Seasonal Grow Tips for the Modern Grower
There was a time when serious growers wouldn’t leave town over the holidays—doing so meant getting delayed on the next growth cycle. Fortunately, with today’s sophisticated technology, growers can still maximize their yields, even from out of town, and even when the weather gets really bad. Here are some things to keep in mind if you live in a cold climate, want to keep growing throughout the cold winter months, and wouldn’t mind taking a vacation this year.
How cold is too cold in a growroom? Well, if it’s too cold for human comfort, it’s too cold for plants. That is the best rule of thumb, as most plants thrive close to room temperature. For example, humans tend to be quite uncomfortable below 60°F or above 85°F, and so do plants. For us to really sit in comfort, air needs to be somewhere between 67°F and 74°F, and most plants thrive within the same settings.
If it gets extremely cold outside where you live, it may be necessary to completely close the airflow off from the outer areas until temperatures come up above freezing. When it is not possible to buffer the air coming in, it is best to close off external air completely. Here are some other tips and tricks for keeping things warm this season while battling heating costs at the same time:
Disperse heat from the growroom to other areas – With some planning, indoor growers can easily utilize the heat created from their growroom to heat other areas of the building. Grow lights run on hundreds or thousands of watts and thus create an equal amount of heat. Think of a 1,000W light as a 1,000W heater. Energy in equals heat out and most of that heat will end up leaving the growroom. Why not capture it and utilize it? After all, that energy is a fixed cost. Use inline duct or can style fans flexible ducting equipment to guide the air where it is needed. This can be in the crawl space, in between floors, or simply from one room to another. In the summertime, growers typically pump the heat out windows, but in wintertime it can easily be used to increase the overall efficiency of the building’s heating system.
Change room configurations from summer to winter – If using a non-sealed room, growers will need to preheat the air coming in from outside when the weather turns cold. This might not have been necessary in the summer time, but the extreme cold can really damage plants. Consider bringing the air through a window into a closet or laundry room before entering the growroom. In summertime, it might be better to bring the cool air from the house in through the growroom and out through a window instead of the other way around. It just depends on the garden’s access to windows and cool air. In sealed rooms, air conditioning is used year-round.
Remember that winter air is drier – This important fact will cause gardens to fluctuate in humidity from season to season. It should be noted that adjustments may need to take place to regulate humidity between seasons. A hygrometer can measure the garden’s humidity and trigger fans on and off to increase airflow and thus lower humidity. Also, many times the decreased need for ventilation of heat during winter will help increase humidity. It is best to be aware of humidity levels during all seasons and invest in the proper equipment to control it accordingly.
With your growroom now running at optimal temperatures, your next concern over the holidays might be taking some time off from your plants. If you choose this route, here are some essential pointers for your growroom. They will come in handy even when you’re not planning a week-long get-away.
Out-of-town Automation – While traveling out of town for the holidays, temperature and humidity controllers are useful tools that control fans, air conditioners, and other related equipment. If using a heater, be extremely careful while choosing the model, as space heaters are one of the main causes of fires in the home and indoor gardens. Consider placing an automated fire extinguisher above the heater, especially when vacationing. There are also safer models available now so it is worth looking into upgrading outdated electric heaters. To automate watering tasks, consider having a reservoir on standby that would fill your main reservoir on a set day of the week. Many timers and various room controllers will allow for this functioning.
Online Monitoring and Control – The Internet of Things is a new and rising wave of technology through which our electronic devices communicate with each other and with us online to offer a sophisticated level of monitoring and control in growrooms and beyond. The technology is here and many companies are improving existing products and launching new products into the market. This is the perfect tool for gardeners going on vacation during the holidays. Try to imagine yourself 1,500 miles away from your grow, yet you can monitor and control devices in your garden via a smartphone app. These devices are now available, so check out your local grow store or trade show to stay in tune with these companies and their products.
When choosing a software platform, remember to find one that can be upgraded as the growroom evolves. For example, while on the other side of the world, there is technology available that allows gardeners to use a nutrient doser to actually add pH solution or nutrients to improve the reservoir mix. Having the correct monitoring equipment is key so data is correct and growers can act accordingly. Technology like this means that when you are vacationing, there are no worries over having a friend who doesn’t need know anything about gardening check on the pets and plants since you have the data right there on your smartphone.
Back-up During Loss of Power – When power is disrupted, which is often the result of powerful winter storms, it is incredibly destructive to the garden. Anything from pumps, fans, air conditioning, dehumidification, lights, or any other major players in your garden can be completely wiped out until the power outage is corrected. Depending on how it is configured, total crop loss can occur from power outages. There are ways to protect against this type of loss, such as providing back-up power, watering by hand, or using dimmer battery-powered lighting to at least wake up plants that should be awake when there are temporarily no lights to do so. The main goals should be to prevent stress to the crop and to restore power or create alternate power as soon as possible using a generator, extension cords, etc.
Out-of-town Safety, Breaker Flip – When breakers flip, they can throw off the whole growroom. The timers will be offset exactly by the amount of time that the breaker was flipped off until corrected. This could be minutes, hours, or even days. Depending on the duration of the loss of power, plants can be completely thrown off cycle, especially if their growing cycle is photoperiod dependent, meaning their cycles are triggered by the amount of dark (or light) that the crop gets in a 24-hour day. There are precautions proactive gardeners can take to protect their crops from this sort of occurrence. Just ask around at the hydro shop.
Crop Rotations and Timing Vacations – A simple way to maximize efficiency in annual garden production is to time vacations accordingly. Gardeners who plan ahead can easily take a two-week break during the holidays, or better yet, take cuttings or start seedlings right before leaving. With proper planning, gardeners can return home to see beautiful roots or seedlings. If vacations are timed properly in the cycle of the crop, this can be taken to the next level by planning for nutrient feedings, pruning, trimming, or other thoughtfully planned tasks. By planning ahead for garden tasks such as timing watering schedules or even overwatering, flushing, or refeeding your plants at the beginning of a vacation, gardeners can return to a thriving and even more beautiful crop.
When leaving on vacation during important and crucial garden times, the more seasoned gardeners make sure there is a trusted friend available to help or plan to do the task(s) right before leaving or right upon returning. Otherwise, lack of planning can be detrimental to the entire crop. Don’t return to stressed plants, do some planning and return to a thriving crop. Either way, it is really up to you, so plan ahead with some critical thinking on what the garden will need and want during your next vacation.
Feeling Festive? Try a Hydroponic Christmas Tree
Wanting to try upgrading your own tree with hydroponics to add a little more cheer this holiday season? If you look around on the market you can find hydroponic Christmas tree tools and kits. It is actually quite cheery and exciting that the hydroponics industry has achieved such blooming success over the years that there are now fun projects to do with your Christmas tree. Many growers have thought of this or have tinkered around in the past and now there are plenty of ways to do this yourself with simple gardening equipment like air pumps and air stones, or you can really get creative and set up an ebb and flow table or similar.
If you’re replanting a Christmas tree, why not transplant it into a larger pot with a strong amended soil so that during the holidays while the tree is visiting inside the home it will thrive and shine with that tinsel? By the time it is ready to be planted outdoors, it will be that much better along. By potting and wintering the tree inside, rather than it being stressed, it can be ready to go and thrive in the yard come spring.
To do things hydroponically, think of adding some nutrients during the holidays and letting the tree actually feed instead of beginning to die in the living room. The nutrients just might offer the tree some more life instead of encouraging dead needles to fall off everywhere and get tracked around the house. Remember to check the pH of your reservoir and avoid overfeeding the tree so you don’t burn its needles.
Written by Keith "Tree Frog" Bouchard | Founder & Co-inventor at Multiponics
Keith is the founder and co-inventor at Multiponics, an indoor gardening manufacturer and online boutique. Multiponics has a passion for pushing innovative ag-tech forward and is a consultant to the NASA-funded X-Hab project via the University of Colorado in Boulder.