Category Archives: Hydroponics

Top 10 Tips for Preventing Pests

HydroponicsWhen it comes to protecting your plants from pests, there are a lot of ways to accomplish it. But which are actually proven techniques and which ones are just folk wisdom that really don’t work? This article will discuss the top ten pest prevention tips for a variety of bugs that target plants and give you techniques for making sure that pests never infest your plants in the first place, which is a much easier method than trying to get rid of them after the fact. As the folk saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and in this case, it definitely holds true. Here are ten tips for keeping pests away from your garden, plants and greenhouse.

Tip #1: Don’t plant too many of the same plant in a row. Instead, mix plants from different families and try to give off confusing scents. This will make it very difficult for insects to pinpoint where their favorite plants are. For example, plant onions next to peas, plant carrots next to broccoli or plant flowering plants next to ones that are edible, like tomatoes, basil and peppers. At the very least, add a few plants with strong flavors mixed in with your flowerbeds to protect them.

Tip #2: Cover your crops and keep them weeded. If you can cover your crops, this is a great way to keep out the pests. A plastic mesh cover will do wonders for keeping the pests out of your garden, and it is one of the least expensive ways to combat pests. Also, you want to keep the weeds out of your garden before you cover it, because a healthy garden is much less likely to attract pests in the first place. Weed your garden each and every week and make sure that the soil is clean.

Tip #3: Get some insects to take care of the problem for you. If you have a pest problem, introduce some insects into your garden or greenhouse that are predators and look at the pest insects as prey. There are many beneficial insects out there, and you can usually buy several different kinds at your local garden center or nursery. Small wasps can take care of caterpillars that are destroying your plants, ladybugs can take care of spider mites and there are many other species of insects that can clean up your garden for you. You’ll just have to determine exactly what your pest problem is and then find the right insects that will remove them for you. Also, make sure that you are planting flowers that your beneficial insects can take advantage of, like mint, chamomile and sweet alyssum.

Tip #4: Grow decoy plants so that the pests will flock to them first.

Tip #5: Then remove the insects or full decoy plants as needed.

This goes against the above tip to keep your garden weeded, but if you allow one weed to grow in the middle of your crops, the pests will choose it instead. There are many different plants out there that you can plant as a decoy that will attract a specific pest, so you’ll have to do your research to find out which one or ones you need. Here are a few to get you started.

  • Plant redroot pigweed to protect tomato plants against striped blister beetles.

  • Use arugula to attract flea beetles and protect your potatoes, eggplant and brassicas.

  • Use any bright yellow plant to attract aphids and keep them away from your tomato plants.

Remember, once you have gotten your pests to your decoy plant, you are going to need a way to remove them from your garden. Either remove the entire plant, or find a way to trap them so that you can remove them and take them somewhere far away.

Fotolia_79858653_XSTip #6: Set up some insect traps. The previous tip might be combined with this tip if you need a way to remove them, but for many pests, you can actually set up a stand-alone trap without having to resort to planting decoys. Use the attraction to shade that some pests have, like earwigs, pill bugs, slugs and snails and then remove the trap and get rid of the pests every morning.

Tip #7: Be aware of what your planting and what your pests actually are. For example, did you know that there are plants out there that are extremely insect-resistant? If you do your research, you can find plants that are just unattractive to most pests. Also, there are other pests than just insects that you should be aware of. You probably know that gophers, rabbits and other critters can cause havoc in your garden, but there are many other pests around as well.

Tip #8: Use a pesticide, but don’t use the ones that are chemically based. There are organic, natural pesticides out there now for just about any kind of pest, and they are generally harmless to the plants that you are spraying them on. Check with your local nursery and find out what natural pesticides you can use against a particular pest.

Tip #9: Organic mulches are great for preventing weeds, keeping the soil moist and improving the quality of your garden, but they are also home to all kinds of pests like pill bugs, sow bugs and slugs. If you are mulching, keep it at least two inches from the young seedlings or plants that you have transplanted.

Tip #10: Finally, cleaning up your garden can help with a pest problem. Get rid of fallen and rotten fruit, remove dead flowers and plants at the end of the growing season. While this might not seem like it will help, you would be surprised how much a little sprucing up at the end of the growing season can do when spring comes around again. That’s because larvae can live in these dead plants and rotten fruits and you are going to have a new cycle of infestation if you don’t clean them up once a year.

Types of Hydroponics

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in water and without soil. While soil is normally used as a medium for transporting water and as a base for anchoring the plants, hydroponics does away with it and instead uses different mediums entirely – even hanging the roots directly into the water in some cases.

This has many advantages as compared with other methods of growing plants and crops. For starters, it means that plants can be grown in areas where it otherwise would be impossible. It’s also particularly useful for growing plants indoors. Hydroponics ironically uses less water than regular agriculture too, which makes it much more eco-friendly and energy efficient.

So how does all this work? And how might you go about starting your own hydroponic farm?

The answer all depends on what type of hydroponics you’re interested in using. There are multiple different types of hydroponics and each works differently in order to keep the plants in place while at the same time providing the oxygen, water, light and nutrients they need.

As long as the plant is growing without soil and is using a nutrient solution, it’s considered hydroponic – the rest is open to interpretation.

Here we will look at some of the most popular types of hydroponics and how they work in a little more detail.

Deep Water Culture

Also called ‘DWC’ or ‘the reservoir method’, deep water culture is perhaps the simplest, easiest and most common method of hydroponic farming. If you have ever seen rows of hydroponic plants stored in (often white) containers, then you have probably seen DWC.

So how does this work? Basically, this system involves the plants being held in containers that allow the roots to remain suspended in the water. This water is of course a nutrient solution that has all the required vitamins and minerals dissolved into it.

To prevent the plants from drowning meanwhile, an aquarium pump is used to keep the solution oxygenated. It’s important to prevent light from penetrating these systems as this can otherwise wreak havoc. The main advantage of this type of system is that there is no drip or spray emitter which can otherwise risk getting clogged. This makes it a good choice for more ‘organic’ nutrients.

This is commonly used due to its simplicity and due to its scalability. However, as with all forms of force multiplier, it also increases the potential damage that can be caused by error. It only takes for your pump to fail and you can use all your plants and crops in as little as half an hour.

HydroponicsNutrient Film Technique

This type of hydroponic system is also called NFT and involves a continuous flow of nutrients which runs over the top of exposed plant roots. Here, the roots are kept on a slope which allows the water to keep trickling over due to the force of gravity.

Basically then, the roots are still given a chance to absorb the nutrients but because only the tips are covered in water, they are still able to breathe and there is no danger of drowning. This type of hydroponics encourages a rapid rate of growth.

Aeroponics

Aeroponics is different from many other forms of hydroponics in that there is no body of water involved. Instead, this type of hydroponics uses mist. Here, the plants are kept in an airtight container which will need to be glass to allow sunlight through. Then, the mist – which is made of the nutrient dense solution – will be sprayed over the plants and roots allowing them to absorb the goodness.

Interestingly there are actually two different types of aeroponics too. One uses a nozzle which emits the spray and thereby hydrates the roots. The second method uses a ‘pond fogger’. This second type of hydroponics needs a Teflon coated disc to reduce the amount of maintenance required.

There is also a commercialized version of aeroponics which is a great starting point for those looking to get involved for the first time. This is called the ‘AeroGarden’ and requires very little set-up. It comes with lots of support and supplies and is a very good introduction to aeroponics and hydroponics.

Wicking

Wicking is another good ‘entry level’ form of hydroponics that is great for beginners. Here, a material such as cotton is surrounded by a growing medium. This material is then used as a wick with one end in a nutrient solution and the other end added to the roots of the plant.

You can simplify this system even further too by using a material that works to wick fluids as the medium. This way, you can then use the top portion of that material as the growing medium and the bottom portion to absorb the water and nutrients.

While many different materials will work, materials like perlite or vermiculite. Less useful are even more absorbent materials like Rockwool, coconut coir and peat moss which disk absorbing too much moisture and thus suffocating the plants.

HydroponicsDrip System

Drip systems work by providing a very slow feed of nutrient solutions a growing medium. Rockwool, coconut coir and peat moss are good choices because they will slowly allow that medium to drain. This system is again simple but as mentioned earlier, there is a distinct risk of clogging which can be devastating.

Ebb and Flow

This system is also referred to as a ‘flood and drain’ system. It works by flooding the growing area with nutrients and water during short intervals and then draining that liquid. This gives the plants an opportunity to absorb the water and nutrients but also provides ample opportunity for them to breathe and recover. The pump here is hooked to a timer which allows precise control in order to provide the plants with just the right amount of nutrients.

This system is best for plants that are used to periods of being dry. In general, some plants are better suited to specific types of system and learning which these are can make life much easier.

Hydroponic Liquid Ingredients

HydroponicsAll hydroponic gardening systems require a nutrient liquid to provide the necessary nutrition to the plants. All nutrient manufacturers have a proprietary blend, but they all contain everything plants need to grow. Each commercial liquid will contain 15 of the 16 nutrients identified as essential to plant life, though the sources of those nutrients will vary depending on the manufacturer. Some nutrient solutions will be natural and organic solutions, while others will be a chemically based formula. Carbon is the only element you will not find in the nutrient solutions, as the plants will obtain that from taking carbon dioxide out of the air.

Water

Most of what you will find in hydroponic liquid is water – because the plants absorb the water from the solution to get the hydrogen and oxygen the plant needs to grow. The water should be clean and free of any dissolved solids. Ideally, the water’s pH needs to be somewhere between 5.5 and 7.0 pH.

Primary Nutrients in Hydroponic Liquid

Most fertilizers use nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous as the primary nutrition, because these are what plants need the most of. The ratio of nutrients will vary from plant to plant, and will also vary from growth stage to growth stage. Plants will require more phosphorus during germination. Potassium is required for photosynthesis. Nitrogen is required during the heavy vegetative stage.

Secondary Nutrients in Hydroponic Liquid

Plants require other nutrients in smaller amounts – including calcium, sulphur, and magnesium. Calcium is a part of the plant’s cell wall. Sulphur is a critical part of the plant’s proteins and vitamins. Magnesium is required for photosynthesis to take place.

What About Micro-nutrients?

These are nutrients the plant needs, but in much smaller amounts. Micro-nutrients include: iron, copper, chlorine, manganese, zinc, boron, and molybdenum. In small amounts, plants thrive. In large amounts, however, these nutrients can kill plants.

HydroponicsOther Nutrients

There are many other nutrients that though are not considered essential to plant life, are beneficial for keeping plants healthy and growing to their potential. These nutrients are sometimes, but not always, found in nutrient solutions to provide an extra “boost” to the plants. Other nutrients include: Cobalt, sodium, vanadium, and silicon. The additional nutrients may not be beneficial, depending on the plant(s) you grow – so check the nutrient solution to be sure it is the best option for your intended crop(s).

What Does pH Matter?

The pH of a nutrient solution must be just right for the plant to make the most of it. If the pH is too acidic, or too base, the plant may not get enough of certain nutrients, or may not make use of all the nutrients it has. To balance the pH for optimal plant growth, additional chemicals can be added to the solution. The pH balance will vary depending on crop, but for the majority of plants, a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal. Check the pH and adjust regularly.

Hydroponics and Root Length

HydroponicsHydroponic gardening makes it possible for those with little to no gardening space grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables without the use of soil. All you need is a container for growing, a liquid nutrient tank, and a grow light. While plants do grow differently in hydroponic gardens compared to outdoor gardens, the results are often better than a conventionally grown plant – making both the gardener and the chef happy.

Passive Hydroponic Systems

This type of hydroponic system feeds nutrients to the plants through a wick system. The nutrients are soaked through a wick and then passed to plant roots through contact. The self-watering plants allow for good growth. However, the plants being in pots promotes them becoming root bound. They are still considered hydroponic because plant nutrition comes from water, rather than soil. Passive hydroponic systems typically do not allow for the reuse of the nutrient solution, so you will have to adjust that accordingly to ensure the plants receive the adequate nutrition required to foster growth.

HydroponicsActive Hydroponic Systems

Active hydroponic systems use mechanics to move the water and nutrients. These systems provide plants with a nutrient rich water solution. Plants are contained with a soilless medium and anchored over the nutrient tank. The nutrient tank recycles the nutrient solution, so you can use and reuse it over and over. However, you will need to check and adjust the pH on a regular basis to ensure it remains within the safe range for the crops you are growing. For most plants, the ideal pH ranges from 5.5 to 6.5.

How the Hydroponic System Affects Root Growth and Length

Hydroponically grown plants have smaller roots than their conventional soil grown counterparts. This is because the nutrition the plant needs is so readily available. Roots grow to provide plant support, but because they are no longer the sole support for growth, they do not have to be as large.

Roots do not have to search for an adequate water supply in a hydroponic environment. As such, you’ll see the same healthy growth as other plant parts, but you will not see the long root growth you would find in a plant that was grown in conventional soil. Plants will have the ability to survive longer with adequate water and poor food than with adequate food and a lack of water. Shorter roots are an indication of the efficient delivery of water and nutrients to the plants. When compared to conventionally grown crops, the hydroponic root systems will always be shorter.

Growing Root Crops with Hydroponic Systems

If you want to grow a root crop, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, or turnips, a passive hydroponic system is best. These plants all do well when they receive adequate water. However, it is important to note that soil may play a role in the texture of the resulting root crop. Experiments with hydroponically grown root crops show that some of the vegetables are oddly shaped.

Soil vs. Hydroponics

HydroponicsIf you are into gardening, chances are you are most familiar with soil gardening – as it is the conventional method to grow plants. However, hydroponics gardening does not require the use of soil and instead relies on water to deliver nutrition to the plants. Hydroponics has several benefits compared to soil growth.

Worry Less About Plant Disease and Pests

By replacing soil with water, you remove the possibility of the plants getting many soil based diseases. As such, it will also remove a lot of pests typically associated with conventional gardening.

Weeding is Not Required

Without soil, you will not have weeds. When you do not have weeds, you don’t have to spend time weeding the garden.

Save Space

Plants need lots of room for the roots to spread when you grow them in soil. Because the hydroponic method gives plants more efficient nutrition, their roots are shorter. Therefore, the plants do not require as much as space to grow. This is an ideal set-up for people who have limited to no gardening space available.

Save Water

When grown in conventional soil, plants require a lot of water. Some of the water seeps into the ground. Some water evaporates out the soil. In other words, not much of the water is actually used by the plant. With hydroponics, a recirculating nutrient reservoir ensures the plant only takes what it needs at the time and leaves the rest in the reservoir for later use. The reservoir is covered so no evaporation can occur or seep from the bottom. As such, the same amount of water used to water a soil plant for a day can last for weeks in a hydroponic system.

Save Time

When in control of the hydroponic environment, you can speed up the plant growth. For instance, conventionally grown lettuce takes about two months to grow in conventional soil, while it can be grown in a month with a hydroponic system. Not only this, but you save time from not having to weed the garden, not having to focus on the time it takes to water and deal with pest control.

HydroponicsGet Control

With soil growth, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature to help your plants grow. In some climates where growing plants is difficult and limited, hydroponics can add variety to the possible crops you can grow. With hydroponics, you become the master of your plant environment. You are in control of the temperature, nutrient solution, humidity, and growth schedule. You are in control of when and how long your plants receive light. You are in control of when and what the plants are fed – and that control can make all the difference in the final harvest.

When you’re just getting started with hydroponic gardening, you don’t have to grow an entire food supply. Start with a few plants, maybe an herb garden, until you feel more comfortable with the idea. Research the requirements for the plants you are most interested in growing, and move on from there.