If you’ve decided to try hydroponics you are in for a real treat. Although soil-less gardening can seem unforgiving, it is easily learned, and the pay-off is immense in both quantity and quality. With very little time and effort, you can and will produce amazing yields with an indoor hydroponic garden. But, best of all, the quality will make your senses reel.
The advantages of indoor growing are many, but the absence of pests and critters, full control over heat, humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2), light, and nutrient delivery are among growers’ favorites.
The basics of a hydroponic garden are simple. Just like growing the old fashioned way – in dirt – hydroponics utilizes the very same ingredients that plants need to thrive: Light, CO2, oxygen, and a few nutrients. Your nutrient solution will contain the same elements that come from soil, with one big difference: You administer exactly what your plants need to achieve their maximum growth potential – no more, but no less. The ability to deliver the perfect combination of nutrients, in optimal amounts and with precision timing is a primary reason hydroponic systems consistently yield bigger, better buds, in less time.
- Year round growing season
One of the greatest benefits of growing indoors is a year round growing season. By being in control of the number of daylight hours, and thus, the plant’s perception of season, you take control of its biological mechanisms: Its destiny. You decide how big it will grow before flowering, and you determine when it’s finished – Mother Nature provides the DNA, but the prize-winning buds are up to you. The crucial benefit is in producing multiple crops every year. The number of harvests you cut every year depends on your strain, and how long you keep them in a vegetative (non-flowering growth) state.
- Light availability
Only in midsummer is light available for photosynthesis for more than about 15.5 hours a day. Even then, the odds of full sunlight bathing your plants all day, every day, are less than favorable. With indoor gardens, however, you’ll never fret about overcast skies. The number of daylight hours is left to your discretion, and your plants will always be bathed in light when the switch is turned on.
- Flexible schedule
Some growers prefer to veg with 24-hour light, while others use an 18 hour on, 6 hour off light cycle. Different strains respond differently to various conditions. Regardless, you can follow a recommended schedule or experiment in any way you see fit. Whenever you decide it’s time to move into flowering cycle, simply cut the light back to 12 hours. Any size plant can be made to bud at any time.
- Ultra fast growth
This is a primary benefit of hydroponics. Precision delivery of nutrients, increased oxygen uptake, maximum CO2 availability, and other factors contribute to explosive growth. Noticeable growth happens with stunning swiftness. Another reason several crops can be harvested every year.
- Perfect environment
Outdoor growers worry about weather, and other environmental issues. Too hot, too cold, too cloudy, too wet, too dry, too many critters, too little nitrates. Too this, too that. If soil is too much of anything, it’s too much of a hassle.
Where to Start?
Many experienced growers will advise novices to purchase a ready-made, professional grow box. These are designed to deliver optimal nutrition, CO2, oxygen, and light – everything a plant needs to grow to its full potential. They maximize space, and produce a surprising amount of beautifully finished bud for their modest size. A number of different options are available.
If you choose to build a system, there are several decisions to be made, along with a few purchases. A professionally manufactured grow box can come pre-installed with CO2 injection, pumps, fans, lights, and other hardware that is needed for premium aeration and delivery of the nutrient solution. The construction of a grow box, or other hydroponic system is beyond the scope of this article, but resources are available online.
Why buy a manufactured system when you can build your own? Good question. And it’s one you should consider. It’s not the maintenance of a hydroponic garden that causes growers the most grief – it’s the construction. Here are a few things that you’ll need to do if you decide on the do-it-yourself approach:
- Determine which type of nutrient delivery system to employ: ebb and flow (AKA flood and drain), bubbleponics, aeroponics, or drip systems are all popular, and all provide significantly better results than soil.
- Assess your light needs. How many will you need, and what wattage? Metal halide and sodium ballasts and bulbs range between 250, and 1000 watts. The number and strength of lights you purchase will depend on your budget, and the size of your room.
- Determine the best watering schedule. This will depend on what type of medium, and delivery you use, whether aeroponics, flood and drain, etc. Next, you’ll program a timer to activate watering.
- Manage nutrient solution. It’s a good idea to check your water’s PH and TDS (total dissolved salts, or nutrient levels) every day or two. This is done simply with small, pen-like meters that give precise readings when slightly submerged.
- Other considerations, such as providing adequate oxygen to the nutrient solution, CO2 levels, exhaust, temperature and humidity are all important.
Almost all of these variables can be eliminated with a professionally constructed grow box. Most systems come with everything pre-installed, so all you have to do is set it up and turn it on. Of course, financial considerations may be the ultimate arbiter of whether you choose to buy, or build your hydroponic system.
If there’s one thing experienced hydroponic growers advise, it’s this: Never carry another bag of dirt — 4:20 comes a lot sooner with water-culture.
In another post we discuss Aquaponics, which uses fish. Click here to learn more!