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Grow Tips Newsletter

Hydroponic Systems

Higher yields through Hydroponics?

Plants grown using hydroponics can grow 30% larger and faster than plants grown in soil. The key to such remarkable growth is the ROOTS increased ability to take in oxygen.  Aeroponics is even more efficient than Hydroponics and can produce plants 30-40% larger than Hydroponic systems. The most effective root medium is the one which delivers the most oxygen to the roots. A dense soil may only deliver 30% oxygen to the roots, while a soilless mix will deliver up to 50%, and hydroponics will deliver around 75% oxygen. With aeroponics the sky is the limit, you literally receive 99% possible oxygen to the roots. We have measured aeroponic plant growth against soil, soilless mix and hydroponic drip. The aeroponic system doubles the growth rate of plants as compared to a soil system, and is about one-third faster than a hydroponic system. 

More oxygen = increased metabolic rate = increased nutrient intake = more growth!

There are several different kinds of hydroponic and aeroponic systems on the market.
The Ebb and Flow System  (Flood and Drain)
The Ebb and Flow system is particularly popular with growers who want to change feeding schedules throughout the plants lifecycle, especially those cultivating mother plants. It uses a submersible pump in the nutrient reservoir to pump nutrients into an upper tray containing the plants.  The theory of “flood and drain” is very simple:  When the pump is switched on, the nutrient solution is pumped up to the upper tray and it floods the root system, getting rid of any old air that was in the root-zone.  Once the nutrient solution has reached the maximum level, it starts to drain back into the reservoir via an overflow pipe.  As the nutrient solution drains back down into the reservoir, the root-zone takes in a fresh supply of oxygen rich air and stale air is pushed out.

Clay pebbles (RCK-10) are often used in ebb and flow systems.  The tray is filled with pebbles and young plants grown up in rockwool cubes (PC1x1C) are inserted into the pebbles once roots start showing.
Some gardeners in the UK grow their plants in pots filled with coco coir and clay pebbles, or a mixture of small chunks of rockwool and clay pebbles, and sit these pots in the flood tray – the capillary action of the roots take up the nutrients they need in a similar way to the passive pot hydroponics method described earlier.

Active Ebb and Flow is a low maintenance hydroponics solution, which offers growers more control and great results are possible.  Two key factors to get right are the automatic flood times and flood frequency.
When working out how long to flood for, remember the extra time it takes for the nutrients to drain back into the reservoir.  Ideally, you won’t want to be using a standard 15 minute segmental timer to control your pump as fifteen minutes (plus drainage time) is too long for the root-zone to be without oxygen – a negative to basic ebb and floods.  Obviously flood times will vary depending on the size and exact type of the system you are using, but as a general rule of thumb, once the nutrients have flooded to their maximum level (delimited by some form of overflow drainage mechanism that will be incorporated into the system) then it’s time to stop pumping.   All good Ebb and Flow systems will come already supplied with the correct type of pump – one that allows the nutrient solution to drain back through it.
The required flood frequency will increase as your plants mature and their nutrient requirements increase.  During the early stages, one flood a day might be sufficient.  Whereas, towards the end of flowering period your plants may require four or more floods a day.  Also, consider what medium you are using.  How much does it absorb the nutrient solution?  A restrictive medium like coco coir will need a lot fewer floods than clay pebbles, for example.
Ebb and flow moves a lot of water around.  It may sound like an obvious thing to say but just make sure the reservoir is sturdy and fit for purpose.  A couple of friends of mine were growing in an attic using a huge old second-hand nutrient tank which had two trays sat on top of it rather than one.  They hadn’t noticed that it was already a little warped.  During the flood cycle, the weight of top trays caused the tank below to crack and …… the rest of the story is very wet indeed…

Ebb and flow systems are not always based on a grow tray.  Some ebb and flow systems work by connecting a series of special pots to a reservoir tank.  (Often referred to as a ‘multipot’ system).  The nutrient solution is pumped to each pot via a network of hosing.  Each pot acts like its very own mini flood and drain system.  Plants sit in an upper pot, which sits on a slightly larger lower pot.  Nutrients are pumped into the lower pot – the base of the upper pot is perforated so that the plant roots can feed.
There are several different types of ‘multipot’ systems on the market (Ebb and Gro) (Ebb Monster).  Consider the number and size of the plants you wish to grow and measure this against the size of the pots used by the system you are considering.  In the early stages when your plants’ root systems are minimal, be sure that the flood height achieved by the system actually meets their roots.  Otherwise, you can help things along a bit by hand watering for a few days.  It’s also worth ensuring that your multipot system drains as well as it floods.  Often it’s possible to make a few simple tweaks to optimise any given system for your particular environment – such as raising the plants up a few inches higher on a platform, so that gravity helps drain any run-off nutrients out of the pipe work and back into the reservoir.

Various systems are available as 4, 6, 12, 24, 36, or 48 pot systems.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The Nutrient Film Technique or NFT is also known as a ‘pure water culture’ technique insofar as the plants’ roots are not grown in any solid medium such as coco.  Although saying that, many growers start their plants off in rockwool cubes, and then sit them within an NFT system.  The roots are contained in a plastic trough or tube through which nutrient solution is constantly circulated.

As implied by the name, the depth of the nutrient stream is very shallow – just a couple of millimeters.  This is to make sure that the roots have lots of access to oxygen.

So how do you create this “nutrient film”?  Well, first of all the nutrients are pumped from the reservoir into the trough where the roots are sitting.
The bottom of the trough needs to be inclined at a very slight angle.  Nutrient solution enters the trough at the top of the incline, and gravity pulls the nutrients along the trough.  The run-off nutrient solution then re-enters the reservoir. Modern systems use special pumps which aerate the nutrient solution

NFT gives tremendous results.  It is the arguably the easiest active hydroponic method to use because there are no watering schedules to calculate – once you are set up you just check pH levels and keep the tank topped-up. The plants just take what they need, when they need it and whatever they don’t need flows away so there is no chance of under-watering or over-watering – the biggest challenges facing growers.

It is important not to buy a cheap pump because if the pump fails plants can dry up quickly in an NFT system as there is no growing medium surrounding the roots to provide a fall-back, although the capillary matting provides some safeguard.  One of the great things about NFT is the lack of growing medium, although  this means there is less natural insulation around the roots to provide protection against extremes in temperature. So an NFT system with a thermostatically controlled heater is a good option.

Dripper Irrigation
A Recirculating Dripper System.
A dripper system can either be recirculating or run-to-waste.  Nutrient solution is fed from the reservoir via a pump along some piping.  This piping sometimes terminates in a “dipper ring” where it typically feeds one plant, or it splits off (usually via an adaptor) into several narrower pipes and into “dripper spikes” to feed multiple plants.  These spikes are inserted into the growing medium by each plant site.  Nutrient solution drips out of the dripper spike and into the growing medium.  Adjustable dripper spikes allow you to individually adjust the drip rate to each plant.  Any excess nutrient solution needs to be fed either back into the nutrient solution (recirculating) or to a waste point (run-to-waste).

Many active hydro drip irrigation systems offer the precision and control of hydroponic feeding combined with the flexibility of growing in pots.
Pots are placed on a support tray that rests on a nutrient tank and periodically nutrient solution is delivered to each plant through a dripper to each pot. So for those of you who prefer to grow in pots this method spares you the hours and hours needed to manually feed. If you don’t want to grow the number of plants supplied with a particular system you can simply remove some of the pots!

You can find systems in various sizes (4, 8, 10, 16, and 20 pot systems) – make sure you check that the dripper supplied are compatible with the media you want to grow in.  Some manufacturers generous supply a range of drippers to suit different media.

Another great example of a self-contained recirculating dripper system is the Aquafarm and Waterfarm by General Hydroponics.  Both systems work on the same principle – they differ only in size and price. Plants are grown within a chamber filled with clay pebbles. The growing chamber is suspended above a reservoir filled with nutrient-enriched water. An air pump drives the nutrient solution up through the “pumping column”, to the drip-ring, where it then drips down through clay pebbles. This infuses the nutrient with oxygen and constantly bathes the roots.

Some growers increase the diameter of the drainage holes in the top pot first to allow the root systems more space!

Remember, as with all recirculating systems, keep an eye on rising CF and fluctuating pH and change the nutrient solution regularly.

Aeroponics (AeroPro 4)
Aeroponics is simply the fastest way to grow the healthiest biggest plants you can imagine. There are several aeroponics systems on the market but in reality most of them are simply NFT systems. The best performing aeroponic system on the market is the AeroPro system. There are several benefits that the AeroPro System offers that others do not.

AeroPro Benefits:

With aeroponics there is no medium, roots actually hang in the air and are periodically bathed with a nutrient mist. This means that roots can grow larger quicker and absorb more nutrients and oxygen than any other growing system. Oxygen is essential to the health of roots. Nothing compares to the oxygen uptake of AeroPro plants. The oxygen rich environment speeds up the roots ability to uptake nutrients.

There is also less chance of root zone disease, because there's no material for debris or pathogens to reside. An AeroPro indoor garden does not require the use of pesticides or herbicides and that makes the herbs or vegetables grown this way healthier , better for the environment and taste better.

The AeroPro system uses 95% less water than soil grown plants. Plants are periodically misted with a nutrient rich water, After the water runs off the root system the water drains back into the main resevoir ensuring no waste of water or nutrients. Plants grown in the Aeropod system will uptake more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and providing for massive yields.

The growth rate of aeroponic growing is unmatched. Not only will your yields be larger but you will shorten your growing cycle by using the AeroPro system. Plants grow faster in an AeroPro system because they are able to assimilate nutrients rapidly and completely. Roots are able to take in food nearly as fast as the plant is able to use it. Take tomatos for example. Growers usually start tomato plants in pots and wait at least 28 days before transplanting them. Using the AeroPro system, growers can start their plants in the growing chambers, and transplant them in under 10 days later. With the AeroPro system you can grow six tomato crop cycles per year, instead of the traditional one to two crop cycles.

No need for pesticides. No more growing medium to buy and discard in the land fills. 95% less water used than soil, less nutrients to buy. less energy cost because our system only runs for 1 minute of every 5 minutes. Every part of the AeroPro system can be used over and over again.

Aeroponic systems are customarily built using 5” tubes or shallow trays that provide very limited room for root growth. With the aeropod systems 27 gallon grow pods the roots have virtually unlimited room to grow. The AeroPro system produces massive roots that can be 8 inches in diameter and 18 inches long.

Your typical aeroponic unit is stationary. Once the system is set up it can be difficult to tend to the plants in the middle of the system. With the AeroPro mobile design you will always be able to access all of your plants. Each Aeropod (6 plant sites) can be rearranged to fit your individual plants and there growing cycles.

The aeropod system produces exceptionally large plants which is the why we offer custom built detachable screens with each aeropod system. The fruit or flowers from your plants will become so heavy you must support the weight of the branches. We include screens because your going to need them.

Other aeroponic systems have 1 sprinkler per plant. This can result in dry areas in your root system. The AeroPro system has 2-3 micro misters directed to every plant site ensuring complete coverage and the healthiest roots possible.

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