If you’ve ever wanted to grow plants such as herbs, greens, strawberries, and tomatoes at home but thought it would be way too hard and expensive, then you’ll want to read on. You’ll still need to learn some plant care basics, but here are some handy tips and tricks.
Let’s talk about what your plants will need on a continual basis to successfully grow indoors.
Water quality can be a problem in hydroponic systems. Water with excessive alkalinity or salt content can result in a nutrient imbalance and poor plant growth. Softened water may contain harmful amounts of sodium. Water that tests high in total salts should not be used. Salt levels greater than 0.5 millions or 320 parts per million are likely to cause an imbalance of nutrients.
Oxygen: Plants require oxygen for respiration to carry out their functions of water and nutrient uptake. In soil adequate oxygen is usually available, but plant roots growing in water will quickly exhaust the supply of dissolved oxygen and can be damaged or killed unless additional air is provided. A common method of supplying oxygen is to bubble air through the solution.
Mineral Nutrients: Green plants must absorb certain minerals through their roots to survive. In the garden these minerals are supplied by the soil and by the addition of fertilizers such as manure, compost, and fertilizer salts. The essential elements needed in large quantities are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Micronutrients – iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and chlorine are also needed but in very small amounts.
I’m sure you’re already familiar with growing plants in soil, so I won’t discuss the obvious need for soil in containers. However, If you want to try hydroponics and maybe even aquaponics read-on, otherwise, skip ahead.
Support your plants by giving the roots something to grab onto and hydrate as needed.I recommend starting seeds with coco-coir (pronounced coyer) and then expand into clay pellets as the medium for containing your plants’ roots. Also known as LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), or common brand name: “Hydroton,” clay pellets retain and release moisture at a slow, constant rate so the roots aren’t over- or under-saturated.
- General Hydroponics Nutrient Solution Kit
- pH measurement pen
- EC/TDS measurement pen
- Measuring shot glass and cup
A nutrient solution system: I recommend starting with General Hydroponics Flora Series Performance Pack, consisting of the main three liquid parts, several enhancements, and the pH test kit. (Handy tip: If you ask General Hydroponics or other nutrient solution vendors for samples of their products, you can usually get free or discounted trial sizes.) The pH of water is an important measurement whether you are gardening indoors or outdoors, in soil or soil-less, because it affects whether a plant can properly take in nutrients. A word of caution about miracle growing fertilizers, do not add any fertilizers other than those you know to be hydro-friendly, as it can cause a nutrient build-up harming your plants.
The nutrient solution water level of the hydroponic container system must be monitored.
As the nutrient solution level decreases it needs to be replenished with fresh water, otherwise the nutrient solution becomes more concentrated and some plants won’t respond well. Add fresh water to bring the concentration back to the level it was when started, often referred to as “topping-off.”
The pH of water is an important measurement whether you are gardening indoors or outdoors, soil or soil-less, because it affects whether a plant can properly take in nutrients. The electrical conductivity (EC) of water estimates the total amount of solids dissolved in water -TDS, (Total Dissolved Solids). TDS is often measured in ppm (parts per million). In hydroponics, this measurement is used to determine the approximate concentration of nutrient solution to water.
There is no need to adjust your pH or EC until it is necessary.
This is a big one! There is a lot of misinformation out there about keeping the pH and EC regulated. If I were paranoid, I’d say it was a conspiracy from hydroponics manufacturers and retailers who want to sell more consumable product. Don’t get me wrong, proper pH and EC is important, even critical, to the success of a plant.
I recommend a handheld pH tester such as the Oakton EcoTestr pH 2 Waterproof pH Tester, which is excellent for the home gardener and has been proven time and again to be accurate.
The electrical conductivity (EC) of water estimates the total amount of solids dissolved in water, or TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). TDS is often measured in ppm (parts per million). In hydroponics, this measurement is used to determine the approximate concentration of nutrient solution to water. There are many hand-held EC devices available as well and if you are checking the pH, it’s a great time to check the E.C.
When do I need to adjust the pH?
Only under the following conditions:
pH is at or below 5.0 or above 6.5
AFTER at least 30 minutes from the time of topping-off or changing the nutrient solution.
How to adjust? I highly recommend using pH Up and pH Down from General Hydroponics sparingly and only when necessary.
When to flush and how to do it Flushing means to literally flush empty the nutrient solution from the hydroponics system and replace it with fresh “good” tap-water. Then return the nutrient solution back to what it should be for the phase of growth.
Have your empty buckets or tubing, whatever method you choose to drain the contents of the nutrient solution tank. I have found it extremely helpful to have a wet/dry vacuum handy in case things get messy and for me, they often do 😉
The following lists items you will typically need in an indoor gardening environment:
Electricity for Ventilation and Lights
Electricity is needed to operate fans, pumps, and lights. It is a very good idea to use a GFCI adapter for your AC outlet if it does not already have one. Good quality extension cords can then be attached.
Where can you get fresh-air and where is it acceptable for the exhaust to blow? When purchasing a ventilation fan or blower for the setup you will want to get some ventilation duct tubing as well. I highly recommend some air filter material over your intake to prevent unnecessary contamination ( pet dander )
All vegetable plants and many flowers require large amounts of sunlight. Hydroponically grown vegetables like those grown in a garden, need at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight each day to produce wells Artificial lighting is a poor substitute for sunshine, as most indoor lights do not provide enough intensity to produce a crop. Incandescent lamps supplemented with sunshine or special plant-growth lamps can be used to grow transplants but are not adequate to grow the crop to maturity. High intensity lamps such as high-pressure sodium lamps can provide more than 1,000 foot-candles of light. The serious hobbyist can use these lamps successfully in areas where sunlight is inadequate. The fixtures and lamps, however, are very expensive and thus not feasible for a commercial operation.
HIGHER WATTAGE = BETTER PLANT GROWTH
HIGHER WATTAGE = MORE HEAT = NEED MORE VENTILATION
The relationship between the output of grow lights typically focuses only on wattage. The more wattage in your cottage, the more power consumption and more photons available for the plants to absorb proving better plant growth. The caveat being that the more power consumption, the more heat is produced and the more ventilation that will be necessary in order to maintain a comfortable growing environment.
*I personally prefer to connect my lights to a traditional mechanical timer.