Hydroponic Strawberries

NFT StrawberriesStrawberries can be grown successfully using a number of different Hydroponic Systems.   Strawberries grown in hydroponics will grow around 40% faster than when grown in soil.

Strawberries can fruit all year around if you provide them with a good growing environment.

Strawberries require a CF range between 18 and  22

Commercial StrawberriesNFT Strawberries

I have found using NFT with a PVC pipe as the channel is the best for me, this method is also the most commonly used system for commercially grown Strawberries

If possible suspend the pipe above head height, the strawberries will hang below the pipe and it is very easy to see when they are ready and to pick them, this also allows easy management of Strawberry runners.

I generally plant my Strawberries in a mixture of Perlite and Vermiculite in grow pots, the mixture has a lot more Vermiculite than Perlite as Strawberries to limit the amount of moisture around the Strawberries crown, Strawberry plants to not like having a wet crown.

Flood and Drain Strawberries

Strawberries can be grown in a Flood and Drain system as long as you take special care to keep the crown of the Strawberries dry.

Use a mixture of Perlite and Vermiculite as the aggregate, have a 2 cm layer of Vermiculite at the top of the Grow Tray.  Ensure that the Overflow Pipe is below the level of the layer of Vermiculite.

Grow TowerGrow Towers

Grow Towers are another method for growing great Strawberries, you are able to have a large number of Strawberry plants with a very small foot print.

Fill the pots with a mixture of Perlite and Vermiculite, plant a single Strawberry plant in each opening.  Ensure that the Strawberry crown stays dry.

Caring for your Strawberries

  • Pick the fruit as soon as they are ready
  • Check the plant regularly for runners and cut them off
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Monitoring Equipment

There are many options for monitoring your homemade hydroponic system. I have put these in order of importance for your system.  Please note that for optimal produce and commercial systems all of these are important.

CF MeterCF Meter

The concentration of nutrients in a solution is measured as Conductivity Factor (CF),  the more nutrients in a solution, the more conductive the solution becomes. The CF level of your hydroponic solution is the most important to control; it is actually possible to starve your plants by having too higher nutrient concentration, this process is called reverse osmosis (some weed killers use this method)

CF Meters range hugely in price, models can be found from around $100 for a hand held model to many thousands of dollars for fully automated CF control systems.

CF Meters can be purchased from Amazon, click here for the CF meter I use Blue Lab Commercial Truncheon PPM / EC / CF Meter

Litmus Paper / pH Meter

The acidity / alkalinity of your nutrient solution is measured as pH.  Pure water has a pH of around 7,  acidic solutions have a pH below 7 and alkaline have a pH above 7.

The pH level of your nutient solution is the second most important.  Different minerals in the solution are released at different acidity levels, there is a chart showing the absorption levels here .  A pH range between 5.8 and 6.3 is good for most plants.

Litmus Paper is a very cheap way of checking the pH level of a solution.  A paper strip is dipped into the hydroponic solution and it will change color.  Litmus Paper comes with a color chart, the strip is compared to the color chart, this will show the pH of the solution.

A pH Meter performs the same task as Litmus paper, the meters do cost a lot more than Litmus Paper.  Most pH meters have a sensor probe and digital display.  The sensor is placed into the hydroponic solution for a specified time and the pH level will be displayed on the meter.  The sesor probe on pH Meters normally need to be re-calibrated regularly, a calibration solution is provided with most sensors, this solution is at a know pH level allowing you to calibrate the meter.

 

Combo Meter

Combination Meters

Combination meters are available and generally work out much more cost efficient than purchasing the meters individually.  The displayed model is available on Amazon, click here to go directly to the Amazon page Bluelab Combo Meter pH, Conductivity and Temperature Monitor

CO2 System

Plants breath carbon dioxide (CO2) and need for photosynthesis.  CO2 is present in relatively low quantities, 300-450 Parts Per Million (ppm) in the air. Plant growth can be increased and accelerated by as much as 35% if the level of CO2 is increased to 1500 ppm.

There are several basic CO2 systems that you can easily build or buy

CO2 Fish Tank SystemFermentation

The CO2 systems used in fish tanks can be used.  Place the CO2 dispersion unit into a container of water.  These units can be purchased from Amazon, click this link to be taken directly to the page on Amazon Hagen Nutrafin CO2 Natural Plant System with CO2 Activator and Stabilizer

Using a plastic soda bottle, a soft plastic tube and a small container.  Drill a hole in the lid of the soda bottle and carefully glue the tubing into it, making sure the hole is completely sealed.  Glue the other end of the piping into the bottom of the container.  Put several inches of water into the container, ensure that the end of the pipe is fully submerged.  Put a cup full of sugar and two teaspoons of yeast into the soda bottle and fill to around 1/2 way with warm water.  As the mixture ferments, CO2 will be produced and slowly released through the water.

Oil Lamp / Candle

The most simple CO2 is an oil lamp or candle (tea lites are good and burn for a long time), as these burn, CO2 is released.  Please remember that fire can be dangerous, ensure that you have these well away from anything flammable.

 

CO2 Bottle SystemCO2 Bottle

For larger scale glasshouses CO2 can also be purchased in gas tanks and be released into the growing environment using regulators and solenoid valves.

Small CO2 gas bottle systems used in fish tanks can also be purchased from Amazon, these are good in a small enclosure.  Click here to go directly to the page on Amazon Fluval Mini Pressurized 20g-CO2 Kit – 0.7 ounces

 

Thermostat

A thermostat is used to regulate the temperature of your glasshouse, they can be used to automatically open and shut windows, run fans and control heaters.

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing Under Lights

We are all familiar with the idea that “Plants require light to grow”, however this is not strictly true. Plants utilize energy in the form of radiation for their necessary processes, solar radiation is the primary source of this energy.

The main photosynthetic of plants is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll mainly absorbs light in the red and blue spectrums.

Visible Light Spectrum

 

What we perceive as ‘light’ is not necessarily what plants require for healthy growth, this is why simply using a normal light bulb is very ineffective.

There are many different lights specifically designed for providing the required light for plants

High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights

High Intensity Light (HID)HID lights are very efficient. HID lights are always used with a reflector and require a ballast to operate. Check the manufacturers installation instructions to ensure that you have sufficient space around the light, HID lights can produce a considerable amount of heat.

There are two types of HID lights:

High Pressure Sodium Lights (HPS)

HPS lights produce light in the orange to red spectrum, this light can trigger an increase of budding and flowering in plants. HPS are a great supplementary light used with natural sunlight of Metal Halide lights. Bulbs will last up to 10,000 hours operation.

Metal Halide Lights (MH)

MH lights produce light in the blue spectrum, this color light promotes plant growth and is great for leafy green growth and keeping the plants compact (without blue spectrum light the plants will grow thin and lanky). Bulbs will last up to 18,000 hours operation.

 

Fluorescent Grow Lights

Sun Blaze LightFluorescent lights have been used for a long time to encourage growth of plants in fish tanks. Until fairly recently fluorescent lights have not been powerful enough and have been too large and bulky to be used commercially.

There are now compact bulbs and much higher power tubes.

Fluorescent lights are very energy efficient and can have a very wide and varied spectrum of light output, the also produce a lot less heat than HID lights.

Compact Fluorescent LightLights should be placed within a few feet of the plants if possible.

Check that you get the correct light spectrum (red for flowering, blue for plant growth) or purchase full spectrum bulbs.

It is not necessary to use reflectors with fluorescent lights, use reflectors when you need to direct the light to a specific location.

Incandescent Grow Lights

Incandescent Grow LightThese are the cheapest lights to buy and are the most inefficient and are the worst light source for plants.

It would be much more cost effective and you would get a much better light source using a compact fluorescent grow light.

 

LED Grow Lights

LED lights have progressed massively over the last few years and they are now becoming popular in all sorts of technology, this is because they are cheap and very efficient.

There are some drawbacks of using LED grow lights, the main one is that the light can give thLemnis Lightinge plants a very unnatural appearance, the level of light can also be lower than other types of light.

LED lights give of almost no heat so can be place virtually anywhere you want.

The latest LED system I discovered has been developed by Lemnis Lighting. As you can see there are lights in the red and blue spectrum’s to specifically target the requirements of the plants. The missing yellow and green spectrum colors cause the plants to appear unnatural.

 

General Lighting Guidelines

  • Blue light spectrum for plant growth
  • Red light spectrum for flowering and budding
  • Use light reflectors to direct the light
  • Paint and solid walls white to reflect white
  • Watch out for heat from the lights
  • Light your plants for 14-16 hours for foliage growth
  • Light your plants for 12-16 hours when flowering
  • Make sure you plants have darkness of at least 8 hours

 

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Homemade Hydroponics eSeries

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We have assembled some totally free eSeries that I hope will be of some interest to you.  Each series consists of a series of emails that will be sent to you weekly.  Please feel free to subscribe to as many of these as you would like.

There will be no advertisements sent out in these series and you will be able to unsubscribe at anytime.

Hydroponics Gardening eSeries

A seven week series that discusses everything from the benefits of growing plants in hydroponics to growing plants in outer space.  If you are new to hydroponics, then this is the series for you.

Gardening Tips for Busy People eSeries

A seven week series that is aimed at people who have limited space and limited time and still would like to have a garden.  There are some really great tips that can allow you to really enjoy having your own garden.

Caring for Exotic Plants eSeries

A seven week series.  If you are anything like me, you will love the look of exotic plants and be put off buying them as they can require special care for them to flourish.  This series will teach you lots about caring for exotic plants and hopefully you will feel confident enough to try growing them for yourself at the end of this series.

Grow a Great Garden eSeries

A 52 week series.  This is an amazing series that teaches a huge range of subjects including: lawn care, plant propagation, composting, diseases, crop rotation and pruning.  I highly recommend subscribing to this series, you are sure to learn new things or tweaks to things you already know.

Complete the form below with you name and email address, then select the eSeries that you wish to subsribe to. If you wish to subscribe to more than one series, then repeat this process.

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Homemade Hydroponic Systems

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Hydroponic Wick System

Hydroponic Wick SystemThis is the most basic Homemade Hydroponic System that exists and is incredibly quick, cheap and easy to build.

This is a great project for your children to complete during their vacation,  not only is is fun and easy to build the hydroponic system, they can also watch their own plant grow.

Have the children decorate the container with paint or stickers to complete the project.

This system is ideal for growing herbs, lettuce and even flowers, I have a Pansy growing in the pictured system.  (The nutrient solution has food coloring in it for clarity.)

The plants can sit on any ledge where they can get plenty of sun.

Basic Design

The nutrient solution is contained in a reservoir underneath the plant pot.  A wick is placed into the plant pot and run down into the nutrient solution.  The wick draws  the nutrient solution up into the plant pot where the roots of the plants can use it.

Design Considerations

  • Select containers big enough for the plant you wish to grow
  • The nutrient needs to be kept in a dark reservoir to stop algae growing, you can decorate the outside of the container to stop light getting in

Design Components

Reservoir

The size of the reservoir is dependent on the size of the plant pot you are going to use, the plant pot needs to sit securely in the top of the reservoir.

In the picture I have used a soft-drink bottle with the top 1/3 cut off and inverted to make the plant pot.  The wick has been thread through the mouth of the bottle down into the nutrient solution.

Ensure your reservoir does not let light in and that it is not susceptible to corrosion.  Good reservoirs are made of plastic, glass or stainless steel.

Wick

The wick can be made from a large number of materials, the material simply needs to absorb liquid.  In the picture above I have used a wick designed for an oil lamp (new wick as oil in the wick will stop it from working).  For larger systems have multiple wicks.

Here are a few household items that can be used as a wick:

  • dish sponge
  • dish cloth
  • piece of a tea towel
  • rope (not nylon)

Media

In the picture Hydroponic Wick System I am using washed Pumice for my Pansy to grow in, other aggregates you can use include washed Gravel, Perlite, Vermiculite and Rock wool.  You can find further information on these aggregates here.

Please send me photos of your Homemade Hydroponic Wick Systems as I would love to see them, email them to Henry(?)HomemadeHydroponic.net

NB please replace the (?) with @ in the email address.

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Plant Pollination

Tomato Flower

Plants grown in a Hydroponic System need to be pollinated in the same way as if growing the plants in soil.

Plants that are growing outside will need minimal pollinating, while if they are inside or in a glasshouse the plants will need some assistance in pollinating.

Pollinating the flowers will ensure that you have the highest flower setting rate possible and in turn the largest possible quantity of fruit on your plants.

Hand Pollination

I prefer to use hand pollination and you would be forgiven for thinking that hand pollination sounds like a very painful slow process it really doesn’t have to be.

Paint BrushShaking or Tapping

I currently have a lovely crop of Tomatoes growing in my Hydroponic System.  I pollinate my tomatoes by tapping the flower stem with a artists paint brush a couple of times, this is all that is needed to set the flowers.

Brushing

The paint brush can also be used to gently brush the pollen from the flowers stamen onto the pistil.  This method can be time consuming and is better for plants that have a few larger flowers.

Hair DryerBlowing

Strawberries can easily be pollinated by using a hair dryer on COLD and blowing air onto the flowers.

Spraying

Another method to pollinate flowers is to spray the flowers with water.  It is best to do this first thing in the morning before the plant has any sun on it, spraying at night is also another option only this can put the plant at risk of getting mold on it as the humidity level around the plant over night will be a lot higher.

Setting Agents

There are a number of Setting Agents that can be purchased from your local garden centre.

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My NFT PVC Pipe System

I have a small glass house that has my two Homemade Hydroponic NFT systems in it.  I have one system using Panda Film and the other one using plastic pipe, both of these systems have their own Nutrient Reservoir as I grow completely different types of plants in them and their nutrient requirements are not compatible.

Nutrient ReservoirNutrient Reservoir

I have a 20 litre plastic tank, it is raised off the ground so that I can easily get the PVC pipe in and out of it as required.   I have not yet painted the outside of the reservoir, I currently simply cover the reservoir to stop algae from growing.

I have a plumbed in water float valve to keep the water level constant.

I do not have a heater or air supply in this tank.  There is over 60 cm fall from the NFT channel to the reservoir and this is enough to aerate the solution.  I generally only use this system from late spring to early autumn so heating the tank is not really necessary.

Submersible PumpI have a small fish pond submersible pump, shown at the right of the tank in the middle.  There is a black plastic pipe connected to the  pump, this runs to the high end of my NFT channel.

It is important to make sure that the pump is capable of pumping water to the high end of your NFT channel, this is often described as the pump “Head” on the labeling.

NFT - PVC Downpipe ChannelNFT Channel

My channel is about 2m long and made of 80mm white PVC down pipe, I have two of these connected together at the lower end of the channel with PVC joiners

I have cut 60cm holes along the length of both pipes.  I have also made some covers to go over the holes that I am not using, I made these by cutting the side out of some plastic containers and placing a cable tie over the lid to hold it in place.

At the top end of the PVC pipes I have a ‘Tee’ connection in the nutrient pipe from the pump, this allows the nutrients to flow into each of the PVC pipes.

Planting

I generally grow Lettuce or Strawberries or a mixture of plants that have similar nutrient requirements.  I always use plants that are 10-15cm tall and definitely plants that do not require external support.

Make sure you get all of the dirt off the plant roots, I always soak the plants in a bucket of water and then the soil comes of pretty easy.  Run the roots under water to get more dirt off.

I have small grow pots that fit nicely into the holes in the PVC pipe and allow the roots of the plants to easily reach the nutrient solution.

I use a mixture of aggregates to hold the plants in the grow pots.  As the aggregate is not in contact with the nutrient solution, you can use anything from rock wool to gravel.

I currently do not have anything growing in this system and will upload some pictures when I do

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My NFT Panda Film System

I have a small glass house that has my two Homemade Hydroponic NFT systems in it.  I have one system using Panda Film and the other one using plastic pipe, both of these systems have their own Nutrient Reservoir as I grow completely different types of plants in them and their nutrient requirements are not compatible.

Nutrient ReservoirNutrient Reservoir

I have a 68 litre black plastic tank.  I have partially sunk the tank into the ground leaving around 10cm above the ground to provide protection from ground water and soil bound diseases and pests.

The hole that the tanks sits in has a plastic liner and then sheets of polystyrene in it to provide some insulation for the tank.

I have a plumbed in water float valve to keep the water level constant, this is the white device, bottom left in the picture.

I have a stainless steel heater and thermostat, this keeps the nutrient solution at around 20 c, the heater is the silver bar in the bottom of the tank.  I use a pump because of cold ground temperature in spring and autumn, this allow the plants to grow a lot quicker than if the nutrient was not heated.  Plants generally require their roots to be over 15 c to really thrive.

I have a air pump with air stone, the air stone sits underneath the heater close to the pump, this is not visible in this picture.  The air pump is sitting underneath my NFT channel with a green air pipe running to the air stone.

Small Submersible PumpI have a small fish pond submersible pump, shown at the right of the tank in the middle.  There is a black plastic pipe connected to the  pump, this runs to the high end of my NFT channel.

It is important to make sure that the pump is capable of pumping water to the high end of your NFT channel, this is often described as the pump “Head” on the labeling.

NFT ChannelNFT Channel

My channel is about 1.5m long.  I have a board with small sides nailed on to help keep the Panda Film in place.  The board slopes about 3 cm over the entire length, the slope is toward my Nutrient Reservoir (shown in the background).  I have a cord running the length of the channel, the Panda Film edges meet at the cord and I use plastic spring clothes pegs to hold the Panda Film in place.

I also have some small patches of silicone underneath the Panda Film to ensure it doesn’t slide down.

At the top end of the channel I have a ‘Tee’ connection in the pipe from the pump and two pipes running nutrients into the Panda Film, this allows an even flow over the entire width of the channel.  I sometime will put some open weave multi cloth in the bottom of the channel to make double sure that the entire channel has a supply of nutrients.

At the bottom of the channel I have a piece of plastic guttering that collects the nutrients from the channel and drops them back into the nutrient tank.

NFT ChannelPlanting

I generally grow Tomatoes and Cucumbers in the Panda Film NFT system.  I always use plants that are 10-15cm tall.  Make sure you get all of the dirt off the plant roots, I always soak the plants in a bucket of water and then the soil comes of pretty easy.  Run the roots under water to get more dirt off.

I place the plants by cords running down from the roof of my glasshouse.  I support the plant by placing a plastic spring clothes peg either side of the plant, ensuring that the roots are partially in the nutrient solution.

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Nutrient Acidity – pH

pH is the measure of Acidity and Alkalinity of a solution.   pH is measured on a scale of 1-14 with 7 being neutral, Acids have a pH lower than 7 and Alkalines have a pH higher than 7.

The level of acidity in your homemade hydroponic system is very important.  Each of the essential elements making up the hydroponic nutrient are released into the nutrient solution at a specific pH range.

Plants are only able to absorb nutrients that have been released into the nutrient solution.

Nutrient pH Range

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The optimal pH range of hydroponic nutrient solution is 5.8-6.3

If the pH goes below 5.5 then the concentration levels of available micro-nutrients Iron, Manganese, Boron, Copper and Zinc will increase and can become toxic to the plant.  The increase in micro-nutrients will also decrease the availability of Calcium and Magnesium.

The affect of the change is nutrients is much more important in hydroponics as this is a closed system with no soil to buffer the nutrients.

Measuring pH

There are several ways of testing the pH of your nutrient solution.  These are listed from cheapest to most expensive.

Litmus PaperLitmus Paper

Litmus Paper are strips of paper that have been impregnated with a pH sensitive dye.  The dye changes colour when dipped into the nutrient solution.  The paper is then compared to a colour chart to determine the pH level of the solution being checked. Litmus paper comes in pH ranges, so ensure that you purchase one the will cover pH 5 to pH 8.

Liquid pH Test Kits

Liquid pH Test Kits work by adding a few drops of a pH sensitive dye to a small amount of the nutrient solution and then comparing the color of the resulting liquid with a color chart.

pH MeterpH Meter

pH Meters are an electrical monitor device that will display the pH level of your nutrient solution in seconds.  There are a huge range of pH Meters, ranging from inexpensive pen-like devices to expensive commercial models.

Please Note

pH Meters need to be looked after properly and calibrated regularly.  Most pH Meters need to have the actual sensor to be moist at all times and to be stored in a buffer solution.

pH Buffer SolutionAdjusting pH

pH Buffer solutions are available at your local hydroponic store.  These solutions will raise or lower the pH of your nutrient solution to the desired level.

With small a small nutrient reservoir the amount of buffer solution will be minimal, so take care or you could over buffer your nutrient solution.

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How to grow Tomatoes in NFT

Hydroponic TomatoesTomatoes are very easy to grow in hydroponics and produce an amazing quantity of

great tasting fruit

I grow tomatoes every year in my homemade  NFT hydroponic system utilising Panda Film for the channel.   I generally grow one cherry tomato and one or two other larger varieties.

I have a small glass house to protect the tomatoes from the weather and they normally will produce fruit from late autumn to the middle of winter.  In ideal conditions tomato plants will fruit for an entire year.

I prefer to purchase tomato plants that are 15 – 20cm tall, this is because this extends the growing period and the requirement of larger plants when using NFT.  The plants need to be talk enough to have their roots dangling into the nutrient solution and have the leaves above the top of the channel.

If you want to sow seeds one of the best ways is to sow seeds directly into Jiffy-7 pellets.  Ensure that you soak the pellets before planting one seed in each pellet.  This is a very commonly used propagation method in commercial hydroponic systems.  When the plants are 15 – 20cm they can be planted into the NFT system

Preparing the Tomato seedling for planting

Cleaned Tomato PlantCarefully remove the plant from the pot and very gently shake as much soil as possible from the roots of the Tomato plant.  Use your hose on low with a soft spray nozzle to wash more soil away from the plants roots.

The plant roots have very fine hairs on them which can very easily be damaged, please take your time and be very gentle with them.

Planting Method

Close up of Tomato plantPlanting Tomatoes when using Panda Film is very easy.  The Panda Film is folded into a triangle with clothes pegs to hold it at the top.   Put the plants into the gap at the top and place a clothes peg either side of the plant close enough to hold the Tomato plant without actually applying any pressure onto the plant (2 – 4 cm away from the plant).   Leave plenty of room between the plants, they are going to grow much larger than when grown in soil.

Tip – Place some open weave multi cloth in the base of the channel to ensure even flow of nutrients over the width of the channel.

Training the plants

I have twine hanging down from the root of my glass house which I tie the Tomatoes to as they grow, I am not able to use stakes because the glasshouse has paved flooring.

I tend to leave the first suckers (side shoots) above the first fruit cluster on each side of the plant and will train them up adjacent twines.  It is best to remove all other suckers and let the three remaining stems produce all of the crop.  It is important for the leaves of the Tomato to have  space around them to decrease the risk of disease.  Every leaf on the plant should be able to get full sunlight every day.

Nutrient Requirements

Tomatoes should be grown with a nutrient strength between 22 and 28 CF, young plants should be started at 22 CF.  Tomatoes will become very big feeders, I recommend that you use a 40 litre or larger reservoir to avoid having to dose nutrients too frequently.

Fertilising the flowers

There are several spays available which will set the flowers, I have not found it necessary to use these.  The easiest method is simply to gently tap the flower stems with a small stick which will shake the pollen onto the pistil.

I have found that my tomato plants will easily grow 30cm per day during summer.

Have fun and enjoy you Tomato crop in your own Homemade Hydroponic System

For other methods of growing Tomatoes and many ways to eat and drink them check out http://www.TomatoGuru.net

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