My First Hydroponics Kit

In MY ARTICLES, My Farming Experiences by James0 Comments

What do you do if you live in a small studio apartment that receives very little natural light, and you want to grow your own vegetables? You go hydro – meaning you get yourself a hydroponic kit. How I went hydro was a bit random. I was scanning the online classified ads as I do from time to time and stumbled across somebody selling a used hydroponic system. I’d never come across such an item, and the price was pretty good. Very good in fact. After a little research I discovered they were selling the system at a 75% mark down. I thought here was my opportunity to start having fresh salads and herbs at my finger tips on a regular basis.  This was also my chance to grow vegetables for the first time. If I am going to do it, I might as well get started as soon as possible. So I bought it. It’s a four tier system that holds 64 plants at full capacity. I didn’t know anything about hydroponic systems so after doing a bit more research I learned there are several different types and I had purchased a NFT system which stands for Nutrient Film Technique.

Nutrient film technique (NFT) is a hydroponic technique wherein a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully, also known as channels. In an ideal system, the depth of the recirculating stream should be very shallow, little more than a film of water, hence the name ‘nutrient film’. This ensures that the thick root mat, which develops in the bottom of the channel, has an upper surface, which, although moist, is in the air. Subsequent to this, an abundant supply of oxygen is provided to the roots of the plants. A properly designed NFT system is based on using the right channel slope, the right flow rate, and the right channel length. The main advantage of the NFT system over other forms of hydroponics is that the plant roots are exposed to adequate supplies of water, oxygen and nutrients.

NFT systems come in various shapes and sizes. The particular system I bought is best suited for lettuce varieties. I’ve read mixed reviews about LED lighting, but if you’re growing lettuce or herbs it will be adequate and save you a lot of money on your electric bill compared to the professional grower’s preferred high pressure sodium bulbs. You’re also going to want to get an automatic timer adapter for your lights and water cycle. I leave the lights on for 16 hours and currently the water stays on continuously, although some people like to have it cycle every 30 minutes.

IMG_6684

IMG_6638IMG_6679

THE METER

Another item you’re going to need to purchase if you want to be successful with hydroponics is a meter that will measure the pH, ppms/TDS, and temperature of the water/plant nutrient solution. There is an ideal range for these three measurements and they vary depending on what kind of plants you choose to grow. I found a fairly cheap 3 in 1 meter pen, but for more advanced systems you can purchase 3 in 1 meters that you can leave in the solution for constant monitoring. Looking back even with a system like I have I would go for the constant monitoring meter as it’s more convenient and will allow you to always know the conditions of your water/nutrient solution.

IMG_6828

All-in-one Meter Pen

THE PROPAGATION KIT

If you want to start your plants from seed, a more rewarding experience than purchasing seedlings, you’re going to need a propagation kit and some starter plugs. Get a propagation kit that comes with a heating mat so you can create the perfect environment to get your seeds off to the best start possible. I also recommend getting one with a temperature gauge and control. You’re going to want to keep the temperature within a certain range and I have no idea how you could accurately do that without the gauge. You can get a combo kit that includes everything.

IMG_6835

Starter Plug

 

IMG_6546

Propagation Kit with Heat Pad

IMG_6599

First Sprouts

 

 

 

 

THE NUTRIENT SOLUTION 

You’re not going to need nutrient solution until your plants are ready to be transferred to the hydroponic system. There are many choices when it comes to solutions. After researching which solution is best I found that there are a lot of options and ended up going with one of the more known and popular brands. The good thing about the solution is it will last a long time. It is not recommended to start with organic solutions as they are more difficult to work with and you’ll need more filtering equipment in your reservoir. I am okay with that though because still even though my nutrients are not organic I am not using herbicides or pesticides on my plants which are the main things people are trying to avoid when eating organic vegetables, myself included.

IMG_6827

The Transfer

When your plants are showing four or more leaves it’s safe to transfer them. You’ll need to remove the starter plugs from the propagation tray and place them into a plastic growing cup. However, you’ll notice the cup is much larger than the plug, so you’ll need what is called a “growing medium” for support. There are several options for growing mediums, and I chose clay pellets. Clay is great for water absorption and stays relatively clean compared to mediums like volcanic rock.  After transferring the plants may experience transfer shock, but this usually subsides within a couple days. When dealing with a NFT system like the one I have you’re going to need to monitor the water levels. The system’s water is fed from the reservoir with a pump up to the top tier, then gravity brings it back down tier by tier in a zig zag pattern. After transplant the roots will not be sticking out of the holding cups so you’ll want to keep the water levels slightly higher for the first couple days. Once the roots start poking out of the bottom of the cups you’re only going to need a thin film of water circulating constantly on the bottom of each tray that holds the plants. I made the mistake of keeping the water levels too high. A sign of this is droopy plants. The problem is the roots are not getting enough oxygen. If your plants are drooping chances are your water levels are too high. I corrected this by tilting the trays by putting small foam blocks at the receiving ends of the trays so the water would drain more efficiently and only leave a thin constant film of water. The roots need more oxygen than water.

IMG_6659

IMG_6831IMG_6830

The Harvest

After several weeks depending on what you choose to grow your plants are going to be ready for you to start harvesting some of their leaves. I started doing this gradually every morning with my breakfast. Last night before finishing this post I did the biggest harvest and clean up yet. As I mentioned in the beginning my particular system is designed for lettuce. To no surprise the romaine lettuce performed best. Considering it was my first time growing I wanted to experiment and grow as many varieties as possible so I planted: romaine lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cilantro, parsley, basil, jalapeños, and tomatillos. All of the spinach failed eventually. From what I can tell they were taken out by a fungus. I think it had to do with the poor start they got and being over watered. The jalapeños are hanging around but not doing great. I believe they need a warmer climate to really take off. The tomatillos are growing like weeds, although last night I took one out that was infested with some kind of fungus. The kale is doing okay, but seems to be smaller than I think it should be. The chard got off to a slow start but is coming around. The best performers are the romaine, arugula, cilantro, parsley, and basil.  The next round of plants I’ll go with will be only lettuce and herbs, and I’m going to stagger their planting so they’ll be ready for harvest at different times, which will hopefully give me a steady supply of daily salads. Thanks for reading, and if you’re interested in growing food but live in a place that receives little light hydroponics might be the way to go. I’ve certainly enjoyed it. And if you live in certain states like Colorado, you’ll be able to grow really neat plants that 94% of the country is forbidden to grow.

FullSizeRender

First Mini Harvest

 

 

Aggressive Tomatillo

Aggressive Tomatillo

Leave a Reply