HYDROPONICS FOR BEGINNERS
Welcome to the world of hydroponic gardening. Don’t be put off trying hydroponic gardening because you have been told that it is very expensive to set up or it sounds too complicated. While this is true for some hydroponic systems there are also other hydroponic systems that are very cheap and easy to set up and are very simple to run. You can check out how to make a simple DIY hydroponic setup for beginners later.
You will find that hydroponic gardening will be easier and be more successful with bigger crop yields most of the time. Your favourite plants will be healthier, larger and more resistant to pests and diseases. Your vegetables will be tastier, more nutritious and readily available. You will also be reassured that your vegetables will be free of pesticides, herbicides and plant hormones if you choose not to use them. Weeding and digging is eliminated which makes hydroponic gardening free from back pain and is less time consuming. Hydroponic systems are also very water efficient. Hydroponic nutrients can also be used as an excellent fertilizer for giving your established soil gardens and pot plants an excellent growth boost.
WHAT IS HYDROPONICS?
Hydroponics is the growing of plants without using soil as a source of nutrients. There are many different forms of hydroponic systems ranging from simple and cheap sand cultures to complex and expensive Nutrient Flow Technique systems involving electronic monitoring, artificial lighting and automated watering processes in covered farms that are tens of acres in size. It is very likely that the tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, shallots, herbs and other vegetables that you buy from your local supermarket are produced in hydroponic farms.
When you add fresh compost to a soil garden, the plants are not able to use it until the bacteria in the soil breaks the compost down into very simple chemical molecules. These chemical molecules (nutrients) are then dissolved into the water within the soil. The plants are now able to absorb these nutrients through their roots and the plant grows. Plants cannot absorb solids.
Hydroponic nutrient solutions contain all the nutrients a plant needs for healthy growth. Hydroponic growers just bypass the bacteria stage and give the nutrients direct to the plants. Soil is no longer used as a source of nutrients for the plant and is replaced by more sterile mediums such as sand or perlites, or even with no medium at all. The sand contains no nutrients the plant can use. Sand only contains a small fraction of bacteria, diseases or bugs that can harm plants, which greatly improves the general health of plants grown in hydroponic systems.
Just as important, hydroponic nutrients are in the right balance. An excess or deficiency of any nutrient can ruin a crop. Many soils have a deficiency or an excess of important plant nutrients. For example if you give a soil too much nitrogen based fertilizer you will get rapid growth with lots of foliage but very little vegetables. If a soil lacks potassium your fruit and vegetables will be of a poor quality and your crop yields will be low. Since hydroponic nutrients contain all the nutrients a plant needs and in the right balance, hydroponic gardens will nearly always give better crop results than soil grown vegetables.
A plant only needs 14 nutrients to grow and to produce a crop. In a hydroponic solution you will find the macronutrients calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur, nitrogen and the trace elements iron, boron, manganese, copper, zinc and molybdenum. Hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are supplied by water and air.
All genuine liquid hydroponic nutrient solutions are in a concentrated form that comes in 2 separate containers.
One container has nitrates and the other container has phosphates, sulphates and trace elements. In a concentrated form these nutrients cannot be mixed directly together or a precipitate (solid) will form which the plants cannot use. Liquid plant fertilizer products that only come in one container are very unlikely to have all the balanced nutrients a plant needs and would not be suitable for a hydroponic system.
When a gardener is ready to use some nutrients in his hydroponic garden the concentrates are diluted up to 400 times. For example, one litre from each nutrient concentrate container is added to a 400 litre container of water. Very little reaction occurs between the two concentrates since the hydroponic solution is greatly diluted. It is advisable to use this diluted hydroponic solution within a month as the nutrients will slowly react with each other and the solution will no longer be as effective.
Once you have diluted the two different nutrient concentrates into the required amount of water, growing a plant from now on is very simple. Plants are then watered with this diluted hydroponic solution when they need it, just like watering a pot plant. There is nothing complicated about using a hydroponic system to grow vegetables unless you want to use a complicated system.
Different plants absorb different nutrients at different rates. For example, a lettuce plant will only need half the concentration of a tomato plant otherwise the leaves may taste bitter. Simply dilute the SurviveN General Purpose Hydroponic solution that you give to your tomatoes, zucchinis, capsicums and eggplants by half when you water your lettuces, herbs, all young seedlings and other leafy plants. To avoid any build-up of excess nutrient salts flush all your plants with fresh water once a month.
Since none of this solution is lost, unlike in soil gardens where it drains away, very little water is used compared to soil gardens. None of the hydroponic nutrient solution is wasted. This is a big advantage over soil gardens in areas where water is scarce.
To help prevent mildew and fungus occurring it is preferable to keep the surface of the sand dry. Green algae is not a bad sign but it may form a surface crust which prevents oxygen getting down to the roots.
Plants only need a small amount of nutrients to grow. I am always amazed that one tomato plant will only need 3 tablespoons of each nutrient concentrate plus water for its entire life. That is all. That same tomato plant will create several kilograms of plant tissue and 5 to 10 kilograms of tomatoes from that small amount of nutrient.
Regardless of what system is being used, the hydroponic nutrient solution is the most important component of any hydroponic system.