Caring for your Garden

Caring For Your Garden

One of the most common reasons why people love flowers so much is because of the beautiful fragrance they emit. A beautiful, natural garden overflowing with scented flowers can brighten up anyone’s day, even after a work week from hell. The smell of flowers connotes happy occasions such as summer days, birthdays, weddings and celebrations. This is one of the reasons most gardeners will choose flowers that smell divine as their flowers du jour.

Some of the best fragrant flowers for your garden include Arabian jasmine, banana shrub, butterfly bush, confederate jasmine, garden phlox, gardenia, heliotrope, hyacinth, angels’ trumpet and roses. All of these have a unique and delicious scent that will leave your outdoor area smelling beautiful. However, some of the most fragment and beautiful flowers also take more care than you would expect.

To really get that beautiful, spring time freshness smell from your flowers, keep the following tips in mind:

Bright, thick and colorful pedals on a flower can suggest a beautiful smell as well. Look for flowers that have thick colorful petals when choosing flowers. You can also ask the sales associate at your local garden center about the smell that will be emitted in full bloom.

Fragrant flowers enjoy having company in their garden. One of the ways to increase the smell of your flowers is to plant trees, vines, perennials and shrubs along the garden bed with your fragrant flowers. Having neighbors will help your flowers show off their smell.

To make the most of your garden care smell, think about choosing flowers that bloom at different times. That way the smells of each flower will not contradict one another and you will have beautiful and varying smells all season long.

Most flowers that are lacking in a sweet smell are so because they are thirsty. Make sure you give your flowers enough water to keep them healthy. In the hot season this may mean watering them every day or every other day.

Finally, make sure your flowers have enough moisture and ventilation. Hot and dry gardens will not fare well for those fragrant flowers. Although they may grow, the smell will be lacking. Try to plant your flowers in an area where the air is gentle and the moisture content is high in the air. Humidity is not a fragrant flower’s friend.

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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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Hydroponic Aggregates

Aggregates are mediums used to grow plants in, these provide support for the plants and affect moisture retention  and aeration around the roots of the plants.  Jiffy-7 are the easiest for propagating seeds and Perlite is the best medium for propagating cuttings.

When using aggregates it can be advisable to elevate your pump from the bottom of the tank to avoid sucking in residue from the aggregate.

Gravel

GravelCoarse, washed, river gravel is a good growing medium.  Gravel does not absorb any moisture and will retain some moisture on the surface of the gravel.  Gravel sized between 3mm and 10mm is best.

Gravel can be mixed with river sand or Perlite to maintain a higher moisture level in the growth medium.

Ensure that the gravel is carefully washed before being introduced into your hydroponic system.

Jiffy-7

Jiffy-7

The Jiffy-7 Pellet is made from sphagnum peat from specially selected peat bogs. Lime and a special fertilizer with a low ammonium content are added to the peat in order to stimulate growth. The pellets have a pH of approximately 5.3 and are wrapped in a thin, degradable net.

Simply sit in water and the pellet expands upwards. A small indent is on the top of the pellet, place your seed here once the pellet has absorbed the water.

Perlite

PerlitePerlite is a natural occurring substrate formed from volcanic glass,  it is porous and inherently retains water within it’s structure.

Perlite is excellent for rooting cuttings and can be mixed with other aggregates to provide ideal medium for use in your homemade hydroponic system.

Rinse the Perlite in fresh water before introducing to your hydroponic system to remove residual dust.

Vermiculite

VermiculiteVermiculite is a natural occurring mineral that expands when heated in a process called exfoliation.

Exfoliated Vermiculite does not retain moisture and generally is mixed with Perlite to form a growing medium.

The Vermiculite in the mixture provides great drainage, while the Perlite will retain moisture and in combination provides a moist aerated environment for plants to grow in.

Rock Wool

Rock WoolRock wool is manufactured by heating rock to 1600ºc and then either spinning it into fine fibres or blowing air through it resulting in fine fibres.  Rock wool is good at retaining moisture and can be used without needing to be contained in a pot.

Ensure that Rock Wool does not end up getting sucked into your pump or it will quickly block it.

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Aeroponics Technique

Aeroponic PlantAs the name suggests Aeroponics is growing plants which are suspended in the air, there is no soil or aggregate to support the plant.  The roots are misted with hydroponic nutrients, this provides the plants roots with the maximum possible aeration.

Basic Design

A reservoir is partially filled with hydroponic nutrient.  Place a a small pump in the nutrient and attach a series of misting nozzles.  The plants are placed in net cups which are in turn placed in holes cut in the top of the reservoir.  The roots of the plants need to be partially through the bottom of the net cups, this ensures that the nutrient mist covers the roots.

Design Considerations

  • The nutrient needs to be kept in a dark reservoir to stop algae growing, you can paint the outside of the container to stop light getting in
  • An air pump is not required as good aeration is provided to the plants roots in the mist
  • If plants need additional support use string hanging down from an overhead support and tie the plants to it

Design Components

Reservoir

Aeroponic ReservoirThe the reservoir can be any size,  just select a reservoir that fits the location you are going use it.  The nutrient solution should partially fill the reservoir, ensure that the pump is completely submerged to avoid overheating.

If you do not wish to make your own homemade reservoir, you will find reservoirs specifically made for Aeroponics available in you local hydroponic stores.

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, other materials are fine if you use a plastic liner.

Pump

Misting NoozlesYou will require a submersible pump, the pump sits on the bottom of the reservoir tank, attach a pipe to a series of misting nozzles that are situated above the level of the nutrient solution in the reservoir.  I simply use parts from an in-ground watering system available from my local garden centre.  I attach a piece of pipe to the outlet of the pump, this is around 15cm long.  At the top of this pipe I attach a ‘T’ pipe junction and then a section of pipe on either end of the ‘T’ junction long enough to reach most of the way across the tank.  Insert 360º misting nozzles into the horizontal sections of the pipe.

Net Cups

Net CupsNet Cups are used to support the plants.  Cut holes in the top of the reservoir big enough to hold the net cups with around two thirds of the cup below the lid of the reservoir.  Net Cups can be purchased in a variety of sizes.  The plants may also be supported using a Plant Support Disk. Plant Support Disk For you homemade hydroponic system you can also use black polythene cut into a shape similar to the Plant Support Disk and taped to the list of the reservoir.

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Flood and Drain Technique

Flood and Drain Hydroponic system As the name implies this technique involves flooding the growing table with nutrients and then letting them slowly drain back into the reservoir.
There are many commercially available systems, these are good to provide you with design ideas for your own Homemade Hydroponic flood and drain system.

Basic Design

The nutrient solution is pumped from the reservoir under the grow table and then slowly drains back into the reservoir through a drainage pipe of holes.  The pump is only run for enough time to fill the grow tray to the top of the overflow pipe, this needs to be done frequently enough to ensure that the plants roots stay moist.  Plants can be directly planted in aggregate in the grow tray or be in pots sitting in the grow tray.

Design Considerations

  • It may be necessary to change the frequency and length of time the pump is running as the seasons change to ensure that the plants are kept moist
  • The grow tray needs to be above or partially above the nutrient reservoir
  • The nutrient needs to be kept in a dark reservoir to stop algae growing, you can paint the outside of the container to stop light getting in
  • Ensure that the pump stays covered with nutrients when the grow tray is fill to stop the pump motor overheating
  • The addition of an air pump provides good aeration to the plants roots

Design Components

Reservoir

The size of the reservoir is dependent on the size of the grow tray you are going to use, the reservoir should be large enough to fill the grow tray to the overflow height and still leave the pump covered with nutrients.  It is recommended that you use a fish tank air pump to aerate the nutrient solution in the reservoir.

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, other materials are fine if you use a plastic liner.

Grow Tray

The grow tray would ideally be made of plastic and can either sit partially inside the reservoir or on top of it.  Ideally the grow tray would be at least 10cm deep to provide plenty for aggregate or pots to be places and to be completely flooded with the nutrients.

Pump

You will require a submersible pump, the pump sits on the bottom of the reservoir tank, attach a pipe to deliver the nutrient to the grow tray.   The pump should be on a timer that will run for enough time to flood the grow tray to the top of the overflow,  the frequency that the pump needs to run will need to be determined by how quickly the aggregate drys out.  The aggregate should remain moist with little nutrient sitting in the bottom of grow tray.

Overflow Pipe

The overflow pipe is simply a section of plastic pipe that goes through the bottom of the grow tray.  The top of the overflow pipe should be at the maximum height that you want the nutrient level in the grow tray to be at when the tray is in its flooded state.

Drainage Holes

There are several ways to drain the grow tray back into the reservoir.  If the grow tray is sitting on top of the reservoir, simply drill some small holes in the bottom of the grow tray.  It is also possible to put small holes in the side of the overflow pipe.


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