Hydroponics is the art of cultivating plants in a water based, nutrient rich solution instead using soil based cultivation. Hydroponics is derived from Latin meaning ‘working water.’ As the term suggests, water is used to provide nutrients, hydration and oxygen that plants need to grow; all this is achieved without the use of soil. Plant roots are supported using sphagnum moss, lava rock, perlite, clay pellets or vermiculite. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plants roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth. Hydroponic nutrients are an essential aspect of this agricultural technique. They are basically liquid nutrients added to the water for growth enhancement. Hydroponic nutrients are however quite expensive hence most farmers opt for home-made solutions.
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Nutrients in Hydroponic System
Prior to creating home-made hydroponic nutrients, it is advisable to have sound understanding of various soil fertilisers and plant requirements at different stages of growth. All plants generally need both macro and micronutrients to flourish, though rations may differ according to plant types. The basic macro nutrients required in a hydroponic system are Nitrogen (N) Phosphorous (P) Potassium (K) Calcium (Ca) Magnesium (Mg) Sulphur (S); micro nutrients include Iron (Fe) Manganese (Mn) Boron (B) Copper (Cu) Zinc (Zn) Molybdenum (Mo) Sodium (Na) Chloride (Cl) Silicon (Si). Note that purchased nutrients often have added pH buffers and so a pH measuring pen, pH Up, and pH Down solution are necessary tools to check pH levels. Most plants typically do best with a pH level of between 5.0 and 6.0. An EC measuring metre is also needed for EC measurements. Instruments required when preparing home-made hydroponic nutrients also include measuring spoons, a good set of weighing scales and rubber gloves for the crystalline chemicals in some of the formulas.
Master-blend Tomato, Calcium Nitrate and Epsom Salt Formula
This is basically a one part mix that requires the following nutrients according to the stated amounts:
- Master-blend Tomato 4-18-38: 10 g
- Calcium Nitrate 15.5-0-0: 10 g
- Epsom Salt: 5 g
This form of home-made hydroponic nutrients formula is intended for non-circulating systems. This is because they are no longer diluted before adding therefore making them ideal for small systems with roots floating in the solution for example raft systems. The solution is enough for 5 gallon water container. It is crucial to understand that the solution must be disposed of after harvesting from the system as salt or EC levels eventually rise thereby having detrimental effects to plant life. In cases of deficiencies or nutrients burn, one of the supplementary formulas can be used as remedy.
Compost Tea Formula
This type of home-made hydroponic nutrients formula is a little complicated compared to using store bought nutrients. However, the upside is that when done right, plants tend to grow faster. The compost heap should consist of green waste such as grass cuttings, green leaves and food waste from the kitchen; brown waste includes straw or hay, dead leaves and wood chippings. Take note to turn the compost every few weeks so as to breakdown materials. Once the compost is ready, add 2 large shovels to a 5 gallon bucket of water and leave as is for 3 days. Afterwards, pour out the liquid and strain it to remove all traces of your compost sediment. The sediment can be added back to the compost heap. It is advisable to use ½ a gallon of liquid nutrients for every 50 gallons of water in the hydroponic tank.
Sea weed Formula
The sea weed formula for home-made hydroponic nutrients is often used as a base recipe, growth enhancers or liquid fertilisers are added to facilitate plant growth. The required ingredients are 170g of seaweed and 5 teaspoons of Epsom salts whereby a teaspoon is added per gallon of water. The sea weed must be wrapped in cheesecloth and tied in order to avoid sediments settling in the water. Afterwards, it is placed in a bucket with 5 gallons of water and left in the sun for days. The Epsom salts are then added. There are generally two means of making use of this home-made hydroponic nutrients formula; farmers can either add all contents to the hydroponic tank or in 1 gallon increments.
Seed meal Formula
This form of home-made hydroponic nutrients formula is highly famed for its ability to retain organic elements while effectively enhancing plant growth. The ingredients required are:
- Seed meal: 1.8kg
- Finely ground agricultural lime: 450g
- Gypsum: 450g
- Dolomite lime: 450g
- Bone meal: 450g
- Seaweed (unroasted): 450g
Ingredients must be added into 5 gallons of water and mixed until reaching a thin consistency. Take care to filter any remaining sediments. It is advisable to use 170g for every 100 gallon of water in the hydroponic tank.
Potassium Nitrate, Calcium Sulphate, Magnesium Sulphate and Monocalcium Sulphate Formula
This formula requires additional compounds but it is still fairly easy to make. Farmers need to have the following ingredients as per stated quantities:
- Potassium nitrate: 255g
- Calcium Sulphate: 198g
- Magnesium Sulphate: 170g
- Ammonium Sulphate: 43g
- Monocalcium Sulphate: 113g
- Iron Sulphate: ½ teaspoon
The ingredients for the home-made hydroponic nutrients formula must be mixed in a container large enough to hold a gallon of water. When mixing the ingredients, take care to add the salts one after the other making sure that the first component has completely dissolved prior to adding the next. The recommended amount is 10g for each gallon of water in the hydroponic tank.
Home-made hydroponic nutrients go a long way in ensuring success of the agricultural venture. None the less, in some instances hydroponic fertilisers are required for optimum growth. These can also be home-made so as to cut down on expenses. Ground coffee, banana tea and egg shells are examples of deficiency fertilisers that can be adopted to boost plant growth. In addition, farmers should be able to identify nutrients deficiency symptoms in plants so as to provide sufficient nutrients. When using home-made hydroponic plants, caution should be taken to avoid under and over application of the liquid solution as it can possibly harm the plant. As such, it is advisable to strictly adhere to the recommended specifications.