3 Hydroponic Lessons (or hindsight is 20/20)

lessons in hydroponicsI’ve said right away when starting this hydyroponics site that I’m no expert. I’m still researching and learning a lot of things as I go. One of the main purposes here is to share my experiences so others can learn and hopefully I can learn as well from your comments. That being said here are a few lesson I’ve learned this past month.

1-Know Your Plants

Hydroponic Squash

Squash and Tomatoes taking over

I was so excited to get started with my first system I ran to Home Depot and bought a bunch of different plants and threw them in. You really should look into one key point, size. How big will your plant get, is it a bush, a vine? I put strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cucumber and squash in my first rail system. Now I did choose bush style tomatoes an cucumbers because I did know I didn’t want vines in this system. What I didn’t consider is how big these bushes get, especially the squash. Soon these were so big they were shadowing out the strawberries and peppers. The Brussels also grow up to 3′ tall and take several months before harvest.

Last week I ended up relocating a bunch of the plants and removing one of the rails to give the bigger plants more room. Once I did this the smaller plants started thieving again.

Also related to size is knowing how big the roots will get. Tomatoes root systems are HUGE so in hind sight it may not have been the best idea to put them in the rails. Better for them to be 1-2 plants in their own bucket. They have now filled the end of the rail with roots (only 3 plants) so now instead of spraying and draining the system is spraying and filling the rail. This causes the reservoir to go lower than usual, which in turn causes the top off system to start topping off. When the pump shuts off and it does slowly drain it overflows the reservoir 🙂

2-Don’t Skimp on Your Drains

Hydroponic Cucumeber Roots

Cucumeber Roots

On one of my system I was looking to save money and use parts I had already. This one used 1/4 tubing to feed the rails so I figured it was ok to use 1/2 coming out for the drain, I the had these feeding into a 3/4 vertical manifold. Issue I found was that this 3/4 was not big enough when I had more than 2 rails on, especially when I had the flow cranked up. It would back up into the bottom rail, flooding it and water would be coming out the net pots. For now I decreased the flow in each rail ( only have 3 operating) and its doing ok. I do have plans to redesign this system anyway to get more rails in it so will be going to at least a 1″ drain line and going horizontal as well.

Another point on drains, don’t put a plant directly over one 🙂 I thought of this on my second system and made the hole above the drain for maintenance. The first system I thought naw it will be fine. The other day I had a mishap with a squash and had to remove it. Looking inside I noticed the water level was to high, covering the sprayers. So I pulled out the last plant, a bush cucumber and it had a massive root mass on to of the drain. Not only that, when I pulled it all the way out noticed it had roots down the drain. Down into the manifold even! Note the first section above, I know this is happening there too. I just don’t want to pull out the tomatoes yet. Luckily they are detrimental type and will be done once the produce (maybe in a few weeks).

3-Plan Your Systems with Like Plants

Again in my haste to get growing I threw everything in my first system. What I should have done at a minimum is to make one rail squash, another peppers, another strawberries (notice no tomatoes). That way at least all the plants in one rail have the same needs. I could then widen space between them to give smaller plants more space. Well when I first built it it was vertical so I may not of had that problem but you get the idea.

Second what I did learn sort of in time is to have like plants in its own system all together. On fruit bearing plants you will end up adjusting your nutrients based on the phase of growth. Vegetative in the beginning, blooming in the middle and its fruit bearing stage. Some plants just have a vegetative stage and can stay more or less on the same cycle. Also your larger fruiting plants will also drink a lot more as they get mature perhaps denying smaller leafy plants their share. If you are doing stand alone buckets this is not to much of an issue, but when doing larger systems feed off a single reservoir you want to keep this in mind.

It also looks prettier 🙂

What lessons have you learned starting to grow hydroponicly? 

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