1 – There are a variety of growing mediums available: pebbles, coco coir, lava rocks, perlite, vermiculite, and more. The method of choice here at the EcoVillage is the layering of perlite/vermiculite/perlite in 1/3 proportions. While all options work well, the opportunity for the plants to fluidly root through this soft sterile environment works exceptionally well.
2 – Concerning hydroponic solutions. There are a variety available and when used as directed, all work well enough. Some thoughts…
Master Blend is a three part dry blend. It is the most cost effective. Can be hard to mix thoroughly, and it must be mixed thoroughly to receive the most benefit. One quick and efficient method to blend them properly is to use a blender. Use an old blender container which will not be used for food preparation. Fill the container half full with water. Add the recommended proportion in full of the MasterBlend. Blend for a minute. Then add the same amount of Calcium Nitrate next and blend for a minute. Then add half that amount of Epsom Salt and blend for another minute. Pour into the water reservoir and fill the tub to about two inches from the top. This Master Blend nutrient solution does leave a noticeable residue on the bottom of the tub. And it is not listed as organic.
General Hydroponics is a colorful liquid 3 part solution which is less cost effective than the MasterBlend. It is easy to mix. Always mix them one at a time as per the directions on the bottles. This nutrient solution also leaves a residue on the bottom of the tub, but not as much. And it too does not list as organic.
Farmer’s Pride by Blue Planet is also a 3 part liquid hydroponic solution and costs the most. Easy to mix, be sure to shake the bottles up first. All are brown in color. As always, mix the recommended amounts, one at a time, into a large container. Add to the tub and fill the tub with the water. It leaves a very small amount of brown residue. It is organic, leaves a fairly clean tub, and easy to blend.
The solution used at present here at theMonastery is Urban Farm All Purpose Vegetable Fertilizer. It is organic, using down to earth ingredients such as worm castings, and kelp. Most others brands list just chemical compounds. Not all “chemical compounds” are on par with down to earth natural ingredients.
3 – Place the water reservoir as much in the shade as feasible to keep the water from heating up.
4 – These four tools are useful for monitoring hydroponic health: PH Meter, EC Meter, PH Up and PH Down solutions.
Many meters flood the market, from test strips to digital meters. Having tried basically every type, the ones of choice are the Blue Lab PH meter and the Blue Lab EC meter – worth every penny.
As a rule of thumb, and to keep things simple, a PH level of around 6 is good for most plants. Acid tolerant plants such as tomatoes and strawberries are best served with a PH Level between 5 and 6. A PH level over 7 is not conducive for thriving plants. PH Up and PH Down solutions are available to adjust the levels. Start with one cap full at a time.
And how do you know you have enough nutrients in the water? The EC meter gives a clue into this mystery. Charts basically show an optimal EC level of around 3 across the board. This may be good for baby plants, but as they grow – a meter reading of 5 to 7 is the marker to look for. Check the water each week and add nutrients accordingly to achieve the desired meter reading.
5 – When a growing cycle is over and it is time to either start another batch of plants or close up for the season – here are a few things to keep in mind. Empty and thoroughly clean out the water reservoir. Clean the growing medium for re-use. When the growing medium looks questionable, do research on the internet for methods of cleaning/sterilizing the medium for re-use. Also check the pumps for clogs.