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what is hydroponics?
why grow with hydroponics?
how to grow using hydroponics.
getting started
deep water culture
CustomiZING Your Hydroponics System

What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is simply the growing of plants without soil. Plants don’t need soil, but they do need the vitamins and minerals that soil can provide for them. Plants also need light, water, carbon dioxide and oxygen at the root zone. In hydroponics, plants are grown in an inert medium such as rocks or coco coir fiber, and they are fed a solution containing a perfected mix of primary, secondary and micro-nutrients. Almost any kind of plant can be grown hydroponically, including veggies, herbs, fruits and flowers. Hydroponics is widely used by farmers and growers throughout California. You might have noticed hydroponic tomatoes or ‘living’ lettuce in the refrigerated section at your grocery store. You might also have seen hydroponic roses and other cut flowers at the florist.

Hydroponics provides an advantage over soil growing for several reasons. Plants can be grown year-round since climate conditions can be controlled in a greenhouse. Because their roots do not need to reach for nutrients, the plants can be grown closer together. The plants grown are significantly larger because of so many available nutrients and not having to waste time growing extensive root systems. This makes the yields bigger. The nutrient solution also keeps the same amount of nutrients available all the time, whereas soil tends to "wear out" as the nutrients are taken up. The combination of all these things makes hydroponics more productive than soil growing. Many farmers in California are beginning to switch over to hydroponics for all of these reasons. The concern about water use is also a BIG reason hydroponics is becoming more popular - it significantly conserves water over the usual growing methods.

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Why grow with hydroponics?
Hydroponic gardening is an easy and environmentally sound way to grow a wide variety of healthy plants. With hydroponics, gardening is possible in areas where it would normally be impossible. In poor soil for example, or in rocky areas, balconies and rooftops. With the use of artificial lighting it is even possible to successfully garden in a spare room or garage. Hydroponics will produce a much higher yield than growing in soil, so if you want to max the production of your garden, hydroponics is a great way to do it!

Hydroponics is also great because:
  • Plants grow up to 50% faster than in soil because they have easy access to food and water

  • Hydroponic produce often has many times more nutrition that conventionally grown produce

  • Hydroponically grown fruit and veggies have increased flavor and texture

  • Plants start out in a sterile medium, are fast growing and resistant to pests and diseases

  • Smaller containers can be used because the roots can grow without being root bound

  • Plants do not need to compete for nutrients, thus more can be grown in a smaller area

  • The increased control over growing conditions makes it easier to provide the best possible
    environment for plants, leading to better quality produce and higher yields

  • Plants become "vacation-proof" and "neglect-resistant"
  • Hydroponics saves water because the water is recirculated and protected from evaporation
  • Less labor is required than growing in soil because no digging or weeding is required

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How to Grow using Hydroponics
With all the great advantages of hydroponics, you might think that it is difficult or complicated to try growing plants with it. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anyone can try growing with hydroponics. All you need are some basic tools and a little bit of knowledge. There is a bit of a learning curve, but that is part of the fun! You should become familiar with the following:

Growing Medium
An inert growing medium is used in pots to support plants and protect roots from the sunlight. It gives the roots something to hold on to. These pots usually sit in a tray or a channel of some sort. Plants roots need air just as much as they need water, and the key element to a successful grow medium is its ability to hold an abundant amount of oxygen. A grow medium must drain well and provide good conduction of nutrient and moisture to the root zone. Common materials are expanded clay, rockwool, and coconut fiber (coco-coir), but gravel, or a mixture of perlite and vermiculite can be used as well.

We have an entire information section that deals the various growing media.
Click Here For our Growing Media Information Section.

Light is not an issue for outdoor plants, but in order for sun-loving plants to thrive indoors, artificial light of the correct spectrum and intensity must be supplied. This is accomplished with grow lights known as High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights. There are two types of HID lights, Metal Halides (MH) and High Pressure Sodium (HPS), each covering part of the light spectrum. MH lights reproduce the blue end of the spectrum and are used for plants in the vegetative state as well as for leafy green vegetables such as lettuce or spinach. HPS lights are used to produce fruits or flowers, such as tomatoes, roses or melons.

We have an entire information section that deals the various growing media.
Click Here For our Indoor Grow Lights Information Section..

Proper nutrient formulation is essential to hydroponics. All minerals that the plants need are dissolved in water which is then circulated through the system to the plants. The nutrient solution should be monitored to keep levels at optimum strength. There are numerous hydroponic nutrient solutions that are available on the market today. We carry 1 part, 2 part and three part solutions as well as organic solutions. We also carry a wide variety of supplements to help with the vigor, flavor and yield of your plants.

We have an entire information section that deals with providing correct nutrition for rapidly growing plants.
Click Here For our Nutrient and Fertilizer Section

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Ventilation and Carbon Dioxide
The current of air that circulates around plants is as important in a grow space as light, water, or nutrients. Proper ventilation removes excess heat and humid air, while providing plants with healthy supplies of CO2, which plants need to thrive. A grow area should at least include a fan which moves air gently past your plants. We are experts in CO2 enrichement and can offer you the information and tools you need to further increase plant health, vigor, and yield.

We have an entire information section that deals with climate control, CO2 enrichment.
Click Here For our Climate Control Information Section

Temperature & Humidity
Plants are heat and cold and moisture sensitive just like people. Most indoor grow rooms get plenty of heat from the lamps, although greenhouses often need heating in the winter. In most situations, proper venting can keep temperatures or humidity from getting too high, although some grow rooms (especially those using CO2 enrichment)  need an air conditioner to lower heat and humidity. No matter what your growing level, it is important to learn the environmental requirements for the plant you are trying to grow.

We have an entire information section that deals with climate control, CO2 enrichment.
Click Here For our Climate Control Information Section

The pH of a solution is a measurement of how acidic or basic it is. The pH level controls what nutrients will be readily absorbed by a plant’s root system. The pH of your solution should be adjusted according to what plants are being grown. Usually the pH should be between 5.8 -6.5. pH levels can be easily and inexpensively checked with a shaker tester which allows you to check pH via water color. The levels can be adjusted by using pH Up or pH Down.

We have an entire information section that deals with measuring pH etc..
Click Here For our Hydroponic Meters information section

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Getting Started
If you are ready to try your hand at hydroponics, you will need several basic tools: pots to hold the plants and some sort of growing media; a tray to catch the nutrient and return ito to the main reservoir if you are using a recirculating system. The main nutrient reservoir has a pump in it that circulates the nutrient and water to the plants.

It is not necessary to use a pump and nutrient reservoir to grow hydroponically. You can still water by hand if you choose. The trick is not to let things dry out. We are big fans of using coco coir fiber as a growing medium for hand watering. Coco Coir is an amazing product (that happens to be organic) and it only needs to be watered once per day. There are naturally occurring enzymes in the coconut fiber which promotes rapid fuzzy root growth like you’ve never seen with soil. .

You will need hydroponic nutrients, a pH tester and optimally, a nutrient level tester. There are numerous inexpensive kits that provide all of this in one package - these are great if you want to grow just a few plants. If you are interested in growing on a larger scale, we offer package systems which we have put together, or you can piece your own together using our catalog and the local hardware store.

What type of Hydroponic System?

There are five main types of hydroponic systems: Ebb & Flow (also known as flood and drain), NFT (Nutrient Film Technique), Deep Water Culture, Drip Systems and Aeroponic systems. No matter what kind of system you choose, the goal is the same: to provide an optimum environment in which plants will thrive, growing faster and healthier than you’ve ever seen before.

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Often these types of systems are called flood and drain.The plants are usually grown in pots with a growing medium. The pots sit in a plastic tray which sits above a reservoir filled with nutrient solution. Since the system relies on gravity to do the work, the growing tray must be higher than the reservoir. A pump in the reservoir is connected to the bottom of the tray. When the pump turns on, the tray fills with water, temporarily submerging roots. When the pump turns off, the water runs back down through the pump into the reservoir. Poetry...

Most growers choose to control irrigation with a timer. A typical schedule would involve several short one-hour water cycles per day, but the duration and frequencies of watering cycles varies from one system to another and is dependent on the crop, the plant size and environmental conditions.

Ebb and flow allows for high density planting while providing a well oxygenated root system. The ebb & flow method supplies fresh oxygen to the root system of plants in two ways. First, as the tray is flooded with nutrient solution, carbon dioxide rich air is pushed out from around the root system. When the pump is turned off, the tray is drained and oxygen rich air is drawn down to the roots. This oxygen is then used by the plants until the next cycle begins.

Second, when the nutrient solution drains through the flow, it creates a splash upon impact, adding much additional aeration.

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Deep Water Culture
Deep water culture systems are some of the least expensive and easiest systems to start up. They are usually made up a bucket filled up 1/3 of the way with water and a net-pot-bucket-lid, filled with Hydroton (Grow Rocks) that sits on top of the bucket allowing the roots to grow through the net pot and then into the water. The water is continuously being bubbled with air from an air pump / air stone combination. The water solution is filled with nutrients and pH’d to the proper levels. Voila!

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Nutrient Film Technique systems are some of the most productive available, and they are often the chosen method of commercial growing. Plant roots are grown in a light-tight and shallow channel. Nutrient solution is continuously circulated, flowing over the roots up to 24 hours per day. The name of this growing method was so coined in order to stress that the depth of the liquid flowing past the roots should be very shallow in order to ensure that sufficient oxygen is supplied.

A wide range of vegetables and ornamental crops may be grown in an NFT system. Depending on channel width, NFT is great for plants as diverse as tomatoes and lettuce. When choosing an NFT system, care must be taken to choose the correct trough size. Small 4 inch troughs are fine for most plants, but larger vine crops with extensive root systems could hinder nutrient flow, causing root rot and pathogen growth. Large commercial systems use wider troughs with greater flow capacity.

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Is there a simple and easy way to cool my grow space?
For cooling, we suggest using a vent fan and coupling it together with a thermostat like the TMP-DNe. When temperatures get too high, the Tempstat will turn the vent fan on until the temperature drops below your chosen set point.

In most indoor environments, lighting is the major source of heat. Air cooling your lights is another possible solution. Most horizontal reflectors can be easily converted to air cooling by using a glass lens, the correct duct flanges, and vent ducting to a good exhaust fan.

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Aeroponics is an exciting improvement on hydroponics. Plant roots are suspended in the air and misted by high pressure sprayers which break nutrient into small particles and saturate the roots. The roots are grown in a misty, humid environment, with minimal grow media. Due the water’s constant circulation and the action of a high pressure pump, the levels of oxygen in the water are kept high.

Aeroponics is beyond the age we're in now-- it's in the space ages. Aeroponic techniques are being investigated by NASA.

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Drip systems are the most widely used hydroponic systems in the world. They’re commonly used in commercial facilities for growing long term crops like tomatoes and peppers. Similar to your backyard irrigation system, nutrient solution is literally 'dripped' onto plant roots before being recycled through the system's reservoir. These systems are great for budget-minded beginners. At GreenCoast we'll show you how to build your own, whatever your level may be. . .And we will also explain the benefits of Drain to Waste!

They are commonly used in commercial facilities for growing long term crops like tomatoes and peppers. Drip systems provide plenty of aeration (more than ebb and flow) because plant roots are never totally submerged, but are never allowed to dry out. There is also the additional aeration that occurs from water falling back into the reservoir.

Drip systems operate very simply. A pump has tubing connected to it which then branches off to smaller tubes feeding many plants. It works just like a drip irrigation system in your yard. Nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant where it then trickles down through the grow media and into the roots and finally drains into the reservoir where it is reused.

A Drip System may be left to run continuously or it may be turned on and off with a timer. A good standard to go by is on for an hour and off for an hour, however we suggest experimenting to see what works best for you and your plants.

Building your own Drip System
The great thing about drip systems is that they are very inexpensive, easy to build and totally modifiable. At GreenCoast, we find the following design works very well.

The system is based on the following: plants are in buckets filled with grow medium. The buckets sit in a tray which drains into a reservoir underneath. Inside the reservoir is a pump.

Connect 1/2" tubing to the pump, and use that as your main water line. You may run several 1/2" branches off this line. Use the 1/2" tees/elbows/connectors as appropriate to make your lines as smooth as possible. You don't want any kinks in the hose. Run the lines along the top edge of the buckets and end each line with a 1/2" compression end cap.

Connect drippers or drip rings to the 1/2" tubing by punching holes where you want the drip rings connected. Be sure that all the drip rings are facing down. Plug in the pump -- watch for any water which is landing where it should not. Adjust as necessary.

hydroponicsDiagram - 2x2 hydroponic drip system
hydroponicsDiagram - 3x3 hydroponic drip system
hydroponicsDiagram - 4x4 hydroponic drip system
hydroponicsDiagram - 4x8 hydroponic drip system with 32 pots
hydroponicsDiagram - 4x8 hydroponic drip system with 50 pots

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If you want your plants to excel, you will want to pay close attention to what is going on in your reservoir. By monitoring nutrients, not only can you feed your plants the appropriate level of nutrition, but you can also maximize the nutrients available for uptake. Monitoring insures against underfeeding or burning.

Order of Operations
It is very important that you follow these steps (in this order) when adding anything to your reservoir solution (nutrients, additives, etc.) Please note: whenever you add anything to a reservoir solution make sure that you adjust the pH last. Even if you just add water to a reservoir solution you still need to pH. There are certain exceptions to this order and it will be indicated on a given product label or set of instructions.

  1. Start Out with Purified (Reverse Osmosis) Water. We recommend a UV filter be employed on any incoming water
    into your reservoir. This insures that the starting water is pathogen free.
  2. Add MagiCal up to 150ppms. In the last 3 weeks of the Bloom stage you can add 50ppms of MagiCal.
  3. Add additives, one at a time, stirring well in between This includes anything that is not your main Nutrient.
  4. Test ppms and see where you are at? You should only be at 37% (or just over 1/3) of overall desired ppms. (Ex.
    If desired ppms for given week are to be at 1500ppms then you will not want to have more than 550ppms with
    your additives added to your water solution (at this step).
  5. Add main nutrient (examples: PureBlend Pro, Flora Nova, SensiBloom or SensiGrow, Connoisseur, any 3-part nutrient, etc.) as per directions (example: SensiBloom you add in equal parts A and B - If you add
    100mL of A you will have to add 100 mL of B). Continue adding Nutrient until desired TDS is reached. (Ex.
    As in the previous example from step 3. the ppms after adding the additves were at 550. The desired ppms for
    that week are1500ppm. We now add 950 ppms of nutrient to the solution. CALL WITH QUESTIONS!
  6. Adjust the pH of the Reservoir Solution.
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Changing the Reservoir
A good rule of thumb is to always top off your reservoir with fresh water without any nutrient added. You will lose some water through evaporation and plant uptake, but the strength of the solution doesn't drop the with the level of the solution. Sometimes, as the reservoir water level drops the nutrient solution can become more concentrated. To avoid overdoing it, add only fresh water and then adjust your pH accordingly. The best way to know when its time to change your nutrient solution is to keep a record of how much water you're putting in the reservoir to top it off. When the amount added equals half of the reservoir capacity, it's time to change the solution and rinse the reservoir and growing medium. If you've got a 20 Gal res and over the course of 12 days you've added 10 Gal -- it's time to change your solution.

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Cleaning and Sterilizing Equipment
Sterilizing equipment is extremely important and it is often handled incorrectly. Many people make the mistake of using Hydrogen Peroxide for sterilization. It happens to be a poor oxidizer, unable to kill many different types of pathogens, and is only truly effectve at a pH of 2.0. A better choice is Bio-Green Clean, an excellent organic ezyme cleaner. It is especially good at cleaning those hard-to-clean white trays.

Bleach, although not the most environmentally friendly product, is an old favorite. It can kill anything, and is very cheap, making it hard to resist. Do NOT use it sparingly - Make a very concentrated solution. Let it soak for at least an hour, and let it run through all equipment (including pumps.) Scrub surfaces with a strong Bleach solution. Then make sure to do multiple rinses with plain water to rid the trays of any risidual. When using strong bleach solutions, wear gloves & work in a ventilated area.

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Using Beneficial Biology to prevent Root Rot
There is a complex relationship between plants and the microbes that live in and make up the rhizosphere. As growers we we want to innoculate and promoste healthy microbe colonies. Some of the more common varieties to look for are Mychorizzae, Trichoderma, and Bascillus Subtillus. There are a plethora of products that help us in our endeavors, including Roots Excelurator (the Best Protection Product we have) Vermi-T, Piranha, Subculture, Tarantula, Voodoo Juice, and HydroGuard, to name a few. We even brew our own concoctions.

See “Beneficial Biology”, “Best Overall System”, and “Root Zone info sheets as well.

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Enzyme Solutions
Small, yet amazingly powerful -- enzymes have a variety of important benefits for the grower. There are many different enzymes that all have different functions. We are most concerned about two types of enzymes. There are those that accelerate sugar / resin production to create flavor and aroma. Then there are those that break down dying and dead plant proteins (dead leaves and roots) into their component parts – amino acids, lipids and smaller molecules which can be reabsorbed by the plant and the beneficial microbes. This also prevents those proteins from being food for pathogens. Some of the Enzyme solutions we like are Hygrozyme (for better, faster overall growth), Sensizyme, Cannazyme and MultiEnzyme for enzymatic breakdown of dying root tissue capabilities.

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The other route - Keeping a Reservoir Sterile
Some growers rely on “clean” growing environments, strong disinfectants and products that will sterilize the reservoir. This is harder than it sounds. Folks who have been growing in the same area for years might find that they are having root problems when they never had them before. Or a new grower might have them from the beginning. It can be tough to rid your area of pathogens once they have been introduced.

ZONE: Comprised of monochloramine and essential oils know to ward off root disease. This is the strongest sterilizing agent that we sell. It is easy to use and works well at preventing root disease. Can be used at 2-3x strength to fight an infection. (Make sure to NOT add any beneficial microbes or enzyme solutions to the mix).

Hydrogen Peroxide: Creates ozone in water, killing bacteria & adding oxygen to the system. Elevated levels of oxygen in water have proven to dramatically increase the speed of plant growth. Recommended (HIGH concentrations) for cleaning as well. (Make sure to NOT add any beneficial microbes or enzyme solutions to the mix).

UV - Filter: Use of a UV Filter can greatly help win the battle against pathogens. As long as the nutrient soultion is clear when it runs across the filter, (i.e. no organics,) all microrganisms DNA will be torn apart.

PLEASE NOTE!! Both Zone and Hydrogen Peroxide offer protection and benefits. But NEITHER works well with beneficial microbes or enzymes added to the reservoir. Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t work well with anything organic.

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Irrigation Pump
An irrigation pump is used to pump water from the main reservoir to the Hydroponic / Soil Delivery / Drip system. Since there are so many brands and sizes of pumps to choose from, it can be quite hard to figure out the proper size pump for your given system. It is best to talk to us about it first. (Also note: All pumps are not created equal. Even though two pumps have the same GPH rating doesn’t mean they will output at the same rate.) Make sure to ask a sales person about the differences.

irrigation pump
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Float valve or Float Switch
Float valves are a simple concept that can help insure a hydroponic system always has enough water. You'll notice the float valve is attached to the right side of the reservoir, with a water line coming in. At first glance a float valve might seem difficult to use and operate, but in truth the concept is easy and accessible. Float valves work in a similar way to a toilet. When the water level of the reservoir drops, it causes the float valve to drop with it, thereby opening up the pathway for water to flow into the reservoir. When the reservoir is filled up again, the float valve rises back up with the water and closes off the pathway, thus restricting water from passing through. Float valves can be used to connect one reservoir to another, or they can be connected directly to a water filtration system directly such as The Merlin Garden Pro or the Stealth 200. In between the float valve and the incoming water line we like to put a ball valve (giving you more control of when the water is flowing into your reservoir.) We can help - Talk to us about installing a float valve. It is actually cheap and easy! This provides for automated water filling. We also believe in employing a slightly more sophisticated float - called a float switch; involving a watering timer. Inquire within!

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Aeration within the water leads to More Aeration at the Root Zone
Most reservoirs need to include some form of aeration. Oxygen is very important for healthy roots and aerated water provides bonus oxygen. We suggest using either an air pump, air stone or venturi, or a combination of all three. None of these is depicted in the picture above. The other types of systems will need extra oxygen, depending on the type of growing media used. We suggest the biggest Air Pumps you can find! It should be bubbling like a hot tub!

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Draining a reservoir with the help of a “Drain Pump”
Since draining the reservoir should be a regular event (about once a week) we suggest using a separate drain pump. This pump should ideally suck from the bottom in order to assure complete and thorough drainage. Examples of good drain pumps are the PE-1 for smaller reservoirs, NK-1 or NK-2 for medium sized reservoirs, and a Water Wizard hooked up to 3/4” hose line for larger reservoirs.

Nutrient and pH Control
Although not depicted in the diagram above, a good reservoir setup will always include a continuous pH / TDS / water temp monitor such as the GroCheck TriMeter from Hanna or the NutraDip Trimeter. This meter will continuously display the pH and ppms of the nutrient solution, allowing for greater control. Water temperature is also very important to monitor. We suggest the use of a water chiller. (see below). For more automated control, check out the IntelliDose or MiniDoser from American Hydroponics. It will monitor and control pH and ppm values at ALL times.

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Keeping your Reservoir Temperatures Cool using of a Water Chiller
A water chiller is one of the most over-looked and most needed component to a healthy reservoir. A water chiller assembly employs a submersible pump to move water through the chiller and back into the reservoir solution. Chillers can be set up to have a differential so that they are not always running. Ideal water temperature is between 66-69 deg. F. The chiller will bring the water down to 66 deg. F. and then turn off until the water is up to 68 deg. F. (We like EcoPlus Chillers or Frost Boxes over any other because they are well made, more durable and longer-lasting. Of the two, the Frost boxes are a large step above.)

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