Standard hydroponics – standard problems
In the standard “ebb and flow” hydroponic system, there is an upper grow bed which is used to hold the plants. This is a box which holds a certain number of plants in containers. Different mediums may be used in the containers, including lava rock, rockwool, perlite, vermiculite, coconut fiber, and even styrofoam pellets. The best medium is one which retains a small amount of water for a long period of time. Porous materials such as lava rock are excellent.
There is also a lower reservoir which holds the nutrient-rich water. At regular intervals that nutrient water is pumped upward, into the grow bed, using a timer and aquarium pump.
The main problems most novice hydroponic growers have is maintaining the proper nutrient levels in the water reservoir, keeping the ratio of nutrients correct, and having a constantly balanced pH. If these three things are not precisely calibrated, the hydroponic garden will not thrive as it should.
Specialized concentrated nutrients are used in the reservoir, because standard organic nutrients will interact with other organisms in the water and begin to decompose. This can quickly make your reservoir water into a rotting, toxic soup. The concentrated, “clean” synthesized chemicals do not interact with organisms in the water environment, and therefore the reservoir water stays “clean,” more or less. However, these “clean” chemicals are less forgiving than organic fertilizers, so that over fertilizing will immediately burn your plants, before you have a chance to notice they are beginning to burn.
As the nutrient water saturates the roots, the plant and the grow medium both retain some of the nutrients. The water that returns to the reservoir therefore has less parts per million (ppm) than the water had before it was cycled through the upper grow bed. This means that the nutrient level and pH of your reservoir is in constant flux, and requires careful, persistent monitoring for a successful grow.
Organic is easier
Growing marijuana hydroponically with totally organic nutrients is actually easier than growing hydroponically with man-made chemicals. Because we do not place any chemicals in the lower water reservoir, we remove all of the problems associated with maintaining the proper ppm of the water. Eliminating the need to balance different nutrient levels with ppm and pH in the water reservoir eliminates most of the problems associated with hydroponic growing.
In nature, the approximate top 1/3 of most plant?s roots are specialized for nutrient uptake, while the lower 2/3 of the roots are specialized for water uptake. The organic “dual root” growing system enhances the natural specialization of the root systems to maximize their dual nutrient and water uptake abilities.
A dual root system is created by the plant through the creation of a primary/upper and secondary/lower composition of the medium in the container. The upper or primary root system and medium of soil or soil substitute is structured so organic nutrients may be applied directly to them. No nutrients are placed in the lower hydroponic watered area or secondary root system.
The Organic Method
The secret to organic hydroponics is the creation of a hydroponic grow container that allows for organic nutrients to be applied directly to the upper primary growing medium rather than into the lower secondary water receiving root system. (See Diagram 1. for a cutaway drawing of a grow containers.)
In order to create a simple organic hydroponic system, you may use a standard hydroponic grow container, or a coir fiber container. The standard grow container is first filled with lava rock half way up from the bottom of the container. The upper remainder of the container houses a simple mixture of 1/3 coarse grade horticulture perlite, 1/3 large-sized horticulture vermiculite, and 1/3 potting soil. You should place a thin layer of hydroponic medium, such as loose coir fiber, or loose rockwool on top of the lava rock. This will act as a “medium divider” to prevent any of the soil mixture from dropping down into the lava rock. This layering of mediums best promotes the upper capillary action of the water and prevents any organic particles from flowing downward into the bottom of the grow bed.
If a standard plastic hydroponic grow container is used, a plastic screen lining fitted on the inside circumference of the entire container, from the bottom up the sides to the top, will further prevent most small particles of the soil mixture from getting into the water if a standard plastic hydroponic container is used. Using a hydroponic container with small holes is helpful also.
Coir fiber containers are excellent for this also, the construction of the coir fiber container will prevent any loss of soil. A large coir fiber container is filled about half way up from the bottom with lava rock, or any suitable hydroponic material. A small dividing layer of loose or strand coir fiber is placed on top of the lower medium, and then a soil or my suggested soil mixture is placed in the upper section of the container.
The container is then placed in the grow bed with the water level just slightly below the “soil” line. The submerged lava rock, or other hydroponic medium along with the secondary root system, will encourage the capillary flow of water upward into the soil, thus keeping the soil mixture or medium always moistened. The separate upper and lower sections may also be watered independently. The lower section may be continually watered throughout the day on a hydroponic schedule, different from perhaps once a day watering, which would only be required for the upper “soil” section. (See Diagram 2 for container placement.)
The upper soil mixture or medium is where the nutrients may now be placed. As the water reservoir periodically moistens the lower medium, moisture and air are drawn into the entire root structure of the plant, at regular intervals. Thus the plant is supplied with more of the vital oxygen and CO2 that enables them to metabolize the nutrients much faster.
Since the water reservoir is not used to distribute the nutrients as is done with the “traditional” chemical method, there will be no need to worry about the nutrient PPM of the water. The reservoir will be used for the periodic watering of the lower secondary medium and root structure only. Using this organic method makes hydroponic growing as easy as soil growing by eliminating the need to keep a fine-tuned and precise chemically-balanced water reservoir.
With the organic hydroponics method, all of the organic nutrients are applied directly to the upper “soil” medium, much as they would be applied to any soil. If the organic nutrients used are in a liquid form, they are simply mixed to a proper concentration, the same as would be for soil application, and poured on the top of the medium. The secret is to not apply too many liquid nutrients at once.
Different mediums will have the capacity to hold water more than others. To find out the capacity of your upper medium, simply pour 1 cup of water in the upper section of the hydroponic container filled with medium. If 1/4 cup of water runs out the bottom, you may conclude that the moisture-holding ability of your particular amount of medium is slightly less than 3/4 cup. Next pour ? cup of water into another container of your medium. If no water runs into the lava rock or out the bottom, you will then know that your medium will best retain 1/4 to ? cup of nutrients per feeding.
You do not want to feed your plants with more nutrient-filled water than the medium will hold or you will drip nutrients into the lower secondary section and the bottom of your grow bed where they will then be returned to your reservoir. If during some feeding you notice a bit of nutrient water dripping from your grow container, into the grow bed, it is a simple job to just soak it up with a rag. If you notice any nutrients seeping down from the bottom of the upper grow medium into the lava rock, change the lava rock and use less liquid, or no liquid nutrient as a delivery system.
I recommend that you grow your plants in my standard medium formula: 1/3 perlite, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 of organic potting soil, or any loose 100% organic soil mixture, in the upper section. This combination of ingredients holds the nutrients and facilitates the upward capillary action of the water delivered from the reservoir. Using an organic soil based upper primary medium will create microbial action.
If you wish, you may mix organic nutrients, such as worm castings, directly into the soil mixture. The organic nutrients may also be mixed into a half cup of water and poured evenly across the top of the upper primary medium. Or you may choose to spread organic nutrients on the top of the upper medium, followed by a fine misting of water directly on the top of the medium. With any of these application methods, the organic nutrients will enter the soil to be utilized by the plant.
The upper “soil” or “soil alternative” where the nutrients are delivered should be treated just like any standard soil container. A light spraying once or twice a day to moisten the upper medium will assist the capillary action of the water from the lower hydroponic roots and lava rock.
If a small bit of nutrients drain downward into the reservoir, it is all right. The larger volume of water in the reservoir can absorb a small amount of organic nutrients without causing a problem. Standard chemical reservoirs need to have their water reservoir changed every week to two weeks and the same is true with this process. The reservoir water is changed every 1 to 2 weeks, depending on your ability to keep it clean.
Place lava rock in the bottom half of the hydroponic grow container, place a ? inch medium divider of some hydroponic material, such as coir fiber, to prevent the soil from falling into the rockwool. Then place the medium of choice in the upper portion of the plant container. Place the container in the grow bed, so that only the lava rock will be watered. Using the Ebb and Flow method, when watering make sure the bottom of the upper medium will not be touched by the circulating water. If the circulating water touches the bottom of the upper medium, it may leach nutrients into the water in the reservoir. As the water circulates around the lower half of lava rock, a portion of water will capillary up through the medium divider and into the upper medium. (See Diagram 3. for a cut away drawing of organic water system.)
As the plants grow in the containers, they will develop two separate root systems. The upper root system will not use a hydroponic medium as the lower section does. I recommend that you use my standard suggested “soil” formula, or any organic soil, for the upper medium layer. You may use any organic nutrients, delivered either as a tea, spread on top, or mixed into the strata of the medium, with any of these hydroponic mediums.
The upper primary root system will develop a thick web-like matrix and structure of fine roots, similar to roots in standard soil. The upper medium will not be submerged in the water as the roots in the lower half of the container. The upper root web will allow for an enormous uptake of nutrients and create faster and more abundant growth. Plus the similar hydroponic nature of the upper medium “soil” mixture will allow additional oxygen to be exchanged within the medium.
In the lower half of the container filled with the lava rock, pumice, gravel, or sand, perlite, the secondary system of roots will develop. They will appear as the standard stringy, rope like structures common to hydroponic growing. There will be some fine hair-like roots, but not as abundant as those roots growing in the upper soil medium. These secondary roots, as with any hydroponic system, will take up water and, between watering cycles, be constantly exposed to more oxygen, which promotes faster metabolism and plant growth.
The water cycle may need a half hour, or less, to moisten the entire upper primary medium. If your upper medium takes longer to become completely moistened, then simply circulate the water at a slightly longer interval until the medium is properly moistened, or simply water the upper section separately, with a fine mist spray. The upper soil or medium only needs to be moist not soaked.
The development of a dual root structure will create a fast metabolizing growth system for your plants, that utilizes the essential processes and benefits of both soil and hydroponic gardening.
The organic nutrients placed in the upper soil portion of the container create roots that are allowed to develop in microbial activity, while the lower roots intake water as they are specially designed to do. This development of a dual root system creates a hydroponics process that is more similar to the growing processes in Nature than any other hydroponics process thus far.
The evolution to total organic hydroponics brings additional benefits to the entire world of hydroponics. This unique process eliminates the major problem of disposing of the chemically-laden water after the water is used in the standard hydroponics system. It eliminates the reliance on the hard-to-dispose of rockwool, or other nutrient filled waste material. And it permits the use of totally organic materials – from the mediums to the nutrients ? throughout the seed to harvest stages.
Hydroponics gardening is rapidly growing in popularity, as well as changing in technique. Evolving from the Ebb and Flow method, the Nutrient Film/Flow Technique and Aeroponics. It was not too long ago that Semi-Organic Hydroponics arrived on the scene. And now, with Totally Organic Hydroponics, you can grow 100% hydroponics organically!
I hope you will enjoy this wonderful new way of gardening. While growing your plants to a certain stage of maturity for personal use, follow the simple instructions in Totally Organic Hydroponics, and you will be well on your way to becoming an expert organic hydroponic gardener.
– This process is detailed in Paul Wright’s new book, Totally Organic Hydroponics. www.organiponics.com