How to Analyze Soil Temps and Drainage
Soil temperature and water drainage rates are as important to a plant as sunlight and fertilizer. Learn how to analyze these key elements in your garden.
Locate the hydroponic system in an enclosed structure, such as a greenhouse or the basement of your house, or on an outdoor patio or deck. The floor should be level to ensure even coverage of water and nutrients to the plants in the system. If placing the system outdoors, protect the system from the elements, such as providing a wind barrier, and check the water levels more often due to water loss from evaporation. During cold temperatures, bring the hydroponic system indoors. If placing the system in an interior room of your house, add grow lights to provide supplemental lighting to the plants.
The system consists of six growing tubes made of 6" PVC pipe, a stand and trellis made of PVC, a 50-gallon nutrient tank, a pump and a manifold. The tank sits under the table of 6" PVC growing tubes, and the pump sits inside the tank to push nutrients up to the plants via a manifold of smaller PVC pipes and plastic tubes. Each growing tube has a drainpipe that leads back to the tank. The manifold sits on top of the pipes and sends pressurized water to the tubes. To get the nutrients to the plants in this system, water is pushed through a square of PVC, the manifold, and then gets shot out to small plastic tubes that run inside each of the larger growing tubes. The nutrient tubes have very small holes in them, one hole between each plant site. The nutrients shoot out the hole and spray the plant roots. At the same time, the jet of water makes air bubbles so the plants get enough oxygen.
Fill the 50-gallon tank with water. Then add two cups of nutrients to the tank (or as recommended by the fertilizer label), turn on the pump and let the system run for about 30 minutes to get all of the nutrients thoroughly mixed.
One of the easiest ways to plant a hydroponic garden is to use purchased seedlings, especially if you don't have time to grow the seeds yourself. The key is to choose the healthiest plants you can find and then remove all of the soil off their roots. To wash the dirt off the roots, submerge the root ball in a bucket of lukewarm to cool water (Image 1). Water that's too warm or too cold can send the plant into shock. Gently separate the roots to get the soil out. Any soil left on the roots could clog up the tiny spray holes in the nutrient tubes.
After the roots are clean, pull as many roots as you can through the bottom of the planting cup and then add expanded clay pebbles to hold the plant in place and upright (Image 2). The expanded clay pebbles are hard, but they're also very light so that they don't damage the plant roots.
Use the plant clips and string to tie the plants to the trellis. The string will give them support to climb straight up, which helps to maximize the space in this confined area. Tie the string loosely to the top of the trellis (Image 1), attach the clips and string to the base of each plant (Image 2) and gently wind the tips of the plants around the string.
Check the water levels daily; in some regions, it may be necessary to check it twice a day, depending on water loss due to excessive heat and evaporation. Check the pH and nutrient levels every few days. Because the pump runs full time, you don't need a timer, but make sure the tank doesn't dry out or the pump will burn up.
A few weeks after planting, the plants will completely cover the trellis because they'll have all the water and nutrients they need to grow quickly. It's important to keep a close eye on plant growth and tie or clip the plant stalks every few days.
Look for signs of pests and diseases, such as the presence of insect pests, chewed leaves and foliar diseases. One diseased plant can swiftly infect all the other ones since they are so close to each other. Remove any sick plants immediately. Because plants grown hydroponically don't have to spend their energy trying to find food, they can spend more time growing. This helps them to be healthier and stronger because they can use some of that energy to fight off diseases. Since the leaves of the plants never get wet unless it rains, they're much less likely to get leaf fungus, mildew and mold.
Even though hydroponic plants are good at fighting off diseases, they still have to fight pests. Even if it's hydroponic, insects and caterpillars can nevertheless find a way into the garden. Pick off and dispose of any bugs you see.