Why do I have to adjust the pH of my nutrient solution?
Why do I have to adjust the pH of my nutrient solution? A: Soil has a good capacity to buffer pH. This means that when the pH level of water is not ideal, the makeup of the soil acts as a buffer and balances out the pH of the incoming water to generally an acceptable level. It is important to adjust the pH of a hydroponic nutrient solution because there is no soil to act as a buffer and correct an improper pH level. It must be done manually adding pH up or pH down to the water after the nutrient has been added to the solution. Setting pH to the correct level will allow the plants to uptake all of the nutrients required for optimum growth.

Do I need to use distilled or RO water for hydroponics?
No, it is not absolutely required to run Reverse Osmosis or Distilled water for hydroponic gardens. However, a percentage of your plants feed will consist of whatever minerals are found in your water. Most water still works well, but in some cases or when the gardener is looking for complete control of the nutrients their plants are consuming purified water may be the best option. It is often necessary to replenish the Calcium and Magnesium levels in purified water to form a complete nutrient solution. Botanicare’s Cal-Mag supplement is carried by all Homegrown locations. It is also very difficult to stabilize the pH of purified water due to its lack of minerals to buffer the pH. The addition of Cal-Mag will help solve this issue.

What is the ideal pH level?
Generally in a hydroponic application plants should be kept between pH of 5.5 and 6.2. In a peat based soilless medium 6.2 tends to be an ideal level. In soil most plants excel anywhere in the pH range of 6 to 7. If the plant you are growing is not an acid loving plant, it will do better at a pH slightly higher than 7.0.

Is my well water okay for growing plants?
Without seeing an analysis it is impossible to answer this question. Often well water is very hard and should be used in conjunction with a nutrient line which has been specially formulated for use with hard water. The other option would be to run the well water through a Reverse Osmosis system to remove the excessive minerals.

My pH keeps fluctuating, what’s going on?
So you set the pH of your hydroponic reservoir to 5.5 only to return 2 days later to find the level has risen to a pH of 6.0! You’re wondering why the pH won’t stay where you set it? The nutrients you add to your reservoir are acidic. When the plant consumes these acidic nutrients, the natural reaction is a rise in pH. This means it is normal for your reservoir to have a natural pH up-swing. It is much more desirable than your pH dropping, which would indicate you have too much nutrient in your solution. Here is a cheat sheet: pH goes up, EC goes down = Plants are feeding. Potentially raise nutrient levels. pH goes down, EC goes up = Plants are putting nutrient into the water rather than taking them out. Nutrient levels are too high. pH stays stable, EC levels stay stable = Equilibrium. Plants are taking equal parts nutrients and water. Maximum growth is occurring. It is best to error on the side of caution and slightly underfeed you plants . This will encourage the natural pH swing from 5.5-6.2. Once your solution reaches the 6.2 mark it should be brought back down to 5.5 pH and allowed to slowly drift up again. The reason this is ideal is that the plants are able to take up specific nutrients more efficiently at different pH levels. By going up and down through the proper pH range the plant has good access to all nutrients required for optimal growth. Having the ability to monitor and adjust nutrient and pH levels in this fashion are one of the main benefits to an active or recirculating hydroponic system.

What is a good fertilizer to use for growing plants?
There are many good fertilizers available on the market for aiding in plant growth. However, when a gardener is growing hydroponically it is essential that they use a complete hydroponic nutrient such as the Dutch Nutrient Formula. The key things to look for in a premium hydroponic nutrient are a 2 part solution to prevent minerals from binding and no longer being available to the plant, an affordable nutrient, an easy to use nutrient and a nutrient that is complete with both micro and macro nutrients. Everything your plant requires for optimal growth should be contained in those two bottles. A premium nutrient will also have specific nutrients from the growth and flowering stages of plant life.

How much air is required to aerate my nutrient solution?
In a Deep Water Culture hydroponic system, it is absolutely crucial to have adequate oxygen levels because roots are submerged. For optimal growth it is recommended to have 1 Litre Per Minute of air pumped into each Gallon of nutrient solution. Therefore a 100 Gallon reservoir would require a 100 LPM air pump for maximum oxygenation. In every other hydroponic application it is only required to oxygenate the solution enough to prevent it from becoming anaerobic. This means much less air is required. Generally if you have good movement in the solution and the majority of the surface of the solution is broken with bubbles you should be fine. Roughly ¼ – ½ the oxygenation rate of a DWC system should be more than adequate. It is possible to have too much aeration because the bubbles coming out of the air stone or diffuser create friction. The more friction produced, the more heat produced. So in some cases adding more aeration can be counterproductive. Water temperatures also affect the amount of oxygen that water can hold. Excessive reservoir temperatures will prevent sufficient oxygen saturation levels. For this reason it is not recommended to exceed 68 Degrees Fahrenheit in your nutrient reservoir.

What strength fertilizer do I use for different stages of plant growth?
Most established plants grow and produce very well with a max nutrient concentration of 2.2 EC. When plants are first starting out they should be fed quarter strength fertilizer once they produce their first sets of true leaves from seed, or once they show roots as cuttings. * Seedlings and Cuttings 0.5-0.7 EC * Medium plants 1.0-1.4 EC * Established plants 2.0-2.2 EC Plants grown with high light levels and supplemental CO2 can often exceed these levels.

Are organic fertilizers better than synthetic fertilizers?
In certain applications, yes. In outdoor or living soil applications it is beneficial for the gardener to use organic nutrients because they will contribute to building up a healthy and living soil environment full of beneficial microbes and fungi that will sustain plant growth for years to come. The addition of slow release or liquid organic feed will improve the health of the soil and contribute to plant growth accordingly. Alternatively, synthetic nutrients will still increase the production of crops in soil. However, the soil quality can be negatively affected by these synthetic fertilizers and the soils become dependent on repeated applications of synthetic nutrient. Scientifically speaking, when an organic nutrient breaks down with the help of enzymes produced by bacteria living in the medium, it becomes chemically identical to a synthetic nutrient. The plant is not able to tell the difference between whether its nutrients were organically or synthetically derived. The difference lies is in the effect on the symbiotic relationship between the roots and the beneficial organisms living amongst them. Some gardeners feel that growing with organic nutrients will produce a better crop due to these organisms flourishing in the root zone. In hydroponic applications gardeners have the choice of using organic or synthetic nutrients with similar results. The synthetic nutrients generally give faster and more predictable results. Organic nutrients still produce excellent crops but can lead to more frequent cleaning of hydroponic systems and reservoirs.

How do I improve the performance of my outdoor soil gardens?
The best way to improve the performance of an outdoor garden is by amending your soil to improve its drainage, water retention and fertility. The addition of peat moss or coco coir will aid in fluffing up your mix which will increase the oxygen available to the root zone. Water retention should also be improved. The addition of premium organic slow release fertilizers will build up your soil quality for the long term, or faster acting liquid organic fertilizers can be used to increase soil fertility. Some of the most common additives to outdoor gardens are as follows: * Coco or Peat to improve aeration and water retention * Worm castings to provide growth hormones and nutrition * Kelp meal to provide micro nutrients * Volcanic and Glacial rock minerals to provide micronutrients and increase drainage * Premium organic additives such as Blood and Bone meal, Gypsum, Bat Guanos, Rock Phosphate, Alfalfa meal, Greensand, composted organic matter to add macro nutrients. * Dolomite Lime to buffer pH Some gardeners will produce compost teas out of these organic additives rather than working them into the soil. This allows the release of their nutrient much more rapidly for more immediate results.

What is Compost Tea and how do I make one?
Organic Teas or Compost Teas are teas made by combining organic additives with water and adding aeration to kick-start the decomposition process. The simplest way to produce a tea at home is to take a 5 gal pail (large pail) and fill it ¾ with de-chlorinated water. Next you add compost, worm castings or some other sort of organic fertilizer and some un-sulphured blackstrap molasses to the mix. You then connect an air pump to an air line with an air stone on the end and place the air stone in the pail as to oxygenate the solution. The result is rapid reproduction of the beneficial bacteria living in the organic matter due to the increased oxygen and carbohydrate food source. The organic matter gets broken down quickly which releases its nutritional content into the water. This process turns slow release organics into rapid acting organic fertilizer. A good recipe is as follows: * 5 Gal de-chlorinated water * 2 Cups Worm Castings * 2 Tbsp Bat Guano (veg or bloom depending on growth stage) * 1 Tbsp Humic Acid * 5 Tbsp Blackstrap Molasses (or other carbohydrate additive) * 1 Tbsp Kelp Meal * Bubble this for 24-48 hours until a frothy foam develops on the top of the pail * Dilute to 50% with a second pail of un-chlorinated water and pour or spray over plants

Why is a two part nutrient better than a one part nutrient?
Two part nutrients are superior to one part nutrients because they separate minerals which would otherwise bind together forming sediment in the bottle. These minerals can become permanently bound up and unavailable to plants. Keeping these nutrients separate when in concentrated form ensures a virtually unlimited shelf life and that 100% of the nutrient you are paying for is available to your plants.

How do I test my nutrient concentration?
The best way to test your nutrient concentration is with an EC meter. EC meters test the electrical conductivity of water, and give you an indication of of the strenghth of your nutrient solution. They work best with conventional mineral nutrients. EC meters are not as accurate for organic nutrients because not all the nutrients are in a form the meter can read. For more info, see our page about EC and Nutrients here.

What is the difference between EC, TDS and PPM. Which one should I use?
There are several tools available to test the Total Dissolved Solids present in a nutrient solution. Where it gets confusing is which units to display your values in. The most common are Electro Conductivity (EC) and Parts Per Million (PPM). EC is the best way to display the TDS of a nutrient solution because it is a universal unit. Unlike PPM which is EC x 0.5 or EC x 0.7. Since there are two different conversions of EC to PPM, PPM becomes an unreliable way to describe nutrient concentrations because you never know whether someone is using the same scale as you are. To break it down: * Electro Conductivity is displayed in EC or EC x 1000. * Parts Per Million is either EC x 0.5 or EC x 0.7 * Therefore 2.0 EC or 2000 EC = 1000 PPM or 1400 PPM depending on which conversion factor is used. 2000 EC x 0.5 = 1000 PPM or 2000 EC x 0.7 = 1400 PPM Seeing as how there are two different PPM values for the same EC value depending on conversion factor used, EC is a much better way to describe nutrient concentrations.