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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Hydroponic Nutrient Basics

A lot of mystique appears to have been unnecessarily created around hydroponic nutrition.  Hydroponic plant nutrition is no different in terms of requirements than conventional plant nutrition.

Nutrient Formulations

It is possible to make your own hydroponic nutrients, this can be advantageous for specialised commercial growers, for home use store purchased pre-mix is ideal.

Pre-mix formulas come either as powder or liquid and generally will be supplied in two parts  that you will need to mix in equal quantities for use in your hydroponic system.  Do not be tempted to pre-mix to the two parts before they are required to be used, the two parts can react together and you can end up with a in-dis-solvable sediment in the bottom of your container.

As with most plant foods, hydroponic nutrients consist largely of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K).  A selection of other elements including Sulphur, Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Copper, Boron will also be added to the nutrient to provide balanced nutrition for the plants.

There is a large range of hydroponic nutrients ranging from specialising in flower blooms, specific plants through to general formulations.  I recommend using a general formulation

Nutrient Absorption

The process by which mineral nutrients dissolved in water are absorbed into plants is called osmosis.  Osmosis is the tendency of fluids to pass through a semi permeable membrane and mix with one another.  In plants the small hairs on the roots allow nutrients dissolved in water to enter the root system and do not allow particles of dirt for example to enter.

The cells in the plant’s root hairs contain a dense solution of salts and organic acid.  Because this solution is stronger than the weak solution of nutrients dissolved in the water surrounding the roots, there is a strong osmotic pressure driving the weak solution in through the cell walls to mix with the dense solution in the plant root hairs.

Warning

Osmosis can also work in reverse and kill a plant.  If the concentration of nutrients in the solution surrounding the plants roots is stronger than the concentration of nutrients in the plant’s root hairs, nutrients will move from the plant into the solution in effect starving the plant.

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 acidity / alkalinity of a solutions is measured as pH .  The pH of the solution affects the plants ability to absorb the nutrients.

I will cover the importance of CF and pH in a future post.

Monitoring the Nutrients

CF Meter

For Static Solution Culture or Run to Waste hydroponic systems you can mix the nutrient solution to the required CF by measuring the required quantities following the details on the hydroponic solution you have purchased, for other hydroponic systems it is better to measure the CF using a CF meter

There are a large range of CF meters available.  Ensure you purchase one that has a CF range from 2 to 36 as this will cater for most plants that you are likely to grow

The easiest way to check the pH of the solution is to purchase some litmus paper, this simple is dipped into the nutrient solution and will change colour to display the pH of the solution

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