To get started, lets cover the basic needs of plants:
- Minerals (Nutrients)
- Proper temperature
- Proper pH
Plants need light, but hydroponic nutrients do not. Hydroponic nutrients are best kept in cool dark places for storage and use. Use dark colored U.V. resistant plastic for nutrient reservoirs to inhibit the growth of algae in your hydroponic system. Algae will not directly harm your plants, but it will use minerals from your nutrient solution that your plants need and cause your nutrient pH to drift.
Start with good water. Do not use softened water or chlorinated water to mix your nutrients.
Rain water is best with an EC (electrical conductivity) of about 10. RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water is next best with an EC of about 15-60, depending on the quality of the RO unit and the initial water quality. If you are not sure about your water, have it tested.
Plants need air for both their leaves and roots. Adequate ventilation of growing area and aeration of hydroponic nutrients in solution will help you to grow healthy and happy plants.
DO (dissolved oxygen) levels in hydroponic nutrients can be monitored with a DO meter available at pond supply stores. Try to keep dissolved oxygen levels at or preferably above 6ppm. The best way to aerate nutrient solutions is to use aquarium stones and air pumps, or by circulating nutrients or causing nutrient solutions to fall or flow.
Minerals and Nutrients
Always use hydroponic nutrients and not fertilizers that are for soil growing. General Hydroponics are a supplier of high quality hydroponic nutrients. If you are hoping to mix your own hydroponic nutrient, look for "solution grade" or "agricultural grade".
The optimum temp. is different for each type of plant. Hydroponic nutrients can be heated or chilled to maintain optimum growing conditions for each specific crop. A general target for temperature is 60-65 deg F. For hydroponic lettuce or living lettuce crops, any nutrient temp. below 58 degrees F will significantly impede growth, resulting in tough and chewy lettuce. Any nutrient temp above 75 deg F will cause growth to occur too rapidly, resulting in bitter tasting lettuce.
The pH of your nutrient is of utmost importance in hydroponics. If your nutrients pH drifts from the optimum range, certain nutrients will become unavailable to your plants. The best pH for each type of plant varies, but a good range for most hydroponic plants is from 5.8-6.2.
Keep good records of these variables and it will help you to fine tune your hydroponic nutrients to make the best of your hydroponic system. Weather you grow for food fun or commercially for profit, getting the maximum yield possible is always a good thing. In order to get the highest yield possible from your crops, you need to learn and practice techniques for good management of hydroponic nutrients. Remember to take good notes and keep things clean!
God Bless and Happy Growing!