Hydroponics

Growing chillies hydroponically offers a new challenge.  When it is done right, plants can grow quicker, bigger and produce more fruits.  There are various ways to grow chillies hydroponically and it can all be a bit confusing.

Pros

  • Plants can be grown to fruit, quicker.
  • Plants often produce more fruit.
  • You don't have to worry about over or under watering your plants.
  • Certain systems can require less space.
  • The chemicals used are normally non hazardous.
  • Can be eco-friendly and organic.
  • No requirement to weed.
  • Low water costs and less water waste.
  • Nutrient deficiencies can be corrected quickly.
  • Savings can be made on growing mediums, often less is used.

Cons

  • Most systems require regular attention or supervision.
  • Nutrient pathogens can affect all the crops in one system.
  • Nutrient deficiencies can occur.
  • Hydroponic nutrients are often more expensive.
  • Bigger plants require bigger space.
  • Growing indoors can be difficult getting the right environment.
  • Often additional equipment is required, like fans and lights etc.
  • May require more pruning in small spaces.

The Wick System

This is one of the simplest systems.  This system doesn't require any moving parts, or electricity.  Handy if you don't have power to your greenhouse.  Basically, a wick is inserted in the growing medium.  The wick extends down, into the nutrient solution and draws the solution into the medium.  The secret to maximising this system is getting the size of the wick correct.  It can help to water once from the top to help the capillary action of the wick.

Maintenance is low, you just need to keep the nutrient solution topped up.  These systems can still be used with a soil/compost mix, if you are not ready for full on hydroponics.  This means that the soil will act as a buffer and pH and EC levels are not as important.

Examples are the Quadgrow and the Chilligrow Planters from Greenhouse Sensations.

 

Ebb and Flow System

A water pump sits submerged in the nutrient solution reservoir.  The pump is set on a timer and will routinely flood the base of the grow tray, containing the plants and media.  Excess nutrient solution will drain back into the reservoir for re-use.  This system gives the plants root easy access to a nutrient rich solution, when the timer allows and then good levels of oxygen in-between times.

Obviously this system requires mains electricity, or if you are lucky some form of solar power.  Specific hydroponic media like Clay Pellets, Perlite or Rockwool are preferred, to reduce the amount of media washed back into the reservoir or blocking any filters.  You will need to pay strict attention to the pH and EC of the nutrient solution.  (see below)

An example is the Nutriculture system.

Drip Fed System

Drip fed systems have plants sat in a media of your choice and each plant has an individual dripper associated with it.  A timer allows the system to routinely switch on and drip feed for a given length of time.  You will need to pay strict attention to the pH and EC of the nutrient solution.  (see below)

Example is the Atami/NutricultureWILMA systems.

 

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

Plants sit in an appropriate hydroponic media, normally clay pellets or Rockwool.  A water pump, submerged in the nutrient reservoir, pumps the solution up to the base of the plant tray.  The plant tray is tilted very slightly so excess solution flows the full length and then back into the reservoir below.  There is no timer involved and the pump runs continuously.  Again, you will need to pay strict attention to the pH and EC of the nutrient solution.  (see below)

Plants get unrestricted access to oxygen and nutrients.  Hint:  Always worth having a spare water pump, just incase.

Example is the Vivigrow from Greenhouse Sensations.

Aeroponic

These systems have a pump submerged in the nutrient reservoir.  The pump delivers a fine spray or mist at the bare roots of the plants above.  Plants get unrestricted access to oxygen and nutrients.  These systems can be used to grow hydroponically and are often used for propagation and cuttings.  gain, you will need to pay strict attention to the pH and EC of the nutrient solution.  (see below)

Example is the Hydropod from Greenhouse Sensations.

 

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

With this system, bare root plants sit in net pots, above a nutrient reservoir.  The reservoir is filled so the roots just reach the solution.  An Air Stone is used to pump air into the nutrient solution.  These systems can be individual to each plant or many reservoirs joined and the solution re-circulates between them all. You will need to pay strict attention to the pH and EC of the nutrient solution.  (see below)

An example is the PLANT!T Aeros

Many other systems are available and systems listed here are in no way meant as a recommendation, just an example.

 

PH and EC Levels

With hydroponic systems, it is important to keep a very close eye on the pH and the strength (EC) of the nutrient solution.

PH

Try and keep nutrient solutions between 5.5 and 7.0 pH.  Optimal is around 6.2.  This way all the various nutrients can be easily absorbed by the plant and no nutrient deficiencies should occur.  Systems with small reservoirs will vary greatly and need more frequent checks.

A pH testing kit, or better still a pH testing Pen will help you get it right.  They are easy to use, but may require routine calibration.

Electro Conductivity

EC or Electro Conductivity is the way in which the strength of the feed, within the nutrient solution is measured.  An EC pen will be required, to be accurate.  Never be tempted to exceed the instructions on the nutrients.  If anything, remember nutrient companies are trying to sell as much as possible and want you to use yours as quickly as possible and buy more!  Less really is more, in this instance, especially with seedlings and young plants.

CF is an alternate unit of measure, like centimetres are to inches.  Different EC pens read in different units.