Getting Started with Hydroponics- A Guide for Beginners

Getting into hydroponics may seem like a daunting endeavor, especially when you start to look at all the factors that go into designing, erecting, and utilizing a hydroponic growing system. However, once you harvest your initial bounty, you will be glad to have invested in hydroponics.

In this beginner’s guide, we will walk you through hydroponics basics, answer most of the common questions and help you get on the right path, one that will allow you to reap the benefits for years to come.

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So, What is Hydroponics?

The term hydroponics originates from the Greek terms for water and work. It stands for any means of growing terrestrial plants that utilize water to deliver all the nutrients required directly to plants’ roots, instead of digging around the soil for the nutrients.

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The nutrients are delivered to the roots through a water-based solution. The nutrient solutions are usually made by dissolving a commercial fertilizer in the water. However, organic hydroponics systems utilize sources like kelp, wood ash, bone meal, and manure.
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In some hydroponic systems, plants are in a medium that’s inert. The medium’s role is to support the weight of the plants while helping make oxygen and nutrient solution available to the plants’ roots. There are numerous types of growing media, the most popular being perlite, coco coir, rock wool, and clay grow rocks.

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In hydroponic systems that do not call for a growing medium, plants are held in place the stem’s base, while the roots are exposed to a nutrient solution put in a growing container.

The Benefits of Hydroponics

After understanding hydroponics, you must be pondering what makes this technology-based way of cultivating, compared to the traditional means. Well, here are some of the benefits hydroponics provides over cultivating plants in soil.

No need for tilling or weeding
It gets rid of pest and disease threats often found in soil.
Fertilizer efficiency substantially minimizes the environment’s runoff pollution.
Efficient water and space utilization
It’s not limited to places with ideal soil
Grow crops all year round.
Easier harvesting
No need for toxic herbicides and insecticides
The ideal growing conditions result in faster and healthier growth

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Keep in mind that hydroponic plants tend to grow larger than their soil-grown counterparts. As such, you’ll want to allow between 18 and 20 sq inches for plant less than 3 feet in height.

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How Much Space is Ideal for a Hydroponic System?

Once you have decided what you want to grow, the next phase is determining how much space you will need for the plants. Given hydroponics has the benefit of space efficiency, those who are just getting started to make the mistake of overcrowding the plants, and this reduces the amount of light, not to mention encouraging mold and blight.

What Lighting Solution is the Best for Hydroponics?

There are numerous lighting options for hydroponics, and the best one will depend on the plants you intend to grow and the size of the garden. T5 or compact fluorescent grow lights are some of the best for the novice as they are cheap, low heat, and suited for leafy greens. If you want to be a bit more serious, LED grow lights are the best option. That is because they are reliable, efficient, and inexpensive. Also, the lifetime cost will be lower than other types of grow lighting.
The amount of light intensity plants need is all you need to know to determine how much energy you will require per sq foot of the gardening space. Small leafy plants like lettuce call for around 20 to 30 watts per sq foot, and so, a 300 watts output lighting solution will be able to cover 10 to 15 sq feet of lettuce and smaller greens.

In order to increase lighting efficiency, consider installing reflectors. If you use air-cooling reflectors, you can avoid the heat generated by the lights.

Essential Things to Know About Water For Hydroponics

Water quality has substantial effects on your plants’ health, so it is important to have it tested before starting your project. If you are utilizing city water, you can get a free report, and if you’re using well water, have it tested at least once per year.

The amount of total dissolved solids is the primary indicator of water quality. It is measured in milligrams per liter, or parts per million (PPM). More than 50 parts per million is considered hard water and can tip your nutrient formula off balance. This results in plant toxicities and deficiencies.

While most people grow hydroponic plants with tap water, if you reside in a region with hard water, over 200PPM, chances of running into issues when growing plants are high. If this is the case, you will want to switch to distilled or filtered water. Although it is possible to remove contaminants through distillation or filtration, reverse osmosis proves to be the most reliable, economical, and efficient method.

Conditions Required to Control and Monitor a Hydroponic Garden

If you want to get the best results with a hydroponic system, you’ll want to create a grow room that offers the best conditions for both fast and healthy growth. That being said, here are the most critical environmental factors to monitor and control.

1. Ventilation

This is one of the most vital elements for successful hydroponics. For growing spaces that are small and well ventilated naturally, there’s no need for additional ventilation. You can simply put a conventional fan in the room to circulate air in the room. However, if you are running a huge operation, it is best to have an extractor fan to get rid of the stale air, in addition to a ventilator for fresh air inflow.

Plants utilize carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, which in turn lends them energy to grow. If you are a serious hydroponic grower, you will want to utilize CO2 generators in order to hasten growth. However, ideal air circulation will ascertain adequate carbon dioxide and help regulate the space’s humidity and heat.

2. Temperature

It is also vital to monitor your hydroponics room temperature. It should be about 23 C during the day and 20 C at night. While any kind of thermometer will suffice for temperature monitoring, one that records the maximum and minimum temperatures during a certain time will tell you whether any out-of-range and harmful temperatures have been reached.

Extraction fans, ventilators, and room fans will help with cooling, although you could utilize air conditioning. On the contrary, if the temperature is too low, you may want to invest in an electric heater.

3. Lighting

This is another important factor to monitor when it comes to indoor hydroponics. To achieve this, you will want to isolate the grow room with a commercial grow box. You can also locate the space in an interior location with no windows and have it covered with mylar in order to improve the lighting distribution.

During the growing stage, you’ll want to provide about 16 to 18 hours of light every day. If you’d like to encourage flowering, then reduce the hours to 12 per day. You will come across a wide array of timers that allow you to automate the lighting cycles.

4. Humidity

It is important to maintain a humidity level between 40 to 60 to accelerate plant growth and prevent mold growth. A hygrometer measures humidity, and there are numerous monitors that measure both humidity and temperature. An extraction fan or dehumidifier will come in handy when it comes to removing excess water, while a humidifier will increase moisture levels if it’s too dry.

This is not a comprehensive guide on hydroponics, but it covers a beginner’s most essential aspects.

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