He said the easiest system is the floating raft method. In its simplest form, a floating raft system consists of a sheet of foam with holes cut in it for the net pots that will hold the plants. The foam floats on a tub containing water, nutrients and oxygen.
The oxygen is added to the nutrients using an aquarium pump pushing air through a 1-inch porous soaker hose. More nutrient mixture is added as the plants take it up.
Build Your Own Home Hydroponic Systems
Burnsides also recommends the nutrient film technique. In that case, pipes with holes drilled in them for plants are positioned horizontally at a slight angle so the water easily moves through with the help of gravity. An aquarium air pump is used to add oxygen to the nutrients in the storage tank. In dry areas, it's a big plus. The other place it shines is if you're trying to grow in an area with poor soil.
Hydroponic systems generally need grow lights and heat when used indoors, according to Burnsides, who will teach a class at 11 a. April 8 at the Josephine County office in Grants Pass. For those out of the area, he advises doing a search of the internet for resources.
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There are many how-to articles and videos as well as materials and kits to buy. Be sure to give plants eight hours of sunlight and use shade cloth with 30 percent screening during the hottest part of the year and frost cloth for freeze and bug protection. You don't get any fresher than that.
A Beginner's Guide to Hydroponics
For most plants, Burnsides uses a fertilizer formulated for tomatoes, which is premixed with the correct amount of micro and macro nutrients. The purpose of this is simply to give the roots something to anchor themselves into so as to hold the plants up. The media will probably be expanded clay pebbles but other materials such as Perlite, fine gravel, Rockwool or even clean washed sand will also work effectively. The expanded clay and Perlite are both preferable since they can be easily washed and used over and over again.
Avoid using vermiculite as it tends to break down and becomes a slushy mess. It is worth experimenting with the planting media used in the system especially if the hydroponic garden is being used in extreme temperature conditions. Grey gravel warms up more quickly in winter or cooler climates and can push some early season vegetables along quickly where as Rockwool might be more effective in the north where its high water holding capacity might be beneficial. Choosing the right nutrient formulation is much easier now for beginners than it has ever been before.
A formula is available specifically for the early stages of growing vegetables and leafy greens and another suits cut flowers and ripening vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and chilli. Ask at any Better Pets and Gardens for the best formulation for your hydroponic garden. The nutrient is added in solution to the reservoir at regular intervals. This will probably be weekly at the height of the growing season and fortnightly for the rest of the year.
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Once a month the reservoir is completely drained and filled with fresh water and nutrient solution to ensure that the nutrient level and pH stays constant. In areas with high rates of evaporation or a salty water supply, the concentration of salts gets quite high after only a week so these systems will benefit from being drained and replenished every week. A plastic tap placed in the base of the reservoir makes this job much easier. Interestingly, most vegetables will tolerate higher salt levels in a hydroponic system than they would in a soil-based garden bed.
Sowing seed to plant into a hydroponic garden is possible but for beginners it is probably best to plant commercially grown seedlings. These simply need the soil gently rinsed off their roots using a bucket of water before planting. If time, letting them sit in a diluted solution of the hydroponic formula for a few hours before planting into the media helps to make the transition from soil to water more effective. For those that want to try growing from seed, push the top layer of growing media aside to reveal the moist level underneath. Drop the seeds in and re-cover.
Sprinkle a little water over the top to assist in germination.
Large seeds such as beans and peas can go a little deeper but small seeds such as basil and rocket should be quite shallow although still at a level where they will receive water. Seeds can also be place in Rockwool cubes and then placed into the growing media.
Water cress, Vietnamese mint and other water plants can be grown in the deep end of the system where the water collects before returning to the reservoir. Aphids may affect buds and new shoots and these can easily be squashed between finger tips. Caterpillars on the leafy greens are obvious from holes in the leaves and can be picked off and discarded.
The Benefits to Growing a Vegetable Garden Hydroponically
Non-toxic sprays can be used if the numbers of these pests becomes too great. If the tips of leaves are curling up, the nutrient mix may be too strong. Check that the pump is working and top the tank up only with water so as to dilute the solution.