Take Your Growroom to the Next Level
A hydro shop owner discusses all of the ways she helps her customers turn their basic growrooms into super growrooms.
If you’re new to growing, chances are you set up your initial growroom on a budget. You’ve probably included all the basics, but are still running into problems. You are probably making things a little harder on yourself than you need to because you haven’t learned the tips and tricks to make your life easier. You may have had a successful crop or two, but now you’re wondering if there is a way to increase your yields. Spoiler alert: there probably is.
Nutrient Tips & Tricks for the Modern Grower
If you haven’t invested in them already, you need to start using TDS and pH meters. As a shop owner, I see a lot of my customers try to save money by following the dosage instructions on the fertilizer bottle and using pH drops or strips. You might be able to get by this way, but you’ll never truly maximize your yields.
Even if you are using the full line of a nutrient system and following the feeding schedule to the letter, you need to know the ppm (parts per million) of your nutrient solution and adjust when needed. Each strain of each plant has its own feeding preferences, so you need to keep notes about the plants you grow. Get to know how much they feed at different times in their cycles.
A feeding schedule’s recipe may only get you to a certain ppm, but you may need to feed more or less when it comes to certain strains.
Maintaining proper pH is extremely important because pH directly affects how your plants uptake nutrients. Certain nutrients are absorbed at different pH levels. If your pH gets too far out of whack, your plant won’t absorb any nutrients at all.
The more nutrients and supplements you use, the more your pH may fluctuate when mixing your nutrient solution. Be sure to let your solution sit for at least 15 minutes and adjust the pH once the solution has settled. The ideal pH for soil gardens is between 6 and 7, whereas hydroponic gardens like a pH of 5.5 to 6.2.
When mixing your nutrient solution, I recommend you first add your supplements, like cal-mag or bloom boosters, according to the dosage instructions on the bottle, and then add your base nutrient until you reach the ppm level you want.
As your plant grows, the ppm will get higher. If you mix nutrient solution this way, you’ll always feed the correct amount, regardless of how you mix and match your nutrients. Most people do not follow feeding schedules to the letter. They usually add in a supplement from another line, or leave a few things out.
If you’re growing hydroponically, there is a way to use ppm and pH to determine how your plants are feeding. Check your nutrient solution a day or so after you make a fresh batch. If your pH goes up and ppm goes down, then your plants are feeding and you may even be able to increase the nutrients you’re feeding them.
If your pH goes down and ppm goes up, that means the plants are putting nutrients into the water rather than taking them out, which means you’re overfeeding. If both your pH and ppm stay stable, then maximum growth is occurring, as plants are taking up equal parts nutrients and water. Keep in mind it is better to underfeed a little than to overfeed. Many hydro growers will allow a natural swing from pH 5.5 to 6.2, and then mix fresh nutrient solution.
"Be smart about how you store your nutrients. Do not store them in your growroom under high intensity lighting."
Be smart about how you store your nutrients. Do not store them in your growroom under high intensity lighting. This will make them go bad much faster. Most nutrients go bad after a few years, so if you’re feeding the correct amount, but your plants don’t seem like they are taking in nutrients, it might be that your fertilizer has gone bad. Not only do you have to account for the time they sat on your shelf, but for how long they sat on the shelf at the hydro store and at the warehouse before that.
If you start to notice any kind of problems with your plants, the first thing I recommend you do is give them a nice flush. If you over-fertilized, if there is too much salt build-up, or if your pH is out of bounds, then you can correct the problem faster by flushing them and starting fresh.
Watering Tips & Tricks
Watering is back-breaking work, especially if you’re lugging heavy buckets of nutrient solution around your room and bending down to hand-water each plant. Before the chronic back pain kicks in, get smart about your watering system.
It’s fairly easy to create a watering wand with a hose, PVC pipe, irrigation fittings, a gallon counter and a submersible pump. The submersible pump will push water from your reservoir, through the hose, through the gallon counter and through the PVC pipe to your plants. Instead of constantly bending over to hand-water, you can walk upright around your room and water with a wand. Just be sure to keep an eye on the gallon counter so you don’t over-water.
It’s important to mention that different plants in your room may feed differently. You may not be able to water every plant on the same day. You can check to see if they are thirsty by lifting up the pot. If the pot is still heavy, then there is enough water in the soil for the plant to drink. If it is light, then the soil is probably dry and they are ready to drink.
Sometimes the location in your growroom will determine how quickly plants drink. Plants in the cooler pockets of the room won’t drink as fast, and the ones in hotter pockets will drink faster. Different strains feed differently, so the more strains you grow, the more your watering schedule will fluctuate.
Maintaining Your Environment
Your environment can make or break your yields. Indoors, you play the role of Mother Nature. It is your job to maintain an environment conducive to healthy plants. When someone first sets up their growroom, I usually see the same rookie mistakes over and over.
The most common mistake I see is people with bad pest control habits. You need to keep your environment as sealed as possible, and limit what goes in and out of your room. Don’t leave doors or windows open to increase airflow because you are just inviting bugs in. Invest in fans.
Don’t let your pets wander in and out of your room, especially after they’ve been outside. Bugs love to catch a ride on their furry coats. If you’ve been outside, it is a good idea to change your clothes and shoes before you go into your garden for the same reason. Don’t bring clones directly into your room if you get them from an outside source. Always quarantine them first to make sure they don’t have bugs.
One of the best practices you can develop is to sanitize and bug bomb your growroom between each crop. After you have removed all of your plants, set off a bug bomb to kill any bugs that might be lingering, and then wipe down your entire room and all of your equipment with a diluted bleach solution.
If there is any mold hanging out in your room, this practice should take care of most of it. Speaking of mold, if you have mold issues you just can’t fix, you might want to check your walls and floors. I’ve known growers who lose crop after crop to powdery mildew only to find out the mold was coming from the building itself.
Another good practice is to check in on your room at different times of the day and night. Doing this will help you discover equipment malfunctions and extreme temperature fluctuations you might have otherwise missed. The sooner you catch these, the easier they are to fix. One broken pump could potentially flood a room and a busted fan could mean extreme heat stress.
To maintain a constant temperature, one of the best upgrades to invest in is a temperature controller. If you have a temperature controller to plug your fans into, the fans will automatically turn off and on to maintain the specified temperature. Whether the lights are on or off, the room’s temperature will be more consistent, which means less stress on your plants.
With new best practices and a few key investments, you can upgrade your growroom to the next level, make your gardening life a little easier and harvest better yields. Happy gardening!