If you are new to maintaining a hydroponic garden, there are a handful of rookie mistakes that are easy to make. Fortunately, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Everything you need to know about fostering a happy, healthy garden is readily available from those who had to learn the hard way.
To help get you started on the right foot, we've outlined five of the biggest mistakes made by new gardeners and what you can do to avoid them.
Not Properly Balancing Their pH
Balancing your pH is one of the most important things you can do. Nature doesn't have to balance pH, so why should I, you ask? Nature depends on a cycle of different processes all interacting in a beautiful symphony of life. Good luck reproducing that in your basement.
Until then, you need to balance your pH. When you are talking about pH, you are really just talking about the amount of potential hydrogen, or the amount of hydrogen ions in your water. Without getting too scientific, the pH scale is a range that goes from 0 to 14. Water is typically considered neutral, with a pH of 7.
Plants require a slightly acidic pH that falls in a range of around 5.5 to 6.5, with only slight variations dependent on what you're growing. To get your water to the right level, the simplest way to do that is using a pH down solution.
These solutions are highly acidic, so to bring down the pH of your mix, you only need a little bit. The pH scale is like the Richter scale as it is exponential in nature. A pH of six is 10 times as acidic as a pH of 7, and a pH of five is 10 times as acidic as a pH of six. When dealing with pH down solutions, a little goes a long way.
Always make sure to use gloves and exercise safety precautions, as acidic solutions like this can harm you. And yes, pH down solutions are also available in organic versions.
Ignoring EC Importance
Electrical conductivity, or EC, is used to measure the ratio of nutrients to water in your feed mix. As a beginner gardener, knowing exactly what to feed and how much will save you a lot of trouble later on. Everything you grow in your garden has different needs.
You could come up with a one-size-fits-all solution for your garden, but it won’t be beneficial in the long run. Tailoring your feed mix to the individual types of plants you are growing is key. That means fine-tuning your EC, or balancing your feed mix (nutrient solution) to meet the needs of your plants.
The ratio of nutrients to water in your feed mix has been commonly measured in parts per million, however, EC has become the standard measurement for these purposes in most gardens. EC meters measure the electrical charge of nutrients in water and is can accurately display this ratio as a number between 0.2 and 3.6. Water has an EC of zero.
The specific EC that you will need to achieve will fall somewhere between 1.4 and 2.6 for most gardening needs. Nutrient burn is a good indicator that your EC is too high. Nutrient deficiencies can be a sign that your EC is too low. Learn about the specific EC your plants require before planting your first seed.
Overwatering is a common mistake among new gardeners afraid that their plants aren't getting enough. It doesn't mean giving your plants two gallons when it only needs one. In fact, when you water you should be flushing out nutrients and replacing with new. You can't really overwater in a single feed session.
Overwatering refers to the ongoing overwatering of plants from day to day. Most plants don't need to be watered daily. In the early stages of root development, it's the dry soil that forces the plant to stretch out looking for new sources of nourishment. As the plant moves into later stages of growth, it may take several days to absorb all the water that the saturated soil has been holding on to.
Plants want to live, so skipping water for a day or two won't kill them. Overwatering can result in similar symptoms to underwatering. Wilting and browning leaves, cankers, and what may otherwise appear to be nutrient deficiencies are a few of the symptoms of overwatering, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
Your pots will tell you when it’s time to feed again. If your pots have some weight to them, then the soil has sufficient moisture levels to sustain the plant. If your pots are light as air, then there is a definite water shortage. Check your plants daily, but don't water daily. That's the best way to avoid complications due to excess water.
Using Too Much or Too Little Light
If you are growing outdoors, you don't have as much control over the light as you would like, however, indoors you have full control. Throwing a light up in your garage and expecting your garden to flourish is a mistake.
Just like every other decision you make in your garden, what you are growing will play a major role in how you grow it. The same goes for light. Some plants flourish in the light while some require less.
Light is the key factor in photosynthesis, which is what you are trying to maximize in the garden. But exposing your plants to too much light can be even more harmful than too little.
You can always guess how much light your plants need, or you can look it up and get a light meter. The wattage of your light in relation to how high it is positioned above your plants will determine how much light your plants will actually receive. (Read More: Let There Be Light Reflection: Increasing Lighting Efficiency)
Using an electronic light meter will display the actual amount of photosynthetically active radiation your plant is receiving from your light source. Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) meters measure light intensity within the spectrum that plants use most to photosynthesize (excluding UV light) from 400 to 700 nanometers, which covers both the blue and red spectra of flight.
Learn about how much light your plants require at their varying stages and adjust your lights accordingly. Always use an accurate way of determining how high to position your lights instead of just winging it.
Many lighting manufacturers offer a light plan on their websites, so be wise and take advantage of their knowledge.
Not Maintaining the Growroom's Environment
As a new grower, understanding the relationship between things like light, temperature, and humidity can be a bit overwhelming. Your lights will directly raise your temperatures, which will in turn increase your humidity.
This is the fundamental balance that needs to be achieved in every garden, and learning to lock in your temperatures will help you do just that. You may have your temperatures in the perfect range while building your garden, but as soon as you put your lights up, your temperatures are going to go up considerably. That means having a good cooling system in place that can handle the rise in temperatures.
Once you get your room balanced and everything seems fine, add a little water and humidity levels are going to go up again. That means possibly having to readjust everything to get that balance just right.
Remember, you are trying to recreate natural conditions in an unnatural environment. It is the never- ending balancing act an indoor gardener must endure. There will be variation in temperatures depending on what you are growing.
However, in general, plants need an environment that has a temperature range from around 60 to 95°F, with most thriving between 70 and 90°F. Humidity levels will vary over the various stages of the plant starting higher around 70 per cent, eventually dropping to around 40 per cent in later stages.
Most plants will continue to do well in a range between 40 and 60 per cent. Balancing these factors will set you on your way to a bountiful harvest.