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Hydroponics, simply stated, is the growing of plants without soil.
Anywhere. Indoors, in a greenhouse as well as outdoors. Any plant can be grown with hydroponics, though some are more delicate than others. If there is enough light for the plant to grow, you can probably bet somebody has grown it using hydroponics.
Aeroponics is a method of growing in which oxygen is infused into the nutrient solution, allowing the roots to absorb nutrients faster and more easily. This facilitates rapid growth resulting in fantastic yields.
There is a huge popular debate about the value of "organic" fertilizers and methods. Many people would like to apply "organics" to hydroponics. Currently accepted organic fertilizer components are dependent upon organisms in the soil to convert the "organic" materials into a useable form for plants. In hydroponics we provide the minerals required for plant growth directly, completely eliminating the need for soil and soil organisms. The result is much higher growth rates and yields, and better crop quality than organic methods can achieve.
Growing media is the general term for the substrate or matter one decides to grow their plant/s with. Let's dig into the various media.
Soil - Also referred to as dirt, can be a various mixture of dirt, sphagnum peat moss, sand, bark, or any particulate typically found in ground soil. Soil Manufacturers have various high-quality blends suited for the various water demands of the plant phylum.
Coir - Or coconut coir, usually shredded and monsoon treated coconut husks. Available in various forms: from a fine shred, nice chunky cubes, or in compressed bricks. New advances in technology have allowed the creation of coconut growing containers, net cups, hydro-blocks, and growing mats.
Rockwool - Also known as stone-wool, Is a highly durable, common hydroponic media. It is created by melting natural rock and extruding it into threads like cotton candy. Which is then formed and shaped, pressing it into sponge-like; blocks, plugs, mats, cubes, even into loose fiber bales.
Clay Pebbles - Also known as expanded clay pebbles and hydroton. It is created by heating very special clay to a high temperature, causing the clay to puff like popcorn. A highly durable, chemically inert, and pH neutral media that can be reused. Very good drainage.
Perlite - A generic term for naturally occurring siliceous rock. It is chemically inert, and has a pH of approximately 7. It is a very porous and airy media, making it suitable to use alone or to add as an amendment to soil helping provide greater drainage.
Hydroponic produce is cleaner than its soil grown counterpart, and the grower has the ability to adjust the nutrient feed for maximal growth and yield in the shortest time.
Hydroponic produce frequently exceeds soil grown produce in terms of flavor and nutrition. This is because all of the nutrients required by the plant are immediately available when the plant needs them.
HID lighting stands for High Intensity Discharge, which is a special type of lighting that is much more intense (brighter) than other type of lighting available. An HID lighting system consists of a ballast, reflector, socket and lamp (light bulb). The ballast acts like the engine, converting and driving energy to illuminate the lamp. HID lighting options include High Pressure Sodium (HPS), Metal Halide (MH), Mercury Vapor and Low Pressure Sodium. The two typically used for plant growth are HPS and MH systems.
Color Rendering Index is a subjective measurement of how well a lamp source renders colors. A measurement of the degree of color-shift an object undergoes when illuminated by a light source when compared to a reference source of comparable color temperature. Incandescent light is assumed to have a CRI of around 100 so it will render all colors correctly. MH only has a CRI of about 70, so only 70% of colors will be rendered correctly. HPS has a CRI of 22.
Color Temperature is not how hot the lamp is. Color temperature is the relative whiteness of a piece of tungsten steel heated to that temperature in degrees Kelvin. HPS has a warm (red) color temperature of around 2700K as compared to MH at 4200K, which has a cool (blue) color temperature.
What is important to remember about these two terms is that CRI readings, of two sources, can only be compared if their color temperature is equal. You cannot compare the CRI of HPS (CRI=22) vs. Metal Halide (CRI=70) because the color temperatures are different (2200K vs. 4500K).
Lumen is a measurement of light output. It refers to the amount of light emitted by one candle that falls on one square foot of surface located at a distance of one foot from the candle. Traditionally, lumens have been the benchmark of a lamps ability to grow plants; meaning the brighter the lamp the better the plant. However, studies have shown that a broader color spectrum lamp will perform much better than a lamp with high lumen output, especially when it comes to plant growth.
MH lamps provide more of the blue/green spectrum, which is ideal for leafy crops, and/or plants that are in a vegetative (actively growing) stage. MH lamps provide a more natural appearance in color and are typically the choice for plants that have little to no natural light available. HPS lamps provide more yellow/orange/red spectrum, which is ideal for most plants that are actively fruiting and flowering. In addition, HPS lighting is the choice for growers looking to supplement natural sunlight. Ideally, the horticulturalist will use MH to grow their plants and HPS to fruit and flower their plants.
Traditionally, fluorescent lighting was used for seedlings, cuttings and plants with low light-level requirements and HID was used for established plants and plants with higher light-level requirements. Advances in fluorescent lighting technology, however, have provided more options for horticulturists. T5 fluorescent lighting is the latest in plant growth lighting. T5's high-light output combined with its low heat and energy consumption makes it an ideal light source to grow a broader array of plants.
T5 lamps provide the ideal spectrum for plant growth. Photosynthesis rates peak at 435 nm and 680 nm. A 6500K T5 lamp has a spectral distribution with relative intensity peaks at 435 nm and 615 nm. This equates to very little wasted light energy in terms of plant growth. T5 lamps promote incredible health and vigor of seedlings and cuttings. Root development is superior relative to other lighting sources. While T5 lighting is excellent for starting seeds and cuttings, it's also able to produce enough light for full term growth. Because of their minimal heat output, T5 lamps can be placed 6" - 8" above the plant canopy which maximizes photosynthetic response. Unlike conventional fluorescents, plants grown under T5 lamps do not have to be rotated to the center of the lamp. T5's slim diameter enables better photo-optic control of the emitted light, increasing efficiency in the form of even light distribution.
Frequency output to the lamp and energy conversion from electricity to usable light are the biggest differences between HID ballasts and electronic ballasts. HID ballasts produce a frequency of 60 Hz. Electronic ballasts vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the frequency produced can be 400x that of an HID ballast. HID ballasts produce more heat than electronic ballasts, thus making electronic ballasts more energy efficient. You will not, however, save money on your electric bill by using electronic ballasts. HID lighting has been available for 60+ years, while electronic ballast (especially 400 watt and higher) is a relatively new technology.
Electronic ballasts are more efficient at converting electricity into usable light. Since your power bill is based on kilowatt-hours and not efficiency, a 1000 watt electronic ballast will cost you about the same as a 1000 watt HID ballast to operate.
An average lighting system will increase your electricity cost about $8 to $20 per month. The exact amount depends on the wattage of the system and the number of hours operated. To calculate your cost, multiply the bulb wattage X the number of hours of operation and divide by 1000. This figure is the number of kilowatt-hours of electricity used. (Example: a 400 watt lamp running for 18 hours will use 7.2 kilowatt-hours). Check your power bill for the cost of each kilowatt-hour. Then multiply the number of kilowatt-hours used by the cost of a kilowatt-hour (K/hr) to figure the cost to run your light for that many hours.
Lighting systems are available in a variety of voltages. The standard used by most gardeners is 120 volts / 60 Hz which plugs into a standard wall outlet. Other voltages may require special circuits and receptacles. Always contact a licensed electrician if the light you purchased has special voltage requirements and never exceed more than 75% of the rated ability of the fuse/breaker. (For example: use no more than 15 amps on a 20-amp circuit.)
HID systems are available in 120 volt, 208 volt, 240 volt, 277 volt and 480 volt - All at 60 Hz. Fluorescent lighting varies, but most are available from 100 volt to 277 volt and 50 Hz or 60 Hz.
No. Electric companies base your electrical bill on Wattage, not Voltage or Current. While ballasts wired for 240 volt will draw less current and run a little cooler than one wired for 120 volt, it will not save you money on your electric bill.
Most lamp manufacturers rate their lamps by "Average Life Hours" and usually claim 10,000 to 24,000 hours. These ratings are based on when the lamp will completely fail to come on. They do not factor in loss of intensity or loss of color. HID lamps lose intensity and color through normal use. This is OK if you are lighting a warehouse, but when it comes to plant growth, these losses can mean wasted electricity and poor plant performance. Serious horticulturalists recommend that you replace your lamps after 6000 hours of use. This equates to using your light 16 hours a day for one year.
This depends on the type of plants and whether you have natural sunlight available to your garden. As a general rule, when you are in a vegetative stage of plant growth and you have no natural sunlight, run your lights 14-18 hours a day. If you have natural sunlight, it will vary because the sunlight may or may not be direct. It will take a little experimenting to find the best length of time to run your lights. If you are actively fruiting and flowering, the rule is to run your lights 12 hours a day if you have no natural light.
The higher the wattage the further away you want the light to be from your plants due to the amount of heat. HID lighting will be further away than a fluorescent fixture because of this. When mounting your lighting fixture take into account the type of plant and how tall the plant will grow. You want to keep the light as close as you can, but not so close to burn the plant. A simple rule is "if it is comfortable for the back of your hand, it will be a safe distance for your plants". Doing a little research on the type of plant and where it comes from will help in determining how much (or little) light your plants like. With fast growing plants, you may need to check the hanging height on a regular basis as plants that get too close to the lamp will be severely burned.
The size of the garden area will determine the wattage you need. If we assume that the plants will get no sunlight, a 1000 watt light will cover about 7 x 7 feet of growing area. A 600 watt will cover 6 x 6 feet, a 400 watt will cover 4 x 4 feet, and a 250 watt will cover 3 x 3 feet. These sized areas would be considered the "Primary Growing" areas. These lights will light-up larger areas, but plants placed outside of the Primary Growing area, will stretch and bend toward the light; a phenomenon called phototropism. Keep these areas of coverage in mind when using multiple fixtures. The best results occur when the areas of coverage overlap.
The inner arc tube of a Metal Halide lamp contains mercury. Underwriters Laboratory has stated that for a Metal Halide fixture to maintain its UL Listing, that an additional tempered safety lens is required in the event that the arc-tube and outer glass fail. This will prevent the spread of Mercury.
No! The internal components of the ballast are designed to send the correct voltage and current for the rated lamp. Mixing lamps and ballasts will result in premature failure and will void the manufacturers' warranty. Consider the size area you want your garden to be prior to making a lighting purchase. It is better to grow into a fixture than out of one.
Yes, the internal components of 400 watt and 430 watt ballasts are almost identical. You will only get 400 watts of light out of the 430 watt lamp, however.
Manufacturers do not state that gloves are required when handling their lamps. It is recommended that your hands be thoroughly washed prior to handling HID lamps though.
A lamp that operates on the opposite ballast it was originally designed for. For example, a 940 watt conversion lamp is an HPS lamp that runs on a 1000 watt Metal Halide Ballast. There are also MH lamps that are designed to operate on HPS ballasts. These bulbs allow the grower to purchase the ballast of their choice and offer the flexibility of growing a variety of plant types by simply changing the lamp they need.
Warm water and mild dish soap are the best to clean and maintain the highly reflective finish. Avoid bleach, ammonia and other harsh or abrasive cleaners.
More Resources on Hydroponics
Questions on: Hydroponics
Questions on: Lighting Systems
Questions on: Growing Environment
Questions on: Nutrients
Questions on: TDS, EC, PPM, Measurements
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