The only thing more frustrating than a dying plant is having no idea why your plant is days away from biting the dust. Since gardening can be a patience demanding practice, it's no surprise many shed tears when they lose a beloved plant 3 months into its 4 month life span. In this short guide, I'll run through the most common killers for the beginner or intermediate hydroponic farmer so that you can learn from the mistakes of all the heartbroken growers who had to learn the hard way.
Before I begin detailing what can go wrong, let me preface this post by restating a few tenets of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as they apply to your indoor garden. First and foremost, a bad growing environment fosters a weak plant and a weak plant is the preferred target of any pest or disease. Nutrient deficiency is never as fast and brutal to plants as pests or disease so keeping your plant happy is the surest way to avoid a quick disaster. The quick rundown is as follows:
Keep your plants in an area where it's comfortable for them; not all plants tolerate the same conditions so do your research. Brassicas and leafy greens generally like it cooler (55-75 F) while fruiting/flowering plants like it a tad warmer (70-85). Humidity is also an important factor as fungi and bacteria love cool, moist conditions so try to keep your humidity low, especially in cooler climates. A great method of controlling humidity is to have good air circulations using fans or passive vents. Hot air leaves from the top, pulling cooler air from the bottom, remember this when you're configuring any vents and keep in mind that if any bugs are around your area this is also where they can enter! The next step is simply to monitor your grow area as thoroughly and often as you reasonably can. Once a day is optimal, but you can get away with less once you become more familiar with the environment. Keep a log of your nutrient addition schedule, take pictures, and inspect the plant closely for signs of even the smallest bug, fungal spore or bacterial spot. Take it easy, no need to whip out a magnifying glass, but these efforts are your first line of defense. Now on to the carnage....
1) ROOT ROT:
If there ever was a wanted poster for the silent killer in hydroponics, Root Rot's fungal mugshot would be plastered front and center. Your plant can go from healthy to drooping in a matter of days, leaving you perplexed as there are no signs of disease or pests on the leaves or stem. Only once you pull your plant out you'll see the blackened, slimy aftermath of a root system ravaged by this fungus.
tIn this case the best offense is a good defense: Root rot loves a hydroponic solution lacking in oxygen and beneficial microbes. Sizing your container properly so that your roots don't mat together and form dense knots will also prove effective in keeping your roots inhospitable to Root Rot. Beneficial microbes also serve as defensive competition for the surface area on your roots and help digest and break down any dead material before root rot can sink it's teeth into a buffet of decaying roots. Adding oxygen through the use of air stones and an adequately sized air pump is an absolute must to keep your plants healthy growing optimally. Last but not least, adding about 3 mL of 30% hydrogen peroxide for every liter of nutrient solution [3 mL/L] can halt or deter root rot from setting in and is my preferred line of defense prior to using the expensive big guns like Cannazyme or other digestive enzymes to break down decayed roots.
2) POWDERY MILDEW / DOWNY MILDEW / GRAY MOLD
I'm clumping these three fungal delinquents in one group because they all have several key signs and prevention methods in common. While each type of mold may be specific to different varieties of crops, there's always one ready to invade your lush plants at the first sign of weakness. These three (and similar perpetrators) are lovers of the extremes: too dry, too cold, too wet, and too hot.
This terrible trio loves the damp micro-climates of stale, un-circulated air under leaves, around bushy stems, and in your precious flowers and fruit. Anything that's wet, decaying, damp combined with a climate that's too cold or hot is a breeding bed for one of these fungal plant diseases. Distinguishing between the three is not as important as knowing your defenses. Keep your plant well trimmed; any leaf that is not actively healthy and not contributing to photosynthesis (i.e. shaded by other leaves) can generally be trimmed and discarded to increase air flow in your plant. Circulate the air with oscillating fans to keep the environment free of damp, stale air. Any signs of this disease or decay should be dealt with by carefully removing the infected leaves as you don't want to spread spores, and discarded in the trash. DO NOT COMPOST DISEASED LEAVES! Other preventative measures such as foliar compost sprays and/or biopesticides such as B. Subtilis (Serenade) are great options to stop these molds from colonizing your crops. One final note is to harvest your fruit as soon as it is ripe; mold will blossom on old and rotting fruit.
3) THRIPS / MITES / APHIDS / WHITE FLIES
OH MY! Again, I've clumped these pests into a group of the most common culprits for giving gardeners a headache. These critters may be very hard to spot for the beginner grower before it's too late. Keep an eye out for the favorite congregation points: Fresh new growth, undersides of leaves, and in the nooks of branches coming off the stem. Other obvious signs of spider mites are tiny black dots that leave web-like material (hence spider) leaves and stems. If you're growing indoors you will be much less prone to these pests, but do not be complacent and continue to do close examinations of your plants. Be wary of introducing store bought plants to your environment without thoroughly checking for signs of these pests as many nurseries and grocery stores offer infested plants unknowingly to customers. Look out for the signs of pest damage by looking for abnormal leaf curling, puckering, discolored white spots, or yellowing/dying leaves. Anything short of a healthy plant is a reason for suspicion so keep your eyes peeled for the tiny critters.
While these pests are only deadly to your plants at levels of heavy infestation, their initial appearance should be recognized as a red warning sign to an imminent uphill battle should you not take it seriously. Action at the first signs of pests is your best option, aside from the preventative environmental management. Squishing aphids by hand, or trapping white flies in sticky traps is a great way to curb the growth curve so that things don't get out of control too fast. Using beneficial insects like lady bugs, predatory mites, and lacewings are excellent pesticide-free and organic methods of controlling pest invasions. Other options like Azamax and Neem Oil are good too, however many find the pungent smell of neem oil to be off-putting so many opt for insecticidal soaps derived from fatty acids to be their preferred method of pest control should they need a spray. Regardless of the method that works for you, the solution to an already infested plant can be messy, time intensive, and frustrating so your best bet is to keep your area away from pest entry points, and your plants as healthy and vigorous as possible as pests love a weak plant.
In short, these diseases can be a terrible fate for any gardener and their plant. If you run into any of these or other problems do not dismay as there is no such thing as failure in gardening, only lessons in ways to do it better next time. Keep your plant healthy, your environment clean and favorable, and monitor your plant as frequently as you reasonably can. If you keep good records and stay observant you'll have a much better learning experience should your grow be a success or a painful lesson. Remember to do your research on the temperatures and conditions that your particular plant prefers, and practice getting a good start as early as germination. Above all, never stop having fun. Enjoy the process of learning and growing as a horticulturist and you'll gain much more than just a harvest.
Cheers and Good Growing!
If you were to tell someone that they could grow their own tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cannabis, or other fruits hydroponically their first reaction would probably be to wonder how difficult, or expensive it would be to achieve. The fortunate truth is that hydroponics can be as simple as growing with soil, and much more effective at growing massive yields and incredible fruits, vegetables or medicine. Once you experience the power of your own green thumb you'll feel empowered knowing that you can rely on your own skills to supplement your life with the wonders hydroponics has to offer. Keep reading and by the end you'll have made a high-performing hydroponic DWC system out of readily available components. Speaking of components, let's lay them out:
1. 5 Gallon Bucket and Lid (Best if it's opaque and black, otherwise a simple old towel or a spray paint can keep light from forming nutrient-sucking algae in your bucket.)
2. 6 Inch Net Pot
4. Substrate (Expanded Clay, Coco Choir, Perlite, Lava Rocks, or other hydroponic media would work fine)
5. Power Drill with a 1/4 inch drill bit
6. Box Cutter
7. Aquarium air Pump
8. Air Stone
10. Hydroponic Nutrients
OPTIONAL BUT STRONGLY RECOMMEND FOR MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE:
12. LED Lights and Necessary Hanging Equipment
13. Fan (Preferably Oscillating)
Take your 6-inch net pot, flip it over and place it center on the 5-gallon lid. Trace the outline of the pot with a sharpie. Now cut on the INSIDE of this circle so that the pot lip will fit slightly bigger than the hole, thus keeping it from falling through. Many 5-gallon lids will have concentric circles which have a circumference that you can follow to fit the 6-inch pot perfectly.
Drill a 1/4" hole on top of the lid, somewhere close to edge. This will serve as a hole to run you air stone tubing through.
Fill the 5-gallon bucket half-way with Distilled (dH2O), Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Rain Water.
This step may differ depending on which nutrient mixture you choose. I'm using Advanced Nutrient's three part nutrient mix at 2 ml/L for the early stages of growth (1.5 months) and slowly increase it to 4 mL/L for the the remaining vegetative and fruiting stages. Simply read the nutrient labels and follow their instructions. General Hydroponics, Master Blend, Fox Farms, and many others have wonderful nutrient mixes for your different needs. After you properly mix your nutrients in, fill the rest of your 5-gallon bucket up with water. Some mixes may require you to fine tune the pH, but in Advanced Nutrient's case the final solution is always 5.5-6.0 as long as you use pure distilled or RO water. Mix your nutrients in a 1 gallon distilled water jug that is half full so that you can shake between nutrient additions.
Connect your air pump, tubing, and you airstone. Make sure you run the tubing through the hole in the lid before attaching the airstone. Plug everything in and insure that your airstone sits at the bottom of your 5 gallon bucket. LET YOUR AIR STONE SIT FOR ABOUT 1 HOUR BEFORE TURNING IT ON! The smaller the bubble the better as this helps the nutrient absorb more of that precious oxygen.
Put your plant in! You can start from seed and then transplant it in once it's 3 weeks old, or buy a young plant from a nursery or grocery store. The best time to buy young plants is at the tail end of the growing season since everything will be on sale. I got this Naga Viper pepper plant for only $4 at HEB! First Step is to check for diseases or pests. Once you ensure that your plant is a healthy one, transplant it by first cleaning off the dirt from the roots using a hose. You can be rougher than you think and don't be afraid if you lose a small amount of roots. A little left over dirt is okay too.
Place a sheet of cheese cloth over your pot, make sure you have more than enough cheese cloth draping around it as it makes the potting much easier. Throw in a couple of handfuls of your substrate of choice to weigh down the cheese cloth, then place your plant in so that the crow of the roots is slightly lower than the lip of your pot. Fill in the spaces with your substrate while supporting your plant with the other hand. After you get the pot all filled, give it a shake to settle all the loose substrate and ensure a good supporting fit.
Finally trim the cheese cloth, prune the plant from the bottom, and place the pot in your 5 gallon bucket!
ADDITIONAL STEPS FOR THE DISCERNING GROWER:
STEP 7: CHECK OUT OUR BLOG POST FOR LIGHTING TIPS
Hang your light source so that you can vary the height from the plant as it grows. Most, if not all of the respectable companies, include a light intensity map measure in PAR with their lights. This should tell you how PAR varies under a light at different heights and a map showing you how the PAR changes as you move from directly under the light to the sides of the light zone. For a high performing fruiting/flowering plant I'd recommend a PAR of at least 800-900. A PAR of between 300-500 is more than enough for any leafy greens or herbs. A simple trick to increase light around your plant is a simple grow tent with white reflective panels or screen. White generally reflects better than foil or reflective tape, contrary to what you may think.
Connect your lights to a timer. This makes it really simple as you can just leave for 2 weeks and come back to new growth (assuming no disease or pests!).
Add a fan to gently blow your plant and increase air circulation. This helps the plant develop a strong stem, and fight off any fungus or bacterial diseases that occur when you have micro-climates of damp, humid air. This is especially recommend if you are growing in an enclosed space with a large sized plant.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to comment, I make sure to answer every question you guys may have! This is the best and cheapest way to grow a single fruiting/flowering plant, be it tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cannabis or squash!
Gardening at home can be an incredibly therapeutic hobby that builds confidence in your abilities to work with mother nature. All this, to many beginner's dismay, comes after the hurdle of seed germination. It so happens that plants, much like animals, are the most vulnerable within the first month of their life and the degree of their success heavily depends on how well it started it's life from a seed. As with anything in life, it can be insurmountably difficult to succeed without the proper information so keep reading to find out the best way to germinate and start your gardening journey strong!
Let's start off with what may be obvious in retrospect: not all seeds are made equal. As an extreme example of this let's take a look at two wildly different plants: Arugula and Oak Trees. On one hand, Arugula seeds are barely larger than a a grain of sand and only takes about 2-3 days sprout. Conversely, a larger oak seed has a tough exterior and it takes 75+ days to germinate! What all this means is that you have to do your due diligence as an expectant plant parent and research what your seed needs to grow big and strong. Here's a rundown of some of the most important germination factors in no particular order:
2. Planting Seed Depth
3. Light or Dark Germination
4. Nicking or Pre-Soaking
1. Temperature plays a huge role in plant metabolism and, along with moisture, greatly affects whether a seed will germinate or not. Many brassicas (Lettuce, romaine, arugula, chard, kale) like cooler temperatures between 65-75 F (18-23 C). As a rule of thumb, warmer temperatures are better for other seeds as it speeds up plant metabolism, but there is a definite point where it's too hot. To be safe, you should not exceed 85 F (29 C). Many gardeners swear by a germination heating mat under their germination tray that is set at 85 F to quickly boost germination success.
2. Planting Seed Depth can vary a good deal between seed varieties, but as a rule of greens thumbs you can expect that the smaller the seed, the more shallow the planting depth. For example a watermelon/cantaloupe seed does great about 1/2" under the soil, but smaller seeds such as lettuce prefer a much more shallow 1/8". You should note that most seed packets will specify the planting depth so make sure to read it in its entirety!
3. Light or Dark Germination is an often overlooked variable when germinating plants. Luckily most edible Brassicas and other food crops prefer dark germination so it's not often that incorrect lighting is the reason your seeds may not be germinating. This is true unless you're planting the small amount of plant families that prefer light during germination. These include many popular flowers like petunias, begonias, and other plants like the coleus and ficus.(https://www.thompson-morgan.com/effect-of-light). As for the dark-germinating plants, it's best to keep them in a humidity dome that is in a dark room or closet, or simply cover with a light-blocking material. As soon you see the first signs of the plant breaking the surface of the soil be sure to bring them into the light to let them know they made it to the sun!
4. Nicking or Presoaking (also know as scarification) is a process used by farmers on seeds that have tough exterior shells. Nicking and/or presoaking encourages the seed to start breaking out of it's shell and can greatly decrease the time of germination for certain seed types such as Hibiscus, morning glories, and some Solanaceae plants. The rule of thumb is if the seed has a waterproof coat, it may benefit from nicking and presoaking. As a caveat, be sure to nick the side of the seed opposite of the hilum, the little dot where the seed was attached to the mother plant. Harming this "belly button" may damage the seed instead and halt any chances of germinating!
5. Watering is often the most difficult parameter to get just right when germinating your plants. Too much water and you'll promote harmful bacteria and fungi that will decay and rot the seed, too little and the seed will dry out and refuse to germinate. To remedy this, many farmers turn to substrates that have the optimal water retention or drain well if over watered. Coco choir is my personal favorite as it is hard to over water, but many have had success with a 50% soil and 50% perlite mixture to start their seeds. The substrate should be similarly moist to a freshly wrung out towel.
My preferred way to begin seeds it to use a germinating tray from companies such as Jiffy. it comes with a tray of compressed coco-choir pellets that you simply hydrate, place the seeds at their correct depth, and cover with a moisture dome then place them in a dark and warm closet. With this information you now have the knowledge to successfully start a seed at your disposal. Once germinated keep an eye on your lighting environment and watering. Carefully observe your seeds as they will communicate any problems in their own language; if a plant is stretching (stillating) it needs more light, if the plant is drooping you're either giving it too much water or not enough.
Finally the biggest piece of advice to be a successful gardener is to keep at it! Each failure is actually a lesson in disguise. Fail hard and fail fast and you will quickly learn to speak the language of plants faster than you can imagine. If you think of gardening as a trial in patience, humility, and gratitude for life and you'll be surprised how much plants are helping you grow just as much as you help them.
Cheers and Good Growing!
Hydroponics carries a certain stigma within popular culture. Mentioning hydroponics conjures images of advanced nutrient regiments and a scientific approach to agriculture fitting for advanced applications or cannabis. This unfortunately is a stereotype that can easily discourage a beginner or intermediate gardener, but fret not, continue reading and you'll soon realize that hydroponics can be as simple as you make it.
To quickly preface, plants generally need a just handful of vital things:
3. Oxygen/Carbon Dioxide Gases
5. Adequate Humidity and Wind Conditions.
These conditions exist in optimal amounts, but as long as a plant has the minimum of ALL of these it WILL stay alive. What this means is that you don't need insanely expensive hydroponic systems and state of the art lights. Additionally you can save yourself from the whiplash of nutrient marketing as plants will thrive on any simple hydroponic nutrient mix as long as these conditions are met.
So, this is all to say that you can get creative with it! Most leafy greens such as lettuce, basil, mint, arugula, kale, chard, etc. grow extremely well in the most basic hydroponic systems. As per the kratky method, you can achieve amazing results with a 1 L plastic (foodsafe!) bottle, some general hydroponic nutrient mixture, and a well lit south-facing window.
IIt typically gets more difficult to grow fruiting plants as you have to account for larger growth, more nutrient needs, as well as stronger light requirements. Still, you can easily grow tomatoes, cucumbers, cannabis, and peppers using a slightly larger, more advanced system. My favorite is using a 5 gallon bucket with a modified top to fit a large net cup filled with expanded clay media, perlite, coco choir or any other hydroponically compatible substrate. The second most essential difference is a source of air for the larger roots. This is as simple as getting a small 10 gallon aquarium air pump and an air stone and throwing that into the bucket! Easy, right? Finally, since fruiting plants generally need more light, they'll require a grow light to achieve the best results. You can technically pull this off without one in a very well lit apartment, but for those with limited window options LED lights are the best choice. In the pictures below, I show that it's possible to grow with the cheaper "blurple" lights sold on Amazon (Vivarspectra and Mars Hydro), but if you're looking for the best results and highest yields I recommend the Spider Farm LEDs from Samsung or the Horticulture Lighting Group's Quantum Boards.
The main point I'm trying to make here is that hydroponics is simply a method of growing a plant without the use of soil. The biggest take away is that it can be as simple as your needs: if you just want to grow some leafy greens to add a splash of delicious flavor to your daily salad it's as simple as using a 1 liter bottle and a very basic hydroponic nutrient mixture. Fruit, legumes, and cannabis take a little more effort, but the reward is generally of higher dollar value so you can easily justify spending more money to make you system a high-performing produce machine.
While it's incredibly fun to experiment and let your creativity lead the way, you can always contact us at Kodaponics and set up a very affordable consultation to insure that your system is successful. If you have a system or design in mind, drop us a message at email@example.com and we can help you make your gardening dreams a reality!