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21 Benefits of Hydroponic Growing

Here are the top benefits of hydroponic growing of your food or other plants. Not only is it a cleaner, faster, and easier way of growing as compared to traditional methods, but at PowerHouse Growers we also believe hydroponics will move from being the trendy way to being the sustainable way for future urban cities.

1. No soil needed.

2. Almost any plant can be grown.

3. Lower water consumption as it is recycled through the system.

4. Lower nutrition requirements.

5. Pollution free with the fully controlled system.

6. Healthy stable plants that produce higher yields.

7. Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of.

8. Ease and richness of harvesting.

9. No pesticide damage.

10. Shorter growth cycle.

11. Plant’s roots don’t grow out as far in search of nutrients.

12. No weeds (unless of course you are growing weeds on purpose)

13. No back breaking labor because the process can now be fully automated and mess-free

14. Wheelchair accessible – portable and can be placed anywhere.

15. Modern, trendy, and compact systems are perfect for condos and all small spaces.

16. Indoor systems keep you and your plants out of the cold.

17. With the right system (not one that totally infuriates you) stress will melt away!

18. Nurture plant growth by playing music – try some indie rock.

19. Get back in touch with nature – need we say more.

20. Provides the WOW factor.

21. Impress your friends and family with your gardening talents.

Read more.

Feature Image: Making a salad. Image via Shutterstock.

4 Tips for Maintaining Hydroponic Wick Systems

Hydroponic-Wick-System-for-beginners

For soilless gardening beginners, hydroponic wick systems are a good method to start with. DIY hydroponic wick systems are easy to create using limited components. If you decide to proceed with a basic hydroponic wick system for your indoor garden, there are a few pointers to follow.

Tips for Maintaining Hydroponic Wick Systems

Because hydroponic wick systems are very basic in their design and function, it’s important to maintain them manually. Here are some tips to follow to reduce the chance of damaging plant growth:

  1. Set up multiple wicks to provide plants with a greater amount of water and nutrients
  2. Keep the water level high in the reservoir so it doesn’t need to travel as far
  3. Rinse your growing media regularly to avoid nutrient build up which can be toxic to plants
  4. If needed, try adding an air stone to aerate water to provide more oxygen to your plants

For more information of hydroponics wick systems and how to construct your own, check out our original article here.

8 Commonly Used Aquaponic Fish

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A variety of aquaponic fish can be used in aquaponics operations. Which type of aquaponic fish one should choose for his or her system depends on practical matters such as water temperature and pH, as well as personal preference between edible fish and those that are solely (pun not intended) ornamental. There are many more options than those covered on the following list. The list is basically designed to provide a quick overview of some of the more common aquaponic fish options.

1. Tilapia

A very popular option, Tilapia is a great choice for a couple of reasons. First, due to its marketability (if you’re looking to profit from fish production, otherwise it’s just very tasty). Second, due to its ability to tolerate constantly-fluctuating water conditions such as pH, dissolved solids, temperature, and oxygen. Such resilience is key in less sophisticated systems that make it more difficult to control said variables.

Tilapia aren’t always this eerie-looking. Image via massmind.org

2. Goldfish

Goldfish are a great ornamental option to use in a hydroponics system. They obviously aren’t a prime option for consumption. However, much like tilapia, goldfish are cheap and noted for their ability to tolerate a wide range of water temperatures and pH levels.

3. Koi

Koi can be tasty, but are primarily thought of as ornamental species in aquaponics systems (they can more easily be sold to a pet store than as a food source.) They are ideal for aquaponics for the same reason that goldfish and tilapia are: resiliency in constantly-fluctuating water conditions.

4. Arctic Char

As their name implies, Arctic Char are best suited to colder water temperatures. They possess a natural desire to shoal, as well as live in, high-density conditions. This makes them ideal for aquaponics and other land-based aquaculture. They are a solid food option, as they are in the same family as salmon and trout, and possess characteristics of each when it comes to taste.

5. Trout

Trout are also best-suited for colder water conditions, preferring temperatures below 60 degrees. They are ideal for aquaponics since they grow rapidly, and have a high feed conversion ratio.

6. Bass

Bass are a good option in larger aquaponics operations, as they grow to a rather large size. As adults, they tend to feed on smaller fish, such as crayfish and bluegills, which can be somewhat expensive to provide. They thrive in milder water conditions, between 60 and 96 degrees.

7. Barramundi

Barramundi wishing he were part of an aquaponics system. Image via underwaterworld.com.au

While typically used in Australian setups, Barramundi have recently caught on in the U.S. They can ultimately be very productive fish. However, they can also be relatively high-maintenance, as smaller fry fish have a tendency to eat eachother. Additionally, they are known for producing large quantities of excrement, which can obviously present problems in the absenceof an adequate filtration system. They are rather picky when it comes to water conditions, requiring good quality and warm temperatures around 78 to 82 degrees.

8. Murray Cod

Native to and primarily used in Australia, Murray Cod grow rapidly and will eat anything that can fit in their mouths, including smaller fish. They survive best in a pH of 7.0-8.0. Both Murray Cod and Barramundi can be stocked denser than Tilapia, making them more productive. Murray Cod typically prefer a cooler temperature range between 46 and 75 degrees.

To learn more, I would recommend checking out our friend Sylvia Bernstein’s aquaponics fish FAQ page at theaquaponicsource.com, which features a good deal of logistical information.

Benefits of Clay Pebbles as a Grow Medium

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As a beginner to soilless gardening, it can be difficult to choose a grow medium. There are many substrates commonly used in hydroponic systems and you’ll find that they each have their individual pros and cons. In two previous posts we highlighted to benefits of using two popular grow mediums: coconut coir and perlite. In this post we’ll review another grow medium: clay pebbles.

Clay Pebbles as a Grow Medium

When discussed in terms of a grow medium, these round clay pebbles are often used in recirculating hydroponic systems as a layer of substrate. To create clay pebbles, the manufacturers take pieces of clay and fire them in a kiln causing the substance to expand. This is why this grow medium is often referred to as “expanded clay pebbles”.

Clay pebbles are an organic substance which means that many growers like to use them as alternatives to other substrates. It’s common also for growers to use clay pebbles as a base layer combined with other grow mediums. This is because clay pebbles offer excellent drainage.

clay-pebbles-hydroponic-grow-medium

Benefits of Clay Pebbles

Using clay pebbles as your grow medium in either container gardening or in a hydroponic system offers many benefits. The major benefit is that expanded clay pebbles retain moisture. This is important as we are trying collectively to maximize the efficiency of our water supple. Secondly, because clay pebbles are porous and lightweight they increase aeration to the plants’ root systems. In addition to this quality, clay pebbles also improve drainage which is important to maintaining the health of the root systems and preventing rot. Clay pebbles are also a good medium to ensure proper support of your plants.

Because clay pebbles are made under extreme heat, they’re a sterile substrate and also have a neutral pH level. Clay pebbles are an easy medium to reuse meaning they are ecologically friendly given their long life cycle.

All of these benefits of clay pebbles lead to an overall improvement in your plant’s growth and health which is why this grow medium quickly becoming one of the most popular soilless options.

Learn more about the types of clay pebble products available online or at your local indoor gardening shop.

Economics of Commercial Hydroponic Food Production

The worldwide food production system has a great challenge to face over the next few years: to guarantee a food supply to our growing population in a sustainable way.

Despite the technological developments improving our industrial agriculture productivity, issues such as land availability, seasonality, high water consumption, and carbon emissions are in fact the main obstacles preventing us from meeting food security and sustainability targets. Therefore, in order to reach these goals, is it possible to implement alternative farming methods that could increase agricultural outputs and reduce environmental impacts?  One of these solutions is hydroponics, an ancient culture method that allows for soilless food production.

Hence, this article will investigate the pros and the cons of commercial hydroponic food production methods both from environmental and economic points of view.

Commercial hydroponics farm. Image via Emirates Hydroponics Farm.

Environmental Benefits of Hydroponics   

Hydroponic agriculture provides many benefits to the ecosystem. Being a soilless production it doesn’t need herbicides or chemical pesticides and so, it positively affects human health and the environment. Moreover, commercial hydroponic food production method allows on average four times the amount of crops in the same space as traditional soil-based farming, and it can guarantee a faster growth for many kinds of crops.

Furthermore, it can reduce water consumption by up to 90% compared to traditional agriculture’s water usage. These water savings can be huge because, according to World-o-Meters, agricultural production accounts the 70% of the world water consumption. In addition, hydroponics can be a valid alternative to produce food in areas that are not rich in natural resources, such as deserts or even urban buildings. This method can result in important social benefits, especially for the poor, and this can positively retrain our urban areas.

The following video, from Reuters, shows how a hydroponics system has been easily developed in the Philippines to provide to small communities, with little land and water, an inexpensive way to produce their own vegetables.

[iframe id=”http://www.reuters.com/assets/iframe/yovideo?videoId=233016100″ align=”center” mode=”normal” autoplay=”no”]

All these elements highlight that commercial hydroponic food production has positive impacts on the environment and on natural resource management. Also, hydroponics will provide cost savings, such as on water, land and fossil fuels costs, or on chemicals purchases. However, these saving might not be always enough for farmers to cover the hydroponics costs or to justify a shift to it.

The Hydroponics Market

Today the hydroponics industry is a niche food production market, especially if you compare its characteristics against traditional agriculture. According to the EPA, total US crop production is worth $143 billion, while US hydroponic revenue has been estimated by IBIS to reach $607 million.

Despite that, the US hydroponic industry has grown at an annual rate of 3.6% in the last five years, faster than the growth the US GDP had experience in the same period. Revenues in the sector will continue to increase in the next five years. This will not only happen in the US but, it will continue as a worldwide trend. The rising demand for healthy eating and organic food, especially from developed countries, are key factors to foster this growth.

The Hydroponics Crops Farming industry has a low concentration, with a lot of small farms and a few big players such as Village Farms. According to the IBIS World Industry Analyst Agiimaa Kruchkin: “Consumer demand has helped grow the number and earnings for small hydroponic farms, but their market share is limited because of their production capacity, distribution constraints and smaller localized demand”.

Village Farms hydroponically produced tomatoes. Image via Village Farms.

Hydroponics Challenges

As suggested by Manifest Mind, there are many market risks, entry barriers and challenges that hold back investments in the hydroponics industry. These include the high startup and energy costs, the necessity of qualified workers, the operational complexity, and the uncertainties generated by the crops’ price volatility.

The startup costs to implement a hydroponic farm can vary widely but, they are usually much larger than soil-based farming costs. So, the higher upfront capital needed to develop hydroponic food production solutions is a factor that can slow the farmers’ adoption of hydroponics, mostly in developing countries. However, solutions to implement it in an affordable way, such as the aforementioned system developed in the Philippines are becoming more common, and the interest of researchers on the topic can provide more efficient and less expensive solutions.

Also the operational costs of commercial hydroponics sometimes can be higher than traditional agriculture. According to the Groucher College report, “Economic Assessment of Hydroponics Lettuce Production”, 90% of the production costs of hydroponics are composed of energy (20%) and labor (70%) costs. Despite its lower energy consumption over traditional productions, its labor costs represents a much larger share than farm labor, which is estimated by the USDA to vary from 17% to 40% of total operating costs in labor intensive productions.

Therefore, to foster the hydroponics industry’s growth, it’s important to implement technologies that reduce dependence on human labor and lower overall startup costs. Also external factors, such as climate conditions and crop price levels, as well as consumer demand and governmental support for healthy food, can significantly help the adoption of hydroponics.

Grow Your Own Microgreens for Better Health

Micro-greens-health-benefits

Microgreens are all the rage on the urban agriculture scene for the many health and environmental benefits they provide. Microgreens are simply tiny forms of certain varieties of herbs, sprouts, and leafy vegetables. They can be grown in a controlled environment hydroponically. They’re a great option for urban gardening in small spaces, office buildings, and even on-site for restaurants.

Health Benefits of  Micro Greens

Incorporating more raw food into your diet can provide you with tremendous health benefits. This is why microgreens have become so popular. In fact, microgreens are said to contain a higher concentration of nutrients and vitamins such as Vitamin D, calcium, and iron as compared to mature plants. In some varieties, microgreens may contain up to 40% more nutritional value. Because you can grow microgreens hydroponically indoors, you eliminate or reduce the need for harmful chemicals and pesticides as your produce is being grown in a controlled environment.

Varieties of Micro Greens

Hydroponically grown microgreens can be grown year-round indoors. The following the most common varieties of microgreens enjoyed by many:

  • Arugala
  • Kale
  • Radish
  • Sorrel
  • Cilantro (better grown in soil)
  • Sunflower Seed Greens (better grown in soil)
  • Peas
  • Basil
  • Purple cabbage
  • Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Beet (better grown in soil)

A vertical hydroponic microgreen living wall. Image via Harvest To Home.

Trouble Shooting Your Microgreens

You can grow your own microgreens using an easy Microgreens Growing Kit. Here are some microgreen care tips for healthy harvests:

Re-Cutting — Microgreens do not re-grow. Use new grow pads.

Multiple Micro Greens in One Tray — Sow multiple crops in the same tray. Choose micro greens that need to be harvested at similar times.

Presoaking — Some seeds will do better if pre-soaked. Presoak in cold water.

Planting Too Thick — Pluck individual plants if they are coming into thick to avoid rot.

Planting Too Thin — This won’t cause any trouble to your crop but will not provide you with a healthy harvest.

Temperature —A warm spot and lots of light will speed up the growth of your micro greens. Light is more important than temperature.

Generally Weak Crop —Microgreens should struggle a bit to survive. They should be kept in the dark long enough for optimal results.

Pale Crop — Your light may not be strong enough. Try using LED grow lights.

Dry Crops — If you notice dry spots or looks like it has burn patches, the crop might be getting too much light. Some crops are more sensitive to light and can get burned. To solve this issue, increase the distance of your grow lights from your plants, decease the wattage of your light, or decrease the amount of time your crop is exposed to light in a day.

Underwatering —Signs of wilting. The grow pad or medium should be slightly soggy.

Overwatering — Microgreens thrive with the right mix of water and oxygen. Without enough oxygen the crops are susceptible to root diseases, and can even result in the loss of the tray. Avoid any puddles that that are above the root line.

Rot — Though overwatering can cause rot, the cause is usually an indication that your water is too alkaline (pH higher than 6.5). Make sure you pH balance your water or you will have weak crops. You can use lemon juice to adjust your pH level.

Odor — Around the 10 day mark, your crop may experience odor. This is a good time to harvest or just prior to 10 days.

Hydroponically grown microgreens in clay pebbles growing media. Image via Freestyle Farm.

Growing Conditions of Micro Greens

Though indoor gardening and hydroponic growing is in a controlled environment, it’s important to be aware that there are still growing variables. If you are growing large amounts and in small spaces remember to take into consideration ventilation, heat, and moisture.

Whether you grow your own microgreens as a recreational gardener for fun and health, or as a business for the top chefs and restaurants, producing your own pesticide free produce can be rewarding. Top chefs use microgreen varieties to create a spectacular display of edible art and freshness. If you enjoy growing your own and are concerned with where your food is coming from then you might want to give growing your own microgreens. You’ll improve your health as well as the environment and be part of the important concept of local eating and growing your own food. Heck if the kids can do it why can’t you?

Feature Image: A variety of microgreens. Image via Todd’s Seeds.

Hydroponics: Closed-Loop Indoor Food Production  

aquaponics-closed-loop-indoor-food-production

With increased awareness surrounding the agricultural industry and many of the questionable practices that involve chemicals, fertilizers, and soil degradation, many people are looking to alternative food options. A growing number of individuals and families are trying to change their diets to reflect a greater level of organic consumption. For many, it’s a greater concern than just what’s being put into our bodies. It’s the entire process that is upsetting to a growing segment of society. From planting, to harvest, and all the way to how the food is processed, transported to grocery stores, and stored upon arrival. The entire food production supply chain is to some, an ethical concern regarding both human health and the sustainability of our environment.

Alternative solutions are available for us to make small shifts in our thinking and lifestyles in order to play a small, yet important part in reducing the impact of traditional food production. This is where hydroponics, both large and small scale provide long-term, viable solutions.

Closed-Loop Indoor Food Production

Unlike traditional agriculture, hydroponics is a technology that provides a closed-loop indoor food production solution which is positive for our human health as well as the health of our environment. In traditional agriculture, we’ve traditionally experienced a huge amount of resource and water waste, the negative impacts of soil degradation, as well the harmful side effects of eutrophication – the damaging process of nutrient and fertilizer runoff into our coastal ecosystems.

With hydroponics, food is grown indoors in a closed-loop and controlled environment. In an indoor environment, hydroponics enables the growers to manipulate and monitor every aspect of the plants’ growth, leading to optimal food production results. Because of the controlled nature of hydroponics, there are many aspects that increase efficiencies through closed-loop processes.

Here are some of the elements of hydroponic technology which make it a closed-loop indoor food production system:

hydroponics-closed-loop-indoor-food-production-water-reuse

Conserving water in hydroponics with a closed-loop reservoir. Image via San Diego Hydroponics & Organics.

Water Reuse

In hydroponics, water is held in a reservoir and recirculated through pumps to continuously deliver a steady stream of nutrient solution to the plant’s roots. This means that a water is not lost into the ground like it would be in traditional agriculture.

Light Proofing

In indoor growing, artificial lights must be used to recreate natural growing conditions. Using horticultural lights efficiently with the boost from ballasts and reflectors can not only provide the necessary growth requirement but can also provide heat benefits. A controlled environment mitigates heat and energy loss, and adds a dual purpose to the required grow lights.

Indoor Air Control

In an air-sealed growing room, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and Co2 generators work together to recirculate the indoor air and adjust it to the right level for perfect plant growth. Proper control and monitoring means that the right air quality is always achievable with limited energy waste.

For those concerned about the impact that traditional food production has on our human health and our environment, it’s clear that hydroponics offers a multitude of practical and sustainable solutions for closed-loop indoor food production.Urban Organics in St. Paul, uses aquaponics technology to create a closed-loop indoor food production factory. Image via Urban Organics.

pH Balance: Health Benefits of Hydroponic Growing

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Readers, partners, and colleagues want to know where the name “PowerHouse” came from. In a nutshell it came from the pH balance required for optimum hydroponic growing.

pH: Power of Hydrogen

Our name PowerHouse Hydroponics was inspired while working in the indoor gardening industry, and was based on the significance of pH balance in our water to promote healthy growing. “Powerhouse” is synonymous with efficiency, strength, and authority. “Powerhouse” is also strongly tied to healthy food and living. These two elements formed the perfect representation of our vision to be the world’s best resource for food security through hydroponic growing.

At The Core

pH is an indicator of the level of performance in whatever is being measured. In our purpose, pH became an emblem of the healthy cultivation of plants.

Benefits of pH Balance

Proper pH balance can be seen as a restorative balance between humans and our food. A city infused with urban agriculture refines and softens the lines between earth and human by growing food close to where people consume it.

pH-balanced hydroponic solutions bridge the gap between the human need for agriculture and technology through sustainable, scalable, and tailored growing solutions.

With food security and hyper-local food production, we focus on those who will ultimately benefit from hydroponic growing.

Such benefits include closely monitored pH levels for optimum production, water conservation, decreased energy if applied correctly, improved social conditions and community, and enhanced health benefits.

Trending vs. Sustainable

Our instinctual need for strong relationships with our food in order to perform at our happiest and healthiest human levels moved us to find sustainable agriculture solutions. Living in the city, we need food production to be closer to home. Growing healthy also means implementing systems that will produce and will last.

Though we explore trending initiatives and innovative ideas, our message will always return to that which is at our core: sustainably integrating soilles urban agriculture methods into urban development. It’s vital to our future and the fate of our planet that we ensure a pH balance, and that our implemented solutions continue to improve the quality of our food, air, and essentially our health. 

Stocked with educational and solution-based information and stories, PowerHouse Hydroponics is helping cities, businesses, and individuals learn how to sustainably achieve their symbiotic pH balance for a more organic state of existence.

The Strengthening of Local Food Enterprise

With the recent announcement of the USDA’s commitment to a $78 million investment in local food systems many urban, peri-urban, and rural areas across the United States will feel the economic bolstering of opportunity in the complete industry of local food enterprises. This important pledge from the Federal Government only further solidifies the growing demand and attitudinal evolution we’re experiencing as a society when it comes to the value we place on our food.

To the nay-sayers: There are definite opportunities to form sustainable and profitable local enterprises in today’s marketplace. From food forests, food hubs, and farmers’ markets all the way down the supply chain to the distributors, the suppliers, and the sales and marketing support. A financial injection that promotes small to medium-sized business within a market that’s entirely health and socially oriented can only be considered a stepping stone towards a better future for those who are concerned about the business practices of the mainstream food producers.

The establishment of local food enterprises and marketplaces advances with it new innovation for agricultural research and development, opportunities for growing technology, and the demand for labor and a specialized workforce. Moreover, it gives consumers better options and allows them to take control of their health without feeling constrained by some injustices that the traditional industry has created.

Community Supported Agriculture is an important part of the local food system. Image via Frugivoremag.com

The Federal funding is now available to applicants of businesses or organizations that will:

1.       Provide employment;
2.       Improve the economic or environmental climate;
3.       Promote the conservation, development, and use of water for aquaculture; or
4.       Reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources by encouraging the development and construction of solar energy systems and other renewable energy systems.

The funds may be used in the following manner:

1.       Business and industrial acquisitions when the loan will keep the business from closing, prevent the loss of employment   opportunities, or proivde expanded job opportunities.
2.       Business conversion, enlargement, repair, modernization, or development.
3.       Purchase and development of land, easements, rights-of-way, buildings, or facilities.
4.       Purchase of equipment, leasehold improvements, machinery, supplies, or inventory.

There’s optimism in seeing that the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill has brought with it the potential for real economic impact which will no doubt mean that ripples of better health and environmental practices will be felt in its wake.

What could this potentially mean for commercial hydroponic and soilless growing enterprises? For any of these organizations engaged directly with farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, or any part of the local food distribution chain this could mean a slice of the pie. I guess the best way to find out is to apply, wait, and see! Applications will be accepted until June 20th, 2014.

With the increasing number of businesses entering this market it also makes one wonder if – given the broad spectrum eligibility for funding – it means not enough financial resources? Regardless of the investment’s total amount and reach, it’s definitely encouraging to see the incentivization of sustainable food production from a government standpoint.

Feature Image: Teresa Vanek and Brent Welch of Red Tail Farm in Jacksonville, N.Y. Photo by James Rajotte, New York Times.

3 Cloud-Based Controllers For Your Indoor Garden

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Today’s advanced smart technology has really taken off in one of the most ancient of practices: Agriculture. For some, indoor gardening is a hobby, and for others it’s become a lifestyle. For those serious about controlling their indoor gardens, and maintaining the consistency of yields, cloud-based controllers offer major advantages for your garden’s performance.

Cloud-based controllers monitor and provide feedback for growers on their garden’s performance levels in the form of data collection. The grower can then use this data to make necessary adjustments to water, nutrient, oxygen, pH, and energy consumption levels. The result is a more efficient, effective, high-performing indoor garden with fresher, healthier produce right in your own home or office.

Here are three cloud-based controller products available for your indoor garden:

Bitponics
This device aims to help gardeners with the growing process, making it far easier and better for the garden’s wellbeing, while improving efficiency.
SmartBee Controllers
This device’s software and hardware collide with one another, offering hydroponic gardeners a myriad of tools to maximize their garden’s health and growth.
OsmoBot
Currently beta testing and to be released in 2015, the OsmoBot seems to be another stellar product that will provide valuable benefits to many forms of “ponics”, including the ability to run gardens using important data information, helpful apps, wireless options, monitoring, and other features.

Read more about cloud-based controllers and smart technology for indoor gardening.Feature Image: The Bitponics indoor garden smart controller. Image via Bitponics.