It is very important for anyone who has no experience with hydroponic nutrients to use a ready-made formula from a reputable company and to follow the directions on the container. This will allow you to learn the basics of growing hydroponically before attempting experiments.
It is true that many off-the-shelf hydroponic nutrients can be expensive, costing upwards of $0.30 per gallon of nutrient solution, or more, but there are manufactures that offer an affordable nutrient solution. It goes as low as just under 2 cents per gallon of nutrient solution. We have compiled a list of some of these cost-effective nutrient manufacturers for your consideration. Please get in touch with us if you know any others we should add to the list.
All plants need fertilizer to thrive. In conventional gardening and farming, plants get nutrients from the soil and additives including compost, manure, and chemical fertilizers. Hydroponics plants are not grown in soil, so nutrients are delivered directly to the solution they are watered with. Nutrients are categorized into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients include carbon, phosphorous, hydraulic acid, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. Micronutrients include potassium, magnesium, and calcium. A little quantity of micronutrients such as zinc, nickel, copper, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, chlorine, and boron is required for healthy living.
Considerations For Using Hydroponic Nutrient
For hydroponic gardeners, this means that without proper nutrients, plants cannot build molecules, go through enzymatic reactions, and complete the life cycle. Without proper nutrients, hydroponic plants are unable to produce fruits/ vegetables, or their product is sub-par.
PH is also a determining factor. The proportion of nutrition absorbed by plants depends on the pH value of the solution. Checking pH levels on a regular basis, preferably daily, even if you double-check your nutrient solution measurements and mix correctly. In your system, you will need to consider the pH value and nutrient concentration requirements of different plants. If you are going to take a variety of plants and wish to group them according to their needs, be sure to research the requirements of each.
Besides changing with the environment, a single plant might also require different care under different weather conditions, seasons, and temperatures. This is not a problem for indoor setups that have a controlled environment, but it is something to take into consideration if your system is located outdoors. An ideal temperature is between 70 and 78 degrees F for the nutrient solution. This is more important for outdoor systems that are exposed to the elements. It is generally advised to keep the reservoir in a shaded area and add cool water to it periodically in summer to keep it from getting too hot. If you wish to purchase miniature water heaters for winter, then you can place them inside your water reservoir to keep the nutrient solution warm.
Pre-Made vs. Homemade
Generally speaking, small farms and hobbyists buy pre-made liquid or powder concentrate nutrient solutions, or they may make their own from scratch. A large-scale farm mixes their own in bulk concentrates to meet the requirements of the crops they grow, using bulk concentrates of the individual chemical compounds.
A pre-mixed concentrate usually comes in two separate bottles, one for macronutrients and one for micronutrients. The elements are separated because some are incompatible with one another and may cause precipitation when combined. After dilution, these nutrients don’t precipitate and can be combined with no issue. Some manufacturers have attempted to hold these incompatible nutrients in a chemical complex so that they do not mix. These are available in single packs. Typically, twin and triple packs are suitable for hydroponic growing systems. They are easy to mix and only require one container and one measuring cup, along with a stirrer. You do not need a stirrer if your mixing vessel is set up with a lid, since you can shake it up. The recommended measurement is usually 3.5 mL of each concentrate per liter. Check the instructions on the bottle beforehand, however.
Let your solution sit for a few minutes after mixing, then make sure the pH is correct and adjust accordingly. Starting off with a perfect pH will make it easier to maintain. Even if you measure the number of drops of pH Up or pH Down every time you mix your solution, you can simply add the amount to the water before mixing in your concentrate.
Nutrition is one of the main inputs in any hydroponic system and is important to the system. Any fertilizer that is not soluble in water will not be successful on a hydroponic system. The grower has complete control over the types of fertilizer and their concentration. In addition, they have the capability to immediately monitor and maintain a relative consistency, provided a nutrient meter is at hand. The composition of the nutrients is critical and over twenty elements are required for plant growth. Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are absorbed from the air and water.
The rest of the elements, known as mineral nutrients, are dissolved in the nutrient solution and need to be balanced. Any good Hydroponic nutrient should contain all of these elements; Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), Phosphorous (P), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulphur (S), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Molydenum (Mo), Boron (B), Chlorine (Cl). Generally speaking, this is taken care of with a pre-formulated commercial hydroponic fertilizer. In many cases, nutrients come in several ‘parts’, so the grower can adjust the ratios of the mineral elements to allow for either vegetative or fruiting and flowering growth, or for different crops. For beginners, it is best to just follow the general directions before experimenting with the ratios.
It is imperative to use fertilizers specifically designed for hydroponic farming. Soil-grown plants receive the primary nutrients from their natural environment, while Hydroponic plants get theirs from their surrounding environment. Hydroponics does not involve soil, therefore their composition differs greatly from that of the soil, since it is not intended to be a complete plant food and it is unlikely to be water-soluble. For instance, Nitrogen in the form of urea is not immediately available to the plant in hydroponic growers because urea is non-soluble in water. For this reason, Nitrogen must be delivered in nitrate form in order to be utilized.
Powder vs. Liquid
Liquid fertilizers are extremely popular among starters and amateurs since they are well premixed and simple to use. However, they are more expensive. Powder nutrients are more economical because they do not have water in them as liquid ones do and are also longer lasting. Powder nutrients are often used in large commercial greenhouses since they are much more cost effective when used in large quantities. In commercial production, they will make and custom the powder of each mineral. But that is only efficient if they have gathered enough skills. There are pre-mixed powder products already on the market. This is a recipe for Hydroponic hobbyists who prefer the powder form, but need ease of use as well. All they need to do is add it directly to the water and stir to get the powder dissolved.
As your primary criteria are ease-of-use and price, the 1-part Hydroponic liquid seems to be a perfect choice. No need to premix. No need to care about different types of plants or phases of growth. However, it comes with a price – you do not give plants the full potential for growth. It is therefore not a good choice. And that’s why I do not recommend it for most growers. If you choose a good solution, you must purchase a three-part nutrient package. However, you must exchange convenience for the control of nutrients by adjusting the mix to fit different plants.
Organic or Synthetic
Many growers are striving to go the organic path for their Hydroponic setups, even though the odors and soluble problems are greater where they are, or where they come from using the systems. Besides, most of the hydroponic nutrients are not organic, and you can only use them if you buy their organic forms directly from the manufacturers (blood meal, fishbone, etc.) and place them into the solution.
However, even when manufacturers claim they are organic with certain product lines like Gen Organics, they are not 100% organic due to the addition of refined minerals. However, if you need organic nutrients for your hydroponic garden, they are excellent. And exchanging a little of the hassle of buying organic raw materials for the pre-mixed refined organic products available nowadays is undoubtedly worth it.