Creating a Custom Feed Program for Your Plants
There are a lot of plant nutrients and supplements out there to choose from. Casey Jones Fraser breaks down different types of products available to help growers create a feed program that will take their gardens to the next level of prosperity.
What are the chances that only one company makes every nutrient and supplement to improve your garden? That seems unlikely, considering the vast number of botanical organizations and plant scientists out there.
Looking at the shelves of your local hydroponics shop, you will see a dozen or more brands and hundreds of individual products to feed or boost the performance of your indoor garden.
One company might make the best organic bloom fertilizer, but their fulvic acid could be watered down. Another company might make the best mycorrhizal fungi powder, but their plant foods are incomplete.
Fortunately, there is no need to pick a single brand when creating your own flowering feed chart. With so many great brands and products available, you can pick the best product from each line to create a gourmet recipe for your flowering plants.
Convenience vs. Performance: The One-Bottle Mistake
“But I only want to use one bottle.” We hear that periodically in hydro stores. Some novice growers are intimidated by the idea of using multiple products to feed their plants. Maybe you only feed your dog, cat or goldfish one product.
Sure, a garden can survive with only one food source. Like your goldfish, the plants probably won’t die, but they won’t be top performers, either. Professional growers using multi-part formulas will often have yields that are double or more compared to the guys using one product. Quality can also improve significantly with judicious use of supplements.
If you are comfortable with low yields, and you don’t like working in the garden, then just use whatever seems right for you and don’t stress too much about it.
Personally, I want higher yields, higher quality, deeper flavor and stronger aroma. I want stronger stalks, higher brix, better stress resistance and faster growth. If I could get all that from a single bottle, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
Nutrient companies cannot put all of their products together due to chemical and biological reactions. Certain ingredients, such as silica, bacteria, phosphorous, calcium and mycorrhizae, will be ruined if stored in a container together.
That’s why we have to buy them in separate bottles and mix them into a watered down solution, where they can exist in harmony. As in life, more effort yields greater results. Here’s a list of plant foods and enhancements to help you create your own feed program:
Base nutrients are often called fertilizers in the traditional garden market. Your plants require 16 elements to live: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. The first three on the list are found in air and water.
The last 13 elements should be in your hydroponic base nutrients. Base nutrients come in one-part, two-part and three-part versions. One-part base nutrients are usually lower quality and require a higher dosage rate. I prefer the “Dutch style” nutrients, which means an A&B base for vegetative growth and a different A&B base for bloom.
Silica for plants is usually found in the form of potassium silicate or sodium silicate. Your plants can covert these into silicic acid, although scientists do not currently understand the entire process of conversion and absorption. What is apparent is silica makes plants stronger, which means more resistance to pests and disease.
The stronger cell walls will also help your plants support heavy flowers. Silica is caustic, so avoid contact with eyes and skin. It should be the first ingredient added in your reservoir to avoid negative interactions with other nutrients and supplements.
Early Flower Boosters
This type of supplement is designed to trigger the reproductive stage of your plants. With proper timing and light schedules, your plants will begin flowering on their own, but certain boosters can speed up this process. If your plants start producing blooms in five days instead of 10, that’s five more days of production by the time you reach harvest.
You might not finish faster, but you will have an extra five days of finished produce at harvest time. Early flower boosters should contain high levels of phosphorous and potassium, with no nitrogen. You definitely want to see monopotassium phosphate listed as the main ingredient. Use during the first week of flowering.
Mid-flower boosters enhance yield and quality during the vital peak weeks of a flowering cycle. The best products in this category contain minimal levels of nitrogen (N), moderate to high levels of phosphorous (P), and high levels of potassium(K), along with amino acids. The high levels of potassium will allow your plants to increase cell division and cell expansion. In other words, your blossoms will get bigger and denser.
Amino acids are little encouragement compounds, urging a plant to produce enzymes, or inciting enzymes to break down nutrients. Amino acids are the keys and potassium is the gas on your trip to fatter plants. Begin use during the second week of flowering, and discontinue three weeks before harvest.
Ripening Flower Boosters
This type of product will help your plants pack on mass during the final weeks of flowering. When you switch from the mid-flower booster to the ripening booster, your plants will begin to show signs of maturity. If used at the proper rates (never overfeed!), these products will trigger increased size and quality.
Just like early flower boosters, these ripening boosters should contain a significant amount of monopotassium phosphate. A spike in phosphorous will encourage overall ripening and maturation of your finishing plants. Begin using three weeks before harvest, and discontinue one week before harvest.
Root & Metabolism Boosters
Root and metabolism boosters are an excellent way to boost yields by helping your plants take up nutrients. Vitamins, especially B vitamins, will help plants build roots and increase overall biomass.
With bigger roots, plants can more readily absorb nutrients. Amino acids (the “encouragement compounds”, discussed earlier) can increase a plant’s overall metabolism to use nutrients taken up by the roots.
Triacontanol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in the waxy cuticle of plants. It has been found to increase the stomatal conductance (plant’s breathing rate), which leads to increased nutrient uptake.
Essential Oil Boosters
This supplement works best for gardens producing culinary herbs and plants, which have oils extracted for medicinal or aromatic purposes. Herbs become more valuable with increased essential oil content. A side benefit of these oils is a resistance to pests and mold.
These products, also called seaweed extracts, contain micronutrients, vitamins, amino acids and natural plant compounds. Kelp can increase the health of both plants and animals by providing nutritional sources not found in typical foods. Many growers use seaweed to correct micronutrient deficiencies and increase branching. Foliar application can speed up those reactions.
An extract of humic acid, this amber-colored isolate is highly available to plants and it carries the rest of the solution with it. Fulvic acid can be added at any time during vegetative or flowering, but it works wonders during the ripening phase.
It can help release salts and organics that have become locked up in the grow medium. Once old nutrients are unlocked, they can be used by the plant or flushed away with the rinse cycle.
A somewhat controversial plant supplement, when carbohydrates are used in a productive garden, growers find an increase in yield, flavor and essential oils. Some say this is what happens when plants absorb carbs, but others say that carbs cannot be taken up by roots.
The naysayers claim the benefits from carbs are a result of increased microbiology in the root zone, not carbohydrate uptake. I say, who cares? If it improves production and quality, go for it! But because carbs increase bacterial activity, always add beneficial bacteria. Otherwise, some rotten mystery bacteria might invade your territory.
Enzymes break down organic matter. That organic matter might come from supplements or plant tissues (dead roots), but either way, you want it all broken down. While broken down organic matter will feed your plants, raw organic matter can slow down root functions. Enzymes reduce root rot instances and increase nutrient availability.
Beneficial Bacteria & Fungi
Using beneficial bacteria polishes your roots to a bright white finish. Clean roots become bigger and more productive. Certain species of bacteria will pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into a highly available liquid fertilizer for your hungry plants.
And because a wet root zone is the perfect home for rot-inducing bacteria, beneficial bacteria will prevent those bad microbes from setting up shop.
Beneficial fungi attach themselves to roots, and actually resemble the root structure. From there, they can extend beyond to roots normal reach to bring nutrients back to the plant. When roots and grow mediums are inoculated with beneficial fungi, slimy mold will steer clear.
Like musicians in a symphony orchestra, all of these products work together to create beautiful results. If you want to see bigger flowers with sweeter aromas and layered flavors, try building a custom feed chart for the specific plants you grow.
Grab this list of plant foods and enhancements and head to your local grow shop. Talk to the employees; they’re probably growers, too. Jot down some notes. Find the best product in each category, regardless of brand names, and take your garden to the next level.
Written by Casey Jones Fraser