Erik Biksa has been writing about and discussing hydroponics growing, related technologies and cropping methods since 1999 in a variety of professional publications and platforms globally Erik has travelled the world learning and teaching modern growing techniques and technologies and is appreciated by many growers for his informative yet hands on approaches. Presently, he is the Editor at Grozine
Super Sprouter Review
Premium Plant Propagation Trays, Lids & Matts. Are They Worth the Money?
This Spring Planting Season we decided to perform a Super Sprouter Review. Super Sprouter is brand of plant propagation trays, inserts, domes, heating mats and controls used by growers for starting seeds, rooting cuttings and establishing young plants. When it comes to buying these Spring Planting essentials, it’s possible to save a little money and buy generic–we wanted to see if it was worth the extra sheckles to go premium in our Super Sprouter Review.
Besides the energy savings, the results are better–you are heating the seed or cutting more directly, and from underneath versus heating all the air around it in hopes that the cuttings or seed plugs will warm up to the optimal temperature you desire.
Above: Sprouting Wheatgrass
Super Sprouter Review, Clear Cut Tray System
The Clear Cut Tray System is an innovative idea. On top, a tall tight fitting clear humidity dome with adjustable vents. Below a sturdy black base 1020 tray (ie, standard nursery flat, no holes) with a clear insert tray that has drainage holes.
So, what’s the Big Deal–it’s a tray, right?
The cool thing about this particular tray in tray system that we liked a lot is that you can inspect young and emerging root systems without disturbing sensitive young plants. You don’t even need to lift the humidity dome. Simply lift the clear insert, with the dome still on, right out of the base tray and you can see if new roots have emerged from cuttings or if it’s time to pot your seed plugs up into the next stage. It’s also a great way to check and ensure that seedlings or cuttings are not sitting in freestanding water at the bottom of the tray; a common entry point for root disease when young root systems sit in warm pooled water for a length of time.
Super Sprouter Review, Built Sturdy & Tight Fitting
The Super Sprouter trays, domes and inserts are the most sturdy we have ever started plants with, for real–and we hope you believe us if we say that’s a LOT of plants on as many occasions using standard prop gear from a wide range of supply sources. The domes and trays provide a complete seal, there are no raised areas from imperfections in the plastics that are common to other we have used that allow humidity to escape or unwanted insects to enter. Besides having an extra generous internal volume of air, the domes are sturdy enough that you can stack several trays, completely saturated with moisture, on top of one another–we tried it three high, and observed no signs of buckling. This makes handling and shipping larger volumes of rooted cuttings or seedlings a breeze without worrying about damaging the precious cargo they contain.
The base trays themselves are super sturdy and can be purchased as standard, double thick and even triple thick. We had no problems pick up a tray of saturated started plugs with one hand in these trays without the Super Sprouter tray giving way, ripping and sending precious and delicate young plants to the floor–if you’ve been propagating plants for any length of time you know this happens; and it’s a nightmare watching your hard work become ruined as stems snap when they hit the deck after spilling out of a flimsy tray that ripped.
Super Sprouter Review, Heat Mats & Controller
Applying even and gentle bottom heat is an easy and low energy way to improve results when rooting cuttings or starting seeds. In our greenhouse, this is especially true during the early part of the growing season. The wattage or energy it takes to heat the entire air volume of the greenhouse for ideal propagation temperatures to keep starter cubes or pellets warm inside propagation domes and trays is considerably more than maintaining moderate air temperatures and applying bottom heat via propagation heat mats. Besides the energy savings, the results are better–you are heating the seed or cutting more directly, and from underneath versus heating all the air around it in hopes that the cuttings or seed plugs will warm up to the optimal temperature you desire.
We liked these mats because they fit perfect inside our standard 4′ X 8′ tray and could be daisy chained together easily and safely. We were able to connect Eight mats together and run them all with one temperature controller. If your needs change and you need two different temperature zones, no problem, just disconnect the portion you want to use for another temperature setting and add another Digital Heat Mat Control. Note the control has a generous length sealed temperature probe that you can insert right into your propagation media–it will allow the control to keep the exact temperature you desire right at seeding or rooting media. Easily raises the temperature 10 Deg F or better versus ambient, and for very little wattage (especially versus trying to heat the entire volume of greenhouse air).
Super Sprouter Review, Additional Thoughts
These trays and domes are easily worth the extra 50 cents or buck a piece, especially if you intend to reuse. In fact these are built so sturdy, it’s unlikely they will need replacing for quite some time. Even under strong natural with supplemental lighting conditions in our greenhouse we have not seen any sign of cracking, fading, becoming brittle etc. All in all a really good buy, especially if you want to spend more time shipping or potting up healthy transplants versus handling your trays one by one daintily with both hands. As a matter of fact, after using these Super Sprouter trays, domes and inserts anything else we have tried in the past just isn’t going to measure up anymore, ie get spoiled once you try these these versus standard fare. The only thing we can even think to say as a negative is that the extra thick trays lose a few millimetres of space inside the tray, so some standard inserts may fit a little tighter than before–which really isn’t a big deal and besides, Super Sprouter offers a variety of cell trays designed to fit perfectly inside.
Super Sprouter Clear Cut Tray in Tray System, Average Street Price (USD):
Productive Micro Gardening for Everyone
Vegepod, a big hit from Down Under is now available in North America. At Grozine.com, we’ve been seeing more and more everyday people from across the globe posting pictures of beautiful looking vegetable gardens thriving in what is called a Vegepod.
What is a Vegepod, you ask?
We’d describe the Vegepod as a covered, self watering, raised bed growing system, ideal for a very wide range of veggies, flowers and herbs. Don’t be fooled, you can fit a lot more than you think into one of these systems as we found out first hand on receiving a Size Large Vegepod and stand. The bed itself is deep enough for root crops like carrots and the breathable covering stands around a couple feet above the soil surface level.
Again, it’s really amazing to see the size and sturdiness of the finished Vegepod considering it all arrived via Post Service in two boxes
This Vegepod graphic is really worth a thousand words, note the cyclic concept here–works very much like Mother Nature’s garden–except you can set up a Vegepod just about anywhere the sunshines while saying goodbye to things like back aches, rodents, slugs, frost damage, messes and laborious watering. If you have pets like dogs and cats, this is a great way to keep them and some of their less favorable activities out of your food garden.
ABOVE: Note the cyclic nature of how the Vegepod works–very low maintenance and user friendly
It was really quite amazing to us how compact the Vegepod was shipped relative to the finished garden size. Our Size Large Vegepod, assembled, is roughly 3.3 Feet by 6.6 feet and stand about waist high from the ground. After assembly, it is sturdy enough to support 440 Litres of soil—that’s a LOT of weight!
The two cartons arrived via Post, and fit easy enough into the trunk of a regular North American sedan. Note that there are several sizes available, as follows (click for details):
Like most people, when we see a bunch of parts and don’t know how the finished product is supposed to look it can feel a little overwhelming at first. However, following the written instructions supplied in the box was a snap–it required no additional tools; everything was supplied. There are also instructional videos on youtube, etc if you are more inclined to learn that way.
Again, it’s really amazing to see the size and sturdiness of the finished Vegepod considering it all arrived via Post Service in two boxes. The base support is nicely powder coated steel, so it looks like it will last the test of time outdoors and doesn’t feel at all unstable, even when loaded with 440 liters of moist growing media. This unit was filled with professional grade soilless mix (peat based with added perlite, plus additional coco coir). We are opting to use organic nutrients in our Vegepod, which makes it easier to reuse the same growing media from crop to crop and season to season–microbes will do a fair bit in managing fertility levels, ie self regulating once healthy microbial activity is established and a balance of healthy inputs are added.
For the Size Large Vegpod, it’s basically like assembling two Medium sized systems or four Small sized systems. Even with it being our first build, it was an easy few hours from start to finish and ready to plant. Truth be told, the hardest job was lugging and loading all that growing media–however, once accomplished, it’s not a task we expect to be needing to repeat with healthy soil management.
Further down the road we will have enough experience and information to offer a solid review of the Vegepod (size Large), although for now, we can say we are impressed and excited to see how it grows. At this time we have planted Scallions, Carrots, Broccoli, Red Cabbage, Snap Peas, Okra, Squash and Pole Beans. Our transplants aren’t huge, and it’s still a little cooler out. This should prove to be as good a test as any to see how well the Vegpod contends with the North American growing season–especially for those of us looking to extend the growing season for our favorite pastime.
Want to Learn More about Growing your own Garden Transplants? Click HERE.
For now, we’ll leave you with our assembly and early planting photos. Please follow us on Instagram for regular updates between articles here at Grozine.com
Growing Garden Transplants, Part Two Potting Up & Hydroponics
Grow Your Own, Fun & Easy
Welcome back to our series on growing garden transplants. In Part One of Growing Transplants, we discussed variety selection and went into detail on how to sow seeds for success and healthy transplants. In this instalment we’ll look at how you can give the best care for your seedlings so they stay strong and sturdy. This is a very important step in having heavy harvests later on–weak transplants, besides hurting harvest potential, tend to attract pests and other problems that cost you time and resources to battle through the season.
Temperature is critical, it governs all living reactions–if supplying good light levels means overheating your plants, back off. Most veggies, herbs and flowers will thrive with a temperature range of 65 to 80 deg F–leafy greens like spinach, kale or lettuce may prefer it cooler, ie 65 to 72 deg F.
We’ll also talk about growing garden transplants for hydroponics–growing veggies and herbs in hydroponics is a great way to save water and enjoy no dirt gardening just about anywhere you can find the space.
In our final instalment to come, we’ll look at mother plants and cloning. However, as we stated in part one, it all begins with the seed so let’s pick back up where we left off now.
At this stage, depending on the germination conditions and variety selection, your seedlings have sprouted, emerged and have now developed their first true sets of leaves (not to be confused with the seed leaves that first emerge, ie “cotyledon” which hold stored food for the little plant sprout). In growing garden transplants, it is now time to ramp up the growing conditions to stimulate healthy and rapid development. This means increasing light levels, lowering humidity, fertilization, potting up and eventually “hardening off” the young plants before final transplant or delivery.
Growing Garden Transplants, Lighting
After seeds germinate, they will be in search of light. Initially, they just need to know which way is up (“phototropism”, growing towards light). However, once seedlings start to develop true leaves, they need more. A plant’s leaves are like solar reactors–they use light energy which they gather and combine it with water, nutrients and carbon dioxide from the air to make energy for growth and functions. A plant can only grow as healthy or as fast as it’s most limiting factor allows. Growing garden transplants like veggies and herbs typically means higher light levels are preferred. This isn’t to say you should start blasting your little sprouts with the highest light levels available just yet though.
Luckily, there are some workable light meter apps you can get for for FREE for smart phones. Here is an example: Click HERE.
Using common crop growth lighting sources like T-5 flourescent, LED grow lights, HPS (high pressure sodium and CMH (ceramic metal halide), typically 1200 lux is a good place to start with young plants.
NOTE for not a lot of money, you can invest in a light meter that measures in “micro mols” (uMols-1). This is a measure that is more specific to what plants use (PAR=photosynthetically active radiation), while lux is more just about the intensity of light versus the quality of light for growing crops. If you have a meter that measure in uMols-1, a reading of 150 uMols-1 is a good place to start to promote sturdy healthy growth in young light loving plants.
Some types of grow lights have a dimming function that allows you to tailor intensity (and sometimes even plant spectrum, ie LEDs). For everybody else, simply raise or lower your grow light source via chain or light hanging system until you achieve your desired reading at the tops of plants.
Most veggies, flowers and herbs will benefit from having 10-24 hours of supplemental grow lighting per day at the seedling stage.
ATTENTION TEMPERATURE! Temperature is critical, it governs all living reactions–if supplying good light levels means overheating your plants, back off. Most veggies, herbs and flowers will thrive with a temperature range of 65 to 80 deg F–leafy greens like spinach, kale or lettuce may prefer it cooler, ie 65 to 72 deg F.
Growing Garden Transplants, Humidity
Humidity in the atmosphere surrounding the plant leaves plays a strong role in how much water gets taken up by the plant and finally transpired through the leaves. Plants are “boneless” so they maintain their structure via the water they contain. If there is too great a difference between what the plant can take up and what it is losing through the leaves, plants begin to stress and wilt. Usually a mist can help them revive, but if this condition goes on for too long, they will arrive at their PWP (permanent wilting point), ie the point of no return. It is never wise to stress young plants–it is a beckon for insect and plant disease attacks–well hydrated plants resist problems much better.
However, too great a humidity level and plants aren’t able to give off all the water they take up–this causes stretching and soft weak growth when growing garden transplants–also a beckon for garden pests and problems. When you control humidity levels, you can have a strong influence over how much plants “drink”.
Typically, the ideal humidity range for young seedlings is 65 to 75% RH (relative humidity). As your seedlings begin to develop more sets of leaves, it’s good to allow humidity levels to drop lower gradually–never below 40% RH. A small mist type humidifier is inexpensive and invaluable for your young plants. You can add a Humidistat control to activate the humidifier once the RH drops below your set point; it will then shut off once the levels are back up.
Growing Garden Transplants, Fertility
Until your seedlings grow their first set of true leaves, the cotyledon (seed leaves) provide the young sprout with everything it needs–sort of a botanical mothers milk, if you will. From there, mots plant types will require additions of fertilizer. A complete and soluble fertilizer is recommended. Chelated trace elements are a good thing to look for in a formula, as well as have the Nitrogen supplied in Nitrate form versus Ammonium Nitrate. Ammonium Nitrate will cause young plants to exhibit soft and stretchy growth–it is very easy to over apply and burn young plants with Ammonium (NH4) based fertilizer sources. Typically, when using synthetic fertilizers, 1/8th strength is a good place to start–or if you have a digital dissolved solids tester, shoot for around 250-350 ppm or 0.4-0.5 EC. Apply fertilizer sparingly and ensure that you are using good quality water at the correct pH (pH 5.8 to 6.4), preferably filtered water or rain water. A simple and inexpensive DeChlorination filter like this one HERE can give you visibly better results.
What About Organics Growing Garden Transplants?
Certified organic soils and fertilizers can be a great option–provided you chose a type that is well suited for growing indoors versus outdoor field agriculture. Look for soils or fertilizers that don’t require further decomposition to break down organic nutrient sources to release fertility to plants. If this process hasn’t happened already, your tender young plants will experience a roller coaster of pH swings and fertility levels as decomposition occurs to release nutrients. Also look for types that are friendly to your nose if being used indoors.
Growing Garden Transplants, Potting Up
Once your seedlings begin to receive stronger light, correct humidity levels, fertility levels and at the right temperature, they can develop very fast while remaining healthy and sturdy. Usually within a week or two, it’s time to transplant your seedlings from their propagation plugs, cubes, pucks etc into containers or cell trays with more room for development. If using standard nursery pots, 2-1/2″ to 3-1/2″ pots leave plenty of room for healthy development for a few weeks. Plastic beer cups with drainage holes are a good option and can be reused many times.
We like using RediRoot Aeration Cell Trays because the mesh containers allow roots to breather more freely and improve drainage. They also prevent root “spin out”, and stimulate roots to grow as a branched system through all of the growing media in the cell versus one long root grows mainly between the pot and the soil rather than IN the soil. Besides having a better root system, the transplants tend to grow harder and tighter, ie less stretching; producing an overall more hardy and healthy transplant.
TIP: When transplanting seedlings from cubes, pucks, etc into a pot, burry them a little deeper, ie propagation material is below the surface of the depth of potting mix. This helps to conserve height and makes for a sturdier plant later on–the stem that is buried will grow roots, better anchoring the plant.
Make sure to water right after you transplant with 1/8 to 1/4 strength complete fertilizer. Adding B Vitamins or Humic/Fulvic Acid to waterings will stimulate better root development and help reduce any stresses from transplant.
Growing Garden Transplants, Care Tips
Buy or make a few yellow Sticky Traps to keep around your seedlings; this will help you detect and monitor any potential insect pests that may become present
As plants become better established, increase light levels; established transplants can use 1800-2500 lux or 300+ uMols-1
Carbon Dioxide enrichment can really speed things up; try brewing beer or wine beside your seedlings–or simply talk to them. Foliar sprays of sodium free seltzer water also pep plants up with CO2
Gradually introduce gentle air flow, ie a small fan; this will keep plants from becoming soft and encourages them to drink more–careful not to dry out plants with small root systems
If the plant canopy is crowded and you are running out of space, prune off some of the lower foliage that is shaded to increase air movement around the plants and prevent fungal problems
Growing Garden Transplants, Hardening Off
Once it’s time to plant outdoors or sell/transport your young plants, it’s time to tell them the easy life is over. This means hardening them off. Basically, you want to gradually acclimate your tender young plants to natural sunlight light, cooler conditions, more air movement, etc. If possible, put your plants outdoors in a sunny but protected area for a short period, then bring them back in. Repeat this, lengthening the amount of time they spend outdoors each time. You will notice stems firm up, and once finally planted, your transplants won’t experience too great a shock–if done properly, they will be happy to be outdoors and take to their final environment like ducks to water.
Growing Garden Transplants, Hydroponics
A lot of what we discussed above is completely applicable to growing garden transplants for hydroponic systems, however, there are some things that are different.
Firstly, water quality, nutrients and pH are much more critical to monitor and control–soil; or soilless mix is much more forgiving. Make sure to use complete specialty hydroponic fertilizers and follow directions carefully. Typically, you can use half of what the label says for each plant stage and increase the concentration until you find the sweet spot for your plants.
With hydroponics, the growing media does not directly supply and nutrition to the plants. The growing media should be sterile and inert; it is intended to support the plant–the oxygenated nutrient solution is where the majority of the roots will grow. A DWC (deep water culture) system is inexpensive, simple and reliable and allows you to grow a wide variety of transplants, and with good numbers in a limited amount of space. With DWC, you can keep expanding by adding new modules as plants get bigger. Everything in DWC systems is reusable and they save a lot of water versus conventional gardening. Flood & Drain gardens are also great but tend to require using more specialty growing media, ie rockwool cubes or grow rocks.
Hydroid RO Water Filter
NEW HydroLogic MidScale RO Water Filter
The new Hydroid RO water filter from HydroLogic Purification Systems is a fresh approach to mid scale RO water purification for hydroponics, soil and organics growers or anybody looking for reliable and efficient 3200 to 5000 US gallon per day water purification capacity. Until now the EvolutionRO system has been a long standing value based go to for growers needing 1000+ US gallons per day of clean reverse osmosis filtered water. However, from there the next step has been a big one ie into HyperLogic Commercial RO Systems where 20,000 US GPD (gallons per day) capacities are common.
The Hydroid RO Water Filter is designed to bridge this gap, and offers smart features that you won’t find in most other RO water filters–it seems the the designers of the HyperLogic system have found ways to incorporate their ultra efficient commercial level Reverse Osmosis technologies into a filtration system that is priced and intended for the small to mid scale commercial grower, ie “Craft Production”.
We are excited and eagerly await the release of the new Hydroid RO Water Filter System from HydroLogic, a name we have come to depend on for our growing efforts here at Grozine.
Here’s the Official Release info available from HydroLogic at this time–be sure to stay tuned for more information and reviews via Grozine.
Above: Smart RO Water Filter technology for the modern Craft-Scale Grower.
The Hydroid is the industry’s premier compact-portable commercial water filter at an affordable price. Achieve up to a 5,000 GPD capacity (blended), or 3,200 GPD pure RO water. Not only is the Hydroid powerful, but it can produce a 2 parts product to 1 part waste water ratio, making it the most efficient system in its class. New, groundbreaking technology for a compact system with commercial scale performance.
Compact commercial reverse osmosis system
Up to 5,000 GPD capacity with blend valve (3,200 GPD pure RO water capacity)
Plug and play with all pre-filtration onboard
66% recovery means a 2-parts RO water to 1-part waste water
Blend valve to blend post carbon treated water with RO water to customize the TDS (this also increases recovery/efficiency)
On board ultra-high capacity sediment and carbon hybrid filter with 125,000-gallon capacity
Microprocessor RO controller with auto flush function, TDS meter, filter capacity monitor, and other high-end features
Stainless steel, multi-stage centrifugal pump for continuous operation
Plug and play, encapsulated proprietary membranes and carbon pre-filter
Liquid filled pressure gauges and flow meters
110V standard plug
Low pressure and high-pressure switches
Electronic float switch hookup leads as well as mechanical float valve ready
Casters come standard
Heavy duty powder coated aluminum frame
Comes with all tubing and garden hose connector
Only one blend valve, no other valves or controls to mess with. Very easy operation.
Made in the USA
Above: Reverse Osmosis filtered water is the base ingredient for successful hydroponics water culture system growing.
Growing transplants is a great way to ensure a garden or greenhouse full of healthy plants. When you grow your own transplants using supplemental grow lights, you can produce any number of plants that’s practical for your purposes any time of year with complete control over variety selection, timing, plant health and budget. Using soilless media like peat mixes or coco coir keeps things sterile and clean, reducing potential problems with insects or crop diseases like damping off.
If there are issues that are more prevalent in your area or garden type due to local conditions, selecting for these traits can be very worthwhile—just one more advantage of growing transplants versus buying young plants that may have been produced on the other side of the country.
Growing transplants versus buying them elsewhere can also be a money saver or even generate some income. For example, schools, churches and organizations can sell young plants at the start of the gardening season to raise money—and naturally, producing transplants to sell can also be a year round business for some.
Above: This 4′ X 8′ area can produce thousands of seedlings or hundreds of market sized high quality transplants
Whether you grow crops indoors year round, in a greenhouse or outdoors seasonally there are some principles and practices to follow that can assist anybody, regardless of the scale of their endeavours that you can follow along with step by step in this how to guide. You’ll also learn how to produce transplants that are especially well suited for growing on in hydroponics systems (because no soil is being used to raise transplants).
This instalment, Seeding, will serve as part one in our Growing Transplants series to give you a strong start with producing your own flower, herb, greens and vegetables transplants. In further instalments we’ll look at other important aspects including rooting cuttings and selecting mother plants. You can follow step by step all the way along to planting or sales success.
At some point or another every plant begins from a seed. In growing transplants, seed selection is very important. If you start with poor quality genetics, no matter how great the growing environment is or how much care you put into the garden your plants will be limited by the quality of their genetic make up. Here’s a quick break down of some of the types of things you should look for in selecting seeds to grow your transplants from.
Above: Most plants begin life as seeds
Growing Transplants Seed Selection Criteria:
Given the same variety of plant, some cultivars will finish faster than others. This can be especially important if cultivating crops where there is a limited window of time to produce warm loving plants outdoors seasonally. Frost insn’t your only concern, although it is an important one—heavy rains once it becomes cool out later in the season can rot flowers or fruits; if your variety doesn’t mature in time you may have a poor quality harvest or yield.
Some varieties within the same family of plants may offer better resistance to common stresses like drought, plant disease, frost or insect damage. For example a seed pack may state that a particular variety shows strong resistance to Fusarium Wilt or sate that it is Drought Tolerant. If there are issues that are more prevalent in your area or garden type due to local conditions, selecting for these traits can be very worthwhile—just one more advantage of growing transplants versus buying young plants that may have been produced on the other side of the country.
Within the same plant variety, you can often find a lot of variation in a wide variety of characteristics including height, ie final size of plants. A couple great examples of this are dwarf sunflowers and patio tomatoes. In both these examples, the fruits or flowers remain fairly large while the plant they grow own is very compact in comparison with traditional cultivars. Height can be an especially important consideration when container gardening.
There can be very big differences in the characteristics of the flowers, herbs, greens and fruits you harvest. Look at Basil as an example—besides having many varieties of Sweet Basil seeds to choose from, Basil also comes in Purple, Lemon, Cinnamon, Spicy Thai and more!
Harvest Weight & Size
Some varieties will give you more biomass from the same plant versus others. While overall yield is often an important factor, it should not be weighted too heavily, pardon the pun. What’s the point in having more bushels full if nobody wants them because the harvest quality lacks character, quality or uniqueness?
If you just need a few seeds, the cost per seed won’t likely play too great a role in your decision making process. However, when buying hundreds or thousands, cost becomes a factor. In our own experiences, a higher price doesn’t usually mean better genetics. Sometimes seeds are priced on the effort it takes to produce them, so if a variety is harder to make seeds from, the breeder will often want a higher price—ie price is more proportionate to the work related to produce the seeds rather than the quality of the genetics themselves.
Growing Transplants, When to Sow Seeds?
Timing counts when growing transplants. Besides considering the desired final planting date, consider that if you start growing transplants too early you may run out of room for the plants, ie they will get root bound and overcrowded in the space you have available for them. Overcrowded plants are prone to problems like insects and diseases.
If you start growing transplants too late, they might not be big enough for your desired planting date or unsalable because they are too small.
Seed packs usually have some information about when to sow seeds if you intend to transplant outdoors. When growing transplants with the help of supplemental grow lighting and a high quality soilless media like peat, coco coir, oasis, rockwool, etc you can start later than the pack suggests because your plants will be healthier and grow faster than the windowsill directions most common seed packs are based on.
As a rule of thumb, you reduce the time by 25 to 30% with added grow lighting and a high quality propagation media.
Things To Manage
There are several important factors you will want to have some level of control over when it comes to producing healthy and robust transplants from sowing seeds.
This is likely the number one factor you will want to have some influence over. Different plant types prefer to germinate at different temperatures (check your seed pack), so it is important that you don’t over look this. Since the seeding media is kept moist to germinate seeds, if it is too cold or too warm it is easy to wind up with rots and funks that will kill seeds or promote wilts and other problems in the young seedlings that result.
TIP: Seedling heat mats, as pictured, on average will give a 10 deg F lift over room temperature; usually perfect for common crops like tomatoes, peppers, flowers and herbs (around 75 to 80 deg F optimal germination temperature). Note, most types of edible greens like kale, lettuce and spinach prefer cooler germination temperatures, ie 65 deg F. Seedling heat mat controls are available so you can se the exact temperature you desire—they even have a probe you can stick into the germination medium for an exacting level of control.
Above: Super Sprouter seedling heat mats, control and trays
Everyone knows seeds need moistures to germinate, however, water quality counts too. Water that has lots of impurities can set back germination and impede early development in young seedlings. Filtered water or rain water is best. Less experienced gardeners sometimes run into troubles with moistures management, ie keeping things soaking wet or letting the seeds dry out. Once you apply water is is very important to keep seeds evenly moist—if they dry out at all, that could permanently end their growth; seeds are very sensitive to moisture.
TIP: Using a humidity dome is a great way to keep the seeding media or pellets moist after their initial soak and will also help to retain warmth; the most vital ingredients in getting your seeds off to a healthy start. NOTE how much your seedling tray weighs in your hands after the initial soak down with water, also note the colour of the media when soaked. Learn to feel the weight and watch the colour so you know when it is time to apply moisture again when necessary.
Above: Filtering water can lend to better results for germination
Some types of seeds require the presence of light to germinate, others do not. Typically, very fine seeds like basil, which are not buried but broadcast onto the surface of the germination media will require light. Otherwise, just warmth and moisture will stimulate germination. However, as soon as seeds germinate and sprouts emerge, they are on the hunt for light. If there is only limited light available, your seedlings will stretch looking for light, and become thin and weak. Adequate light levels keep young plants sturdy, healthy and strong.
TIP: At the minimum, a full spectrum fluorescent light fixture should be suspended above your seedlings during germination. For most plant types, 16-24 hours of lighting per day is recommended. For larger areas, CMH (Ceramic Metal Halide) grow lights cover more area for less power versus common T5 fluorescent grow light fixtures. A single SUM150 (150 watt CMH fixture) is plenty of lighting for a three foot by four foot area to raise seedlings to a sturdy few inches tall. As they get bigger, they will need more light or you can thin the seedlings out to the best specimens and reduce the overall area of coverage to provide increased light intensity.
Growing Transplants, Sowing Seeds Step By Step
Before you get started, have a quick look at this checklist of essentials and useful stuff
-small watering can
-propagation flats and humidity domes
-seeding media: ie plugs, pellets, cubes, or tray inserts for filling with your grow media of choice
-heating mats and control (optional)
-supplemental grow light
-pH test kit and adjusters
-permanent marker or label gun
NOTE: you don’t need fertilizer when germinating seeds. In fact, it could harm them. However, as soon as seedlings begin to grow a full spectrum diet of plant nutrients is critical for soilless grow medias like peat, coco, rockwool or oasis.
TIP:Fulvic or Humic Acids can improve germination rates and improve the biological characteristics of many types of soilless growing media
Growing Transplants, Step One: The Area
Find a suitable area. One that doesn’t have cold drafts, ie door ways or windows is best. Make sure the area is tidy and free of old soil, houseplants, etc. You don’t want your transplants getting insects or other problems from their surroundings. A table or bench up and off the ground is ideal.
Hang up your grow light. Make sure that it is well anchored and that any power cords will not get tripped over or wind up in any water that may get spilled. A fluorescent fixture is usually good about twelve inches from the tops of your trays—you will want to be able to adjust the height as seedlings begin to grow, A 150 watt CMH fixture can be two to three feet above the seeding flats and adjusted as plants begin to grow.
Pictured in our set up is a combination of LED and CMH grow lighting to cover a larger area and assist in growing out transplants–good for 300-400 six inch tall transplants or thousands of seedlings in a 4′ X 8′ area.
Growing Transplants, Step Three: Filling Trays
The most common sized plastic nursery flat measures ten inches by twenty inches. Theres are often referred to as “ten twenty” flats. A single flat is a good size for starting around 100 seeds, give or take. The tighter you pack seeds in earlier on, the sooner you will have to transplant into the next container or cell size up to avoid overcrowding once they begin to grow.
Starter pellets or plugs are convenient and effective, some come as a preformed sheet making it tidy and quick to fill the tray. Filling the entire tray with a two inch depth of soilless media is an option too, although young plants may suffer more transplant shock when you move them up into the next phase growing transplants.
If you have seedling heat mats, set them up and plug them in now following the suppliers instructions, placing your trays on top.
Growing Transplants, Step Four: Preparing the Seeding Media
Most seeding medias won’t require too much consideration as far as pH goes because you are just adding filtered water to start with. Rockwool is an exception and requires a pre-soak at a low pH, ie 5.5 for 24 hours to stabilize and counteract the alkaline nature of the material. For most seeds, the optimal pH in the germination media is 5.8 to 6.4. This is where a pH test kit and pH adjusters can be handy—they are relatively inexpensive and easy to find.
Soak the medium until run off with filtered water that ideally has been pH adjusted to suit your choice of growing media. Wait a little while after soaking and make sure there is no standing water in the trays. A full tray can be heavy, so be careful picking them up and moving them around or they can rip or tear, especially the budget types. After draining, let the seeding media warm up to the desired temperature before proceeding.
TIP: A clean turkey baster is a great way to get excess moisture out of your tray without having to move it around.
Growing Transplants, Step Five: Planting Seeds
After the seeding medium is at the right temperature, you are almost ready to plant! Now is the time to create a furrow (shallow trench) or poke holes into the seeding media at the right depth for your seeds, if applicable. As a rule of thumb, plant seeds at least twice the depth of their size. So if a seed is one eighth of an inch in size, plant at least at a 1/4” depth. A clean chop stick is a surprisingly handy tool for poking seeding depths—you can then use the blunt end for tamping down the media once planted.
Plant your seeds! Emptying out the package onto a clean plate and using clean fingers works well, although seed shakers are also available to make things a little easier and speed up this process.
Sometimes every seed in the pack will germinate, but don’t count on it. Putting two to three seeds per planting hole and then thinning, if necessary, is an easy way to help make sure each plating site in your tray will count.
Tamp down (gently cover) the planted seeds with blunt end of a clean pencil or chopstick.
VERY gently trickle or mist a little filtered water onto the tops of your stater pellets or plating medium—be CAREFUL not to wash tiny seeds away. This extra bit of extra watering (even though the medium is moist already) helps ensure good seed contact with the most media which is of critical importance.
Caring for Seed Trays During Germination
DO keep a watchful eye on temperature inside the humidity dome; a minimum maximum thermometer is great for this. Move the light closer or further away and/or adjust heating mat temperature as necessary.
DO NOT let the seed starter media dry out, ever. However, DO ensure that it drains freely and does not stay water logged for prolonged periods (see STEP FOUR, above, for helpful hints)
DO NOT handle the germination media without washing hands throughly; it’s not hard to contaminate moist and warm media with stuff you may have picked up onto your finger tips
DO remove humidity domes once more than 65% of the seeds in the tray have germinated. If left on for too long, young seedling growth will be very soft and stretch due to excessive humidity levels.
DO start feeding young seedlings with one eighth to one quarter strength fertilizer once the first true leaves from (the first set of leaves after the seed leaves AKA cotyledon)
Well, that’s it for now—these detailed Step By Step instructions should start you off growing transplants from seed just like a Pro. Stay tuned for Growing Transplants Part Two where we’ll discuss cloning via rooting cuttings, mother plants, transplant and pre-veg.
Above: Cotyledon (seed leaves) are the first to emerge during..
Hydrologic ARCS System
Automated Reclaimed Condensate System for Hydroponics & Greenhouses
The Hydrologic ARCS system (automated reclaimed condensate system) allows growers to capture extremely pure and healthy water safely and efficiently from the air in their growing environment. The Hydrologic ARCS system is ideal for hydroponics or greenhouse growers that use environmental equipment like Air Conditioning or DeHumidifiers for grow rooms or greenhouses. These types of growing appliances remove moisture as water vapor from the air through the coils they use to remove humidity or heat. Typically, this water goes down the drain via condensate discharge tubing.
The product water from the ARCS is perfectly pH balanced, ultra-low PPM and completely free of contaminants, pathogens and bacteria.
More recently CEA (controlled environment agriculture) growers operating sealed growing environments have started to save the condensate water to reapply when it’s time to refill hydroponic reservoirs or watering barrels–often with mixed results due to inconsistencies in the final quality of the water after it’s gone through the appliance, tubing and finally into a capture or holding tank.
The Hydrologic ARCS system improves this water and money saving process.
It’s quite possible to keep re-using the same water over and over again in a well sealed and managed growing environment. All types of gardens will further benefit from the application of pure, healthy and living water. As a management tool, it’s also a great way to monitor crop health and uptake–by simply checking the capture tank since last watering or measurement.
Above: How the HydroLogic ARCS system fits into a growing operation to reuse and recycle healthy and pure water
The Turn-Key HVAC condensate reclamation system for ZERO WATER LOSS
Perfectly PH Balanced Product Water
Ultra-Pure and Contaminant Free
Zero Pathogens and Bacteria
1,440 GPD Capacity
Above: This Ideal Air Environmental Equipment can be a free source of pure and healthy water for crops
Condensate water is low in pH, contains harmful heavy metals and can harbor pathogens and bacteria. Condensate water should never be used for any purpose without proper treatment.
The Hydrologic ARCS system works with any application that creates condensate water such as air conditioners and dehumidifiers, and successfully reclaims and purifies the condensate water that would normally go down the drain.
The product water from the ARCS is perfectly pH balanced, ultra-low PPM and completely free of contaminants, pathogens and bacteria.
ARCS product water can then be used for any application requiring pure water and is ideal for horticulture.
CMH Grow Lights
Ceramic Metal Halide Grow Lighting Guide
CMH grow lights have grown to become a well established and proven crop lighting choice for indoor growing or grow rooms. CMH (ceramic metal halide) or sometimes called LEC (light emitting ceramic) grow lighting systems are also now widely used as a source of supplemental greenhouse lighting.
Sometimes CMH grow lighting gets confused with MH (metal halide) grow lights, and while both are considered full spectrum sources of HID (high intensity discharge) crop lighting, they are in fact different and distinct. The spectrum emitted by CMH lighting sources intended for crop production is significantly better for photosynthesis and CMH lighting systems typically produce more light for growth (PPFD, photon flux density) per watt of electricity consumed.
In grow lighting set ups where there is more than one source of light, the spots where lighting from one source overlaps with another is something worth understanding and taking advantage of.
Of further benefit to growers is the fact that CMH grow lights emit some levels of UV (ultra violet) light wavelengths in sufficient quantity to supplement crop growth. Additions of UV are not essential in producing plant growth, although there are noticeable improvements in crop quality observed including flower density and essential oil production.
CMH grow lights come in a variety of wattages with the 315 watt lamp types being most common. Some manufacturers promote “630 watt fixtures” or greater, however, these typically contain multiple 315 watt lamps in the fixture or multiple 315 watt arc tubes within the same glass lamp. Also note that smaller wattages such as 175 watt CMH fixtures are available and have proven practical for smaller scale gardens or for use as supplemental lighting.
Selecting the right wattage CMH grow light for your plant cultivation application and the correct number of fixtures for a given area requires some careful consideration as it can be a significant investment. Replacing HPS lighting or blending your existing HPS lighting with full spectrum CMH grow lights is a proven choice for reducing power bills and improving crop quality.
The following recommendations for indoor growing (ie, sole light source) are based on years of practical use in the field as well as feedback and input form a variety of growers, both on commercial and hobby scales.
1-315 watt CMH fixtures covers 4′ X 4′ area with a mounting height of 36″ above the plant canopy
1-175 watt CMH fixture covers a 3′ X 3′ area with a mounting height of 24″ above the plant canopy
Flowering, Fruiting & Reproductive Growth
1-630 watt CMH fixture covers 4′ X 4′ area with a mounting height of 36″ above the plant canopy
1-315 watt CMH fixture covers 3′ X 3′ area with a mounting height of 30″ above the plant canopy
1-175 watt CMH fixture covers 2′ X 2′ area with a mounting height of 16″ above the plant canopy.
The above recommendations are established guidelines, however, different fixtures, lamp brands, applications, plant types, and other variations can play a factor in determining where the “sweet spot” for your particular set up will be. PPFD light meters are affordable and accessible and are a worthwhile purchase in helping the grower get the most from their grow light systems and the power they consume to operate them.
Combining CMH Grow Lights with Other Sources Like HPS
When lighting larger areas, using multiple sources of crop lighting is often a requirement to provide sufficient coverage to a given area. In doing so, some growers will retro fit CMH grow lights to their existing HPS (high pressure sodium) lighting arrangement or choose to include a ratio of CMH fixtures to HPS fixtures in new crop lighting grid installations. In grow lighting set ups where there is more than one source of light, the spots where lighting from one source overlaps with another is something worth understanding and taking advantage of.
Above: Mixed CMH and DE HPS lighting in a sealed hobby grow room
It is possible to stretch the distance at how often fixtures need to be spaced in a given area when using multiple fixtures versus single fixture gardens. There is expensive computer software that can make these assessments, but typically a good working rule of thumb is that you can add an extra half a foot around your lighting area covered when accounting for overlap between multiple fixtures, all things remaining equal. For example, if normally covering a 4′ X 4′ area with a single fixture, when using Four or more fixtures, each fixture can now cover 4.5′ X 4.5′ because of the overlap or “bleed” that will occur on the outer edges of light foot print produced by each lighting fixture or “lumiere”.
Adding CMH grow lights to other sources of grow lighting is not just limited to HPS, for example LED growers can also benefit from addition of full spectrum CMH lighting to add more blue wavelengths, some red and a healthy dose of plant usable UV wavelengths to the mix.
A “checkerboard” pattern is a common method used to install mixed grow lighting, ie alternating one light source type with another in a checkered pattern. However there are some considerations to be aware of in doing so:
-DE (double ended, high output) HPS and CMH grow lights will have different mounting heights; caution must be taken that a lower hanging fixture is not blocking light from a higher hanging fixture
-CMH grow lights may not have the same sized coverage area versus DE HPS fixtures; this spacing should also be taken into consideration in creating a crop lighting grid.
NOTE: Generally speaking, you don’t need to blast plants with CMH grow lighting as intensely as with HPS to get similar results. CMH grow lights, watt per watt, cary more usable energy for growth and flowering. Coupled with the UV levels they emit, it’s OK to have them a little further away from plants–crop growth and flowers typically remain tight versus stretching as with HPS lighting when it is not being delivered from an optimal distance from the plant canopy.
Dual Element CMH Grow Lights
Dural element CMH grow lights, while not common, are a great choice in delivering a well tailored spectrum for growth or bloom using CMH technology. At Grozine.com we have had two such units running in the field for around two years at the time of this writing and have been thoroughly impressed with the results. In short, these lighting systems combine two 175 watt CMH arc tubes of different Kelvin (light temperature) ratings in the same lamp.
Since the light source(s) originate within an inch or so from each other, by the time the light is reflected from the lumiere grow light fixture back down to the plant canopy, the colors have throughly blended. In this fashion, a better spectrum for growth or flowering can be achieved versus standard agro type CMH grow lamps. Note that a special system is required to operate such lamps. For more Information on Dual Element CMH Grow Lights Click | HERE |
The AVici LED grow light after much anticipation is touching down in grow rooms and greenhouses all over the world. Instead of beating about the bush, we at Grozine are going to come right out and just say it’s love at first sight–just make sure you have protective eye wear on when trying to look at an AVici grow light while it is operating!
The AVici LED grow light represents what many in the industry have long been waiting for, and that’s a direct LED replacement for HPS fixtures, including the more modern DE (double ended) high output HPS grow light models.
As a an early test pilot of LED grow light technology in discussing the potential it holds over 10 years ago, the question posed then and to this day has often been: “Can LED grow lights out produce my HPS lighting system”? The answer, until now, had varied. In short, yes, but at what purchase cost and what level of modification to common growing practices and grow room or greenhouse construction, historically speaking.
The AVici LED grow light represents what many in the industry have long been waiting for, and that’s a direct LED replacement for HPS fixtures, including the more modern DE (double ended) high output HPS grow light models.
No need to alter the floor plan for light or plant spacing, no need to change desired finishing heights or planting densities. The AVici LED grow light delivers very intense and photosynthetically rich lighting for crops at standard fixture heights and spacing. In fact, the Revolution Micro‘s AVici LED grow light DELIVERS MORE LIGHT FOR PHOTOSYNTHESIS AT THE SAME WATTAGE VERSUS A 1kW DE HPS. This is a documented fact. CSA’s independent testing revealed that the AVici LED grow lighting system produces 2300 uMol s-1 at 1kW of power. Click HERE to see the CSA documentation.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 7, 2019: CSA REPORT, AVici 2400+uMol s-1 at 1157 watts Click |HERE|
Above: AVici independent third party test report, flowering mode 1157 watts (full power)
Above: uMol-s readout directly under the fixture from one meter (3.3′) away from the fixture
For contrast, popular high end 1kW DE HPS crop lights, according to the manufacturer’s own statements are producing 2100 uMol s-1. That number is also likely inflated due to the fact that the ballast may be boosted, possibly running at 1050W or more, while CSA’s testing was a strict 1000W (1kW) in the rating and assessment. Further, CSA is an independent certification body versus statements that are likely to be generated from a lighting company’s own testing laboratory.
Above: Tuneable Osram diode arrangement in AVici LED grow light
So It’s Brighter–What Else Can it Do?
The AVici LED grow light does things your HPS lighting system will probably never be able to do. Here’s a quick list:
-instantly change spectral outputs; veg, flower and finish outputs (color change) at the push of a button
-never buy or change a lamp again; besides tailoring light for each growth phase, the diodes do not lose significant intensity over time versus HPS
-no need to replace reflectors; popular DE HPS manufacturers recommend replacing their reflectors periodically, costing money and labor
-easy to clean; just wipe the outer lens if there is any dust present in the growing area
-extremely cool running fixtures; the fixture clocks a mild 72 degF when pointing a temp gun right at the light source versus several hundred degrees with DE HPS, ie cool to the touch for happier plants and a safer working environment.
-customizable diode output ratios; besides selecting from veg, flow and finishing, the operator can use the RLC-1 digital control to tailor the diode ratios within each of those settings for complete made to measure light wavelengths for different plant strains or growing practices.
The AVici LED grow light can plug straight into a regular timer, and operates at 110-277V, no need to switch settings or rewire anything. The AVici detects line voltage and operates accordingly, producing 100% light output in the flowering spectrum (which is also OK for all growth phases). To unlock the full potential of the AVici LED grow light, simply connect the included data cable to RevMicro’s RLC-1 digital lighting controller. The RLC-1 can also operate smartly with any of RevMicro’s other lighting systems including 1kW DE HPS (DEva) and 630 watt CMH. Also note that a single RLC-1 control can handle up to 512 lights in two independent zones–all from the same control; no need to buy more controls as you add more lights to the operation.
To learn more about the RLC-1 controller and smart functions for all light types, Click HERE.
Once plugged into the RLC-1, the AVici LED grow light can be programmed to:
-operate at 65-100% output
-shut down at high temperature or incrementally drop output wattage if optimal temperature is exceeded in growing environment
-gradually ramp up or down intensity at “sunrise or sunset”
-operate at pre-programmed veg, flower and finish spectral outputs
-change the color output ratios at each of the three presets (Blue, White, Red ratios-see image above, bottom line of controller screen)
AVici LED Grow Light FAQ’s
Q: Does the output include UV wavelengths?
Answer: No. Similar to DE HPS lighting, there is no significant UV output, as it is not essential for growth and development. If you would like to add UV to your lighting system, the RevMicro 630watt CMH lighting or other CMH lighting systems can be added into your lighting grid with the AVici; all from the same controller.
Q: How can the AVici operate so cool while producing so much light?
Answer: The AVici has an amazing heatsink system, the heat is absorbed by the sink and scrubbed away by fans rather than directed where it is not wanted into the plant canopy. The Avici runs completely cool to the touch, ie room temperature for healthier plants and a safer working environment.
Q: How long will the fixture work for, ie replacement of drivers or fans?
Answer: At least 150,000 hours. The AVici is manufactured to aerospace standards, ie the components are rated for 32 years of working life–so the short answer is a very long time! At Grozine.com we are going to perform real world testing, over a period of time, and report back for all of our following about what we experience and observe.
Q: What size area does the fixture cover, and from what mounting height over the crop?
Answer: From 4′ X 4 (very intense for flowering) to 6′ X 6′ (vegetative growth). Three feet above the canopy is a good place to start if you seek a very intense lighting footprint for flowering below, based on our experience to date.
Q: Do I have to buy the controller for the light to work?
Answer: No. The AVici LED grow light is ready to operate right out of the box, just plug it into any 110-277V power source. However, to take advantage of smart functions and controls you will need the RLC-1 controller.
Growing hydroponic tomatoes is fun and rewarding. Hydroponic tomatoes can be grown indoors with the help of grow lights, seasonally in your yard or patio or year round in a greenhouse. Tomatoes are full of healthy nutrition like Vitamin C and Iron and can be prepared for eating in a countless number of ways–or best yet, eaten straight off the vine. Knowing exactly what’s gone into and onto the food you eat or feed your family provides great peace of mind. There are as many good reasons for you to be growing hydroponic tomatoes as there are ways to enjoy them.
Most cultivars of tomatoes will thrive in hydroponics, while some will grow extra vigorously versus conventional gardening methods
There are hundreds, if not thousand of varieties of tomatoes. Why be limited to just the few that are available at the grocers? Tomatoes come in a variety of tastes, colors, shapes, sizes and growth characteristics too. Once you start growing your own there’s a lifetime of culinary discoveries to be made growing hydroponic tomatoes, especially with all those seed choices. Best of all, most tomato varieties thrive in hydroponics growing methods–even water culture methods where little to no growing substrate is used at all, ie the roots grow in in oxygenated water that has all of the necessary elements required for growth readily available.
There are lots of benefits to hydroponics, especially water culture systems versus traditional or conventional growing methods–it’s no surprise why a lot of the world’s top greenhouse tomato producers grow their crops without soil.
Advantages of Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes (versus conventional)
-uses less water than soil gardening (in our RDWC systems about 50% less)
-total control over fertility levels at the roots for better growth rates and harvest quality
-completely hygienic and tidy–no bags of dirt to lug around or spill if you want to grow indoors and less chance of introducing insects or crop diseases
-faster cropping times; plants get bigger and fruit sooner in hydroponics
-easy clean up and replanting, you can often harvest an entire crop and replant in the same day
-lower fertilizer use
Getting Started Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
Growing hydroponic tomatoes indoors, ie with grow lights, allows year round and uninterrupted production. In winter months growing hydroponic tomatoes indoors can be especially rewarding versus the often flavorless commercially grown selections available at the grocery store. Imagine on a cold dark winter day unzipping your grow tent and filling a basket with vine ripened, tasty and firm pesticide free fruits from a variety that suits your tastes and personality; pretty tough to beat! If you decide to grow indoors under lights and don’t already have a grow tent or grow room, you should be prepared to make some investment–the good news is grow equipment has never been more user friendly, accessible or affordable as it is at present day.
Tomatoes are a high light plant and should get 8 to 16 hours of intense grow lighting daily. If growing indoors under lights it makes sense to select varieties that grow tight and bushy, ie Determinate varieties. Indeterminate and Semi-Indeterminate varieties are more vine like and can reach indefinite heights. The vine types can be grown indoors under lights too, although they can pose more of a challenge and may require more lighting versus determinate (bush) varieties. When growing in hydroponics, plants will often get bigger faster and fruit sooner making your artificial light usage more efficient versus growing tomatoes indoors under lights with soil methods.
For most of the year, it’s easy to provide an optimal climate for growth and ripening indoors when growing hydroponic tomatoes under lights. When it gets hot outside, some growers will use their grow tent to start lots of plants and move their systems and plants outdoors while the weather is favorable (and the light is free).
Hydroponic systems can work great outdoors and save you lots of water consumption and time. A hydroponic system or growth module is more or less sealed–so water loss is more directly related to what your plants are drinking up versus what’s evaporating into the air from exposed soil or growing media. Hydroponic systems are also clean and aesthetically pleasing, so you can set them up seasonally on a patio, porch or balcony with no big mess and pack them away (or better yet bring indoors) once the outdoor growing season is done. When it comes to choosing a hydroponic system that will spend time outdoors, look for something strong winds cannot carry away as well as materials that can stand up to direct sunlight. Most hydroponic systems will need a source of electricity–typically a grounded extension cord will be ample. Also note that there are hydroponic systems that work via gravity or capillary means, requiring no electricity.
03-system site location
A greenhouse provides lots of space to grow hydroponic tomatoes as well as any other plants you might like to grow year round or extend the growing season for. A seasonal greenhouse keeps power bills low and can add months to the regular growing season–outfitted with heating and grow lights and you can grow year round, and often for less cost in utilities versus indoor gardening–naturally, this depends on how cold it gets where you live and how much natural light is available.
Great Systems for Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
An easy and inexpensive DIY system. This simple set up will save you on time and watering while giving your crops an advantage as they will always have access to water and nutrients as they need it. However, wick systems will require growing media and don’t provide increased oxygen levels for roots like water culture systems can, so don’t expect over the top growth rates or yields. There are lots of basic designs and instructions for a variety of wick systems, a quick search of the web should provide everything you’ll need to know to source and build your own.
Top Feed System
This type of system may or may not require a significant amount growing media–usually, the amount needed is small ie enough to fill a small mesh basket that will support the plant stem. In a water-based top feed system you can start to realize some of the real benefits of hydroponics, namely increased oxygen levels for roots as well efficient use of water and nutrients. Typically, these types of systems can be operated as single modules, or can be linked together for larger gardens. A bucket system is a great example and is an affordable DIY endevor or can be purchased as a complete kit. Dutch Buckets, while requiring growing media, are a very popular choice with professional tomato croppers.
DWC (deep water culture)
A great balance of simplicity, affordability and ease of construction & operation. The DWC system is arguably the oldest hydroponic system design in operation, and has remained as such with good reason. As long as you keep the system topped up with fresh water and nutrients and provide a good climate there is little to go wrong, ie no moving parts–this can be automated with a simple float valve. An aquarium or pond air pump and airstones continuously bubble oxygen into the root zone which is maintained in a depth of nutrient solution. While it sounds perfect, there are some hitches. Salt-build up at the top of the bare roots from air constantly bubbling the nutrient solution upwards and overheating can be problems if not managed. Reflective insulative bubble wrap is a great way to keep light and heat away from sensitive plant roots during intense conditions.
RDWC (re-circulating deep water culture)
If you want to get maximum production growing hydroponic tomatoes and avoid common issues, we find this type of system to be the best although it comes with a heavier price tag. RDWC systems like CCH2O‘s Under Current series improve on the timeless DWC design by re-circulating the nutrient solution rather than just bubbling air into the root zone. The moving water keeps salt build up off of plant roots, adds more oxygen and reduces surface tension around roots. The result is virtually unparalleled water and nutrient uptake due to saturated oxygen levels. You can grow HUGE plants in RDWC systems that yield heavy. Believe it or not, you can use 1/4 strength nutrients on GIANT plants–water and nutrient absorption is so efficient in RDWC systems that your tomato plants don’t need all that excess fertilizer; it actually works much better versus using full strength nutrients in this type of system for growing hydroponic tomatoes.
Basic Plant Needs for Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes
Good Quality Water
The first ingredient in growing hydroponic tomatoes–soil is a lot more forgiving when it comes to water quality because it can buffer metals, minerals, and other impurities. In hydroponics, impurities from raw water sources can have adverse interactions with your carefully formulated hydroponic fertilizers and can create problems with things like pH, which tomato plants are very sensitive to. RO (reverse osmosis) filtered water is the best to use, but might not be necessary if you can use rain water or have fairly good quality water to begin with. A Dechlorination/Sediment filter can do a good job of making marginally good tap water better suited for growing hydroponic tomatoes. Well water is typically too hard for use in water culture systems. Your water, after adding nutrients should be pH 5.5 to 6.2 for tomatoes. Inexpensive liquid pH test kits and liquid pH adjusters are available from hydroponics retailers.
TIP: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF WATER QUALITY AND MAINTAINING THE CORRECT pH WHEN GROWING HYDROPONIC TOMATOES
Inert Growing Media
Growstones, aquarium gravel, coco, rockwool, perlite and vermiculite are well proven and inert growing medias you can use for growing hydroponic tomatoes. Ideally, you will not need much–the advantages of hydroponics is to reduce the amount of media that roots require–roots will thrive in an aerated nutrient solution better than a growing media that can sometimes get in the way of easy absorption of oxygen, water and nutrients.
Light Tight Root Zone
The system you buy or construct should not let light in. While it’s a lesser known fact that roots can stand sunlight if kept in 100% humidity, the main reason is that light will encourage algae growth because of all the nutrients, oxygen and moisture surrounding the roots. A little green algae can be unsightly, while brown algae can be a potential crop killer. Wrapping or covering growth modules in silver reflective bubble wrap helps insulate from temperatures while doing a good job of keeping light away from plant roots. Don’t worry, the rootzone (rhizosphere) can still exchange stale air through the growing media with the outside environment.
Good Quality Fertilizer
While we love a good organic tomato as much as anybody, usually organic nutrients will create problems in hydroponics. All that organic matter in a warm, wet and oxygenated environment gives way to all kinds of bacteria, fungi etc. Note that HydroGenesis is a proven working option for hydroponic tomatoes–one of the very few! We highly recommend choosing a specialty hydroponic nutrient. Common garden fertilizers typically have Ammonium Nitrate in them. In hydroponics, this create an unstable pH and can lead to over fertilization or “nutrient burn” quickly. Specialty hydroponic fertilizers supply all or most Nitrogen as Nitrate nitrogen which is much friendlier in hydroponics.
TIP: FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURERS DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY WHEN MIXING YOUR NUTRIENT SOLUTION–there should be directions for different stages of growth including rooting/germination, early vegetative growth, vegetative growth, transition, flowering and ripening. If in doubt, use less than full strength and raise concentration if necessary REMEMBER if you grow in water culture, you can usually apply 1/4 to 1/2 of recommended full strength nutrients and achieve improved results.
Hydroponic Tomato Variety Selection
Most cultivars of tomatoes will thrive in hydroponics, while some will grow extra vigorously versus conventional gardening methods. So far, our very favourite has been Indigo Rose. This is a semi-indeterminate variety that gets loaded with purple squash ball sized fruits. When ripened in colder temperatures the taste is unique and distinctly Plum like (so is the texture). Purple pigments are called “anthocyanins” and contain antioxidants for health.
There are countless varieties to choose from however. Cherry tomatoes grow especially well in hydroponics. However, they tend to be very sweet so are best reserved for salads or eating whole and fresh. A noteworthy variety you might like to try is Yellow Stuffer, which looks like a bell pepper and is perfect for preparing stuffed and baked. Roma tomatoes are nice and fleshy and grow very well in hydroponics. Naturally these are great for sauces, etc. Good ole Bush Beefsteak does great in hydroponics too. Compact “Patio” tomato varieties that stay short and finish early are great for growing indoors under lights. We have found heirloom varieties to be a little hit or miss in hydroponics. When they work, they work really well–there is a lot of diversity in any pack of heirloom tomato seeds.
Did you know, the balance of sugar to acidity in a given tomato variety is largely what determines the taste.
Click HEREto Learn More About Hydroponic Seed Selection
Hydroponic Tomato Care
When growing hydroponic tomatoes, here are some proven tips and practices you can adapt to help ensure your growing success.
Seeding & Germination
Start seeds directly into an inert starter pellet, cube or plug. Use only filtered or rain water and typically a pH range of 5.5 to 6.2 works best. No fertilizer is required until tomato plants develop their first set of true leaves (the set that follows the seed leaves). Tomatoes like warmth, so using a seedling tray with dome maintain high humidity and a steady 67 to 77 deg F. Once seeds sprout and emerge (usually 7-10 days) remove the humidity dome. Excessive humidity levels will cause seedlings to S-T-R-E-T-C-H becoming tall, weak and spindly. A heat mat can help you maintain an optimal temperature. Lighting also helps keep optimal temperatures, however, tomato seedlings do not need any light until they emerge–after that provide gentle and even lighting for 8 to 16 hours daily. 24/7 is OK too if you don’t have a timer yet.
DIY Mini Split ReCharge
How To Recharge Your R410a MiniSplit AC or Heat Pump
If you bought or installed a mini split AC or Heat Pump for your grow or home with precharged lines it’s likely you’re not getting maximum cooling power, here’s a kit for a DIY Mini Split ReCharge kit that works! By law, in most places, ACs and Heat Pumps supplied with pre-charged lines cannot be shipped charged to full capacity. While convenient and affordable to install following the manufacturer’s instructions, you may be only realizing half of the cooling power your unit can produce. If you sized up your AC for your home or grow room carefully and find things are still getting too warm, this could be the reason for it.
If you have been operating your mini split heat pump or AC for your home or grow room with regularity for over a year, it’s quite possible your system could benefit from a top-up even if it was professionally installed with a full charge (versus half charge with DIY pre-charged lines).
While the principles may be similar in recharging or topping up different mini split systems, this review of Chem Penn’s DIY mini split recharge kit from The Refrigerant Guysis for Air Conditioner or Heat Pump units that operate with environmentally friendlier R410a refrigerant—this is most newer models, but it’s something you need to be absolutely certain of. The wrong refrigerant in the wrong system could damage your investment—check the specifications of the unit you have. YOU MAY VOID YOUR WARRANTY BE RECHARGING THE SYSTEM YOURSELF, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it effectively and easily to gain significant cooling power from your system.
If you have been operating your mini split heat pump or AC for your home or grow room with regularity for over a year, it’s quite possible your system could benefit from a top-up even if it was professionally installed with a full charge (versus half charge with DIY pre-charged lines).
The Chem Penn DIY mini split recharge kit comes with everything you need right out of the box, including a handy gauge and detailed instructions to see and verify the level of charge your system is operating at and top it off with up to 900 grams of R410a refrigerant.
DIY Mini Split ReCharge, Step By Step:
***Make sure you are wearing gloves and protective eyewear in case of accidental contact with refrigerant.***
First, make sure your system is running—ie the compressor is operating. It is very important that it doesn’t stop running while you are performing this process. Just turn the thermostat to the lowest cooling setting possible and wait a couple minutes before getting started.
Connect the threaded end of the hose attached to the gauge and canister to the Low Pressure service port on your system (consult your AC/Heat Pump install guid or check with manufacturer if you need to verify). There is an additional 5/16” adapter with Core Depressor supplied in case the 1/4” SAE fitting doesn’t match your system.
Above: The low pressure valve on this unit is the downward facing connection on the right–works like a bicycle tube valve
TIP: have the right size hex key handy to shut off the valve that connects your lines to the air handler unit in case there is a problem during this process; otherwise just leave it open as it was. Don’t fear, this process is really simple and straightforward, although exercising caution is always a good policy.
Check the pressure indicator that is connected to the hose and recharge tank. It is easy to read and see. Green (not enough charge), Blue (correct amount of charge), Yellow (too much charge), Red (system has major problems, contact a professional)
If in the Green Zone with your Chemo Penn DIY mini split recharge kit attached, turn the refrigerant canister upside down and press the button for 5 seconds. See where the gauge goes while remaining attached with the system running for a few minutes; repeat as necessary.
Once you are in the Blue zone on the dial, disconnect the hose/canister from the system BEFORE shutting off the system or readjusting the thermostat back to your desired set temperature.
How Did the DIY Mini Split ReCharge Kit Work?
In our testing, it worked great—turns out the system was quite low and we needed the full 900 grams; possibly more. That’s what happens when you don’t check or service your mini split AC or Heat Pump for an extended period; live and learn.
Using an infrared temperature checker, we determined we gained an extra 10 Deg F of Cooling Power, that’s around +20% from where we started. Turns out we could have added more than the 900 gram canister. If you’ve neglected your pre-charged line system for more than a couple of years you may considering ordering an extra canister. You can save whatever you don’t used for your next annual check. Way cool.