Lee McCall walks us through the set-up for a comprehensive new growing system that he thinks just might be the start of something big in the grow biz.

We’re at the beginning of a very exciting time in the hydroponic industry—and although the concept of delivering custom-tailored high-performance nutrients directly to your plants in precise proportions with exact timing in an ideal environment featuring the most advanced horticultural technologies is not really new, it does seem like more knowledge surfaces daily. Every new breakthrough in technology encourages more individuals willing to invest their time and money into what is now a blooming industry worldwide. This chain reaction is the industrial revolution of our market—and these crucial years will change the way we grow from here on out.

Let’s talk about plants and gardening. Recently, a new friend introduced me to a brilliant concept that combines all the micro-worlds of growing into one seamless system, compatible with both soil and hydroponic gardens. This is the first growing style that I can truly say is both simple and advanced—by this I mean the method employs simple tactics in a systematic series that allows for advanced technical results.

Starting with clones or cuttings, the new method uses an automated cloning machine to initiate root production. Neoprene inserts were used in this case, but net cups and plugs will also work. The application of B1 vitamins is also recommended for cloning stages as it reduces the effects of shock on newly spliced cuttings. B vitamins can be applied either by way of root drench or foliar spray approximately 24 hours prior to taking new clones off the selected parent plant. After the cutting has been separated from its host, rather than dipping the bottom portion of the clone into gel a liquid concentrate with a mild NPK of .009 to .011 and B vitamins is used in conjunction with a hypo-chlorous acid additive. These two products are diluted into a simple milliliter-per-gallon solution in order to fill the clone machine reservoir. Clones should then be placed immediately into either a holding container with the solution or directly into the plugged-in clone machine—the light solution of nutrition and sterilizing agents helps encourage healthy growth, reduce stress, deflect negative pathogens from infecting the clones and prevent yellowing in the plant once the cuttings have callused or begun to root. Generally, the rooting phase (from the time they are cut) may take anywhere from five to 10 days before the plant is mature enough to transplant into its first week of a vegetative growth cycle. Cloning machines do not necessarily work better than tray-and-dome methods with plugs, but for larger-scale operations involving higher plant counts they definitely consolidate the risk on a broad spectrum in terms of propagation maintenance—rather than having to check multiple tray-and-dome set-ups to ensure consistency among each individual group of clones, the automated machine forces the clones to all have the same root zone conditions. Overall, however, proper temperature and humidity levels will dictate success no matter which method is used.

Once properly rooted, the small cuttings are transplanted into small three-inch net cups with hydroton and LECA (light expanded clay aggregate) and placed into a flood and drain or ebb and flow system. Make sure to always thoroughly rinse off clay growing media before introducing it to new plants. Here they can marinate in an ‘in-between’ or pre-vegetative stage and build up structural support before a final transplant into the primary growth medium or hydroponic system. A and B or three-part nutrient systems are great candidates for this stage in development; these nutrients will stimulate fresh and aggressive growth from the newly transplanted cuttings without drastically shocking them while they are still young and fresh out of the cloner. A very dilute solution is recommended at first in order to see how the new clones respond to immediately available plant food. This preliminary vegetative stage basically supercharges your rooted clones into vibrant eight to 12 inch plants that should now easily transplant into any growing medium or system with virtually no slowing in growth. A fairly small amount of space is all that is needed in order to produce a healthy group of pre-vegetative clones.

After your plants achieve the desired height, the small net cups holding the roots and containing the hydroton can then be transplanted right into organic soil mixes in two-gallon containers, cup and all—there is no need to remove them. During this transplanting phase a select granular blend of endo-mycorrhizal fungi, kelp extract, humic acid and a few bacillus strains should be inoculated into the plants’ systems by placing the net cups directly on top of a small amount of the mix in each transplanting hole. The beneficial microbes will help the plants absorb water and nutrients at an accelerated rate. Some of the pre-veg net cup clones should also be transplanted into the same two-gallon containers, but placed in silica rock for continued flood and drain systems that will finish out the plant cycle. The new ebb and flow transplants are not left un-inoculated just because they will be hydroponically grown—they receive the same inoculated mix, but in a finer grade that allows it to be mixed directly into the hydroponic solution and applied with the first feeding after being transplanted.

This nutrient system is especially intriguing to me because it combines all the performance benefits of synthetic base nutrient systems in a cycle with premium organic base nutrients that stimulate microbial activity in and around the root system. The end result is impressive: you’ll see enhanced aromatic properties stemming from the increased essential oil production that fruits, flowers and vegetables exhibit when they are introduced to high-quality organic elements like molasses, cold-pressed kelp, guano, worm castings and glacial rock dust. Perhaps some of the salts or heavy metals found in the synthetic nutrients decrease microbe activity, but the organics being reintroduced on a consistent basis help balance out the plant system in a way that allows for enhanced nutritional uptake from multiple sources. Hydroponic reservoirs are initially filled up with the synthetic nutrient system and as the water level decreases from plant uptake they are then topped off with the organic solutions. Approximately every 10 to 14 days the reservoir should be drained and completely sprayed out and the cycle restarts. The soil plants will generally alternate between organic and synthetic feedings on an as-needed basis. Different varieties of plants will require more watering than others, so spot-check each plant if possible to ensure it is ready for a drink and that you are not overwatering.

This system, though simple enough, was custom tailored for a specific individual in order to meet their large-scale growing needs. After years of hobby gardening, greenhouse and big agriculture developments in horticulture, systems of this nature are revolutionizing the process again—just when you thought you had seen it all, the industry sprouts a new root that looks like it will branch into another dense network of niche markets. More products, more gardens, more growers and healthier plants—all these mean that our industry is continuing to grow and mature as we head into the future.