If you are new to hydroponics, you will quickly realize the benefits of growing plants using this system. The folks at HydroponicMicroFarms have come up with this amazing hydroponics infographic detailing fun facts and figures. So, whether your a hydroponics newbie or an advanced grower, check out these Earth-saving facts and figures.
The simplest explanation is the best explanation!
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We all know that if we keep watering a plant that eventually the soil becomes saturated with water, and in a short time, the plant dies. What exactly happened to our plant? How do hydroponic plants grow with their roots submerged in water? Well, the answer is simple, and if you are interested in the health of your hydroponic plants, then you should need to read on.
Plants Need More Than Sunshine
For most growers, plant metabolism can be a very complicated topic. When we talk about how plants function, we usually think about photosynthesis, a biochemical process that converts carbon dioxide and water to sugar and oxygen. Most of this oxygen is released into the atmosphere, lucky for us because we need to breathe it to survive. So plant leaves produce oxygen while plant roots need oxygen. Getting oxygen to plant roots is essential; just as important, a ray of sunshine is to leaves. That’s why you need to learn how to provide oxygen to your hydroponic plant’s roots.
Why Do Hydroponic Plant Roots Need Oxygen?
Simply put, roots are not photosynthetic; instead, root cells have metabolic needs that require sugar and oxygen. That’s why sugars are transported from leaves down the stem and into the roots. For hydroponic plant roots to grow and thrive, they need to be exposed to a nutrient solution that is saturated with air. Healthy roots make for a healthy plant with higher yields, which means bigger hydroponically grown peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Providing oxygen to hydroponic plant roots is easy, but it does require additional equipment with minimal setup.
Air Stones And Air Pumps
After all, the purpose of this blog post is for you to learn how to provide oxygen to your hydroponic plant’s roots. The cells in plant roots need oxygen to support their metabolism. Airstones and air pumps are the cheapest and best solution to disperse tiny air bubbles filled with dissolved oxygen throughout your nutrient solution reservoir. Another benefit is that these bubbles also help to evenly distribute the dissolved nutrients in the solution. Just about every hydroponic system such as deep water culture, ebb and flow, or nutrient film technique uses air stones, and air pumps to get oxygen to root cells. Air stones and air pumps are popular aquarium components and can be purchased easily online or at pet stores.
What Is Below Is Just As Important As What Is Above!
As growers, we tend to concentrate on the health of plants by examining their foliage for color, pests, or disease. However, roots are an essential component of plants that lead to increased survivability and crop yields. Hydroponically grown plants require special considerations. Their nutrient solutions must be continuously aerated to prevent roots from dying back.
As I said in my last post, who needs soil to grow plants? Rockwool is the perfect soil substitute for plants. In this post, I discuss the beneficial properties of Rockwool and learn how to use Rockwool cubes for seeds starting in hydroponic systems. You really should try these Rockwool cubes for seed starting. They are inexpensive and reusable too.
But What Exactly is Rockwool?
Rockwool is produced by combining basalt rock and chalk then melted at a very high temperature. At around 3000°F, the mixture forms fluid lava. The lava then enters into a spinning chamber to create the fibers as it cools down. It is kind of like a process similar to making cotton candy.
Why Is Rockwool Used by Hydroponic Growers
Rockwool has a beneficial structure for plants because it retains water and holds more oxygen when compared to other soil mediums. It is evident to most readers that plants need water, but it is just as crucial for plant roots to have access to plenty of oxygen. This increased capacity to hold water, along with the added benefit of oxygenation within the plant’s root zone, is very helpful when starting seeds and cutting propagation. These characteristics of Rockwool make it the ideal growing medium.
Additionally, Rockwool is chemically and biologically inert. In short, that means that it does not interfere with or alter plant growth in any way or harbor bacteria or fungi, which could infect and damage young seedlings. These overall benefits contribute to its popularity amongst growers, accommodating almost any plant they like to grow.
Seed Starting Using Rockwool
Rockwool is popular with the hydroponics growing community, and it is commercially sold (Amazon) as cubes of various shapes and sizes. There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to Rockwool, but the benefits are worth it, and at the same time, you are picking up a new gardening skill. In this post, I am using organic lettuce seeds that are easily inserted into holes in 1.5-inch presoaked cubes. Eventually, as the plants mature, they are transferred to a deepwater culture hydroponics system. If you are just starting out in hydroponics, I recommend growing lettuce because it’s easy and gives quick results. This happens to be Black Seeded Simpson, a variety purchased from Park Seed, a company known for its quality products.
Some Do’s And Don’t When Using Rockwool
Do wear protective gear to keep yourself safe when handling Rockwool material. These fibers can be irritating to skin, eyes, and lungs.
Do not squeeze the cubes when they are wet because it can damage the internal structure.
Do take the time to properly prepare Rockwool cubes before starting seeds. Rockwool has a naturally high pH, typically around 8.0, which is too high for many plant types. You need to follow the procedure for adjusting its pH down.
This spring, I planted my basil in containers. I like Genovese, which is the classic Italian basil. It has extra-large leaves with a strong aromatic flavor. Basil grows quickly in containers, its easy to water and to pick a few leaves to add to a delicious recipe. As the summer ends, basil begins to flower, pinch them off, and the energy goes into vegetative growth instead. That means more leaves for your favorite pesto. But eventually, basil plants get tired, so I propagate basil by using cuttings. The propagation of basil plants is easy, and now let’s see how it’s done.
First, you need to begin by selecting the upper parts of the plant for cuttings. You must choose new shoots, the younger, the better. Use a clean pair of scissors to make a sharp cut. I emphasize clean because there is the potential to infect the plant cutting.
After you select your best cuttings, wet the tip and dip in rooting hormone. The use of rooting hormone is not necessary but almost assures root growth, and that’s a good thing. Next, I place them into a Rockwool cube, which serves as inert support while the roots develop. All that is left to do is add them to a tray of water and wait for roots to appear.
This time of year means its time to bring your basil inside. If you have a sunny window that should do or you may have a greenhouse for protection from the change in season. At any rate, propagation of basil is easy, but it’s not just about making more plants. It’s more about extending your growing season so that you will have plenty of basil brimming with an aromatic aroma to keep flavoring your most delectable dishes.
I intend to grow my basil hydroponically using a deep water culture system along with a Mars Hydro SP 150 LED grow light. Like I have been saying, basil grows excellent in containers, and that means hydroponic containers too. After all, who needs soil to grow plants?
Microgreens are easy and fun to grow. They are great for garnishing sandwiches and adding to salads. Most microgreens are fast growers that have a quick turnaround to harvest time. The majority of vegetable varieties grown as microgreens are ready for harvest in about 10 to 14 days. Nutritional studies have found that microgreens pack a nutritional punch. They are higher in vitamin C, E, and K than mature plants. However, if grown under incorrect conditions microgreens can be the source of foodborne bacterial infections. So if you are interested in growing microgreens, our starter guide is helpful reading.
What Are Microgreens? Plants go through several developmental stages. For our discussion let’s call these stages: sprout → microgreen → baby → mature plant. Spouts grow for about 3-5 days and usually, we eat the whole plant. Sprouts require a high moisture environment with no soil or media. Microgreens have grown for about 10-14 days and harvested by clipping just above the soil. These plants have cotyledons and may also have true leaves. As the name implies, baby plants, have further developed with 14 -30 days of growth and look more or less like the adult form. At this stage, plants have true leaves and there is more distance between each plant. A more detailed diagram listing the stages of seed germination is listed below.
Choice of Seeds: There are dozens of crops that can be grown as microgreens. If you are just getting started to begin growing with the easiest varieties or with a professionally premixed selection of microgreens. As you gain confidence, then diversify your selection. It’s important to understand upfront that microgreens require more seeds than let’s say growing a row of garden vegetables. Additionally, seeds should be sanitized prior to use to reduce fungi and bacteria. When purchasing seeds, it is most economical to purchase in bulk. An excellent source for obtaining microgreen seeds is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Below is our microgreens list.
Bok Choy/Pak Choi
How To Grow Microgreens: You will be needing some basic supplies, those being seeds, a growing tray, and growing medium. To start seeds indoors, another obvious requirement is light which can be as simple as a bright window or a more controlled setting using a greenhouse and supplemental grow lights. Heat mats may also be necessary to help with germination and temperature control.
Microgreens can be grown in soil or they can be grown hydroponically. With soil-based systems, seeds are densely sown directly on the soil surface. Harvesting requires the microgreens to then be harvested by cutting. The microgreens will not regrow and the soil is not reusable and should be composted. With their short crop cycles and minimum to no fertility requirements, microgreens are an excellent crop for hydroponic culture. Hydroponic based systems use fiber mats wet with water for the length of the growth cycle. Reusing mats also asks for root and seed diseases that can affect the next crop and should not be used again.
Are Microgreens Safe? The short answer is it depends on several factors. First is seed sanitization. For maximum safety, it is recommended that you disinfect the outside of your seeds and your sprouting container prior to sprouting using 3% hydrogen peroxide. If you see white fuze growing on roots, do not be alarmed these are naturally occurring root hairs. If you observe or more importantly smell any sign of declining freshness, it is time to toss your microgreen lot; clean and disinfect your trays before starting a new crop.
Pros For Microgreens:
growing microgreens is fast and easy
some studies show higher nutritional value than mature plants
little setup costs
Cons For Microgreens:
a fragile product with high moisture content
eating raw microgreens may cause bacterial infections from E. coli and Salmonella among others
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil where plants are fed using a nutrient solution. The plants are supported in various substrates such as rock wool, expanded clay aggregate, gravel, sand, or coir peat. Since most hydroponic methods employ some type of growing support these methods are often referred to as “soilless culture”, while water culture alone is true hydroponics. In this post, we will explore what deep water culture hydroponics is all about and take a look at how the process works.
In deep water culture, plants are grown in containers full of nutrient solution. These containers can be small 5 gallon buckets or larger tubs and tanks for commercial systems. The nutrient solution in which the plant roots are suspended is usually aerated with an electric pump, tubing, and airstone which help to diffuse the air into solution. Generally speaking, aerated solutions are required to prevent roots from drowning. More exactly, roots require oxygen in air because they perform a metabolic process called aerobic cell respiration. Just remember, DWC is the practice of growing plants in aerated water. It’s considered by many to be the simplest form of hydroponics. If you are a beginner in the field of growing plants then a DWC system is for you. These hydroponic systems are cheap and simple for DIYers to setup.
Plants are grown in slotted net pots suspended in holes cut in the lid of the reservoir. Larger systems use a flotation raft instead of a simple lid. Reservoir size can be increased as plant size increases. A single reservoir can be dedicated to an individual plant or many plants. A large scale “raft” deep water culture system is shown below.
Which water level is best?
A well-hydrated plant typically grows incredibly fast and growers can manipulate water and nutrients levels in the root zone to decrease vegetative times by 15 to 25%. This decrease can trigger plant responses such as essential oil production, flowering, and fruiting. For instance, a dryer root zone can cause basil plants to increase their essential oil production. Whereas, a wetter root zone can cause plants to increase their photosynthetic rates by focusing on larger vegetative leaf production.
Choosing the Best Crops for Deep Water Culture
Are there any specific plants that DWC suits best? Here’s a list of potential crops for first-time growers.
8–10 weeks from seed
5–6 weeks from seed
7–9 weeks from seed
5–6 weeks from seed
7–8 weeks from seed
4–6 weeks from seed
4–5 weeks from seed
8–11 weeks from seed
8 -10 weeks
Pros of Deep Water Culture:
Great for fast-growing plants
Flexible plant container sizes
Allows for larger root mass
Efficient use of water
Fewer plants with larger yield
Cost-effective to build and requires few parts
Cons of Deep Water Culture:
A chiller will likely be needed to cool the reservoir
Plants can be prone to root diseases
pH fluctuation may occur and requires periodic monitoring
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil where plants are fed using a nutrient solution. The plants are supported in various substrates such as rock wool, expanded clay aggregate, gravel, sand, or coir peat. Since most hydroponic methods employ some type of growing support these methods are often referred to as “soilless culture”, while water culture alone is true hydroponics.
Hydroponics as an alternative to traditional soil-based farming has ramped up. For instance, as of 2017, Canada had hundreds of acres of large-scale commercial hydroponic greenhouses, producing peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Greenhouse production is becoming more economically feasible in the United States with production focusing on artesian and romaine lettuce, Beef Steak, and cherry tomatoes. Vegetables grown in a greenhouse are often of higher quality and have been grown with reduced or no pesticides. Additionally, yields can be 5x as much lettuce per acre than in a field. The United States hydroponic revenue has been estimated to reach $607 million with an annual growth rate of 3.6% over the last five years.
Commercial growers are utilizing two hydroponic methods, continuous-flow solution culture and static solution culture. Nutrient Film Techniques (NFT) is a variation of the continuous-flow method. It uses a circulating hydroponic system that utilizes plastic channels to grow plants. This works best for leafy greens such as lettuce or herbs. NTF provides a clean growing environment. The main advantage of the NFT system over other forms of hydroponics is that the plant roots are exposed to adequate supplies of water, oxygen, and nutrients. NFT can be suspended vertically as in the picture below. This setup is at the heart of vertical farming.
In static solution culture, plants are grown in containers of nutrient solution, such as plastic buckets, tubs, or tanks. The solution in which the plant roots are suspended is usually aerated. A hole is cut in the lid of the reservoir for each plant. A single reservoir can be dedicated to a single plant, or to various plants. Reservoir size can be increased as plant size increase. A large scale “raft” static solution system is shown below.
Despite the technological developments that have improved our agriculture productivity, the main issues of land availability, seasonality, high water demands, and carbon emissions seem like insurmountable facts. These long-standing obstacles continue to prevent us from meeting sustainability and food security goals. Therefore, in order to increase agricultural output to feed an ever-increasing human population requires the implementation of new farming practices, with a focus on hydroponics. The science and technology is not that complicated. Nutrients are constantly monitored by computer systems leading to better yields using fewer pesticides, herbicides, fungicides.
Understanding the United States Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zone Map can mean the difference between success and failure in your garden. This USDA map divides North America into 13 separate planting zones; each growing zone is 10°F colder in an average winter than the adjacent zone. If you see a hardiness zone in a plant description from a gardening catalog, chances are it refers to this map.
The latest version of the USDA Hardiness Zone Map was released in 2012. The map was jointly developed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service which is the USDA’s chief scientific in-house agency and Oregon State University’s PRISM Climate Group which has expertise in meteorology and climatology, geography, and statistical modeling. Updates to the zones were a result of new and more sophisticated algorithms that included changes in elevation, nearness to large bodies of water, and terrain position. Additional input was provided by horticultural experts.
So why do we need this map? A gardener or landscaper needs to understand that choosing plants, vegetables, and flowers should correspond to the appropriate growing zone. The information provided by this map helps mitigate plant losses and reduce expenses. There are some things that are not covered by this map. Climate parameters that a farmer, grower, or landscaper may need to take under consideration include humidity, precipitation, soil type, and soil drainage.
There is no print version of the map. The online interactive map enables searching by State or zip code and it can be found here.