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Hydroponic Systems Information

In this Hydroponics "FAQS" Section, you will read the "Frequently Asked Questions" that our customers present to us, and, you will also read about Hydroponic Systems, Hydroponic Lighting and Plant Nutrients. Sit back in your chair, relax, grab a drink and read all about Hydroponics.

 

What does an Air Stone do?

Is it OK to leave my lights on 24 hours per day?

What is NPK, how does it affect my plants, and what combinations do I need?

Advantages of Hydroponics Growing

Hydroponics Plant Nutrients

Symptoms of Plant Nutrient Deficiency in Hydroponics Gardens

Photosynthesis and Light

 

What Does an Air Stone Do?

An air stone helps to provide oxygen to the nutrient solution.  This oxygen is extremely beneficial to the root zone and helps to promote fast, healthy growth as well as prevent disease.  This is one of the main reasons that plants growing in a hydroponic system grow so much faster than plants in soil.  If you are growing in soil you can still reap some of the rewards of oxygen by simply oxygenating your water before applying it to the soil.

 

Is it OK to leave my lights on 24 hours per day?

Natures Hydroponics does not recommend running lights 24 hours under any circumstances.  Your plants need a time to "rest" and grow.  This is achieved during the dark period.  Running your lights for 24 hour cycles may have a detrimental affect on your lighting system and your plants, not allowing them to develop properly.  In addition, many plant species do most of their feeding during the night, especially when daytime temperatures are high or humidity levels are low.

 

What is NPK, how does it affect my plants, and what combinations do I need?

   N - Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a unique element, as plants are able to take up nitrogen in the form of an anion (a negatively charged molecule) or a cation (a positively charged molecule).  Plants are able to take up nitrogen in as NO3 or Nitrates and NH4 Ammonium.  Plants require or consume more nitrates than ammonia.  A well balanced nutrient solution will have less than 10% of available nitrogen in the form of ammonia.  Nitrogen has many functions in the plant; it is found in proteins, chlorophyll, protoplasm and plant hormones.

Source - All premixed nutrients will have adequate nitrogen levels.  If a customer wishes to give his plants extra nitrogen in the vegetative stage then he can use Cal-Mag Plus at a rate of 1-2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per gallon.  This will supply the plant with 25-50ppm extra nitrogen, which is more than adequate.  Using Cal-Mag will also supply the plant with extra Calcium, Magnesium and Iron.  If a customer wishes to use an organic source of nitrogen then they can use Mexican Bat Guano.  Note that only 1% of the 10% of nitrogen in Mexican Bat Guano is readily available to the plant, the other 9% will slowly be released over a few weeks as the organic nitrogen is broken down.  Bat Guano cannot be used in NFT or aeroponic systems; it will also have a limited effect in ebb and flow and drip systems.  Bat Guano is ideal for soil growers.

Deficiency - Growth is slow, sparse and spindly.  The older leaves turn yellow and will eventually dry out and die.  The complete leaf will turn yellow, with no green veins.

Toxicity - The plants will produce excess foliage that will be dark green.  The plants will also be softer, disease and insect outbreaks will be severe (this will be due to a weaker softer plant).  The root system will also be underdeveloped.  High nitrogen levels can also retard flowering and fruiting, decrease in yields as flowers don't set and lower fruit quality.  Nitrogen deficiency and toxicity is rare and will not be a problem if growers use premixed nutrients and follow the directions for these nutrients.

   P - Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a very important nutrient for plants.  It is required by seedlings, newly rooted clones and flowering and fruiting plants.  Phosphorus is essential for the development of healthy roots, stimulation of flowering, ripening of fruits and seed production.  Phosphorus is also required for the hydrolysis of starch to sugar and for the synthesis of starch to sugars (also known as energy transfer).

Source - Again, premix nutrients will have adequate phosphorus for general plant growth.  Plants will need extra phosphorus when the plants begin flowering and fruiting.  This is why growers must change from a vegetative formula to a flowering formula.  The flowering formulas will have higher phosphate and potassium levels to help stimulate flowering, fruiting and seed production.  This all culminates in higher yields and better tasting produce.  Taste is increased because of higher synthesis of starch into plant sugars.  For a customer to really boost their yields of flowering and fruiting crops it is advisable for them to use a blooming enhancer.  Bloom Booster, Monster Bloom, Kool Bloom and PK13/14 are all products that will boost phosphorus and potassium levels.  Bloom Blaster and Monster Bloom must be applied at a rate of 1 teaspoon (5 grams) per 5 gallons of water.  Kool Bloom 1/4 teaspoon per gallon or 1 1/4 teaspoons per 5 gallons of water.  PK13/14 must be applied at a rate of 1 1/4 teaspoons (5ml) per gallon of water.  For organic growers, in the soil, Jamaican Bat Guano can be used at a rate of 2-3 (10-15 grams) tablespoons per gallon of water.

Deficiency - Plants are stunted and the leaves turn dark green to purplish color.  This is due to a buildup of Anthocyanin pigments.  These symptoms occur in the older leaves first.  Plant maturity will also be delayed and yields will be low.  Seed production is also severely affected.

Toxicity - Phosphorus toxicity is very difficult to diagnose.  Excess phosphorus will cause deficiencies of calcium, iron, copper and zinc.  This will cause confusing signals as other minerals may be showing signs of deficiencies even when adequate amounts of these minerals are present.

   K - Potassium

Potassium is the catalyst in plants.  It is important for the manufacture and transport of plant sugars/carbohydrates, increases the chlorophyll in leaves, regulates the opening and closing of the leaf stomata and aids in disease resistance, water uptake and ripening process of fruits.  Potassium is also found in the juice of fruits which contributes to an increase of fruit taste and fruit quality.

Sources - The sources of potassium are the same for Phosphorus above.

Deficiency - Symptoms occur in older leaves first with yellow blotches and in severe cases dead spots will occur.  Branches and stems will weaken and eventually become brittle.  Flowering and fruiting is diminished and yields are low and poor in quality.

Toxicity - leaf margins may burn in several cases, but often it will affect the uptake of magnesium and magnesium deficiencies will occur.

   Ca - Calcium

Calcium is as important as N, P and K.  Calcium is required in the roots, stems, leaves and fruits of plants.  It is found in every cell wall and is required for the absorption of nitrogen.

Sources - Most nutrient solutions will have adequate calcium for general plant growth.  If a customer is using RO water then they should consider using Cal-Mag Plus.  An application rate of 1-2 (5-10ml) teaspoons per gallon of water is sufficient to rectify any deficiencies.

Deficiency - Flower bud development is retarded, thus reducing yields, fruit size is decreased.  Roots die, leaving the plant open to root rot attack.  Young leaves show symptoms before older leaves.  The leaves can be deformed, and have yellow blotches which later turns into dead spots.

Toxicity - No visual symptoms; may cause magnesium deficiency.

   Mg - Magnesium

Magnesium is found in the chlorophyll molecule.  If a deficiency of magnesium occurs then magnesium is transported from the lower leaves to the new leaves.  Magnesium uptake is affected by the concentration of Potassium.  If high levels of potassium are applied then the amount of magnesium should increase, i.e. at the second week of flowering when blooming enhancers are used then Cal-Mag Plus should be applied.

Sources - Most nutrient solutions will have adequate amounts of magnesium.  If a grower is using RO water then Cal-Mag Plus should be used.

Deficiency - Older leaves, lower half of the plant's leaves show signs of yellowing.  The yellowing occurs between the leaf veins which remains green.

Toxicity - There are visual symptoms for magnesium toxicity.

   Si - Silicon

Accumulates mostly in the epidermal cells of a plant.  It is also found in other cell walls.  Silicon helps create hardier, heavier and stronger plants.  It has also been known to increase the plants resistance to fungal attacks.

Sources - Silica Blast and Pro-Tekt (both potassium silicate) and Pyrosol are the main sources of silicon.  Growers should take care when using these products as they will increase the pH of the nutrient solution, thus the grower will need to add pH Down to bring the pH back to 6.

Deficiency - Deficiencies of silicon have been know to reduce yields.

Toxicity - Not known.

   Why are some nutrients split into an "A" and "B" formula?

Nutrients are split into two formulations because the phosphorus, calcium and sulfur nutrients need to be separated from each other.  If this is not done, then the calcium and phosphorus, as well as the calcium and sulfur, in high concentrations, will react with each other to form calcium phosphate (cement) and calcium sulfate (gypsum).  Both calcium phosphate and calcium sulfate precipitate out of solution, forming a white precipitate (which will usually fall to the bottom of the reservoir), and are unavailable to the plants.  This will cause phosphorus, calcium and sulfur deficiencies in the plant.  Once these nutrients are mixed together in the reservoir they are at lower concentrations and also a pH balanced nutrient mix will prevent the three nutrients from reacting with each other.  This is another reason why balancing pH is extremely important.

Some nutrients are one part, such as FloraNova Grow and Bloom, and are extremely thick and need to be shaken well before mixing into the reservoir.  If these nutrients aren't shaken well before use then the precipitates that have formed at the bottom of the bottle aren't remixed into the solution.  This will cause deficiencies, slow growth and reduced yields.

Some nutrients also come in three parts.  This is done with some brands of hobby hydroponic nutrient formulas so that the grower can mix the three parts in different ratios to create different solutions for the vegetative and bloom stages, as well as for different types of plants, without having to switch to a different product.  Most commercial formulas, however, are two part (you'll never see a commercial hydroponic farm using a one or three part nutrient formula; they are primarily for hobby growers).

 

Advantages of Hydroponics Growing

There are many advantages of hydroponics growing.  These include:

      *  No more worries about having to till the soil or pull weeds for most hobby hydroponic gardens so there's less work..

      *  Soil borne disease is eliminated by not using a soil garden

      *  A hydroponic garden uses less water than a soil garden does because no water is wasted or consumed by weeds.

      *  In hydroponics, you are able to plant more in a concentrated area than soil grown produce.

      *  A small hydroponic garden can be set up almost anywhere.

      *  By providing the correct nutrients your plants need, they will mature more quickly and produce larger yields.

      *  It has been proven in studies that hydroponic produce has a higher nutritional value than field grown crops.

      *  Get ready to taste better produce with the hydroponic system versus most field-grown produce

      *  No worries about what time of year it is, you can grow your hydroponic plants on a year-round basis.

 

Hydroponics Plant Nutrients

Hydroponics Plant Nutrients blend the essential minerals needed to sustain a plant.  Without Hydroponics nutrients a homemade system would just not work.  And it would be best to not try using regular fertilizers that you would use for soil based plants.  When building a hydroponics system, get it to function properly and smoothly first and enjoy some success with it before you try experimenting.

 

Symptoms of Plant Nutrient Deficiency in Hydroponic Gardens

Homemade Hydroponics systems are especially prone to a plant nutrient deficiency.  It's easy to 'forget your count' when adding teaspoons of nutrient mix to water and accidentally 'short change' the plants.  If you find that your thriving plants are beginning to look less healthy, it could be due to nutrient deficiency.  Use the following chart that shows symptoms of plant nutrient deficiency, nutrient by nutrient.

 

 

Element Deficiency

Nitrogen

Leaves turn a very light color and start to turn yellow starting at the base of the plant first.  Plants growth slows dramatically.
Phosphorus Leaves turn a dark green or grey with blotches.  Long term deficiency results in poor root formation.
Calcium New leaves never develop and stay small and dry.  Long term deficiency stunts growth and causes poor root formation.
Magnesium Leaves turn yellow and develop brown spots but leaf veins stay green.  Buds do not develop.
Potassium Leaves turn brown with dark splotches then yellow and they curl up.
Sulphur Leaf veins turn yellow and leaves become very dark near the stem of the plant.
Boron Stems become torn with brown tips and leaves become spindly.
Iron Leaves dry out and turn crinkly while veins stay green.
Manganese Leaves develop a mottled appearance and growth virtually stops.
Zinc Growth rate of plant slows or stops entirely.
Copper, Molybdenum and other trace elements Leaves turn dark brown and fall off.

 

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