Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Step Forward : Moving from AllHydroponics to ScienceinHydroponics.com

Through the past few weeks I have been meditating about the current limitations of the blogger platform and how it makes my writing and customization options smaller and the look of my blog less professional. Due to the fact that I intend to start writing more and expanding this blog it becomes evident that I will need a much more powerful blog hosting platform and blogger seems to be limiting instead of helping my efforts in this regards. For this reason I have taken the decision to move my blog from its current blogspot home to a new self-hosted domain which I will use from now on to post new articles and releases of hydrobuddy.

This new website – scienceinhydroponics.com – will be the new home of my blogging effort in the area of hydroponic crop production and research. I will stop posting new articles on blogger and the old blogger website will start redirecting to the new wordpress based blog today. The idea of this new blog is to allow me to customize my website as much as I want and to be able to exploit the full potential of my web presence through the use of a self-hosted domain. In the future I hope that this move forward will make my content more professional and my efforts more worth-while. Future versions of hydrobuddy will now be released and maintained on the new wordpress blog and the previous blogger implementation will not be maintained anymore.

Of course if you have linked to my old blog the pages will not be deleted but they will cause automatic redirection towards my new domain. However the RSS feed will stop being updated so feel free to subscribe through my new blog’s RSS feed (links available on the top right corner of the blog). There are also now several buttons you can use in the bottom of each page to share the contents of the posts on facebook, twitter, etc and a Printer friendly function that will allow you to easily print my blog’s contents without any of the menus, etc. I hope that you will greatly enjoy this new blog which is a milestone achievement for me and the start of a new era for me as a much more professional blogger :o)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Making Isotonic Solutions For Draining : Preparing Your Own - and better - Clearex

When growing hydroponic products it is common in the industry to do a final treatment before picking up the crop in which nutrients are removed from the hydroponic solutions. While in most cases this is achieved by passing RO water through the system it is true that passing water with a very low osmotic pressure can make the plants absorb larger amounts of water than what we would ideally want, disturbing the osmotic equilibrium established by the roots with the nutrient solution. An approach that has been used to solve this problem is the use of isotonic cleaning solutions - such as Clearex - which drain the hydroponic media from nutrients without subjecting the roots to the stress of an hypo-tonic solution (such as RO or distilled water).

On today's article I will teach you what the Clearex solution is supposed to achieve and how you can make your own (or even a better) solution to solve this final draining problem. First of all, removing nutrient from a hydroponic solutions is not so hard. Simply by running RO water through your system after draining the original solution you will remove most nutrients since these salts - contrary to what some companies tell you - are readily soluble and easily leave the media and roots when washed with RO water. The small problem when using RO water is that it is hypo-tonic with the roots, meaning that water will go into the roots to attempt to "lower" the concentration of the solutes within the plant's cells.
Depending on what you want to achieve with this final draining solution you may have a problem when using such an hypo-tonic solution. In crops where there is fruit production, using such a solution can cause problems such as the rupture of fruits' skin due to the higher rate of water absorption that takes place when plants are placed in a hypo-tonic media. In order to avoid these problems the best thing is to use an isotonic solution which has an osmotic pressure similar to the original nutrient solution.

Clearex achieves this simply by combining a few sugars to a concentration of about 4-6% in order to get to the point where the osmotic pressure of both solutions is similar. Getting regular table sugar an dissolving it in a ratio of 50g per liter of solution will achieve very similar results as those obtained with Clearex. However using sugars like this can have additional problems since sugars stimulate the development of fungi and bacteria within the root zones of the hydroponic plants.

In my opinion it would be possible to achieve better results by using an isotonic solution with a combination of salts and sugars in such a way that non-nutrient salts are used to provide an ionic content to the draining solution. Using a combination of NaCl, Sucrose and Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate to achieve a more balanced solution may provide better results when doing this type of draining procedures. Of course, this is based purely on my anecdotal evidence and an adequately controlled study would be needed to say anything conclusive for a particular plant specie.

In the end making these solutions is extremely simple and buying Clearex or such other solutions made for this purpose is an obvious waste of money. If you have obtained good results with solutions like these then you can simply make your own with simple sugars while it is possible that you could obtain results just as good as those by using RO water if your crop is not sensitive to hypo-tonic conditions. If you want to experiment a bit I would recommend using a solution with about 150 mg/L NaCl, 100 mg/L NaHCO3 (sodium bicarbonate) and 10g/L of glucose. Let me know if you get better, worse or similar results :o) (note that this is NOT a straight solution but a concentrated additive that should be used until the desired EC levels are reached)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Imitating Commercial Nutrients : A Tutorial Using HydroBuddy (my free Hydroponic Nutrient Calculator)

A few months after the first official release of my free hydroponic nutrient calculator it seems that many people are using it to imitate commercial hydroponic fertilizer formulations. Although the calculator had the capacity to do this from the time when the "salts to formulations" feature was implemented many users apparently did not know how to use this very well and the process seemed to be more extensive than what would be ideally necessary to get the end ppm concentration values of some commercial fertilizer formulations. In order to make the process far easier I decided to implement a new feature within the calculator that allows anyone to easily input the guaranteed analysis of any commercial fertilizer, the density, the amount of mL or grams added per Liter or gallon and get the end ppm values which can now be used as a recipe in order to come up with a personal formulation that exactly mimics this end result.
This new feature - as shown above- is accessible through a button in the "Desired Formulation" tab. This button is located between the water quality and instrument precision buttons, just below the "preparation type" dialogue box. When this button is clicked a new window pops up in which the user can input the percentage composition of the commercial fertilizer he/she wishes to imitate as well as the manner in which this commercial fertilizer is supposed to be added in order to arrive at the final concentrations intended by the manufacturer.

For liquid fertilizers the maker usually gives you a volume measure to add per gallon or liter which should be expressed as mL per gallon or liter (you can choose if you want to specify the quantity added per gallon or liter using the radio buttons for this purpose). In the case of solid fertilizers the label usually tells you to add a given number of grams or ounces per liter or gallon. You can choose between specifying a given volume and density or a given weight by using the "Addition as weight" or "Addition as volume" radio buttons located at the top right of the new window.

Once you input these parameters you are now ready to get the intended end result for this commercial fertilizer by using the "Calculate Formulation" button. When you click this button the program will automatically calculate the end concentrations which result from adding the amount of the commercial nutrients you specified with the composition you also specified. These values are automatically copied to the "Desired Final Formulation" column and they can now be used to imitate the commercial formulation. You can now select a given number of salts you have available and use the regular preparation types in order to come up with a direct addition or 1:100 concentrated solution which will match up the end concentration results achieved with the commercial fertilizer you input.
Of course, this will NOT guarantee a perfect copy of the commercial fertilizer since many of the ingredients a commercial fertilizer may contain may not be listed or they can be listed but their actual concentration levels may not be specified. For example you will find that many commercial nutrients contain Boron but their guaranteed analysis does not show it. This is mainly because the law does not require them to include boron in their analysis and therefore they will add it but they will not disclose its actual concentration or sometimes even its presence. Several other additives or nutrients may receive similar treatment so for this reason it is always good to make up A and B concentrated solutions or direct additions which include ALL elements necessary for plant growth.

Do you find this feature useful ? Is there any feature that you would like to see implemented in hydrobuddy ? Feel free to leave a comment with any opinion or suggestion you may have :o)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bulding a World Without Hunger : The Massive and Passive Hydroponic System Project

If you have visited my blog within the past few days you have probably realized that I am interested in the further development and use of non-recirculating, totally passive hydroponic systems which are extremely easy to use and require no electricity or high setup costs. These systems are very important due to the fact that if made cheap and reliable enough they could vastly reduce the costs and water usage of agricultural crops around the world, making food cheaper, much more widely available, giving people in third world countries independence over the conditions of their soil allowing the cultivation of a wide variety of crops in areas where it was previously simply not possible.

However the fact is that currently the knowledge we posses about totally passive systems and the reliability of such implementations (and more importantly their robustness) has not been studied widely enough. For this reason I decided to start a project called the Massive and Passive Hydroponic Project or MPHP which is my attempt to use the internet - and most importantly the people who are interested in hydroponic around the world - to research this topic and get experimental results over different parts of the world, with different conditions and with totally different plant species.
Certainly many people will think that the information obtained in this way will have a ton of variability and therefore little value to further research on this field. On the contrary, I believe that - although such variability does exist - it could bring us very important and relevant information regarding the robustness and implementation easiness of such systems all around the world. Surely if these type of systems are to become good enough to replace a significant part of an agricultural setup they will need to be very robust and adapted against a wide variety of different conditions. This is what I want to find out with this project.

So if you want to help the world, help us gather information and build your own totally passive hydroponic crop, feel free to participate in the MPHP so that you can help us establish the robustness, production and conditions under which totally passive hydroponic systems can be implemented with success. If you want to participate just download the below mentioned document and send me an email to dfernandezp(at)unal.edu.co or leave a comment on this post. By following the instructions within the pdf and gathering information you will help build a better world and you will definitely learn a lot about passive hydroponic gardening :o)