What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the growing of plants without soil. Plants are grown in inert mediums with the use of nutrient solutions.

Where can I grow with hydroponics?

Anywhere! Indoors or outdoors! Any plant can be grown with hydroponics, though some are more difficult than others due to some plant specific properties. In general though, if there is enough light for the plant to grow, and the environment is controllable, it can be grown using hydroponics. There are plenty of lighting options and environmental controls available to help you accomplish this.

What is Aeroponics?

Aeroponics is a growing method in which an oxygen-infused nutrient solution is sprayed directly on the roots with different types of sprayers, but without the use of medium, allowing the roots to absorb nutrients faster and more easily. This facilitates rapid growth resulting in phenomenal yields, however this system is recommended for experienced growers as the margin for error is greater.

Can hydroponics be organic?

There is a huge debate about the value of organic fertilizers/nutrients and methods within hydroponics. Many people would like to use organics in hydroponics, and it can be done, but you must do your research before using an organic method. Currently accepted organic fertilizer components are dependent upon organisms in the soil to convert the organic materials into a usable form for plants. In hydroponics we provide the minerals required for plant growth directly, completely eliminating the need for soil and soil organisms. The result is much higher growth rates and yields, and better crop quality than organic methods can achieve. Again, organics can be used with hydroponics but you must ensure that you are not “killing” off your organic nutrients/materials with synthetic products. Do your homework!

Why is growing with hydroponics better than growing in soil?

Hydroponic produce is cleaner than soil grown produce, plus the grower has the ability to make any necessary adjustments to the nutrient solution for maximal growth and yield in the shortest amount of time.

How does hydroponic produce taste in comparison with soil grown produce?

While it can be more challenging, hydroponic produce frequently exceeds soil grown produce in terms of flavor and nutrition. This is because all of the nutrients required by the plant are immediately available when the plant needs them. This is also when growers will consider using organic elements in their hydro system, which help produce the same full-bodied flavors and aromas as soil grown produce.

What is a reliable, yet inexpensive, hydroponic system for beginners?

There are many complete systems that can be purchased. The “Water Farm”, “Mega Garden” and “Emily’s Garden” are all good systems for beginners. Nearly any plant can be grown within these units. Also, with units such as the “Water Farm” they have the ability to be linked together and expanded with additional units.

Can you recommend a simple solution for keeping growing media out of drains?

There are many types of drain fitting screens that will accomplish this. They cost less than 75 cents each, and are easily attached to your drain fitting.

My hoses/pumps have gotten clogged. What’s the best way to unclog the system?

The easiest way to clean equipment is to soak the pieces in hot water. You can add 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water to use as a cleanser. Scrub the equipment clean with a brush (i.e. toothbrush), removing any debris or build up. The cleaned pieces should then be rinsed thoroughly and dried.

How do I deal with algae build up in my hydroponic system?

The best method is prevention. If you keep the solution away from light by keeping the lids closed and all openings sealed, you can prevent algae from growing. If you are using rockwool, you can also use block covers or coco caps. If you already have algae in the system though, you can remove it with a brush, or use hydrogen peroxide (3ml of 3% H2O2 per gallon of solution) to remove it. If there are particles floating in the nutrient solution, be sure to flush the reservoir and growing chamber with ample water, and then start with a new batch of nutrient solution. If the problem is severe, make sure you have the algae completely flushed out to avoid the risk of clogging some of the flow lines in the system.

What are Grow Rocks/Hydroton?

Derived from clay, which is a renewable and plentiful source, Hydroton and/or “Grow Rocks” are considered an ecologically sustainable growing medium. The clay is formed into pellets and fired in rotary kilns at 1200°C, causing the clay to expand like popcorn and become porous. Hydroton growing media is light in weight, does not compact, and is completely reusable. It can be cleaned, sterilized, and re-used though it is not recommended to re-use it more than twice. They are inert, pH neutral, and do not contain any nutrients. The pellets drain freely and do not hold excessive water, which is why they provide good oxygen levels to the roots and why they are perfect for flood and drain systems. In drip irrigation systems Hydroton can be mixed with another medium with better capillary action so the nutrient solution is dispersed completely through to prevent salt build-up. Hydroton is a substitute for normal plant-soil and is mainly used in hydroponic systems, as well as for decoration.

What is Coco?

Coco is an organic medium made from coconuts, which is a sustainable source. Coco is the “coir fiber pith” or “coir dust” bi-product produced when processing coconut husks for their long husk fibers. The coir dust is washed, heat treated, screened and graded before being processed into various Coco products for Horticultural and Agricultural use. Its advantages are that it is lightweight, and relatively inert with a pH of 5.0-6.8. This makes it a great amendment for alkaline garden soils. Coco is used for seed starting, bedding plants, planters, gardens, container plants, and anywhere you can use peat moss. Coco is a multipurpose growing medium that is used by Potting Mix Suppliers, Seedling Nurseries, Hydroponic Growers, and Golf Green Constructors. Coco is a natural alternative to mined peat moss, therefore using it helps slow down peat extraction from environmentally sensitive swamps worldwide. As a growing medium, Coco outperforms most popular brands of Peat and Sphagnum Peat. However, coco does come in various grades and can actually be harmful to plant growth if it contains salt water residues from poor processing, so it is important to do your research before you make a purchase. Coco holds water rather than shedding it like traditional peat does, so it retains water 8-9 times its own weight. Coco also has the ability to store and release nutrients to plants over extended periods of time. The many properties of coco make it resistant to bacterial and fungal growth, and it has great oxygenation properties that are important for healthy root development as well. Coco is very slow to disintegrate, whereas peat breaks down within two years after application. Coco does not begin to break down until it becomes 10 years old and can even be reused for up to 4 years, therefore offering long term benefits to end users.

What is Rockwool?

Rockwool is a man-made mineral fiber. The vast majority of Rockwool used in the world is used for insulation purposes much like fiberglass. However, in the early 1960s it was discovered that after several modifications to the manufacturing process Rockwool would support and, under the right handling practices, promote plant growth. This specially produced horticultural Rockwool is what is sold presently as a hydroponic medium. Rockwool is manufactured by melting basaltic rock at 1600 degrees Celsius, and spinning the melt into fibers, very similar to the process of “cotton candy”. Immediately following spinning, a binder is added to the fibers and they are compressed and cured into large slabs. Depending on the amount of pressure applied, the density of the media is adjusted. The large slabs can be cut into smaller slabs and blocks for easy handling. The spun fibers are also formed into a granulated product which can be handled in a manner similar to bales of peat. All Rockwool is not the same. The best Rockwool is produced from pure basaltic rock (diabase).Rockwool produced from diabase has a mineral balance that is inert and nonreactive. There is someRockwool that is produced from slag that is left over from smelting operations. These Rockwools contain high proportions of metal and may be reactive to nutrient solution. High quality Rockwool should have a uniform fiber diameter, even binder distribution, and a low proportion of shot (mineral pellets that have not been spun into fibers).

The most important quality a high grade Rockwool should have is uniform wetting. The Rockwoolshould wet easily but not remain water-soaked. Good drainage is very important. The wetting characteristics of Rockwool vary considerably. Rockwool fibers are naturally hydrophobic (they repel water) because of the presence of mineral oil. In the highest quality Rockwool the mineral oils are removed during the manufacturing process and mineral wetting agents are incorporated in the melt. This form of horticultural grade Rockwool naturally attracts water and wets easily. While this is the highest quality process the actual quality of the Rockwool will depend upon the care taken in manufacturing. Some manufacturers simply add or provide a chemical surfactant (essentially a refined soap) that allows the naturally hydrophobic Rockwool to hold water. The major drawback to this approach is that the wetting agent must be supplied regularly or it may wash out. The best way to determine the quality of various Rockwool that is available is to test them. See if the wetting is uniform or if there is a large proportion of shot. If you want to try a new product it is worth taking the time to test it.