Once you’ve set up the basic mechanics of a hydroponic system, it begs a few other questions: What kind of nutrients are needed for the plants? What’s the most suitable pH level and how to adjust it? What kind of water pump is needed to maintain the water level and many more. In everything in life before you dedicate yourself to something, it’s always essential to do sufficient research and be prepared for it. Likewise, when it comes to gardening and farming, while knowing the fundamentals are important, perhaps knowing the nuances of the craft would prove to be even more important if you wish to truly excel at it. Hence, we’ve constructed a list to answer some of the less common FAQs regarding hydroponics to help you along your agricultural journey.
1. Necessary Nutrients
The number one mistake to avoid is to not misunderstand nutrients here as an added, optional supplement. When we refer to nutrients in plants, it’s not equivalent to supplementary vitamins taken by humans. Instead, nutrients are just as important as a sustenance as water. Just that there’s an added distinction between hydroponic nutrients and regular nutrients for soil-based plants: Soil nutrients don’t contain all the necessary micro-elements required by plants. This is due to the majority of these micro-elements already present in the soil. Therefore, it removes the need to include them in the nutrients. However, since hydroponics removes soil from the equation, it’s essential for hydroponic nutrients to include these now missing micro-elements.
There are plenty of nutrient brands and types on the fertilizer market, ranging from dry to liquid form. When choosing the suitable fertilizer for your hydroponic systems, take into account the application process and your budget. Although liquid fertilizers are typically easier to administer, they are pricier whereas dry fertilizers are comparatively cheaper.
2. Hydroponics Chemistry
In conjunction with your fertilizer selection process, also take note of the pH level required by your plants. The absorption rate and absorption capacity of your plants’ roots depend greatly on the pH level of the hydroponic nutrient solution. If the nutrient solution falls out of the pH range, your plant wouldn’t be able to absorb it at all, regardless of the fertilizer’s quality; rendering it both useless and harmful to your plants. Therefore, ensure to perform daily checks on the pH range of the hydroponic system’s solution before buying the suitable fertilizer.
Testing can be done through two methods: the pH test kits and electronic pH test meters. Each method has its pros and cons.
Typically, many hydroponic supply stores would favor selling the electronic meters over the traditional test kits simply because it’s more profitable. They would push for the argument that the electronic meters are more accurate and the test kits’ measurements are harder to read. However, these claims are false. While accuracy is important, it’s unnecessary to have intensely specific or detailed readings. Ironically, electronic meters are also the ones notorious for giving bad readings even with proper care and maintenance. pH test drops are also often advised as verifications for electronic meters’ reading.
Hence, it’s more reasonable to just buy pH test kits from the get-go. They’re more reliable, have longer shelf lives, and are obviously easier to maintain. Best yet, it only costs between $6 to $8 depending on the store. A little goes a long way — you don’t need a lot of solution before performing the pH test. As little as ¼ inch and one drop is enough. As long as you receive a reading between 5.5 to 6.5, you’re good to go.
So what happens if your pH level falls outside of range? Well, this is where pH adjusters come into the picture. A gentle reminder: Ensure you purchase a hydroponics brand and not one for traditional agriculture. Don’t use household products either. They’re definitely not viable substitutes. Failing to use the appropriate hydroponics pH adjuster will contaminate your hydroponic solution.
Linking back to fertilizers, pH adjusters are similar in the sense that liquid is pricier than dry ones. Thus, it’s also recommended to opt for the dry pH adjuster — both pH up and pH down. The dry ones will last you for long if you’re smart with the quantity of each use.
3. Keeping a Good Water Circulation
Next, we move on to the water pump timers. Every hydroponic system needs a good pump timer to maintain the water pump’s frequency. Experts typically recommend 15 amp timers because they’re cheap and are more durable, thus lasting longer. Indoor-outdoor timers are also recommended because they are more water-friendly, acting as a barrier against fuse shortages.
Within the category of 15 amp timers, there are also the mechanical and digital categories. Needless to say, the digital ones are more expensive, therefore making the mechanical more preferred. Whatever memory is stored in the digital ones are extremely prone to loss if they run out of battery. In contrast, the mechanical timers have no problem safeguarding memory during power outages.
Lastly, each timer has its own default settings, depending on the number of pins around the dial. Obviously, having more pins offers you more options for on/off cycles. Additionally, opting for 15-minute minimums rather than the common 30-minute minimums will improve your timer flexibility.
With all that being said, when is a water pump timer necessary? Generally, it’s required for systems needing a schedule in maintaining their water flow such as Flood and Drain, Drip, Aeroponic, and NFT systems. The type of timer used depends on the cycles of the system. The same consideration also applies to the frequency of watering your plants within the hydroponic system too. Hence, conduct the necessary research on these two inquiries based on your hydroponic system to obtain more direct and tailored guides or explanations.
Although a great deal of advice and tips have been offered in this guide, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more aspects of hydroponics not yet addressed here that you should greatly consider. Properly understand and absorb the material presented here thus far to complement your further research on the topic of hydroponics. A good gardener or farmer is only as good as his/her preparation.