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4 Hydroponic Substrates

In soilless growing, instead of using soil you use a hydroponic grow medium or substrate. These substrates are used to support the plant’s root system and hold them in place by supporting the weight of the plant. These substrates also retain moisture and provide oxygen to the plant’s roots.

Unlike soil which generally contains fertilizer in it, hydroponic substrates are inert and therefore need a nutrient solution added to them to boost plant growth.

Here are four of the most common forms of hydroponic substrates used in soilless growing.

4 Hydroponic Substrates

  1. Clay Pebbles
  2. Coir/Coco
  3. Rockwool
  4. Perlite

Read more.

4 Common Ebb and Flow Hydroponics Mistakes

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The ebb and flow hydroponics system is one of the most popular, largely due to its simplicity, versatility, and efficiency. However, with the simplicity of building and maintaining the system comes the potential for several simple but costly mistakes.

Mistake #1: An Unlevel Growing Surface

Obviously, the growing surface needs to be level for the nutrient solution to be evenly distributed. If it is not evenly distributed some roots will be over-saturated and fail to drain adequately, leading to a lack of oxygen. Conversely, some will not receive a sufficient amount of the solution which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Solution

Well, clearly the answer is to ensure that the growing surface is level. Hydroponics expert George F. Van Patten recommends the usage of self-leveling legs similar to the ones you would find on a washing machine.

Rockwool cubes. Image via greenfinger-hydroponics.co.uk

Mistake #2: The Wrong Growing Medium

As is the case for every method of soilless growing, it’s important that the right growing medium is chosen. Since the ebb and flow hydroponics system requires that plants be immersed directly in the nutrient solution, one must avoid using a medium that is too light-weight. If a light-weight medium such as perlite is used, the containers can float and potentially tip over.

Solution

Try using a heavier soilless grow medium like rockwool or coco coir.

Mistake #3: Letting the Nutrient Solution Stand for Too Long

A crucial part of hydroponics is ensuring that one’s plants are receiving adequate levels of oxygen. In an ebb and flow hydroponics system it’s vital not to allow the nutrient solution to sit for more than half an hour. If it does the root system may be exposed to an anaerobic environment causing them to drown.

Solution

Drain the solution regularly making sure not to let it sit for more than 30 minutes. This will ensure adequate aeration.

Mistake #4: Failing to Adjust Irrigation

The irrigation regimen for one’s ebb and flow hydroponics system cannot remain static over the course of a growing season or a year. Generally, one should flood the growing table when the growing medium is approximately half-full of moisture. Once a regimen is established  it’s easy to continuously flood the table at the same rate. Temperatures and light availability change over the course of a growing season, however. As environmental factors change so does the evaporation rate and plant usage rate of the nutrient solution. Flooding too often can cause over-saturation whereas not flooding often enough can lead to nutrient and water deficiencies.

Solution

Adjust your irrigation schedule based on current climactic conditions. Obviously this applies more to outdoor growing operations as the indoor climate is controlled.

Feature Image: Ebb and Flow system utilizing clay pebbles as a growing medium. Image via Thehydrosource.com

4 Commercial Vertical Farms Worth Your Attention

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As population continues to grow exponentially and the Earth’s natural resources (including space) continue to be depleted, it’s essential that agriculture grows up, rather than out. These four commercial vertical farms are blazing the trail to more sustainable, healthier agricultural production.

Sky Greens Farm in Singapore

Sky Greens, Singapore. Image via Ipsnews.net.

Locally grown vegetables in Singapore currently constitute only 7% of local consumption, an issue that spurned the development of Sky Green Farms. (Another key factor was the incredibly high price of real estate in Singapore, making vertical production the most viable way to produce locally). The farm produces a variety of tropical vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, Kang Kong (commonly known as “water spinach”), and several other Malaysian favorites. The farm uses a unique A-frame system that rotates the produce to provide even light exposure. Here is an excellent info-graphic published in Singapore newspaper The New Paper in 2011, that covers some of the finer points of the system.

Visit the Sky Green Farms website to learn more about their system and what they produce in Singapore.

Chicago’s Farmedhere

A self-declared pioneer of vertical farming in Chicago, Farmedhere is an excellent example of repurposing an old building, as it occupies 90,000 ft.­2 of an abandoned Chicago Warehouse. The establishment has integrated Tilapia into an Aquaponics system that currently produces salad greens, herbs, and dressing for 71 grocery stores and other purveyors in the greater Chicago area. Farmedhere does its part to bolster the local economy by employing over 200 locals.

Visit the Farmedhere website for more information on the fresh and healthy produce they grow.

Green Spirit Farms in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Green Spirit Farms uses rotary planters. Image via Trbimg.com.

Green Spirit has been growing in Michigan and selling locally since June 2013. According to president Milan Kluko, they are looking to expand production in the next month or so in a building in Scranton, PA. The company has invested $27 million in the facility, which spans 3.25 hectares and has the potential to house 17 million plants at any given time. The re-purposed industrial building is set to become the world’s largest vertical farm, with full-capacity potential of the equivalent of 200 acres of farmland. If you’re not into math, that’s 29 times what a conventional farm could produce within the same area. Inspired by drought conditions that have plagued U.S. agricultural land in recent years, water conservation appears to be a key focus of the farm moving forward, as 98% less water per production unit is expected to be utilized. Much like Farmedhere, GSF will make a positive impact on the local economy, providing at least 101 jobs.

For more information on the technology used by Green Spirit Farms visit their website.

Nuvege Vertical Farms

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster irradiated a significant portion of the nation’s arable land, vertical farming has been booming in Japan.  Nuvege farms is at the forefront of the movement, growing lettuce in horizontal and vertical areas of 30,000 and 57,000 square feet, respectively. One of the company’s primary goals is to provide nourishment for children, something that may become more of a reality in Japan as commercial vertical farms continue to be developed.

Learn more about Nuvege’s advanced technology and the benefits of their system.

Feature Image: Sky Greens Vertical Farm in Singapore. Image via skygreens.appsfly.com.

3 Winter Indoor Gardening Tips

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Winter indoor gardening is a great pass-time for many individuals and families. It allows a variety of food-producing plants to be grown at home during months when they otherwise couldn’t be grown. When the seasons change, there are a few things to know about winter indoor gardening to ensure healthy plant growth.

Here are three winter indoor gardening tips:

Lighting
During the winter, you’ll need to use artificial lighting to supplement sunlight. Keep your utility costs down by placing your lights on a timing cycle and boosting light efficiency with ballasts and reflectors.

Insulation
Reduce the amount of heat and energy loss while maintaining a consistent temperature for your plants. Don’t let temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity
As winter air becomes more arid, plants to react negatively to the lack of moisture. Try adding a humidifier to control the indoor climate. Some plants can also be misted with water on their leaves, but not too much or you’ll risk mold build-up.

Check out the original article for more information on winter indoor gardening.Hydroponic basil garden. Image via Sassy Susan Creates.

3 Ways to Measure Water pH Levels

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Regular testing of your nutrient solution’s pH level is important. Having a proper pH level between 5.5 and 6.5 in your hydroponic gardening system will ensure that your plants are receiving the correct level of nutrients to support their healthy growth. A correct pH balance helps the plants with their absorption abilities.

Here are three ways to measure water pH levels no matter what level of expertise you’re at:

Beginner
Use a paper strip coated in a pH indicating dye. Dip the strip into the water and wait for the strip to change color. Then compare the color against a pH color chart to determine the corresponding pH level number.
Intermediate
Use a pH testing kit for liquids. This is a dye that you drop into the water which will change color. Again, use a pH color chart to get a reading of the pH level.
Advanced
A digital pH meter can be used to obtain the most accurate reading of the pH level. These digital meters are available at your local indoor gardening supplier.

Read more about measuring pH levels in hydroponics.

3 Ways Hydroponics is a Closed-Loop Food Production System

There are many advantages of hydroponic gardening. The technology available today in soilless growing makes agriculture a more efficient process than we currently have in soil-based food production. One of the terms that’s often used to describe hydroponics is “closed-loop” food production system.

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

1. Water Reuse

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 less water is consumed and wasted.

2. Light Proofing

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.

3. 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.

Learn more about the benefits of hydroponics as a closed-loop food production system here.

Post-Secondary Education: 3 Universities With Hydroponic Agriculture Programs

Farming has always been the cornerstone of the development of our North American society. But with the advancement in technology and internet based industries, a younger generation grew up and away from agriculture practices. Food production will still always be a necessity and so we must find ways to reinvent farming in order to attract younger workers to this evolving industry. Hydroponic agriculture programs and research at universities across North America are trying to reinvigorate our society’s youth and get them interested in food production.

Experts realize the importance of hydroponic technology in ensuring the future of food security. This is why in order to involve the millennial age bracket, universities are now offered grants to provide hydroponic agriculture programs for interested students. Here are three universities with hydroponic agriculture programs.

hydroponic-tomato-plants-university-of-ohio-hydroponic-crop-production

Hydroponic tomato plants grown at the University of Ohio Hydroponic Crop Production facility. Image via OARDC.

Ohio State University, Hydroponic Crop Program

This hydroponic agriculture program began in 1999 thanks to grants from the USDA and additional funding from the Ohio State University Extension. The program is run in cooperation with the Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and the Agricultural Business Enhancement Center (ABE) in an effort to develop hydroponic produce businesses in Ohio. Participants of the program are given horticulture knowledge and greenhouse design support, and well as business planning and marketing skills leading to a well-rounded education. Learning is developed through direct training by experts, seminars, and facility tours. The program’s website offers further support through technical information such as growth stages, essential nutrients, economics and budgeting, as well as both an interactive tomato and lettuce growth model.

 

Controlled Environment Agriculture. Image via Cornell University.

Cornell University, Controlled Environment Agriculture

Cornell University has been a leader in the practice of Controlled Environment Agriculture since 1999 when the school established a commercial prototype to produce lettuce at a facility in Ithaca, New York. This facility can grow 1,245 heads of lettuce per day. Research performed at Cornell’s CEA is in partnership with the controlled Biomass Production Chamber experiments performed by NASA in attempts to grow plants in space. Though the commercial facility is no longer in operation, Cornell continues to experiment in small greenhouses and growth chambers to uncover selected aspects of hydroponically-produced vegetables such as the development of computer systems which predict plant harm, the improvement of the crops’ nutritional value, and environmentally friendly biological and pest control methods. They continue to partner with NASA to investigate plant life viability on space flights.

controlled-environment-agriculture-center-arizona-university

Controlled Environment Agriculture Center’s Lunar Greenhouse at the 2013 BIO International Convention in Chicago. Image via University of Arizona, CEAC.

University of Arizona, Controlled Environment Agriculture Center

The Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC) at the University of Arizona is an education and research facility part of the Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering as well as the School of Plant Sciences. The CEAC is used to produce plants indoors which maximizes efficiency but with lowered environmental impact. At the CEAC, new innovative technologies are also explored such as sensors and monitoring as well as plant physiology. The research and testing performed at the CEAC had led to advancements in water and energy conservation technologies in hydroponic growing as the Center has made it their mission to efficiently optimize resource consumption. Students of this program gain hands-on experience which allows them to test different systems while being responsible for the maintenance of the crops. They then get to be a part of the final stage – selling the produce on campus and at local farmers’ markets.

3 Types of Indoor Gardening Services

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The aesthetic appeal of living walls and indoor gardens has certainly increased the demand for companies who not only manufacture indoor gardening products, but provide indoor gardening services as well. These companies alleviate much of the leg -work that goes into designing and planning indoor gardens, and are also a convenient option for maintaining the health and vitality of the garden.

The convenience of indoor gardening services includes their expertise and provision of education to their customers. With their knowledge, indoor gardening service professionals will select the best types of plants for your needs, design the perfect gardening system for the space in question, and educate on maintenance requirements as needed.

Here are three types of indoor gardening services that are available today:

Soilless Gardens for Restaurants
Restaurant owners are turning to on-site soilless gardening systems to grow their own herbs and vegetables, responding to the increased demand for hyper-local food.
Living Walls for Office Buildings
Employers today are more aware of the benefits of growing plants in office spaces, which is why living walls are a great solution to increase productivity and add natural beauty to the workplace.
Edible Walls for the Home
Edible walls allow urban residents to grow and pick their own fresh herbs year round right in their very own kitchen.

Read more about full-service indoor gardening.Feature Image: An office with a living wall. Image via Matt Cohen, NRDC.

3 Signs of Plant Nutrient Deficiency

signs-of-plant-nutrient-deficiency

Just like any living thing, plants need food to survive. Plants receive food through their root systems from a variety nutrients that naturally occur in the earth. When plants are not grown in soil, but rather in a hydroponic nutrient solution, it is up to the grower to ensure that the proper amount of nutrients are being fed to the plants.

Three of the main nutrients that are required for plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If any of these are low in supply, you will begin to notice certain signs of plant nutrient deficiency.

Here are ways to recognize the signs of plant nutrient deficiency corresponding to each type of nutrient.

Nitrogen Deficiency
Nitrogen initiates photosynthesis. Without it, your plants’ leaves will become discolored, either brown or yellow. This is called chlorosis and is the result of a lack of chlorophyll production. The plant itself will likely not continue to grow or will grow slowly.

Phosphorus Deficiency
Phosphorus helps the plant by strengthening its roots and seeds therefore leading to an overall healthier reproduction. In the case of a Phosphorus deficiency, you’re going to notice a darkening of the leaves.

Potassium Deficiency
Potassium is ultimately responsible for growth and health, and helps the plant’s immune system. If the leaves have begun to discolor at the edges or the plant isn’t blooming how it should, then this is likely a sign of a Potassium deficiency.

For more information about signs of plant nutrient deficiency check out the original article here.

Feature Image: A nitrogen deficiency is compared to a healthy one.

3 Reasons to Keep Your Grow Room Ventilated

Growing plants with any method can be difficult enough. There are lots of specifics to learn, especially about what each type of plant requires. With indoor gardening, it’s all about achieving the right set of growing conditions to help your plants thrive in a controlled environment. With a room dedicated entirely to growing plants, there are many things to be aware of in order to prevent frustration and to ensure your plants stay healthy. Why and how to keep your grow room ventilated is an often overlooked aspect of indoor gardening. This may be because it’s not a direct component of the system you’re using, and the lack of ventilation produces negative side effects after the fact.

Essentially, plants need a constant flow of air in order to convert Co2 into oxygen as part of their natural photosynthesis process. Because plants are regularly producing oxygen, it’s important to keep your grown room ventilated so that the air doesn’t become stagnant.

Here are three important reasons to keep your grow room ventilated:

Prevent Mold and Bacteria Build-up
Reduce Heat Impact
Eliminate Odor

Read more about how to keep your grow room ventilated.