10 Common Mistakes Made in Hydroponic Gardens
The skill of gardening takes years to understand before people learn how to maximize their crops. Hydroponic gardening may seem like a simple transition for those with prior experience with traditional methods, but mistakes still happen. The time spent understanding common mistakes before beginning can help to avoid frustration and extra expense. Listed below are ten of the most common mistakes new growers make when they begin a hydroponic garden.
#1. Not Enough Research
Hydroponic gardeners should know about the specific needs of the species included in their crop, but that is only the start. Research all hydroponic systems to find the most suitable option and then study everything about the chosen system. Learn about the various growing media, nutrients, lighting, and more. Talk to experienced growers, discuss the equipment with the retailers, and read multiple guides and websites.
Alternative methods and products regularly appear on the scene. The top people in any hobby or industry are those that stay aware of the latest developments and avoid putting themselves in a rut. Once people understand how their system works, it becomes much easier to incorporate innovative equipment into their room. The use of advanced tools can help to reduce growing time or create a more bountiful harvest. A failure to keep a growing system updated will reduce the potential for a business to grow.
#2. Skimping on Necessities
People often search for the least expensive options when they set up a new hydroponic garden. It is understandable to want to save money, but sometimes the inadequacies of inexpensive equipment can damage a crop. Poor lighting or insufficient fertilizer could stunt the growth of the plants. Faulty equipment could even destroy the crop entirely. Most times, it is possible to lose more money through these mishaps than the savings people expected when they bought a cheaper piece of equipment.
A better choice on a limited budget is to start small. Buy the best items possible with the money available and add more equipment as time passes. Consider the time and money potentially wasted on troubleshooting or repairing cheap equipment. Do not skimp on necessities like an inadequate amount of lighting to afford more plants. The decision could cause a failure in the crop and make it unaffordable to continue.
#3. Infrequent pH Testing
All crops rely on a pH level of between 5.5–6.5 to allow the best absorption of nutrients into the roots of the plants. A pH level too high or too low can cause plant damage. Some crops may thrive more from an alkaline environment and others in an acidic environment, but nearly all will do well when the pH levels remain in the 5.5–6.5 range. Acids raise a pH level and a base lowers the number.
Daily measuring during the initial setup enables the grower to see the effects of the modifiers used to balance the pH level. The constant observation also allows the individual to see firsthand how the water, fertilizer, and the growth of the plants affect the pH level. Less frequent testing can take place once the gardener becomes familiar with their crops and comfortable with their growing system.
There are three basic ways to test pH levels. Growers can use basic and affordable litmus strips, an electronic meter, or a liquid testing kit. The meter and the liquid kits are usually the most accurate but are often more expensive than the strips. Many people prefer meters because it gives a numerical reading as opposed to forcing the grower to decipher the color. If choosing a meter, learn how to recalibrate it and remember to do so weekly.
#4. Failing to Clean
Establish a daily cleaning schedule in a hydroponic garden to remove any dead or dropped plant matter. Flush the system at least once a week to prevent reduce the risk of clogs. Wash and sanitize all surfaces about once a week to remove any biological debris that could encourage bacteria to grow. A clean and sanitized room protects people and plants.
An overgrowth of bacteria could occur on the plants and become abundant enough to cause people that handle or consume them to become ill. Plant diseases can spread rapidly in unmanaged hydroponic gardens because the heat and dampness of the environment encourage the growth of microbes and pests. The closeness of the plants to each other also makes it easy for disease-spread. Poorly cleaned systems may also make it difficult to keep pH levels where they need to be.
Choose the cleaning products cautiously and use carefully to avoid contaminating the plants. Bleach, vinegar, and food-grade hydrogen peroxide work well as sanitation products. Use the cleaning products away from the plants and in-between harvests. Dilute chemicals properly and rinse thoroughly. Using an acid like vinegar can affect pH levels if not rinsed thoroughly after cleaning, and it could throw off the efforts to balance the levels properly.
#5. Indiscriminate Shopping Practices
It is as risky to buy hydroponic supplies randomly as it is to buy only the cheapest items. Growers with an immediate need for something may feel the temptation to pick up supplies from a local gardening shop. To save money, people may order from an unrated and unknown online retailer. It is always nice to have what you want quickly and affordably, but not every item works the same.
A fertilizer designed for a soil garden differs from one used in a hydroponic garden. Many gardening shops only offer items meant for the soil. Hydroponic gardeners need to buy only the products tailored for hydroponic use. Grow lights, heaters, and even seeds or seedlings are not all the same. Research sellers and brands to find the best equipment and consumable materials and learn who the best suppliers are for these items. Stay organized to avoid rushed purchases and do not impulse shop.
#6. Too Much Fertilization
Like all living things, plants need nutrients to survive, but they can suffer if fed too much. Overfeeding results in nutrient-burn. The plant gets more of the nutrients than they need, and root damage begins. Nutrient-burn causes the leaves of the plant to turn brown and become wilted. Once the leaf is too brown, it can no longer absorb the light needed to keep the rest of the plant healthy.
The tips of the leaves are often where problems first appear in a plant. Overfeeding causes the plant to remove the excess nutrients away from its roots. The tips of leaves are as far away from the roots as possible. Since there is nowhere else for the excess nutrients to go, they remain in the leaf tip and cause damage. The early signs of nutrient burn can include a curled leaf or one bending at the tip. Eventually, the tips of the leaves turn yellow or brown. If not corrected quickly, the whole leaf will brown and the plant fails. Remove the damaged part of the leaves to save the plant. Remember to replace the growing medium. The high nutrient level will remain in the medium and can continue to cause damage. It is not possible to salvage every plant affected by nutrient-burn.
#7. Infrequent Garden Inspections
The best crops always need help to flourish. All gardens need constant attention, and hydroponic systems need it most. A daily walk-through of the room allows the grower to inspect their equipment, check on reservoir levels, ensure an adequate temperature, and more. A daily inspection on the cleanliness of the room and the pH level monitoring should already take place, so spend a few extra minutes and look over everything else while in the room.
A scope is an important item to have available during a daily walk-through. A scope enables growers to take a close-up look at their plants. The tool makes it easier to detect pest infestations and diseases before they go out of control. It is unnecessary to examine each leaf on every plant. A random inspection of two or three plants each day is usually adequate to spot these types of problems. If any concern arises, remove the affected plant from the room and examine all neighboring plants.
#8. Too Much Water
Growing plants without soil may make people think there is no way to over-water the garden. Root rot, a severe problem for soil gardeners, can also take place in a hydroponic room. All plants need oxygen and water to thrive. In a hydroponic system, the circulation of the water allows the roots to remain properly hydrated and oxygenated.
How over-watering happens depends on the system. Sometimes the reservoir level is too high, and the growing medium becomes over-saturated or the roots become submerged along with the medium. Too little oxygen could leave the roots exposed to excessive levels of stagnant water. An incorrect medium or a poor drainage system could also overexpose the roots to the water. In each situation, the roots can rot just as they would in an over-watered soil garden.
#9. Not Monitoring Exhaust
The circulation of the air can affect the plants as much as the circulation of the water in a hydroponic room. The air quality depends heavily on the effectiveness of the exhaust system. Dry air can increase water evaporation that reduces what the plants have available. Elevated humidity levels can increase the risk of plant over-watering and cause leaves to droop. High humidity also boosts the chances of increases in bacteria and fungi growth.
Exhaust systems keep the air from becoming too moist or too dry. A slight breeze in the room can prevent mites and gnats from settling on plants and multiplying. Exhaust systems help to keep CO2 levels optimal for plant growth. The carbon dioxide levels in an interior garden could become too low without an adequate exhaust system that brings in fresh outdoor air. The fans in the exhaust system help to remove some heated air from the room to prevent temperatures from becoming too high for the crop to thrive.
#10. Impatient Harvesting Practices
The hardest skill to gain is the one that also takes the most patience. Growers may argue over when it is the best harvest time and how to tell, but all agree that a too-early harvest cuts down on the size of the crop. No one wants to invest time and money into growing plants only to get less than they expected from them.
A crop that sits too long will not always give people the desired result they want. The overall potency of a plant fades when it over matures. The taste can also suffer, as a longer growing time can increase the flavor and make it have a stronger flavor than desired.
Some experts recommend for gardeners to use the appearance of the pistils to decide when to harvest. The plant reaches its most potent when about 70 percent of the pistils turn brown. If over 90 percent of the pistils turn brown, the plant may develop a sedating effect and the T*C level will have dropped. Sometimes this is the desired outcome for the grower, but it is not what everyone wants from their harvest.
Other methods of harvesting can include following the flowering time the breeder recommends or monitoring the color of the trichomes. The perfect harvest, unfortunately, varies based on the desired taste and T*C level the grower prefers, and the species of plant grown. New hydroponic gardeners may need to experiment with multiple harvest times to decide what maturation percentage appeals most to them.
Hydroponic gardening is a skill, and like all skills, it takes time and practice to master. Start with a basic understanding of the process and continue to learn as the crop grows. Make notes about watering, the efforts to correct pH levels, and harvesting times. Research equipment, the latest innovations, and always buy the best equipment and materials possible. Time and effort will guarantee a better yield and a more efficiently run system with each crop.