Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is OceanGrown Fertilizer a Scam ? A Scientist's Point of View

In recent days I was contacted by a person who wanted to start selling the OceanGrow fertilizer who asked me to be the head of a research team to do scientific tests to evaluate if there is actually any value behind the OceanGrown fertilizer. After going through its webpage and doing and in-depth review of scientific literature on the subject I have acquired quite a lot of information about this fertilizer and its real potential as an organic solution and replacement for traditional fertilizers. On today's post I want to discuss this fertilizer, which is supposed to be used on either soil or hydroponics, and give you my opinion as a scientist and what the currently available scientific evidence tells us about the effectiveness of this and similar products.

The OceanGrown fertilizer is nothing more than sea water which has been concentrated - probably using reverse osmosis - to give us a fertilizer that is supposed to replenish the minerals lost in soil and provide plants with 90 elements for their adequate and healthy growth. The website has an overall pseudo scientific tone with absolutely no reliable scientific evidence shown and basing all conclusion on "facts" that have not been scientifically proved. For example, the website says that elements in sea water are in "ideal concentrations" when this has no scientific basis, no one has proved that certain nutrient concentrations are ideal and no study has actually been conducted to see if the concentrations of micro nutrients on sea water are ideal for plant growth.
Besides this, the people at OceanGrown assume that having all elements is "good" when actually even small amounts of mercury, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals can cause chronic effects when eaten continuously. They also show evidence that the elements are absorbed by the plants fed with their product something which is absolutely obvious given the fact that ionic species are absorbed by plants since their absorption mechanisms are not extremely controlled. Does the fact that a plant absorb aluminium or gold prove that the element is essential ? No, plants absorb ionic species without too much selectivity and when you feed a plant with a solution containing non-essential nutrients the plant is bound to absorb some. This effect is widely studied in science to remove heavy metal contamination and other ionic species using plants. There is no scientific evidence that points out that any elements besides C, H, O, N, P, K, Mg, Ca, Fe, Zn, Mn, Cl, Mo, B, S and Cu are essential to plant life or needed for the adequate and healthy development of plants.

The "essays" carried out to test this fertilizer's efficiency also lack any use of the scientific method and fail to discard very plausible causes of this fertilizer's sometimes positive effects. For example, increases in conductivity have been found to improve certain crops in hydroponic culture so the effect of this fertilizer might only be of ionic strength increasing which might help certain crops achieve better results. It is also possible that some micro nutrients - which are depleted in soil - might be added by this fertilizer but in the long term the excessive amount of sodium and chloride ions contained in sea water is bound to cause problems. The evidence that increased sodium concentrations in hydroponic crops causes damage to plants is a well established fact in the scientific community.

The people at OceanGrown seem to be trying to sell a fertilizer with extremely limited and lack of adequately confirmed evidence based on a series of pseudo scientific facts that are not adequately backed up by our current understanding of how plants work. This fertilizer might be able to work to some extent but the reasons why it does or if it causes any long term problems and damage to soil needs to be addressed to confirm the viability of this solution. Right now there is not even one single study published on a peer-reviewed scientific journal that talks about the effectiveness of OceanGrown or true scientific essays done with this solution. It seems evident to me that similar effects as the ones shown by this fertilizer might be achieved by a simple application of an adequately formulated micro-nutrient mix and that positive effects from all the trace elements found in sea water might be limited or undetectable at best.

In conclusion, I think that the OceanGrown fertilizer is a big business based on selling sea water that is currently based in pseudo scientific results. There is no evidence that plants need or benefit from 90 different elements and there is also no evidence that shows that this fertilizer has no long term ill effects due to the excessive sodium enrichment of soil. If this people were truly serious about proving that their fertilizer works in a unique way based on all of its trace elements they would have made adequate scientific trials years ago with reputable scientists from world renowned universities. My advice if you are thinking about using this solution would be to use what we know and have determined works for plants. The application of adequately formulated micro nutrient blends and full fertilizers is a much better solution than a pseudo scientific mess with no adequate scientific evidence of unique results.

Of course I am a scientist and as soon as there is a peer reviewed publication on a well-respected journal done by an unbiased researcher I will be the first to reexamine my conclusions and use this fertilizer. Meanwhile OceanGrow remains unproved and their claims or at least their explanations, remain pseudo scientific.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fruit Quality and High EC values in Tomatoes

You may remember an article I wrote last year about the effect of salt concentration in tomatoes and how several different studies have been done about this matter. On that article I talked about a paper released in 2007 showing that tomatoes raised at an electrical conductivity value of 4.5 dS/m had the best tasting and fruit quality. However, this study was not conclusive in the sense that quality parameters used on the plants where not extensive and adequately analyzed. On today's post I want to talk to you about a previous study done in 2006 which does include fruit quality parameters and a clear explanation about which conductivity levels give you the best tomatoes and why this is the case.

The relantionship between high conductivity and high fruit quality clearly depends on how you evaluate fruit quality. In general, the nutritional quality of a fruit is measured by the concentration of important nutrients within it. In the case of tomatoes, important nutrients such as lycopene, vitamin C, carotenoids and phenolics determine most of the tomato's nutritional value. However, fruit quality - from a market perspective - relates to size, shape, uniformity and firmness and market duration.
On a study published on the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2006, Woitke et al discussed the effect of electrical conductivity on the yield and quality of tomato crops. Their conclusions after analyzing the concentration of several nutrients at different salinity levels was clear : tomato crops which are raised at higher EC levels have lower overall yield but the concentration of nutrients (vitamin C, lycopene and beta-carotene) was increased by as much as 38% on high conductivity treatments (again at about 4-4.5 dS/m). They also found a nutrient-quality increase as the antioxidative capacity of the phenols and carotenoids increased on the plants with high nutrient treatments.

Another very important fact is that not only nutritional value was increased but total dissolved solids and organic acids - which contribute significantly to the fruit's flavor - also increased significantly. Overall the study concludes that all quality related parameters increased with the increase in salinity pointing out clearly that raising tomatoes at high salinity levels is an excellent way to increase fruit quality. The reduction of yield can be compensated for by the higher inner quality of the fruit allowing it to compete more effectively with other higher-yielding yet lower quality productions within the market.

So next time you want to increase the taste and nutritional qualities of your tomatoes just raise your EC levels so that your fruits accumulate the higher levels of nutrients and flavor producing substances that reside within every small tomato. Certainly your tomatos will be the envy of all other growers with their higher nutrient and flavor levels and increased antioxidative capacity.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Best Outdoor Hydroponic System. A Simple Way to Grow Large Amounts of Food

I have always seen that there is not a lot of information regarding outdoor hydroponics and the building of scalable and cheap systems that may provide large amounts of food without the complexity, trouble and expense of building a greenhouse. For the past several years I have been puzzled by this issue and I have challenged myself to build an outside hydroponics system that is able to deal with environmental conditions successfuly, providing adequate conditions for plant growth without significant expenses and without the need for any protective enclosure. Finally, I came up with a system which - I believe - has a lot of promise for the above, giving us the opportunity to build an outdoor hydroponic system which has a low cost and a very high productivity potential. On today's post I will be talking about this system and how it can be easily built with less than 1K USD for each 100 square meters.

How do you build a scalable system that can be used on the outdoors with minimal problems due to uncontrolled environmental conditions ? The easiest thing I could think of was a simple continuous flow system which used the ground itself as a place to put the plants. This system uses no NFT channels, no large amounts of PVC pipes and absolutely no complex engineering. The system - shown on the drawing below - is simply a channel which is dug on the ground of about 2 meters wide by 25 cm deep. The nutrient reservoir can be a tank burried in the ground or a reservoir made from bricks and tiles out of another hole dug on the ground depending on the actual volume needs of the crop. The hydroponic system uses a PVC line connected to a pump to irrigate the system at the top and a small decline in the slope of the channel allows the solution to return to the tank through an underground pipe shown in dark blue. The channel is filled with a nutrient media that has adequate drainage and the nutrient solution is fed continuously through the irrigation system. Of course, when the channel is dug on the ground the soil has to be covered with a polyethylene sheet to prevent the solution to drain into the soil.
This system allows you to grow a wide variety of crops, from tomatoes to lettuce heads. The system can be used to grow plants of various sizes and nutritional needs since the media and continuous flow irrigation provides great oxygenation as well as a cheap alternative to more complex systems such as NFT or PVC pipe systems. The system is also absolutely scalable, it can be built from a few square meters to a full plot size commercial cultivation facility without significantly changing the principle of operation. Since the surface area of the system is also large, and all nutrient solution is returned to a central reservoir, rain volume can be accurately determined and nutrients can be added or changed to make up for this effect of external environmental conditions.

The image shown below shows you how the system can be expanded to a full plot system without any modification of the fundamental working principle. The only things that need to be bought to start this system are a tank, a shovel, a polyethylene sheet as large as the channel requires, PVC pipes for the irrigation system and returns pipes, media, nutrients and seed. Since there is no greenhouse, no gutters, no polymer channels and no expensive irrigation equipment, the system is very simple and effective at growing plants at a large or small scale under outdoor conditions. It is also perfect for people who want to start a small hydroponic business and then expand it as they want to increase their production, since adding channels is easy and requires almost no changes (besides perhaps having larger pumps and increasing reservoir size once this is required).
In the end I believe that this system summarizes everything that I wanted to achieve with an outdoor hydroponic system. It is able to control and measure the effect and added volume of rain, allows the growth of a large variety of plants and provides us with a cheap and scalable solution to small and large scale commercial growing. Definitely there will be some problems that will probably have to be solved once larger applications start to develop but certainly I can say right now that this idea seems to be the largest, cheapest and most scalable solution for outdoor hydroponic growing available online :o).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Crazy pH Swings - How Media and Bacteria Affect pH in Hydroponics

I usually get an email from time to time from someone who is experiencing wild pH swings in their hydroponic reservoirs. Growers usually tell me that their pH was around 6.2 one day and then 8.0 by the next morning or some similar story. This situation becomes a little bit frustrating as the grower does a huge effort to keep the solution at a certain pH level only to realize that after a certain time the pH of the solution simply starts to swing wildly between very odd values. In order to help new and experienced growers better understand the nature of these swings, what they mean, and how they can be eliminated for good I decided to write this small article on hydroponic pH swings and how variables different to plant feeding affect pH levels.

Let's suppose you got home from work, prepared a new batch of nutrient solution and set your pH level at a very comfortable level of 5.7. By the next day, when you wake up in the morning to check your plants you find that the pH of your solution is 7.5. You start to argue with your pH meter, recalibrate, readjust your solution and leave for work. When you come back - to your surprise - your pH level is now around 7.3. What ? - you ask yourself - What could be wrong if you set the pH to 5.7 again and it again went up to 7.3 ?

The answer to these wild pH swings comes from an understanding of the chemistry behind everything within your hydroponic system. Generally these swings towards high pH values are caused by media which has surface-active basic sites which act like "buffers" and readjust the pH of your nutrient solution to their own "preset" pH level. This is very much like the mechanism used by soils to naturally control pH, only that this time the minerals are playing against you. Substrates that have been made at high temperatures which have basic potential - such as rockwool - show this kind of behavior. Other media such as river bed gravel also show strong pH buffering effects due to their natural mineral composition.

How do you end this problem ? The easiest way to end this problem is to pretreat your media before starting your crop. Place your media in a bucket and then add 1 liter of vinegar for every gallon of water. The media will attempt to neutralize the acetic acid and in doing so it will lose the proton capturing ability of its surface basic sites. Using a weak acid like acetic acid is better than using a strong acid - like nitric acid - because this ensures that residual acids within the media won't lead to other extreme pH fluctuations. After the media is soaked in the vinegar solution measure the pH, wait a day and measure it again. If there is no difference between both readings then you can now wash and use the media - if there is - then you need to wait another day and remeasure.

Now basic media is not the only problem around. There are also wild swings to acid values which are usually a consequence of bacterial growth or dying organic matter. When organisms die or when they are being decomposed by bacteria organic acids - which lower pH - are released into your nutrient solution. Wild swings into the 3.5-4.5 region usually mean that the problem is not media but related to root disease. You should do a hydrogen peroxide treatment (check my articles on peroxide for more on this) and wait to see if pH levels stabilize after a while. In extreme cases, physical removal of dead root material may be necessary to correct the problem.

Last but not least, the problem can also be related with plant feeding from a very scarse volume of solution. If you are handling less than 1 gallon per plant of solution in your reservoir then it is likely that plants themselves - through the absorption of nutrients - are causing the swings. This is easily fixed by placing a larger reservoir and ensuring that you are always recirculating at least 1 gallon per plant of nutrient solution. Hopefully with the above guide you will be able to better understand "wild" pH swings and take corrective action whenver you see this behavior happening within your hydroponic crop.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Preparing your Own Chelates - Improving Your Hydroponic Nutrients

If you have already read my free ebook for preparing hydroponic solutions and you have already seen many commercial and other standard formulations you may be asking yourself if you will have problems with iron due to the unavailability of any chelating agents. The truth is that I have used formulations without any chelating agents several times and I haven't had any problems when they are prepared by the ebook. However many of you may be interested in the addition of chelating agents and you may wondering how you may modify the spreadsheet or what you should add in order to generate the adequate chelates. On this post I want to explain a little bit how you can add chelating agents to your reservoir to chelate the salts mentioned on my ebook and how this can easily generate all the chelated metal complexes you need to avoid any solubility problems.
What is exactly a chelate and what are they good for ? A chelate is simply an organic molecule that "wraps" itself around a metal ion and prevents its precipitation, increasing its solubility. Chelates also diminish the amount of available metal ions to plants and therefore they slowly release the quantities of micro nutrients available for plant growth. There are many available pre-made chelates on the market such as Fe-EDTA. However, the cheapest way to generate chelates once you already have a standarized formulation based on simple inorganic salts is to add a chelating agent.

The most common of these agents is called Ethylendiamintetraacetic Acid (EDTA), a tetraprotic acid which is able to chelate most metals with a particularly high afinity for Fe. However, when you add only chelated iron, the fact that other metals start to compete makes the iron complex destabilize and the chelate is eventually destroyed. However, when we add the chelating agent we can make sure that we add enough to "wrap" Fe and other metals in such a way that the stability of the iron complex is guaranteed.

When we add the chelating agent we do not add EDTA (the acidic form) but we add it as a salt of another element, usually K-EDTA. Once this is added to the solution the EDTA quickly gets rid of K and goes for another metal - such as Fe - for which it has a much higher affinity. The chelating agent quickly forms complexes with all the metals it loves and you end up with a solution that is highly stable and not prone to any micro nutrient related precipiation. How much do you need to add ? Depends on your formulation. The spreadsheet download with the ebook shows the amount of chelating agent (K-EDTA) you need to add to the END solution after all micro nutrient concentrated solution additions have been done (this amount fully complexes Fe, Mn, Zn and Cu).

Urea in Hydroponics - Positive or Negative ?

When we supply nitrogen in our hydroponic solutions there are always a several ways in which we can fulfill our plants' needs for this nutrient. The traditional way is to supply nitrogen solely as nitrate (NO3-) salts, something which is well proven to give good results, high yield crops and better than soil growth. However it is always good to ask if a combination or the use of additional nitrogen sources may improve the outcome of our hydroponic experience. Particularly since plants in soil absorb nitrogen as nitrate and ammonia it becomes worth asking if a slow releasing source of ammonia- such as urea - would improve the yields of our hydroponic system. On this post I will write a little bit about the use of urea in hydroponics and the scientific evidence that there is to support or reject its use.

Urea is an organic molecule which slowly decomposes in water to yield ammonia and carbon dioxide. If the media is slightly acidic, the ammonia released will get protonated to form ammonium, a form of nitrogen which can be readily assimilated by most plants. Moreover, this form of nitrogen can also be processed by bacteria to yield nitrate, providing us with an additonal - slow release- mechanism for nitrate supplementation. Several research groups have asked themselves if urea would bring any significant benefits to hydroponics crops. Of particular interest was a study published by Oda et al, dealing with the effects of Urea and nitrate fertilization in hydroponics crops using both organic (peatmoss and baggasse), inorganic (rockwoll and sand) media and pure NFT systems.
After doing a study with several concentrations of Urea and Nitrate -both by themselves and combined - this research group found out that Urea does not improve crop yields in NFT systems and indeed pure nitrate does the best job when no media is in place. When media is introduced, organic media shows a faster Urea to Ammonia conversion but Ammonia to nitrate conversions are faster in inorganic media. However, the effect of Urea remains poor in the sense that nitrate-only crops outperformed almost all crops except for some plants grown with small quantities of Urea which proves to be beneficial in the same way as small additions of ammonia are already known to be.

So in the end, is it worth to add Urea to a hydroponic formulation ? The scientific evidence says that Urea does not have any clear beneficial effect that could not be gained by a small addition of ammonium salts, something which has already been confirmed by several studies done on different plant species. If you are planning on starting a new hydroponics crop adding about 5-10% of your total nitrogen as ammonium may prove to be beneficial but any addition of Urea seems completely unecessary.

Of course, further research on this subject would be needed to know the effect of nitrate/ammonium/urea combinations to know if the beneficial effects are a sole consequence of the presence of small quantities of ammonia or a virtue of the "regulatory" effects introduced by Urea as a slow release ammonium fertilizer.

Hydroponic Tomato Formulations - Nutrients for Every Growth Stage

One of the most interesting things that can be done once you know how to prepare your own hydroponic nutrients (check out my free ebook on the right hand menu) is to make formulations for the different growth stages of your crops. Certainly the variation of several nutrients along the different stages of a plant's life will guarantee optimal production with better than average results. In the beginning it certainly isn't very clear how you should vary nutrients and careful care about the amounts - particularly the ratios between nutrients - have to be taken into account in order to have the best possible results. On today's post I want to talk a little bit about hydroponic tomatoes and how we can design a very specific "feeding schedule" with small modifications in our nutrient formulations for the whole growing process of this plant.

When you are growing plants, their needs are obviously not the same along all their growing stages. In a similar way as a 5 year old human doesn't need the same nutrients as a 16 or 52 year old, plants that are just germinating and plants that have been flowering or have just begun their fruiting have different nutritional needs. In tomatos, these differences manifest themselves as different demands for the different nutrients. For example, demand for magnesium, nitrogen and potassium increases as the plant grows older as more nutrients are needed to develop more live material. However some needs - such as those of micronutrients - remain fairly constant as the demand for most of these ions is not increased radically as the plant grows.
Of partiular usefulness to understand how to improve your tomato crop by developing a formulation schedule is a study done by the university of Florida by Hochmuth et al. The study shows the design and application of a feeding schedule to tomato crops from transplant to fifth cluster development, changing nutritional input as the plant develops. You can access this study here and look at all the different formulations developed for different stages of tomato growth. By using the ppm values provided on this study you can easily prepare nutrient solutions using the spreadsheet provided with my nutrient preparation ebook (available freely).

When you analyze the nutritional formula given above you can see how some nutrients are increased gradually while some are increased in large steps. You can also see how some ratios - like the N/K and Ca/K relationships - vital to the development of healthy tomato fruits, develop as the plants reach a more mature stage. In the beginning, small quantities of nitrogen (< 70 ppm) are available while in the end this quantity is increased to 150 ppm falling in line with the demand of a much larger fruit-producing plant.

Hopefully with the above guidance and reasearch article you will be able to start some customized nutrient scheduling for your tomato crops to improve their yields, making sure that your plants get the most out of the nutrient formulations they are using.

How to Have a Constant pH in Hydroponics - No More Corrections ! :o)

Those of you who have read my other articles or all of you who have already had your first hydroponic crop know that pH is a constant concern which becomes a little bit of a pain after a while. Hydroponic gardeners need to constantly adjust the pH of their hydroponic solutions to the desired level and - although many are really obssesive about this - it is truly not very comfortable to have to do these corrections day in and day out. So how do we completely avoid the need to modify the pH of our hydroponic crop ? How can we maintain the pH of our crop constant as time evolves ? Through this article I will show you what I have found out - both through personal research and an extensive literature search - and you will see that there is a very EASY solution to maintain the pH of your hydroponic solution with NO further modifications.

So how do you maintain pH constant ? There are several ways to tackle this problem. The use of a citrate/buffer has been discussed on a previous article but its use is affected by the fact that calcium citrate is insoluble and nutrient solution composition limits the concentration and effectiveness of the buffer to around 1mM. Carbonate ions also pose a problem since their concentration also needs to be kept at a safe thresehold for the plants which is also around the 1mM level. In the end this buffer is able to control pH to a good extent buts its practical use is limited by calcium levels and the presence of citrate ions may also cause important complexation of ions such as zinc, an effect which - if used excesively - may cause micro nutrient defficiencies.

How do we keep pH constant without using any buffer ? The solution comes as ion exchange resins. These substances are polymer like matrixes which have functional groups on their surface that react with acids and bases and provide you with a constant pH level. Ion exchange resins are insoluble and the only thing they need to be efficient is to have solution passed around them all the time. So it is simply a matter of putting the ion exchange resin in a place where fresh passing solution will be in contact with it all the time - like inside a filter connected to the irrigation system - and thats it, no more pH problems, no more additions to control pH, problem absolutely solved.
However not ALL ion exchange resins work. Particularly the type of resins that work well in hydroponics are weakly acidic cation exchange resins and their effect has been studied extensively on several peer reviewed publications. If you want to use these resins in your hydroponic system you need to buy the commercially available Amberlite DP-1, Amberlite IRC-50 or the more recently available Amberlite CG50. You would need about 1g per gallon of solution you wish to control and you should place the resin in an inline filter - those used for drip irrigation are great - to achieve the desired pH control levels. When the resin stops working you simply need to take it out, wash it place it in dilute hydrochloric acid (your average pH down solution will do), then wash it again, to regenerate its surface and prepare it for another crop.

If you are wondering where you can buy these resins, sadly DP-1 and IRC-50 have gone out of production but small quantities are usually available on ebay if you want to buy them. Similar resins are also produced by chinese companies right now so if you are into importing you may also explore that option. The easiest resin to get is Ambertlite CG50 which is the weakly acidic resin that replaced the two above, you can buy it from well-known chemical suppliers here and here. They are expensive but they can be renewed almost infinitely (more than 100K times) :o)

I have used these resins with very good success on several hydroponic crops and I can tell you that I haven't added a drop of pH up or down during more than 3 months of growing. When pH fluctuations start to become important I simply take the resin out, regenerate it and put it back in. A very simple process which needs to be done about once every 3-4 months. If you want them to last longer, simply add more resin ! I hope that this article helps all of you who have been dealing with the pH adjustment problem finally get rid of this matter an achieve a new era of success in your hydroponic gardening :o)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Importance of Oxygen in Hydroponic Systems

It is very common for new hydroponic gardeners to have an over developed focus on the nutrient aspects of their cultures while totally neglecting other very important aspects such as aeration and light. Some of the most common problems that plants face are a direct consequence of a lack of a proper supply of oxygen, issues which could easily be fixed if this factor was taken into account with as much interest as the composition and character of the hydroponic nutrients used. On today's post I want to talk a little bit about the paramount importance of oxygen, why it is so important and what things you can do to ensure that your hydroponics crops are not starved of this extremely important element.

First of all we need to understand why plants need oxygen. This gas is vital for many living organisms because it performs a very important function within their cells. Oxygen reacts with carbohydrates within any aerobic organism's organelles to produce ATP, which is the primary chemical used to fuel biochemical processes. Plants need this ATP to perform several functions which require energy, like the absorption of nutrients and the production of aminoacids. Plants need great amounts of oxygen in their roots in such an extent that one of the limiting factors of growth in hydroponics - after light - is oxygen availability to root cells.
A very important thing that you must take into account is how much oxygen your hydroponic system allows roots to have. Static culture systems, like lettuce floating rafts or any system where roots are permanently soaked in water offer little available oxygen since the solubility of oxigen in water is quite low. Even if you aerate the solution constantly using an airpump, the solubility limitation makes the use of such systems to grow large plants - such as tomatoes - extremely difficult.

Larger plants, which have much larger nutrient and energy requirements generally need systems in which the availability of oxygen is not limited. In this case systems where roots are periodically wet and exposed to air have very good results. For example, ebb & flow and drip irrigation systems in which plants are in contact with nutrient solution and with air in an on/off manner guarantee that the large oxygen requirements of energy demanding plants will be fulfilled. In the end, you will see that plants will perform much better when their oxygen and nutrient availability is optimal. For this reason - aeroponic systems - which supply both requirements in an ideal fashion tend to give the best results for most plant types.

In your hydroponic system, ensuring a good supply of oxygen is absolutely vital. You should ensure that your hydroponic system is adequate for the plant you want to grow and you must also check that your system is always giving its maximum oxygenation potential. In static systems you always need to check the frequency and quantity of aerators and on dynamic setups checking cultivation media drainage and irrigation frequency is key to get the best possible results. After taking into account all this you will see that paying close attention to oxygenation will eliminate many of the problems you may have, giving you a much healthier and productive hydroponic crop.

Making Your Own Hydroponic Solutions - Download my Free Ebook

Many of us have always dreamed about making our own hydroponic solutions to stop buying all those expensive solutions from the hydro fertilizer companies. Sadly, most people do not have the necessary knowledge to prepare solutions and coming up with an adequate formulation seems to be extremely difficult for almost everyone out there. As a chemist, I have the fortune of having the knowledge necessary to prepare hydroponic solutions and the initiative to teach you how to do this by yourselves in an understandable way. Through the past 6 years I have worked as a hydroponic consultant, lecturer and avid gardner and I believe this experience allows me to teach all of you how to design your own hydroponic solutions.

How do you make your own final solutions ? The first thing is to get away from the notion that doing this is extremely difficult. Certainly there are a lot of technical aspects that need to be known but I have taken them all and simplified them so that everyone can actually make their own hydroponic fertilizers with little or no practice. Within my ebook - which you can download freely at the end of this post - you will find detailed instructions on how to prepare your own hydroponic solutions using a spreadsheet I made that makes the preparation of these solutions extremely easy.
My ebook gives you the ability to take any formulation and easily translate it into the real amounts of chemicals you need to weight in order to prepare your final hydroponic nutrient reservoirs. All the chemicals I have included within the ebook are extremely easy to find - as they are very common fertilizers- allowing you to prepare ANY formulation you may want. You can now fulfill your dreams of preparing one solution for each separate growth stage controlling the exact amount of each single nutrient you add into the solution.

What you will find here is a very easy to use solution - made by a proffesional in chemistry - that will help you prepare fertilizers in the most cost effective yet flexible and satisfying way there is. You will now know exactly was is inside your hydroponic formulations and you will be able to pin-point and solve any nutrient related problems that may arise within your crop. You will also be able to easily discard problems as not being nutrient related since you KNOW the exact quantities of each nutrient you are putting into the solution.

So are you ready to embark yourself in the journey for total freedom and independence in the world of hydroponic nutrient solutions ? You can download my ebook here. Please leave any comments with any suggestions, questions or doubts you may have :o) Also if you want to share this ebook with anyone please direct them to my website so that they can download it themselves.

I have also recently made a great move forward by coding my own windows application to calculate hydroponic nutrient formulations. If you would like to learn more about this program and download it absolutely for FREE please follow the link shown below.

Hydroponic Nutrients... Why Solid is Better than Liquid

One of the most important decisions you can make when buying hydroponic nutrients for your plants is the way in which the nutrients are prepared. Fertilizers for soil-less culture are available both within solid and liquid presentations and it is very likely that you have been buying the liquid once up until now since these are the most well-known and easiest to prepare. However, you may not be realizing that by buying liquid fertilizers you are putting an enormous burdden on your hydroponic growth wallet. The fact is that by buying solid hydroponic nutrients you could be saving 5 to 10 times your hydro-food costs. Within today's post I will explain to you the difference between solid and liquid fertilizers and why buying solid nutrients is always a better choice for your hydroponic garden.

Liquid fertilizers available for hydroponics are generally prepared by dissolving an array of salts and additives in water. After these additions are done the concentrated solution is prepared and ready to be sold. When you get it the only thing you need to do is to take a given measure of volume from the liquid and poor it into your hydroponic reservoir. What you may not be realizing is that - due to the fact that salts need to be dissolved in water - there is an inherent limitation in the amount of nutrients you are getting and most of what you are buying is actually water. There is also the added cost that in order to make up a concentrated nutrient solution, compatible salts have to be used. This limits the chemicals that can be purchased and makes the cost of the fertilizer higher.

When you purchase a solid hydroponic fertilizer you simply buy a mixture of salts which you then need to weight and dissolve in a given volume of water. Since there is actually no water and the salts don't need to be predissolved in a concentrated solution, the array of salts that can be used are a lot wider and much cheaper costs can be achieved. Added to that is the fact that packing is a lot simpler and much more efficient since the need to bottle solutions is unecessary. In the end you will see that with 2 pounds of solid nutrients you will be able to prepare more than 300 gallons of nutrient solution while you would probably need much more (about 10-30 gallons of concentrated solution) to prepare the same amount using concentrated liquid fertilizers.
You will definitely see that most hydroponic fertilizer companies are simply charging you a lot for liquid fertilizers when you could as easily be buying bulk solid fertilizers at a fraction of the cost. Premixed solid hydroponic fertilizers are also widely available commercially and easily made up with some basic chemistry concepts (more on this on a later article!). So next time you are planning to buy more hydroponic fertilizers think about cost efficiency and look for some solid premixed hydroponic nutrients which are bound to give you as good - or better - results than your previous liquid mix.

Hydroponic Solutions and Vitamins... NO real proof

It has always surprised me that vendors of hydroponic solutions have always included vitamins and other nutrients as a "boost" and "bonus" of their nutrients. It is not very rare to see a fertilizer containing vitams of the B complex, C, E, etc. When I first learned about this practice to include vitamins - as an avid hydroponic gardner and consultant - I decided to look into this and see if there was actually any positive effect or recorded evidence of the effect of adding vitamins into a nutrient solution. On today's post I want to talk a little bit to you about my findings on the subject and the real truth behind the addition of vitamins and other "mysterious" additives into nutrient solutions.

What is a vitamin ? In order to understand the problem we first need to understand what a vitam is. These compounds are usually defined as substances which are not synthetized by an organism - usually humans - and needed in milligram or submilligram doses each day for survival. This means that vitamins are vital nutrients which are not synthetized by the human body but - unlike other chemicals - they are only needed in very small amounts. The reason for this is that vitamins are usually used only as means -not as ends - within our body's biochemistry. So the body uses vitamins as intermediaries for a lot of biochemical processes and only a few vitamin molecules are actually damaged along the way. If a small diary intake is not made to replace the lost soldiers your body will eventually run out of these "messengers" and you will die.
Why in the world do plants need vitamins ? The truth is that plants don't need vitamins because they are the organisms which produce them. Consuming vitamins is vital to us - humans - because we cannot make them within our bodies. However, the vitamins we eat come naturally from plants or other organisms who have eaten plants as well. So do plants need vitamins ? No, they don't. The question now would be : do plants benefit from the addition of vitamins to their roots and/or leaves ?

The fact is that there is simply absolutely NO scientific evidence published in a peer reviewed journal that points this out to be the case. I carried out an extensive search for any scientific literature that evaluated the effect of vitamins on plants and I came up with nothing. No one has studied this and no one has ever claimed that there is any benefit whatsoever gained from adding vitamins to nutrient solutions. Why do sellers do this then ? The fact seems to be that people buy solutions that have vitamins more, just because we have been educated to believe that vitamins are good. So if they are good for us, then maybe for our plants too.

The truth is that whatever benefit is gained from adding vitamins is not documented or accurately studied by an unbiased third party so up until now there is no scientific evidence to proof that vitamins do anything more than add to the price tag of whatever hydroponic nutrient you are getting. The fact is that as many other substances, vitamins may just be used - either by microorganisms within the solution that cannot produce them - or they may simply decompose as oxygen reacts with them. So next time you are going to buy your nutrients you should ask yourself... Is there really any benefit to this additive ?

Choosing a LED Grow Light for your Hydroponic Crop

One of the most common problems faced by urban gardeners who want to deal with hydroponic crops is lack of light. Generally plants need very large amounts of light to grow which can only be given by very powerful and expensive lamps which also have the big draw back of consuming large amounts of power. The solution - now readily available - is to buy light emitting diode (LED) lamps to deal with a very efficient yet low consuming light source for your plants. On today's post I want to talk to you about how you can choose your light emitting diode lamp for hydroponic growth and what lamps you should definitely avoid if you don't want your crop not to be a total failure.

So what is so expensive about current lamps and so great about LEDS ? Currently the traditional way to supply artifical light to crops has been the use of full spectrum lamps which can be either tungsten metal halide or high pressure sodium (although sodium lamps have a much narrower spectrum). These lamps are very inefficient - wasting most of the power given to them as heat - and therefore consume great amounts of power. A high pressure sodium lamp (HPS) needs to consume about 400-700W to be able to sustain an average tomato plant. The truth is that most of this energy is wasted as heat and almost none of it (around 20-40W of light) are actually absorbed by the plant.

Here is when LEDS come to save the day. Light emitting diodes are very efficient in generating light from electricity (wasting only a small fraction of the energy as heat) and they also provide light in very narrow ranges which can be tuned to only supply the wavelengths needed by plants. The reason why plants are green is because their main photosensitive pigment is chlorophyll (there are several types by the way), a pigment that absorbs red and blue wavelengths and reflects green. With this in mind - not only are LEDS able to supply your hydroponic plants witha higher efficiency - but they are also able to provide your plant with only the colors of light it needs. Achieving a double gain in efficiency. As a matter of fact, a LED lamp with just 60W is enough to grow a tomato plant.

However, not all LEDS are created equal. Many people think that all LED lamps are the same and they end up buying cheap LED lamps or panels that simply do not provide plants with the energy they need to grow. There are generally two kinds of LEDS available for lamps. The first kind - low power LEDS - are the type of lights used to make your computer and keyboard lights. These lights are weak and they are usually sold in the forms of panels with HUNDREDS to make them appear "useful" for hydroponic growth. The second - high power LEDS - are lights used for traffic lights and high power applications and they ARE the type you need for hydroponic growth.
In general, when you are looking to replace your TMH or HPS lamps with LEDs you need to look for high power LED lamps in the range of 50-100W for each 400W lamp you want to replace. You also need to look at the red to blue light ratio since different plant varieties need different proportions of light. If you are growing plants that need to have flowers then you will need to aim for a red to blue ratio of about 8:2 while plants that do not produce flowers may grow well with only red lights. This is - of course - a very course guide to the light color ratio but it may guide you well when you are looking for lamps for a certain crop.

With this small guide and knowledge you will be able to eliminate most lamps that do not work and buy high power LED lamps that will deliver and provide you with a much more efficient, cooler and more eco-friendly way to provide your hydroponic crop with artificial light.