Essential Tools Of A Hydroponics Grower
Being a hydroponics grower is more than planting a seed and hoping for the best. There’s so many factors that affect the growth of a plant and therefore every serious hydroponics grower has a keen interest in creating the best conditions for plants to grow to their fullest potential. Skill sets and theoretical knowledge is rendered useless without the right tools of the trade.
In this article we’ll go over the essential tools in a hydroponics grower’s toolbox. If you aim to grow big plants, it’s best to buy these tools and use them in your grow area!
Light Meter (Lumens/Lux)
We mention a light meter first because without the right lighting conditions, plants will struggle despite having ample nutrients. For both indoor and outdoor growers, getting the right amount and duration of light is fundamental to getting good results.
For indoor growers, the right balance needs to be struck between the amount of light illumination (photoperiod) and the power consumption of the light fixtures. New advances in LED technology have made power consumption much more energy efficient than HPS bulbs while providing a wider range of colors.
For outdoor growers, the challenge is finding a balance between sufficient sunlight and heat tolerance. Too much sunlight also means high temperatures. The use of shade screens can reduce the temperatures but too much shade blocks out valuable light.
A light meter can measure either lumens or PAR (photosynthetically active radiation).
Thermometer & Hygrometer
Measuring the temperature and humidity of the air in your grow area is very important to help you fine-tune your irrigation plan and assess whether supplemental shading is required for outdoor growers.
Sustained high temperatures dry up the top soil or grow media fast and affects shallow rooted plants such as lettuce. In hydroponics systems, one of the biggest problems is high temperatures affecting the water supply. High water temperatures lead to low dissolved oxygen content which often leads to pythium root rot and other infections.
For those using overhead hanging sprinklers, foggers, or misting systems, knowing when to provide an additional boost in humidity is key to overcoming plant transpiration problems. Plants are distressed when under both high and low heat and humidity. The main thing to understand is finding the right balance for plants to move water and nutrients through its parts to complete the transpiration and respiration cycles.
pH refers to the scale of hydrogen ion concentration of a solution. It indicates whether the water is acidic or alkaline, or neutral. The scale is from 0 to 14 with neutral at 7. The scale is logarithmic, meaning if the pH of a solution drops from 7 to 6, it becomes 10x more acidic. Maintaining the proper pH scale is important for nutrient uptake and the avoidance of nutrient lock-out in the rootzone.
TDS & EC Meter
Hydroponics beginners often hear about pH (scale of hydrogen ion concentration) and TDS (total dissolved solids measured in parts per million – PPM) but not much about EC (electrical conductivity). The professionals tend to speak only about EC when discussing nutrient formulas. The reason why is TDS is calculated by taking the EC and applying a conversion factor. And different manufacturers use different conversion factors in their product, meaning 2 different meters might get 2 different TDS readings! But the EC remains the same! EC, as measured in mS/cm, is used to determine the strength of a nutrient solution.
Dissolved Oxygen Meter
The amount of oxygen in solution is often overlooked by growers. This could spell a lot of trouble later on when pythium root rot starts to appear in plants. Oxygen is part of the essential macro-nutrients of a plant and therefore should not be overlooked. There is an inverse correlation between the temperature of water and its oxygen holding capability. The lower the water temperature, the higher the dissolved oxygen content. The reverse is also true.
In non-circulating hydroponics systems, plants will starve with depleting oxygen content when the roots are fully submerged in still water. That’s why small Kratky systems are effective, because of the air layer separating plant and water. In circulating systems such as DWC, it’s easier to replenish dissolved oxygen by way of water movement and air pumps with bubblers. Anything lower than 5mg/L dissolved oxygen content will cause plant growth problems.