UK Hydroponics - Advice through Trial and Error

A journal with hydroponic and organic tips, advice, reviews/pictures of systems in action, side-by-side comparisons and general indoor growing information.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Growing Herbs Hydroponically

Herbs grow very quickly in a hydroponics system. They flourish in pretty much any type of hydroponic setup with very little attention. Most growers prefer a variety of herbs and so it is important to choose herbs that like similar environmental conditions and feeding patterns or to grow different varieties in different systems.

We have a friend/supplier who makes marquees and has decided to branch out and try his hand at grow tents. They are far stronger than anything else we have seen in the same price bracket, they can even be thrown in the washing machine between grows. We have them on display in the shops; another advantage over other grow tents is that they can be built to any shape or size specified so if you are interested, let us know your dimensions and we can give you a price.

Anyway, I wanted to display this tent, an ATAMI Wilma 10 pot Drip Feed System and a Canatronics ECO Cooler 600w Air Cooled Grow Light which I thought would make a nice little combination. I chose the following herbs:

  • Chives
  • Golden Thyme
  • Greek Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

I didn't grow from seed, I was too impatient. I used cuttings and some small potted herbs from a nursery. This meant I had to wash all the soil off the roots to prevent contamination before introducing the plants to the system. I used Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles as a medium and feed them Ionic Grow Hard Water at an EC of 1.4 and pH of 5.8. I wanted to be able to grow them big enough to be useful (I love cooking and everything we grow gets used!) so I staggered them with ivy cuttings so they could grow larger without overcrowding each other. That way I could still have something growing in all 10 pots.

The oregano didn't like its feet too wet to begin with so I moved the dripper stake to the edge of the pot. Also, the fan on the lamp is only for display and doesn't work. It ran a little hot for them at first, especially being mid-summer. Here's how they looked after a month in their new home:

And a month later, at the beginning of this month:

Next time - Trying to grow flowers from different natural seasons at the same time...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hydroponic Strawberries

Strawberries are great for hydroponics. They are big feeders when fruiting and hydroponics is the best way of getting nutrient to them as and when they need it. Many strawberry farmers are now turning to hydroponic systems. Reasons for doing so include growing vertically which maximises space and makes picking far easier and, chiefly, the quality of fruit. Due to the imminent banning of certain key insecticides used in strawberry production, many farmers are turning to hydroponics to prevent soil borne insects and diseases without having to use chemicals. Hydroponic growers enjoy large, sweet and flavoursome fruits and those using artificial lighting alone or in addition to natural light in a greenhouse can enjoy heavy fruiting seasonal varieties all year round.

Strawberries are not actually a berry but an aggregate fruit, a bunch of small seeded fruits joined together. Berries are fruits that contain seeds within an ovary that has swollen to become an edible flesh, like a grape or an avocado. Contrary to what some people think, they don't get their name from having been grown in straw; they were called strewberries because of the way they "strew" or spread out runner plants.

Runner plants are little baby plants that grow from an "umbilical" stem and then root themselves as genetically identical clones of the mother plant. Many plants do this including spider plants and some orchids. Strawberries send some runners out while flowering but create them in earnest when flowering has ended. Mother plants can be encouraged to put out runners by clipping flowers as soon as you see them.
Runners are the best method of propagating strawberries as they are an identical clone of the, hopefully, successful plant they have been cut from. Seeds take at least a year usually two to establish and results are varied. The runners should be cut when the first roots start to appear. Once well rooted, they need to be wrapped and chilled (32-45F...fridge temperature) for at least three weeks to simulate winter and encourage them to flower and fruit.

Strawberries are very day length dependant and are classed in this way. Everbearers fruit moderately whenever they have more than 12 hours daylight. June bearers produce one large crop at one point in the year and come in early, mid and late cultivars; these are the most day length dependant. Day length neutral strawberries produce small but flavoursome fruits at any point of the year as long as temperatures do not exceed 75F. Always select pre-chilled runners marked disease free from a reputable nursery. Growing similar strains together is a good idea because cross pollination makes fuller, healthier fruits.

I am growing an everbearer of indeterminate strain (a donation!). I grew it alongside another everbearing cultivar, Aromel, and the fruit was better for the cross pollination. I have to pollinate with a small paintbrush, we have no bees in the shop. The daylengths did not match though and after flowering once, the Aromels went straight into producing runners and never flowered again. They were also a cheap batch from a nursery I didn't bother to check and I'm sure they were responsible for an infection of spidermite that I have been battling since. I was growing the two together in an NFT system I was displaying. Here are some pics of how they were doing, you can see all the runners trailing down:

That system was nothing but trouble and leaked a gallon a day as well as being seemingly designed for growing algae! NFT is done best by Nutriculture...this one is rubbish. Eventually, about a month ago, it clogged up and leaked 150L of nutrient all over the floor one weekend. (No names...I still stock lots of other, useful things from the same supplier so: Nothing personal!).
I threw it out and decided to have a go with the Multiflow Ebb and Flood System I had on display. I'm using a variety of growth media: Canna Coco, Hydroton Expanded Clay Pebbles and Rockwool Flock as well as combinations of these. I took the unknown variety, trimmed the dead and dying leaves, washed and dosed them up to get rid of the mites and planted the best six out.
They struggled with the mites, poison and the shock of new systems/media/feed but recovered and continued to fruit. I threw away the following batch of fruit because I was paranoid about the miticide. They have a way to go to get back to full health but they are well on the way:

and finally a picture of the usual weekly harvest since June; it would be double if I'd included the ones I eat over the week....growers privelege. Typically, strawberries deteriorate in productivity over three years as more crowns and runners crowd the plant out. I am interested to see how long I can keep these going for.

Next time - Herbs

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hydroponic Chillis

I got a chilli seedling in February. It was a Bolivian Rainbow Chilli, a bush that produces small fruit (like bird's eye chillis) that change colour from pale green/white through purple, yellow, orange and red as they ripen. The effect of all the different colours is very attractive and I thought it would go well in an old IKON 24 site NFT ScrOG system we were going to use on display.

The seedling was about 3" tall and potted in a loamy soil. I put it under a Canatronics 400w Illuminator, watered it daily and it took a month to grow to 6"....this plant and soil are very slow! In that time, I changed my mind about the system I was going to use and decided to go for a Nutriculture Flo Gro FG500. Given that it had taken that long to grow, it would take ages to fill a big system with cuttings. Now that there was a reasonable root system, I was ready to transplant.

I used Hydroton expanded clay pebbles and set the nutrient at pH 5.8 adding Ionic Grow at EC 1.2. I also added a little Rhizotonic to boost root development in an attempt to speed things up....hydro is all about the roots! I also went for a 200w Envirolite (blue spectrum).

It thrived, eventually showing flowers towards the end of May and so I switched to a 200w Envrolite (red spectrum) . By July it was fruiting in earnest and the ripe fruit has been harvested weekly since the end of July. Here are some pictures of it in late August:

and a picture of a typical weekly harvest although yield is starting to drop a little now:

I was sent a box of Growth Technology Chilli Focus as a sample and started using it just after those pictures were taken. It had no instructions for hydroponic use and so I'm not entirely sure it was meant to be used as a hydroponics nutrient but I've been running it at pH 6.0 and EC 1.6 and the plant's still happy. There are slight differences in the fruit - More purpling and fuller, almost oval fruits:

There is a taste difference too. They taste sweeter...up to a point anyway. I like spicy food but after two bites of one of these, my mouth loses all sensation; there are probably better judges than me. Next time I'm going to try something a little less fiery than these, something like jalapeno or peperoncino. I'd like to grow habaneros but just because I like how they look...they can be pretty evil too! Here are some pics of how the plant is looking now:

It's getting a bit straggly so I might try a bit of inventive topiary! Fruit set is starting to drop so I may just end up planting one of these seedlings:

The first small fruit from the plant had 6 seeds. I put them all in one of our Nutriculture PT200 Aeroponic Propagators. I rave about these machines to anyone prepared to listen - they are unbeatable. Four sprayer heads on a 1000lph pump make a fine mist which is rich in DO (Dissolved Oxygen) exactly the sort of environment young roots thrive in. You don't even need to add any nutrient to start off with though I do add Phosphoric acid to pH5.6-5.8, more because P encourages rooting than for the pH adjustment. I also use a Hydor Theo 200w Tank Heater set to 72F. You can see the results, all 6 sprouted and are far larger and healthier than they would have been after 3 weeks in soil. Check out the roots:

Next time - Strawberries.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hydroponic Bananas

OK...I don't think this will be a daily blog now, but once or twice a week is likely. Where possible I will insert links to information but if there is any terminology you don't understand, let me know..

I have some pictures that I think demonstrate the speed of growing using NFT. For more info on NFT see here:

I bought a baby banana plant on ebay recently...about 6 weeks ago. I wanted to grow it in a Nutriculture Multiduct MD200 plus we have on display in the corner of the showroom. I have the luxury of a large space with 5m ceilings and wanted a "triffid" of some sort. I'd tried growing a Gunnera Manicata in the same system, a type of giant rhubarb found in Chile, but it had suffered from an outbreak of spidermite while still very young and a treatment with Bio-Bizz Buzz Off, a gentle treatment, was too much shock and killed it off.

I looked around for something a bit hardier and settled on a dwarf red banana plant (musa "dwarf-red") which grows 6'-8' and has been aclimated to this country. Bananas are monocarpic, which means they will fruit and then die back. They are also not a tree, as many think, but a big grass.
They are also parthenocarpic, i.e. do not require pollination to fruit. Consequently, it is very rare to find seeds in a banana and most cultivars grown for their fruit will not contain any. This means you have to propagate them by taking "sucker" cuttings; these are little clone plants that grow off the rhizome, appearing as offshoots from the main plant.

So that was the plant how to go about growing it in an NFT system and not a pot system which, to me, seemed the obvious choice.
I settled on a hybrid system: I cut the bottom out of a 7.5L plastic pot and made a pot out of capillary matting inside the plastic one. I filled it to 1/3 with Canna coco peat, dropped the plant in and filled the pot with more coco. A hole for the pot was cut in the correx tray top, the pot inserted and the system run as any other NFT system would.

If you have ever used coco, you will know that it takes a while to charge it up with nutrient. It feels far more like soil than hydro in the beginning because any changes you make to the nutrient schedule take a week or so to kick in. The benefit of this is that the coco acts as an excellent buffer against overfeeding and, once charged, will feed the plants exactly to their requirements but it is best to start with a well developed plant. Young plants can struggle feeding, even at very high EC readings.

I started the nutrient off at pH 6.0 and at an EC of 1.2 using Canna coco but had to keep adding nutrients (up to EC 2.6!) to get it to feed. Here is how it looked at 2 weeks:

A little pale and wan but it still managed to double its size in two weeks and thick, creamy white roots had started to show on the tray. Now that there were some decent roots, I decided to feed as I would ordinarily in an NFT system...with Ionic Grow Nutrient at EC 1.4. I dropped the pH to 5.8 to encourage Nitrogen uptake (to green it up a bit). It has responded very well and this is the plant now, 4 weeks later:

And here's how the roots are doing, they've made it into the reservoir now:

Bustin' out the pot! And it's already started to throw out's one trying to break loose:

I'll cut and root this when it is a bit bigger. There's another poking its head through too. You can see that I am using artificial light, a Canatronics Hydrolux 400 watt. If you're feeling generous around Christmas, I could do with a shop that has a conservatory/nursery....hell, even a big skylight would do. Lighting is expensive but I still need to demonstrate the lights in the shop and I have susbstituted the shop strip lights with HID and Envirolites to offset the cost a little. It isn't too drastic, in total it averages out to about 20 Kwh / day. Just under the cost to run a 1Kw lamp 24/7 and about 1 1/2 times the cost of running all the flos that used to be here.

Next time - Chillis

Monday, October 02, 2006


Hi and welcome to the UK Hyrdoponics blog.

First a little bit about who we are:
We run two sister hydroponic shops and an online shop under the UK Hyrdoponics banner. Based in Liverpool and Langtoft, we have over 10 years of hydroponics experience, both in agriculture and as avid hobbyists. We are still a relatively young concern with our Bootle shop in its fourth year of trading, the Langtoft shop opened this February, but we are constantly growing and our aim is to continue to compete with the more established companies in our industry by offering a professional service, a wide range of useful hydroponics systems and supplies at keen prices and above all, excellent advice. Whether you are looking for a foolproof system with complete and easy to follow instructions or want advice on the more complex and scientific aspects of hydroponics, we can help.

Why start a blog? I have often wondered why people bother to keep a blog. I have never kept a diary myself which made it harder for me to understand I suppose. I came up with the idea to start one chiefly because I had read in an article about search engines that it can be a good way of increasing traffic to our site. I looked at some of the examples given in the article and was surprised at how transparently cynical some of them were. Basically, some were little more than various paragraphs of stolen text put up just to get into search engine results....always annoying when you search for something, click a result and find a couple of lines of rudimentary or useless information and a load of sponsored search results.
I don't want to do that at all...I'll be posting a journal with pictures of the plants we currently have growing in various hydroponic systems, tips and advice, trials, side-by-side comparisons and information on new products. There'll probably be plenty of useless bollocks and ranting too but it shouldn't get in the way of what I plan to be an informative and useful blog!

I'll try to keep it daily to begin with....we'll see how it goes :)