Hydroponic Bells & Whistles
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If you’re looking to improve your hydro system, you may be looking to add some new accessories to your setup. Your grow could benefit from new gadgets, like ditching your old aquarium pump for a soundless one with a longer life span. You may also be considering expanding your grow op and may want to think about automating some of your systems to save time and energy. But first, let’s continue with the 201 basics.
What’s in the Water?
When growing with a hydroponic system, you depend on water as the essential growing mechanism. Just like a gardener that has been fouled with bad soil, you can’t expect to grow a fruitful crop with contaminated water. Water is not only composed of H20 (Hydrogen and Oxygen). It also holds dissolved minerals and substances that can be both good or bad for your plants. Just because the water that you use for your grow is the same that you drink, does not mean that it is the best option for your plants. Well water, tap water or spring water all have the potential to contain water treatment chemicals, pathogens or minerals that may impact your grow. They may impact your pH, nutrient levels, and the ability of your plants to uptake nutrients. Don’t fret, these “grow contaminants” are pretty easy to take care of yourself.
How Do I Test My Water?
One of the most common issues when using tap water is the added chlorine and ammonia. When combined these make chloramine. Chlorine and ammonia are used to make water drinkable for the public. If it was just chlorine in the water, you could let the water aerate for 24 hours and the chlorine would evaporate (2). Unfortunately, chloramine has a much slower evaporation rate. To test your water for chlorine levels, you can use the same chlorine testing strips that you would use in your swimming pool. As a rule of thumb, the closer you live in proximity to the source of distribution the higher your chlorine level tends to be. However, in very large municipalities there are chlorine boosting stations throughout their distribution routes. This prevents “chlorine overload” at distribution near the source. To learn more about what may be in your water, you can also visit your local municipality. It is also good to learn what other minerals may be present.
How Do I Fix My Water Issues?
Theoretically, you could solve all your water issues by buying filtered water to feed your plants. This makes the assumption that the water you are purchasing is better than the water coming out of the faucet. So let’s get real, we do not recommend this for any size grow especially for large grows. Even if you are ballin’ on a budget installing a simple water filtration system in your grow is the best option for your ladies and Mother Earth. Your water source is going to be the predicting factor dictating how you will need to filter.
Most growers prefer to set up a reverse osmosis filter when using potentially contaminated water. It is the first line of defense for your plants. Using reverse osmosis allows you to start with a blank slate, so to speak. Its filtering process removes solvents (minerals and chemicals) from the solution (the water) forcing the water through a semipermeable membrane (3). The process leaves you with two byproducts- wastewater and neutral (pH of 7) usable water. Your setup should be equipped with a wastewater bucket to be discarded or a drain and a flow for the filtered water into your reservoir or watering system. A good wastewater system is important due to the inefficiency of the RO system. Typically, you will see a usable to waste ratio of 2:1 even with the most efficient of RO systems. We really dig the quality of the Ideal H20 Classic. You can purchase a 100 up to 1200 gallons per day filtration system depending on your needs.
Carbon is what is used in common water filters that you would use in your house to make your drinking water taste cleaner, like the Brita jug that you keep in the fridge. Carbon filters work to remove chloramine (2) and help to reduce the amount of effort that the RO has to put out. When used as a pre-filter, it removes some of the larger particles that may be in the water you are using (4). A carbon filter will help to remove some of the alkaline residues that can build up and clog your RO system.
If starting with a quality water source (low PPM), a carbon/sediment filter should be enough to remove potential debris and larger molecules that could be harmful to your plants. The type of carbon filter you choose matters. Coconut carbon filters are cheapest and do a decent job. KDF-85 would be a step up from coconut carbon filters, and Catalytic carbon filters are going to provide maximum filtration.
What’s in the Air?
Plants will not survive in stagnant water. You cannot expect to see results from roots that are floating in a still reservoir. There is no way for oxygen to be replenished and delivered to the root system in still water. As your plants take up nutrients, they also deplete the water of oxygen. Sitting water also loses needed gases (like CO2) through evaporation that leaves through the surface. You will want to equip your hydroponic system with some sort of aeration system and/or pump to add the needed oxygen to your water.
Aeration pumps help to add oxygen and movement to your reservoir. Some grow ops can benefit from a
simple aquarium pump while larger scale operations will need to install larger and higher grade pumps. Aeration pumps are placed in a low corner in a reservoir and pull water through one side and out the other. They move water across the bottom and towards the surface to grab the available gases from the air above. It’s like giving every water molecule a chance to come up for a breath of air after swimming along the bottom.
Chase Those Waterfalls
Another option is to create a waterfall effect with your pump. You can pull water from your reservoir and have it pull through a perforated tube that sits over the reservoir. It will eject streams of water out the holes and drop into the reservoir below. It only needs to break the surface. A couple of inches of drop enables the water to gather gases while falling through the air. The additional churning movement is another benefit. The impact on the surface adds further circulation and movement that is beneficial in aerating the water.
Having a pump go out on you can be devastating to your plants. Even if it stops working for just a few hours. The pH levels will be affected, the potential for root rot goes up, and your plants will lack oxygen. Equip yourself with a high-quality pump that will be long lasting. It is recommended to do routine maintenance on your system’s pump every two to three weeks. Remove the filter and wipe away any slime or buildup. It will not only promote a longer life for your pump but will protect your plants in the long run as well.
Automation in Your Grow
Automation can help you limit the amount of time spent handling your plants on a day to day basis. Automating your grow takes away the guess work, nearly eliminating human error. In particularly large grow operations where you have numerous “cooks in the kitchen”, it helps to make the system mindless so that there are no communication issues. Don’t put your yield in harm’s way because you and your partner are doubling up on feedings
You may be thinking that automating your system makes you a sellout but why not use the available technology? Think of how nice it could be if your system operated in the cloud and you could feed your plants or adjust the pH levels from an app on your phone (5)! Consider taking some of the nuances out of your grow with the following systems. We have a product for this
Auto pH Systems
The pH in your nutrient delivery water will go up and down depending on when the plants were last fed and where they are in the growing cycle. Typically, the pH lowers in the veg state and rises in bloom (4). Implementing an auto pH system will let a robot do the mindless testing and adjusting for you. Auto pH systems come equipped with a pH pen to do routine testing on a set schedule. The results will then trigger an electronic response within the box to release a pre-measured dose of either pH up or down into the main reservoir to adjust as needed. Your only tasks with that system are to set the desired pH level, make sure it is has the appropriate chemicals needed to perform, and to re-calibrate the system once a month. We have a product for this
Don’t let that big word scare you. All this means is that you can now automate your nutrient delivery. Some growers see their nutrient blend as an art form. You take the time to know your plants and learn what they like to eat, how often they like to eat it and when they prefer to eat. There is nothing saying that this would take away your grow cred. It does mean that you can teach an electronic device to deliver your plants the nutrients that you know they love on the schedule they prefer. You can fill the reservoir with your perfect nutrient recipe and still take credit for their good looks. They are your babies after all.
The more you know, the better your grow
Starting with a blank slate is ideal to providing your plants with a productive growing environment. You don’t want to be unknowingly feeding your plants water treatment by-products that may be present in your tap water. Using carbon and sediment filters and/or reverse osmosis systems helps erase any potential substrates and compounds that may have an undesired effect on your plants. The use of chlorine to sterilize drinking water for human consumption can raise or lower the pH of the water and affect how your plants absorb the nutrients that you are providing for them. Start with a neutral (pH 7) solution and build your plants nutrient delivery system from there.
Automating your grow is useful for many reasons but don’t become a lazy gardener! You still need to manage your systems and check that they are calibrated correctly so that you are getting the most out of them. You can save time and energy by implementing auto pH and fertigation systems into your grow. Visit us at one of our seven stores to learn more from our knowledgeable staff!
- Telephone interview with Scotty Real from Dude Grows. 30 July 2016.