Since hydroponic plants can't get their nourishment from soil and additives such as manure, compost, and chemical fertilizers, they have to get their nutrients straight from the solution they are watered with.
Hydroponics can also refer to growing plants in aggregate media such as sand, gravel, and coconut oil. The nutrients needed to sustain these plants are either macronutrients or micronutrients. Plants need these elements to build molecules, go through enzymatic reactions, and complete their life cycle.
Without these proper nutrient solutions, hydroponic growers would not be able to cultivate flowers, fruits, or vegetables - anything that they produce would be considered sub-par.
What Are The Types Of Hydroponic Nutrients?
Hydroponic nutrients have two categories: micronutrients and macronutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients that plants need in larger amounts. These include oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sodium, carbon, potassium, sulfur, calcium, and magnesium.
Micronutrients are nutrients that plants need in smaller amounts. Iron, copper, zinc, boron, nickel, molybdenum, chlorine, and manganese.
Plants need to have both to achieve maximum plant development. These nutrients are critical for plant growth - for instance, magnesium is a crucial component of chlorophyll, a pigment that captures energy from light required in photosynthesis. Chlorophyll also reflects green wavelengths - it's the main reason most plants are green.
Importance Of pH In Hydroponic Nutrients
The pH value of a hydroponic nutrient solution is crucial since it has a major impact on the amount of nutrition that your plants can absorb. You have to check the pH levels of your nutrients regularly, daily, preferably. You can't be too careful enough to mix and measure your hydroponic nutrient solution correctly.
There are slightly different pH value requirements and nutrient concentrations for different plants. You need to look up the requirements for each if you are planning to grow a wide variety of plants in your hydroponic garden. You need to do this to group your plants according to their needs.
Importance Of Temperature In Hydroponic Nutrients
The needs of your plants in general hydroponics can also change under different environmental conditions such as temperature, weather, and season. This is not an issue if you are growing your plants in an indoor setup, but this is something you have to consider carefully if your hydroponic garden is located outdoors.
You have to keep your nutrient solutions at stable temperatures, ideally at room temperature, between 70 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, this is for those growing in an outdoor system, with plants exposed to the elements.
To keep your nutrient solution warm during the winter season, you can use miniature water haters that have access inside your reservoir.
During summer, keep your reservoir in a shaded area and top it off with cool water periodically. This is usually enough to keep your nutrient solution from getting too hot.
Should You Go For Pre-made Or Homemade Hydroponic Nutrients?
You have two choices when it comes to getting your hydroponic nutrient solutions. You can shop for a pre-made one, or you can mix your own. It will depend on your growing needs. Hobbyists and smaller farms usually buy powder concentrates or premixed liquid nutrient solutions for their hydroponic system.
Meanwhile, large-scale farmers or growers tend to mix their hydro nutrients tailored to their specific growing needs or the kind of plants they are growing. They usually use bulk concentrates of separate chemical compounds.
Premixed concentrates are usually packaged in two separate bottles. One bottle is for the macronutrients, while the other is for the micronutrients. The nutrients are separated because some of their elements are incompatible with each other when in their concentrated form. Mixing them will cause precipitation. Once the solutions are diluted, this is not a problem and can be used together without problems.
Premixed concentrates that come in single packs are from manufacturers who have managed to contain the incompatible nutrients in a chemical complex so they would not mix.
Twin or triple pack solutions are commonly the best options for hydroponics. These solutions are simple to mix and need just a few materials. You need a container to mix them all in using a dedicated measuring cup, plus a stirrer. You can do away with the stirrer if your mixing container already has a lid - you can shake the container for mixing.
The right measurement for mixing is usually 3.5 mL of each concentrate per liter. Always double-check the mixing instructions indicated on the bottle before doing anything.
You may prefer to mix your different nutrients in very large quantities, depending on the size of your system. Those 55-gallon drums make great mixing buckets for this purpose. You can store enough hydroponic nutrient solutions to nourish your reservoir for weeks.
If you only have a smaller system or can't accommodate a large mixing container in your limited space, you can mix your nutrient solution on an as-needed basis. After mixing, let your nutrient solutions settle and rest for a few minutes. Afterwards, check the pH and adjust if needed.
Starting your nutrients with the perfect pH will result in easier maintenance. Every time you mix your solution, you can measure the number of pH Up or pH Down drops. Just add that much to the water before mixing your hydroponic nutrients concentrate.
What Are The Nutrient Deficiencies To Watch Out For?
Hydroponic systems tend to be less forgiving than soil-based systems, which means higher risks of nutrient deficiency for your hydroponic gardens. This is why it's critical that as a grower with a hydroponic garden, you have to be very particular about the composition of the nutrient solution and the status of the plant nutrients.
Watch out for these common symptoms of plant issues:
Soluble Salts Damage
Soluble salts damage is primarily caused by the following: poor water quality, over-fertilization, inadequate leeching, or accumulation of salts in aggregate media after some time. Because fertilizers are salts, they are most often fertigated in hydroponic systems.
If not adequately leached, soluble salts can accumulate within aggregate media as water evaporates. Irrigation water can also contribute to the problem since the water is high in soluble salts.
If your plants are wilting despite adequate irrigation, it could signify soluble salt damage. This is caused by excessive soluble salt levels in the planting media, which results in chemical-induced drought. Other symptoms to look for are the death of plant roots, dead and burned leaf margins and dark green foliage.
You can detect soluble salt levels by tracking irrigation water and nutrient solutions' electrical conductivity (EC). You should also monitor or measure the leachate, a nutrient solution that gets drained from the planting container.
The cure for this condition is leaching soluble salts with clear water. Do this after identifying where the high soluble salts are coming from.
Nitrogen deficiency results from nutrient imbalance, under fertilization, or too much leaching. Signs of this plant health problem are the presence of light green foliage and the overall stunting of the plants. Leaves are also wilting, dead, or have yellow leaf margins.
To prevent nitrogen deficiency, you have to measure and monitor nutrient solutions' electrical conductivity (EC). Adjust the levels of EC if they are low or high. Fix the problem by adding more nitrogen to your nutrient solutions. Check also for excessive amounts of antagonistic nutrients in your nutrient solutions.
Calcium deficiency happens if your plants are under fertilized or have a nutrient imbalance, or have low pH levels. The problem can also result from low airflow, high temperature, and moisture management. Calcium is transported through the plant via water-conducting tissues since it's a mobile nutrient.
Take note that leaves and fruits compete for water. High temperatures and low humidity can lead to increased transpiration rates and movement of the leaves. When this happens, the fruits themselves can get calcium deficiency.
If you see brown leaf margins in new plant growth or under the fruit, it could signify that your plant has a calcium deficiency. Typical examples are blossom end rots and dead brown spots in pepper and tomatoes. Later on, you may also spot dead brown spots on the plant's leaves.
The solution here is to adjust the pH levels between 5.0 and 7.0 in nutrient solutions. Put fertilizers if needed. If you have a greenhouse setup, you can break the plant boundary layer and elevate the transpiration rate by introducing horizontal airflow at 0.3 to 1 m/s at the plant levels. Greenhouses tend to have low airflow, so you need it to be uniform for equal plant growth.
Aside from nutrient imbalance, high pH and irrigation water is a common causes of iron deficiency. It manifests in plants as yellowing between the veins of the leaves, which can be spotted first on new plant growth. You can detect this nutrient deficiency by monitoring media and conducting plant analysis. Correcting the pH of your nutrient solution is the common cure for iron deficiency.
Is Hydroponics Safe For Production and Human Consumption?
Your hydroponic garden system will feed the nutrients directly to your plants without using nutrient-rich soil. One advantage of hydroponics over traditional soil is that the latter, while an efficient nutrient source, is also a source of harmful temperature fluctuations, pests, and soil-borne diseases. To ensure an abundant harvest, you often have to use harsh pesticides on your plants.
Water plus nutrients are all you need for a hydroponic solution, which makes it cleaner - you don't have to stress about your food supply or immediate environment being invaded by foreign contaminants.
Is Hydroponic Systems Safe For The Environment?
There are several reasons why hydroponics is considered an eco-friendly gardening solution.
First, the setup needs only 10% of the water needed for soil. The water supply is cycled repeatedly in a hydroponic system to deliver nutrients to the plants. This means there is far less water loss involved in this setup.
Second, you don't have to use pesticides in your hydroponic garden. Most hydroponic systems don't require it, which is just as well since pesticides can harm the ecosystem by killing nearby plant life, and damaging the soil, not to mention the adverse health effects that go with it.
Third, you don't need to have topsoil for a hydroponic system, which means there's no risk of experiencing topsoil erosion. With hydroponic gardening, you can preserve valuable land, as opposed to traditional gardening, in which you have to constantly till the land that will eventually become unusable.
How to Find the Right Temperature For Your Nutrient Solutions
It would be best if you were particular about nutrient solution temperature to ensure a healthy and safe growth cycle for your hydroponic garden. You don't want to end up with spoiled fruits or wilted plants, which will happen if you fail to maintain the optimal climate for growth.
Your plants should be kept at approximately 68 to 72 degrees, and make sure that you stay as close to this range as possible. It's all right for temperatures to dip below or above this range occasionally, but ensure that you regularly stick to the recommended range.
How to Choose Your Hydroponic Nutrients
Look for a solution that is intended for hydroponic garden use. You can't use soil nutrients since their nutrient composition is different from those of a hydroponic setup. Choose a hydroponic solution with the right nutrients needed for soilless plant growth. One example of such nutrients is nitrogen in its nitrate form. Hydroponics needs this since no soil can provide the usual nitrogen.
Organic VS Synthetic Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
Organic nutrients are usually the best options for hydroponic gardens. They can be the best hydroponic nutrients since they are made from all-natural plant and animal byproducts, including fish emulsion and bone meal.
On the other hand, synthetic nutrient solutions are made of harsh chemicals such as sulfates, phosphates, and others created in the lab. Both types of nutrients solutions have the same value of nutrients, but the organic option is usually preferred over synthetics.
Powder VS Liquid Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
Both powder and liquid solutions are safe to use, given that they contain optimal nutrient ratios. What will make the difference for growers are other factors such as personal preference, cost, and convenience.
Hobbyists and small-scale growers tend to go for liquid solutions since they are premixed and easy to use, although they cost a bit more. Large commercial growers usually use dry nutrient solutions with minerals that must be mixed and diluted properly. Dry nutrients do cost less, especially when bought in bulk. This is a big plus if you are a commercial grower.
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