A hydroponic system uses a formulated mix of nutrients for fertilizing the plants. Although the formulation of the nutrients is done in ratios that reflect the plant’s needs, crop differences and transpiration mean that the level of the nutrients can move away from the optimum values.
In order to maximize plant growth, a system manager needs to administer the fertilizer inside the water system. And if you own a hydroponic setup, then you are the manager.
The two key measurements growers require to make are EC and pH levels. Both the levels can be measured with meters.
EC is the measurement of salts in your hydroponic system, i.e., the nutrient levels in your setup. This level should be measured between 1.2 and 2.0.
pH is the measurement of acidity in the hydroponic system. It regulates how plants interact with various other nutrients. Each crop has a certain pH range; however, some greens and herbs overlap within a certain range. You need to measure pH level from 5.5 to 6.5 with no changes of over .5 daily.
EC as well as pH meters are quite cost-efficient and usually found as one dual meter, such as the Bluelab dual meter.
The nutrient solution’s pH indicates if it is acidic, alkaline or neutral. If the pH level is more than 7, it means it is alkaline. If it is less than 7, it means it is acidic. A pH level measuring 7 shows that the nutrient solution is neutral.
The ability of the plants in your hydroponic setup to absorb the nutrient solution will depend on the nutrient solution’s pH. When the solution is below or above the optimum pH level, there are high chances the plants will not get sufficient nutrients.
You will find different nutrients at different ranges of pH levels. In a hydroponic system, the ideal pH ranges from 5.8 to 6.2 in comparison with a 6.5 pH level for a soil garden.
You can check pH reading with the help of a pH meter which you can buy online.
Here are some steps you need to follow to manage pH level:
Step 1: Set the solution’s EC value that is desired.
Step 2: Measure the pH meter probe with the help of the buffer solution. You need to be certain to stir up the nutrient solution and let the reading stabilize. This can take a few minutes.
Step 3: In case the pH is high, you need to slowly add vinegar, citric acid, phosphoric acid, etc. Wait for a few minutes before you add more. Keep repeating until the pH level reaches an optimal range.
Step 4: If the pH reading is low, slowly add potassium carbonate, potassium hydroxide or pH up products. Keep repeating until the pH level reaches the optimal range.
Step 5: Sterilize the probe and make sure to store it in the cleaning fluid.
A hydroponic system can contain various plant varieties, and accordingly, they need different concentrations of nutrient solution for growth. It is crucial to manage nutrient solution concentrations to provide the optimum condition in the root zone.
This leads to maximal nutrient uptake into the cellular structure of the plant. You can monitor and control the nutrient solution concentration by making use of electrical conductivity measurements. You can check EC reading with the help of an EC meter which you can buy online.
Below are some steps you need to perform to manage EC level:
Step 1: First, you need to fill the nutrient reservoir with filtered or tap water and then put fertilizer. You can base the quantity as recommended by the manufacturer.
Step 2: Measure the EC meter probe with the help of the buffer solution.
Step 3: Keep in mind to stir up the nutrient solution and let the reading stabilize. This can take you quite a few minutes.
Step 4: If in case the reading is high as compared to the optimal level, you need to add more water in order to dilute the nutrient solution. After that, you can repeat step 3.
Step 5: If in case the EC reading is lower than the optimal level, you will need to add nutrient concentrate and make sure it reaches the optimal level. For that, you will need to repeat step 3.
Step 6: Once the process is complete, clean the probe in filtered water and keep it in the cleaning fluid.
Adjusting pH Level
If you are not using an RO filter along with an acidic solution, you do not have to worry about increasing pH. The high chances are that you will be required to lower the pH.
You will need quite a few steps in aquaponics when lowering pH, but when it comes to hydroponics, it is quite straightforward. You can make use of a pH buffer such as General Hydroponics’ pH Down, add it to your setup in a specific quantity. The quantity will depend on how low you want your pH to be.
In case you are required to raise your pH, you can make use of a base addition rather than an acid solution.
Note: If in case the pH is acting out and giving you problems, then it may be a carbonates issue.
Essential Point to Keep in Mind
Let’s look at some points you need to consider:
- You need to check the pH reading always after making sure the EC reading is at the optimal level.
- Both the EC as well as pH readings need to be checked on a regular basis.
- Make sure to check the EC and the pH readings at the same time of the day.
- You also need to make sure the 72°F to 75°F water temperature is optimum.
Hydroponics is quite a useful method used for growing plants. That said, it heavily depends on precise monitoring of both the EC as well as pH of the nutrient solution that you are using.
With the help of proper management and measurement of the EC and pH readings, both new and experienced growers can expect high yields from their hydroponic systems and cultivate healthy, pest and damage-free plants.