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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