and don’t need to go through a flowering stage.

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Grow Lights

HID Grow Light

High-intensity discharge lights have been go-to for indoor gardeners for a long time. These are the large odd-shaped lights that are screwed into a hood looking fixture. High-intensity lighting is intense, can be used for both vegetative and flowering stages, but gives off abundant heat. Because of the heat lighting is kept several feet away from plants. There are 2 types of HID lights, each used at different stages of the plant’s life cycle.

Metal Halide (MH)

Metal Halide lights give off a blue light so is most often used for the vegetative stage. There are some bulbs that are corrected to be used with flowering as well. MH bulbs need to be changed about once a year.

High-Pressure Sodium (HPS)

High-Pressure Sodium lights give off a yellow light and are used for the flowering stage. HPS should not be used for the vegetative stage or will produce tall leggy plants. HPS bulbs have a life expectancy of about 18 months.

LED Grow Lights

LED Grow LightLED lighting is now my preferred lighting option for my indoor hydroponic gardens. While there is sometimes more cost on the initial investment, they perform better and last longer making it more cost-effective in the long run. LED lights can have a life expectancy of around 50,000 hours, giving you a lot of growing time before replacement is necessary. This type of lighting gives off less heat than alternative methods and many have a built with a cooling system. LED lighting is also very intense and can penetrate the top of your plant canopy to the lower leaves of your plants.

Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles

hydroton expanded clayWhat Are Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles?

Hydroton is a brand name that is interchangeably used with expanded clay and clay pebbles. It’s one of the most popular grow mediums used by hydroponic gardeners. Hydroton expanded clay pebbles come from mined clay that is heated in a kiln to over 2000 degrees. This causes the material to expand like popcorn making it light and porous.  Hydroton expanded clay pebbles are lightweight and can come in circular ball shapes varying in sizes. Hydroton doesn’t compact and since it’s porous, allows for excellent water and airflow.

How Do You Use Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles?

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be used alone or in with a combination of other grow medium. I prefer to use them as a standalone in my hydroponic systems. Before using any expanded clay, you must completely rinse the dust from the grow medium. Even if your expanded clay pebbles come “prewashed”, I would still recommend rinsing it as a precaution. During transport, pebbles rub together and can sometimes get crushed causing dust. Dust from the expanded clay can cause clogs and also wear on pumps.

Some seeds can be germinated in hydroton expanded clay pebbles under the right conditions. I was shown by a friend that crushing pebbles actually makes them more suitable for seed germination. I prefer to start seeds in rapid rooter cubes and transplant them into the hydroton.

Come harvest time plants are easily removed. After harvest, hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be sterilized and used again. I prefer to use a hydrogen peroxide mix, some prefer to use bleach. The hydroton should be soaked for a few hours and then rinsed. If using bleach I would especially recommend rinsing a few times.

What Hydroponic Systems Work Well When Using Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles?

Hydroton can be used in a few different types of systems. It is often used in drip systems, ebb and flow, deep water culture and aeroponic systems. Since these types of systems provide constant nutrient solution to the plants, it ensures the hydroton doesn’t dry out. Hydroton expanded clay pebbles can be used in net pots or large grow beds.

Hydroton expanded clay pebbles in flood and drain system

A few week old lettuce in Hydroton expanded clay grow medium.

Advantages To Using Hydroponic Expanded Clay Pebbles

  • It maintains a neutral pH.
  • Retains some water but doesn’t suffocate roots.
  • You can allow the hydroponic system to continually run, providing more nutrients to your plants.
  • It drains water well.
  • Comes from clay, which is abundant, so it’s environmentally friendly.
  • It’s reusable and can last a long time.
  • Can be inexpensive in small quantities.

Disadvantages To Using Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles

  • If the system fails hydroton can dry out.
  • Hydroton needs to be rinsed thoroughly before using.
  • Dust from hydroton can wear on pumps.
  • Can be expensive if using large grow beds.


How To Build A 5 Gallon Hydroponic Bucket

The 5 gallon hydroponic bucket may be the most simple hydroponic systems both to make and take care of. I like to use my 5 gallon hydroponic bucket systems for those plants that produce a lot of fruit, need a lot of water and/ or get big. I usually use hydroponic buckets when growing like tomatoes, watermelons, cucumbers and pumpkins, and they grow big! Why does the deep water culture hydroponics work so well? The plant roots are suspended in the nutrient rich water that is pumped full of oxygen, giving the plant what it needs. Instead of using energy to expand the root system in search of water and nutrients, the plants can instead focus all that energy on the production in growth and on its fruits.

Deep Water culture

Making a  5 Gallon Hydroponic Bucket

The 5 gallon hydroponic bucket is extremely easy to make! You probably already have many of the supplies around your house. Here is a list of materials I used to make my hydroponic bucket system:hydroponic bucket

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Bucket lid and net pot ( You can purchase net pot bucket lids)
  • Grow medium
  • Aquarium pump
  • Air hose
  • Air stone
  • Check valve

If you don’t have a hydroponic net pot bucket lid then you can make one by cutting a hole in the bucket lid and using a smaller net pot. You can make your own but when the plant gets big a wobbly net pot is a headache. I would recommend filling your bucket with heavier grow medium, like river rock, to keep it upright if growing larger plants. Fill your hydroponic bucket with water and mix your hydroponic nutrient solution.

Hook up the air stone to the air tube and place the check valve on the end before connecting to the air pump. The check valve will stop water from coming into your air pump. Place the air stone in the nutrient solution, the bucket or net pot lid on the unit and it’s ready to go. A reservoir drain can also be added to the hydroponic bucket for easier water changes.

Deep water culture hydroponic systems can be made it reservoirs bother larger and smaller than a 5 gallon bucket. Air stones and pumps come in varying sizes means there are endless ways that you can make a simple hydroponic system!

 

The 3 Basics of Plant Lighting

3 Basics Of Plant LightingWhile gardening indoors brings its many advantages, it also requires finding a light source for your garden. Not all plant lighting is same, as they can come in different intensity and spectrum’s that plants need at certain stages of their growth. Here are the 3 basics of plant lighting for a hydroponic garden:

 The Color Spectrum

Plant lighting comes in different spectrum’s that are measured by temperature in Kelvin. Lighting that is 3,000K and below are warm colors (red) and colors above 5,000k are cool colors (blue). Plants require different spectrums of light at different stages of their growth. During the plant’s vegetative stage, it requires what blue colors which most resemble natural sunlight. Red light is required for the flowering stage of the plant’s growth. Some light is dual spectrum which gives off both red and blue light.f

How Long Should Plants Be Under Light

The amount of time needed depends on the plant, but most vegetables need 12 or more hours of light for good growth. Some plants stay in vegetative stage until the light duration is decreased. Decreasing the light replicates the days getting shorter, which signals to the plant that is it’s time to flower and produce fruit. When setting your light duration, try to mimic the amount of light that plant would receive in nature for whatever stage the plant is in.

How Far Away The Light Should Be From Plants

Have you ever seen seedlings that were tall and lanky that eventually couldn’t hold themselves up? This is caused by the light not being intense enough. Some plants can do well in low light and may be burned up when the light gets too intense. Other plants may need high-intensity light for their good growth. Light is used for photosynthesis, so generally speaking, better light more plant growth. There are some negative effects of too much light intensity. When light is too intense chlorophyll content is reduced which decreases the rate of photosynthesis, slowing plant growth.

Picking A Hydroponic Reservoir

hydroponic reservoir Finding the right hydroponic reservoir is only as hard as you make it.  You don’t have to go out and spend a bunch of money on reservoir. In fact, you may already have a few items around your house that you could make into a hydroponic reservoir.  When selecting a hydroponic reservoir you want to keep in mind how much water will be need to circulate through your entire system while leaving enough water to keep your water pump submerged. The larger the reservoir you use, the more hydroponic nutrient solution you will need to use. If you buy a reservoir built specifically for hydroponics it will probably have a drain, but it if you not I recommend adding a drain to the reservoir you want to use.

Things You Can Use As A Hydroponic Reservoir

  • Buckets work well for smaller systems and hydroponic bucket systems. They also sell buckets larger and smaller than the typical 5 gal bucket for larger and smaller hydroponic gardens.
  • Some plastic totes work well as hydroponic reservoirs. If you decide that a tote is a better fit for your hydroponics system I recommend using one with a thicker plastic to prevent bowing from the weight of the water.

When using a buckets and totes as your reservoir, you want to make sure  you get a bucket that will block out the light from penetrating in. Black colored reservoirs prevent light and algae growth. but the dark color of the reservoir raises the heat of your nutrient solution. You should look into different ways to cool your nutrient solution. If doing outdoor hydroponics an alternative may be to use a white bucket lined with a black plastic bag. This will keep you bucket color light white blocking out light from the side. Keep in mind the sun beating down on your reservoir lid.

  • A fish tank can serve as a great hydroponic system reservoir. If you using a fish tank I suggest looking into aquaponics and filling your tank with gold fish instead of using nutrient solution. This can be less maintenance, better quality and more cost-effective.

When looking for the right reservoir for your hydroponics system don’t let perfection hold you back. The beauty of hydroponics is the possibilities are limitless. If you can’t afford to go out and buy something new then just use what you have!

Using Rockwool For Seed Germination

Rockwool is a popular starter medium that has been used a long time with hydroponics. Smaller rockwool cubes are used for cuttings or seed germination and then transplanted into hydroponic systems. Larger cubes or slabs can be used to grow larger plants. It works well as a grow medium because it’s great at both maintaining moisture and allowing air to the roots. Rockwool is not pH balanced and will need to be adjusted before getting started.

Preparing Rock Wool For Seed Germination

  • The pH of the rockwool will first need to be brought down. This can be used with either a pH lowering product or a lemon. When handling rockwool, it is important not to squeeze it or it may alter the air flow to the roots. Lack of air flow causes root rot.
  • Get a bowl of water and something to measure the pH of the water. The goal is to get the water to a pH measurement around 5.5. To do this you want to add a small amount of your pH lowering agent or lemon juice until you reach the correct measurement.
  • Next, you want to soak the cubes in the treated water. It needs to be soaked for 10 seconds.preparing rockwool

How to Germinate seeds in Rockwool

You need to have an area ready to place your cubes after they are done soaking. I find using a domed tray that acts as a mini greenhouse works well for germination and need less watering. After the rockwool is done soaking, take the cubes out of the water and line them up for seeds or cuttings. Most rockwool comes with holes already made, but if not you will need to make a hole in the top of the cube. You can do this by cutting a 1/4 inch deep slit or hole in the top of the rockwool.

I suggest placing a few of seeds in the rockwool to increase the chances of getting a healthy sprout. If you only plant one seed and it doesn’t germinate you’ve lost some time. If several sprout you then have the option of choosing the healthiest looking seedling. With most vegetables, I use 2 or 3 seeds and with herbs, I use a few more. The seeds should be placed at the bottom of the hole to escape the light. Put the rockwool in an area that will stay between around 70 to 80 degrees.

After a few days, you will hopefully see few sprouts start to pop up out of the rockwool. The cubes lose a little moisture over time so you will need to maintain the moisture needed for the plant to grow. I use a spray bottle a low dosage of nutrients and moisten the rockwool about once a day. After several days, find the heartiest looking seedling(s) to keep and clip the rest. It’s important to clip and not pull or you may disrupt the root system of the other plant you want to keep. When the root system starts to show out of bottom of the cube it is time to transplant into the hydroponic system. Be careful not to place the rockwool below the grow medium your transplanting it in or water will puddle, increasing the chances of root rot.

What is Aeroponics?

Aeroponics is considered more of an advanced hydroponic method of gardening. Some do not consider aeroponics to be a true hydroponics method as the plant roots are not submerged in water. Instead with aeroponics, plants are often placed in small holes or slits to stabilize the plant while the roots are suspended in the air. The nutrient solution is sprayed over the roots while being exposed to maximum oxygen. Though considered more advanced, aeroponics isn’t really that difficult and operates under the same principles as other hydroponic methods. Aeroponics work great for a variety of different vegetables and herbs and could also be used for some root vegetables. Vine plants such as tomatoes and watermelons, leafy greens and many herbs are all known to grow well with aeroponics.

What Is An Example Of An Aeroponic System?

Simple aeroponic systems can be set up with little space needed. A good example of a simple aeroponics setup would be the tote system. In this example holes are drilled into the top of a tote lid, plants (with or without net pots) are placed in the lid so the plant roots dangle in the air. In the tote there is a water pump that is hooked up to capped tubing. Screwed into the tubing there are several spray emitters that will direct a mist of nutrient solution onto the plant roots. The pump with sprayer is secured into the bottom of the tote and water is then poured into the tote to cover the pump. Once the aeroponic system is turned on, the pump will push the water up the capped tube spraying out of the emitters and dampening the plant roots. The nutrient solution then falls back down into the tote to be recycled through the system again.

aeroponic spray

Here’s an example of an aeroponic tube with spray emitter.

Benefits Of Growing Plants Using Aeroponics?

There are many benefits to growing your garden using aeroponics. According to NASA, gardens that are grown using aeroponics are likely to use around 98% less water, and 60% less nutrients. On top of being extremely efficient, there is no need to use pesticides with indoor aeroponic gardens. As with other hydroponic methods, gardens using aeroponics generally allow you to harvest more with less growing time.

What Is Nutrient Film Technique- NFT Hydroponics?

Nutrient film technique, or NFT for short, is a very simple hydroponic method. It’s basic design, makes it popular for both hydroponic gardening at home and on a commercial scale. NFT hydroponics systems are usually set up to grow multiple plants in one large system. NFT hydroponics is a great method for growing leafy greens and plants with a shallow root system. Lettuce is one of the most popular plants grown using this type of hydroponic method.

NFT hydroponics

Lettuce growing using NFT hydroponics.

How Do NFT Hydroponic Systems Work?

Though NFT hydroponics can be set up in many different ways, the systems all work on the same basic concept. Plants are placed in a shallow pipe or tube and oxygenated nutrient solution is pumped from the reservoir into the piping, which runs through the dangling plant roots. Water flows to the other end of the tube to the drain back into the reservoir. Since NFT hydroponics methods cycle nutrient solution through the system 24/7, there is no need for timers. NFT hydroponic systems are dramatically affected by interruptions to the water flow. Even short periods without the system running can have a major impact on your NFT hydroponic garden and can result in a loss.

What Is Drip Hydroponics?

Drip hydroponics can work well for many different types of hydroponic gardeners. Since drip hydroponics can be so versatile, it’s used from beginners on up to commercial growers. The process is simple and allows you the ability to control exactly how much nutrients your plants are getting, Drip systems can be made grow a single plant on up to the thousands by commercial growers.

How Does Drip Hydroponics Work?

With drip hydroponics, water is pumped in tubing that can end at a single plant or can branch off with several tubes ending at many plants. Systems are usually set on a timer to kick on every so often. The nutrient rich water then flows over the grow medium and drips down over the plant roots. Drip hydroponic systems can be set up in either a recovery or a non-drip recovery method. With non-recovery methods, nutrient water that runs over the plant’s roots does not go back into a reservoir; it’s only used once. Recovery systems do just the opposite and reuse the nutrient solution after it’s dripped over the roots. The efficiency can not only save you money in some cases on water but also save you on nutrient solution.

What Types Of Plants Work Well In Drip Hydroponic Systems?

Drip hydroponics can be set up for almost any type of plant you would like to grow. Some plants need less water than others and drip hydroponic systems can be set up to easily control how much water your plants are getting. When considering your drip rate you also have to take into account what grow type medium you’re using. Different Grow mediums hold different amounts of moisture and some no moisture at all. With a timer hooked up, you can make sure the plants are set up on a regular schedule of watering and not being over watered. When using drip hydroponics your roots should always remain moist. Individual drip emitters can be placed in the tubing allowing different amounts of water to different plants.

drip system

This is an example of a simple single plant drip system.

Some Things To Watch For When Using Drip Hydroponic Systems

In addition to keeping an eye on the PH level, drip hydroponics comes with the task of watching for clogged tubing and emitters. This is mainly a concern with recovery systems since plant matter can flow with the nutrient solution back into the reservoir. Adding a filter to the drainage tube is a simple an effective way to help with emitter clogging, but make sure to clean it out often to prevent the drainage from clogging instead. Another thing to watch for is over saturation of nutrients in your grow medium over time. This is also a preventable situation that can be taken care of by periodically flushing your grow medium with just water.

What Is Wick Hydroponics?

The wick hydroponics are the most simplistic hydroponic systems there are. It can be a completely passive system so there is no need for pumps or electricity. Since there are no moving parts, there is no need to worry about any system failures or parts breaking. As long as your keep your reservoir full of nutrient solution your plants ready to grow. The picture below shows the workings of a simple wick hydroponic system. I’ve taken a 2 liter bottle and cut it in half, turning the top upside down. I placed a little water in the bottle and added a wick used for tiki torches. All that’s left is adding the grow medium and seeding and some nutrients.

wick hydroponic system

A basic wick system ready to add grow medium, a plant and nutrient solution.

What Plants Work Well Using Wick Hydroponics

Wick hydroponics works well for plants that don’t take much water to survive. Wick hydroponics works great for those that often have trouble remembering to water their house plants. Smaller plants such as herbs and lettuce work great with these types of systems. Larger plants have a larger root system and need more water. The wick does not bring enough water up quick enough to sustain larger plants or fruiting plants. Wick hydroponics is not the method to use if you’re looking to grow tomato plants on the back porch.

How Do Wick Systems Work?

As you can tell by the name, wick hydroponics, the most important part is wick. You need to use a wick that is absorbent enough to get water your plants roots and at the same will not rot or mildew. I have used tiki torch wicks but you can also use nylon rope, felt strips, or braided fiber in wick hydroponic system. Whatever you use for your wick material, make sure to wash it out first and it will wick more effectively. The number of wicks you use depends on the wicks you’re using and how much water your plant needs. Unless you’re growing a small single plant you will most likely need multiple wicks. The shorter your wick length can be on your hydroponic wick system the better. Smaller wicks move your nutrient solution more quickly to your plants.

What Type of Grow Medium Is Used In Wick Hydroponics?

A variety of grow medium can be used with wick hydroponics. Perlite, Vermiculite, and Coconut Fiber are some the most popular grow mediums used as well as hydroton expanded clay. You want a grow medium that is absorbent so to get the nutrient solution to as much of the roots as possible. Both the grow medium and your reservoir should never run dry. You will also need to rinse both your grow medium and the reservoir of your hydroponic system periodically to wash out excess nutrient mineral and algae build up.