Growing, harvesting and indulging in the food we grow ourselves feels great. But, many of us have limitations when it comes to gardening. We may live in apartments, condos or homes that don’t have the outdoor space to garden. Others live in climates that are not hospital to gardening for large portions of the year. That’s when growing indoors can be a great solution. And growing with hydroponics may be the smartest solution considering plants can grow twice as fast when you do! Whether you’re using an iHarvest indoor garden or not, here are 5 great tips for using hydroponics to grow food indoors, anytime of year.
- Tip #1: Give Your Plants a Head Start in Life
You will want to start seeds in your seed pods, or rock wool if you prefer. The seed pods provided with the iHarvest solution contain nutrients that will allow your seeds to take root and grow right away.
Placing your pods or rock wool in a humidity dome with seedling heat mat (available with our Seedling Starter Kit add-on) will increase the number of seeds that sprout, and speed up the process as well. For those that prefer the DIY approach, you can create your own humidity dome with Tupperware covered with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to let some air flow. You can even place your Tupperware over a warm surface (like a TV cable box), to replace a seedling heat mat.
As soon as your seedlings have sprung, make sure they’re placed in your hydroponic garden, or at least in front of a strong light source. Without a strong light source, seedlings will begin to elongate to reach higher for the sun. When they elongate like this, it wastes energy that could otherwise be used to support leaf growth. Additionally, long, stringy plants can get unwieldy or have trouble supporting themselves as they grow.
- Tip #2: Make Sure Your Plants Have Proper Lighting
Getting the lighting right can be one of the hardest parts about indoor gardening. Your indoor veggies will grow best with at least 6-8 hours of strong sunlight (but not so strong that they burn). It’s a difficult balancing act, and for many of us the best solution is grow lights. As a general rule, most reputable grow lights will grow leafy greens and herbs well. But, if you want to grow fruits like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, you should make sure that your grow lights have a PAR rating of 600 or greater, just like the iHarvest does. The PAR rating measures only the visible light that plants use to grow, which is why serious growers prefer to use PAR vs Lux ratings.
- Tip #3: Use the Proper Nutrient Mix
When growing with hydroponics, ensuring you have the right nutrient mix is essential to the growth and taste of your plants. My personal preference for nutrients is MaxiGro by General Hydroponics. I always get strong growth and great taste when I use it.
As you add nutrients to your hydroponic solution, you’ll want to use an TDS tester (included with all iHarvest purchases) to ensure your plants have the correct amount of nutrients. TDS stands for Total Dissolved Solids and is measured in parts per million (PPM). It is a good measure of the amount of nutrients in your hydroponic solution. For the sake of keeping this initial lesson short and sweet, I suggest you break plants up into two categories:
Category 1: Leafy Greens and Herbs – These plants tend to desire lower amounts of nutrients in their hydroponic solution. You should add nutrients until your TDS meter shows a reading of between 600-1000. I suggest using a TDS reading of 800. One of the exceptions to this rule is Pac-Choi, which prefers an TDS reading closer to 1,200-1,400. Spinach also likes higher TDS ranges, but tastes quite good at lower ranges as well.
Category 2: Flowering Fruits and Vegetables – Flowering fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers prefer higher nutrient levels, which correlates to a higher TDS value. For these plants to flower and produce fruit, you should focus on creating an TDS range of between 1,500 and 2,000. This also applies to broccoli, cabbage (not lettuce) and hot peppers, which like to be towards the top end of that TDS range.
For more information on using the proper nutrient mix in your hydroponic system, read our Adding Nutrients and Adjusting pH in Your Hydroponic Garden post.
- Tip #4: Keep Your pH balanced
pH is a scale used to specify how acidic or basic your water solution is. You can control this with your pH sensor and the pH up and down solutions. These are provided with the iHarvest, or available online. Keeping your pH between 5.8 and 6.5 will work very well for almost anything you want to grow.
- Tip #5: Don’t worry when something goes wrong
The biggest mistake potential gardeners make is killing a few plants and assuming they have a brown thumb. Just remember three things.
#1: Plants don’t have feelings, so you don’t have to worry about killing them.
#2: Anybody can develop a green thumb with a little bit of practice
#3: IGWorks is here to help!
There's more great growing information in the links below:
- ADDING NUTRIENTS AND ADJUSTING PH IN YOUR HYDROPONIC GARDEN
- HOW TO POLLINATE YOUR INDOOR FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PLANTS
- TIPS FOR IDENTIFYING AND REMOVING BUGS FROM YOUR INDOOR GARDEN
- NUTRIENT AND PH CHART FOR GROWING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WITH HYDROPONICS
- PROPAGATING PLANTS FROM CUTTINGS
Let’s grow together,