Presented by Jeffrey Winterborne
We’re here today to talk about jiffy pellets and rockwool for seed germination. [picking up rockwool and jiffy pellet] On my right (probably your left), jiffy pellets, compressed peat pellets, completely dry and on my left (probably your right), rockwool. Now rockwool is inert and sterile which means we have to supplement it with nutrient and also ph adjusted water to compensate its own consistency. Now jiffy pellets on the other hand has got everything you could require for seed germination or for even taking cuttings apart from the essential part which is obviously water. There’s enough nutrient in there, there’s enough compost in there to keep a cutting or a seedling going until it’s got a good healthy root system. Jiffy pellets are ideal for beginners, completely and utterly due to the fact that all you have to do [drops jiffy pellet into container of water] is soak them in water.
Now the key to jiffy pellets is only to soak them for approximately five minutes. Now that is dependent on how hot or how cold the water is; if it’s very warm water, it’ll take less time, if it’s very cold water it will take more time. Now what we’ll do is that as soon as that jiffy pellet has swollen to its potential, I’ll pull it out to show you exactly how swollen it should be. The key with jiffy pellets is DO NOT oversoak them, I cannot stress that more. If you oversoak a jiffy pellet, they end up waterlogged.
When they’re waterlogged, if you put a seedling in, the seedling will germinate, or the cutting will take, but because they’re so waterlogged, no air to the root system and the root system will starve resulting in possibly a dead plant. If not a dead plant, a very stressed plant.
Now we’ll let the jiffy go in the background while I talk you through rockwool. Now this is the more professional way to cultivate seedlings or cuttings, but it takes a few variables to iron out before you get it absolutely right. Now rockwool on its own with plain water wouldn’t be good enough, you have to supplement it with nutrient and then you have to ph adjust the water and the nutrient solution to compensate its own consistency, which we’re going to do right now. Now, an ideal nutrient to use for seedlings or cuttings [picks up bottle of Formulex] is one called Formulex. Now Formulex is superb; it’s tailor made for rockwool cultivation; however any Grow A and B nutrient will suffice as long as you make it up to a weak CF level. Now CF, TDS, PPM; they’re all measurements to verify the electrical conductivity of the nutrients in the water, in layman’s terms it means how strong the food is in the water.
How strong your nutrient is… Now Formulex is designed already to be very low in the EC value, ok, it comes with full instructions on the back and tells you the dilution ratio. Now you can follow that to the T and you’ll end up in the right ball park; what we’re going to use, [picks up meters] being more professional, are meters. Now, we have a ph meter [holds meter up] and we have a CF meter [holds meter up], also called a TDS meter, also called a PPM meter. It’s the same thing, it just measures how strong the nutrient is, in the solution. I’ve just poured approximately 4 litres of water into this container for you to be able to see. Now what we’ve basically got to do is raise or add enough Formulex into the solution to bring the CF level up to approximately 12. Anywhere between 10 and 12 will suffice. But what is a good practice to do [picks up CF meter, opens box, takes meter out] before adding any nutrient to your stock solution is just to test before you do so, [puts meter into container of water] the conductivity factor of the water without any nutrients in it at all. Now it’s given me a reading of 4, that’s a TDS level of 4. [takes meter out of container of water] What that means is, there’s basically a conductivity factor of 4 which is dissolved salts into the water already, but that is what they would call blind water or blind salts.
The salts they’ve gathered are actually dead salts. So that’s given us a reading of 4, well that 4 is actually misleading us because it has no usable nutrient in there because it’s dead already, ok, so we have to make a note that that’s reading 4 and add that to the equation. Now 4 is quite high, so we always recommend halving the background nutrient reading and adding that to your stock solution. So if you’re looking for a CF of 12 for the background for the rockwool, [picks up rockwool cube] you want to add another 2 to the equation because we’ve already got 4 in the water but that’s 4 of dead salts, ok.
Now, to put that in English, we’ve got food in the water which is unusable food and what we’re going to do is add food to the water. Now this pen reads exactly how much unusable salts are in the water. So what we’ve got to do is take that and compensate against how much of this we put in. In so doing, it’s reading 4, we’re going to say ok it’s misleading us by 2, because we’re halving the original amount just to make sure that we’re in the right ball park. If you over feed in hydroponics you end up coming unstuck, if you under feed, you always have a result, so always do everything by half and then look to step up. Now, what we’re going to do [picks up bottle, shakes it and opens it] is add some Formulex into the stock solution [picks up meter in the other hand] to raise the water up to a CF level of 12. Twelve is absolutely ideal level for seedlings and cuttings, ok; it’s been tried and tested and scientifically proven that a level between 10 and 12 is approximately what a seedling or cutting would require with a little bit excess just in case it does have a lot of vigour to grow. Anything above 12, you’ll be doing your seedlings a lot of damage because it will be too much dissolved salts in the water for the seedling to absorb. Now that would cause a problem to the root ball; it could burn it and therefore cripple your plant.
Now, we’ve done this quite a few times, so what I’m going to do is put a wee splash into the solution, [adds solution to water] ok, now I’m going to give it a little stir, [stirs solution with meter] it’s not the ideal thing to stir with, is a nutrient meter, but it will suffice and then take another reading. Ok, we’re up to a CF reading of 6 now, so we’ve got to add some more. Now I’m just going to get some pipettes to do it properly [walks of set to get pipettes] OK, pipettes are well worth using obviously because they have millilitres measured on the side of them. Now, in this, it basically explains that in hydroponics you want one capful to 1.5 litres of water, ok, now instructions are great but it’s always best to do it yourself and confirm it with the meters; you know then that you’ve got it approximately spot on. [dips pipette into bottle] So what we’re going to do is suck up another 4 ml, splash that in, and give it a stir. And it’s always worth bringing it up gradually, slowly and that way you don’t have to [puts meter into solution] keep pouring nutrient away in order to get it right. We’re now up to a CF level of 8, ok, so approximately another 3 ml [puts pipette into bottle, adds to the solution, stirs it] should bring it where we roughly need it. [puts meter into solution] OK. We’re now up to CF level of 12, now 12 in this case is perfect, 10 to 12 is really where we want it.
Now, once we’ve added nutrient, we then test for ph. [picks up ph meter, takes it out of the case] You always test ph after CF because adding nutrient to your stock solution adjusts the ph naturally. Now, one ph meter, popped in [puts meter into solution] is telling us that we have a ph reading of 7.3, now 7.3 is very high, too high for rockwool. Ok if you soak that in that solution, put the seedling in, the seedling will be stressed because the ph is far too high for it to grow happily.
Now what we have are 2 solutions, [picks up a bottle in each hand] phosphoric acid ok and potassium acid. Now potassium acid is used to raise ph in your stock solution where phosphoric acid is used to lower ph in your stock solution. Now the reason that these 2 bottles are in bags, sealed, is because when mixed together in a concentrate, they’re diametrically opposed which means that they conflict to such a degree that they could explode and if these explode in your face you end up in the hospital explaining why you’ve got potassium and phosphoric acid all over you. Whatever you do, always keep these bottles separate, always administrate them into your reservoir separately. What we recommend doing is actually having one pipette per job [picks up pipette, one in each hand with the bottles], get some elastic bands, get some ink pens and actually colour code one pipette per bottle. That way you’ll never get them muddled up. If you end up taking a pipette full of ph down, putting it in your tank and then putting that pipette into some ph up, the pipette will explode and it’s not a very nice scene. BE WARNED!! Never mix the 2 together; they’re quite safe diluted in a solution, but as a concentrate, they’re very, very aggressive.
OK, now what we’re going to do is use ph down [puts ph up bottle and pipette down on left hand side] because in this case, the ph level is too high. So, we’ll crank it out of the bag, [removes packaging from bottle] one pipette over there [puts one pipette on left hand side] get rid of that [throws packaging down] , give it a little shake. [shakes bottle, removes cap] Now, ph down is very, very aggressive, so you only have to administer tiny amounts; in this case, [dips pipette into bottle] all we are going to administer or administrate [puts ph down bottle down on right hand side] I should say, is the amount on the exterior side of the pipette. [puts pipette into solution and stirs]
Ok, so we’ve not actually put any in apart from the residue that’s on the outer edge of the pipette. [puts pipette down on right hand side, and picks up meter] Then, we’ll stir it up and we’ll retest. We could have possibly put 1 or 2 drops in but as I said earlier, it’s always best to underdo everything, do everything slowly and do it again and again and you’ll get it roughly where you need it.
Ok, we’ve just lowered the ph through doing that down to 7.2, so what we’ll do is we’ll do that again, [picks up bottle, dips pipette in] but in this case add a little drop as well, so one tiny drop [puts pipette into solution and stirs] and a little bit of exterior on the pipe, pop it in, give it another stir, [picks up pipette and stirs again, puts the meter back in] ok, we’re down to 6.9 so we’ve still got a little way to go, [picks up bottle of ph down again, puts pipette into the bottle] one more little drop, [puts pipette into solution, stirs, puts bottle and pipette down on right hand side, puts meter in again] Ok. We got it down now to 6.1, 6.1 so one more go at that, [dips pipette into bottle, puts pipette into solution, gives it another stir] give it a good stir, [puts meter in again] ok, 5.7, 5.6… 5.6 . Right, that’s good enough, the value I was looking for was 5.5 , but 5.6, 5.5 is roughly where you need it. Good enough, you don’t have to get it absolutely spot on, if you take it too far down then you’ve got to use ph up which you don’t want to do, you’d have to throw the stock solution away and start again. You don’t want to use a lot of ph up and ph down together at this stage for seedlings or cuttings. If you use too much of it, it’s very, very aggressive and it can do the root system a lot of damage. [picks up rockwool cube] If you end up taking the ph too far down, you’re much better off throwing the stock solution away and starting again from scratch. OK so, we’ve the level now to 5.6, which is good enough. Ideally, I would have wanted 5.5, but 5.6 will suffice, I don’t want to take it down any further in case it goes too far down.
Now, what you’ve done basically is added nutrient into the solution to a level of CF of 12 or TDS of 12, we’ve then adjusted the stock solution down to a ph level of 5.6; we’re now ready to soak the rockwool cube. [drops rockwool cube into solution] Now, while that’s soaking; [removes jiffy pellet from solution] our jiffy pellet is finished ok. What was a very squashed peat pellet, [picks up dry peat pellet in other hand] compressed, is now a very swollen sack of dirt. Now that is basically the consistency where you’ll want it where if you give it a slight squeeze, [squeezes jiffy pellet slightly] it drips. It’s wet enough to keep your seedling going for at least 3 or 4 days, but it’s also wet enough to let air in for the root system to breathe. Now what you would do with a jiffy pellet; I’ll use a different pipette, [picks up a pipette and pokes the pellet] is make a hole approximately 3 ml beneath the surface, 3 – 5 ml; you’d then pop your desired seed into the jiffy pellet and then cover the seed over, ok, you’d cover it over to a degree where it is cocooned in the dirt itself.
The seedling has to be cocooned to keep the moisture completely around it to encourage the seed to germinate. At that point, it is then ready to go into your propagator. Perfect. [puts jiffy pellet down] Now, while that’s been soaking, [puts hand into container and removes soaked rockwool cube] our rockwool has soaked down to the bottom, now some people like to soak rockwool overnight; it allows the chlorine to rise and that way, when you pull the rockwool out it doesn’t have a lot of chlorine in the actual rockwool itself. However, you don’t have to, I mean to be quite frank, as long as its soaked and sunk all the way down to the bottom, it’s good enough to receive the seedling. Now the key with rockwool is now to [squeezes rockwool cube slightly] give it a squeeze, ok, the idea of a squeeze is to get approximately 5-10 % of the volume of water out of the rockwool in order to get oxygen in. If we put a seedling in without the squeeze, you end up with a waterlogged rockwool block. When you put the seed into a waterlogged rockwool block, same thing like the jiffy, it ends up rotting because it cannot breathe properly.
A seed or a cutting needs just the right amount of food, not too much, just the right ph level and just the right wetness. Not too wet, but more wet than dry, so the key to it is just to squeeze 5-10% of volume out of the rockwool itself. So we’ve got water in there, we’ve got nutrient in there, we’ve got air in there; we’ve got everything the seedling needs. We’ll then make, [picks up pipette and pokes hole into rockwool cube] just like in the jiffy pellet, approximately a hole 5 ml beneath the surface, we then get the seed and pop the seed into the hole and then gently cover the seed over. Now with rockwool, do not pinch it tight. When you’re covering the seed over, you have to do it gently. A seedling only has enough inertial energy to get up ok, if it’s blocked, if this rockwool has been squashed too tightly, it will not fight its way through to the surface, it’ll end up dying. So you just cover it over gently and then it’s ready to go into your propagator. That’s how you do rockwool, that’s how you do jiffy pellets.
Ph meters are semi waterproof [dips meter into container] up until the first ridge on the meter. If you accidentally drop them in, fully submerge them, you want to pull them out and turn them off and put them on a radiator and dry them out. There’s a good chance they’ll come back to life, however, they might be completely and utterly fried. So they are semi waterproof but not fully waterproof and they work after; well it’s a good idea to give them about 5 seconds in order to give a proper reading because it can fluctuate because of the temperature in the water; it has to compensate for. That’s a ph meter, and then always turn it off after use [puts ph meter down and picks up CF meter] because if you leave it on after use, it ends up wearing the batteries out which is going to give you a fake reading the next time you use it. So switch it on, [dips CF meter into container] dip it in, get the reading you want, turn it off. At that point, you then adjust your solution.
OK, we’ve just talked about ph meters and CF meters. [Takes a meter in either hand] Ph, [puts right hand up with ph meter] CF [puts left hand up with CF meter] also known as TDS, PPM, so on and so forth. It measures the amount of food in the reservoir, [lifts left hand up and forward] that measures the ph level in the reservoir. [lifts right hand up and forward]
Now it’s very good practice once every couple of weeks to calibrate your meters. If you don’t calibrate them, you don’t know that they’re reading a true reading. In so doing you could be feeding your plants too much or too less or you could be getting the ph completely and utterly wrong.
Now, on a ph meter, [keeps meter in right hand and picks up a bottle with left hand] you use a solution called Buffer 7. Buffer 7 is specifically balanced at a ph level of 7, ok what you’d basically do with this is pour it in a cup, get the meter in and then see exactly what the meter is reading. There’s a little screw on the back [turns meter over and points to back] and a little screwdriver that comes in the case [takes screwdriver out of case] and that is how you would adjust the level of calibration.
What we’re going to do is actually do it right now [puts meter down, removes cap from bottle] so that you can see. So what I’m doing is pouring buffer 7 into a glass, [pours solution into glass] we then turn the meter on and then dip it in. OK. Now what we’ve got is a reading of 7.2 so 7.2 is slightly high [picks up screwdriver and adjusts meter] so it needs a little bit of adjustment. So we put the little screwdriver in the back, give it a little twizz one way – I’ve gone too far that way so then I go back a little bit the other way – a little bit of fine adjustment back and forth to get to a ph level of 7. [removes meter from glass] Now that meter is now perfectly calibrated ph 7 so we know it’s true. That’s how you ph calibrate.
This is how you CF/TDS calibrate. [picks up CF meter in right hand] This pen uses a different calibration solution. [picks up bottle in left hand] They call it conductivity standard. Basically, it is stable at CF level of 27. So when you pour that into a cup and pop the meter in, the reading that you want to be looking for is 27. If it’s too high, if it’s too low, same story, put the pen in, the screwdriver in, twist it one way or the other till you get to 27. We’ll do that for you right now just to show you how easy it is. [puts meter down, removes cap from bottle, pours some solution into glass] So pour a little bit into a glass, get your TDS meter, pop it in, and this is actually showing me a reading of 27 so I don’t need to do any adjustment, but if you did, just stick the screwdriver in the back and turn it one way or the other to compensate and that is basically how you simply calibrate meters. Now a lot of people think that that’s very difficult but I can’t see why. Ideally, once you’ve used your solution in a cup, they recommend to throw it away because the more air and the more contact it has with other surfaces, the more unstable it becomes. However, it’s a bit puritanical and you can get away with pouring it back into the bottle. It’s good practice to throw it away, but you can get away with not, ok. Which a lot of these fluid manufacturers won’t tell you about. That’s how you calibrate.
You put the seed into the rockwool or the jiffy pellet [holding jiffy pellet in one hand and rockwool cube in other hand] or even both depending on what you fancy doing at the time, they then would like to go into a propagator. [holds both jiffy pellet and rockwool cube in one hand and picks up the propagator in the other hand] The propagator basically acts as like, an external womb for the rockwool or the jiffy pellet. It creates maximum humidity in the environment. In so doing, it stabilises the environment, encourages the seed to germinate. Now we recommend [puts propagator down, removes lid] putting your seedlings and cuttings in – [puts jiffy pellet and rockwool cube into the propagator] they don’t want to be sat in a puddle of water, ok, but a little bit of excess water in the drain [picks up propagator to show drain] is not going to hurt, but as I said do not let the rockwool have direct contact with that puddle of water. In so doing that rockwool or jiffy pellet will become waterlogged and that will be no good for your seedlings.
Now what would happen is that you would put them in, you’d shut the lid and you’d then close the air vents and before long the whole chamber becomes covered in moisture, in condensation. You would then put that in a very warm sort of environment – airing cupboard. If you have a heated propagator you don’t have to worry about that, you just turn the heat on, however, that’s dependant on the time of year. If it’s anything like the weather at the moment which is approximately 30 degrees, you don’t need to put that in an airing cupboard, ok, it’ll do quite happily on its own in a normal room. If it’s in the middle of the winter, than ideally it would want to go somewhere like an airing cupboard, just for the initial germination process.
OK. No light is needed at this point, it just needs to go somewhere warm, warm but not very hot. Now over the course of possibly 24 hours, but it could also take up to 7 days, the seedling will germinate. It will start to grow [puts propagator down and removes lid] and it will start to develop. Now initially, [removes rockwool cube from propagator] it will basically it won’t look much like a plant at all. As soon as you see any sign of life, anything breaking through the top of the rockwool or through the top of the jiffy pellet, [picks up jiffy pellet] then it’s time to employ some form of lighting. Either put that by the window sill or put actually under your light. Now, if you put this by the window sill, seedlings cannot tolerate direct sunlight; if they get direct sunlight on a hot summer’s day, then there’s a good chance that they’ll fall over because they won’t be able to take the intensity of the light or the heat generated from the sun. So ideally, they would want to go under a propagation light, high frequency fluorescent lights are perfect for that, mercury blend 250 watts are perfect for that.
Now if you are going to use an industrial light, like the high density discharge, metal halides or high pressure sodiums, you want to make sure they’re an adequate distance away from the canopy of the propagator. If you are using a 400 watt high pressure sodium for example, I would want it approximately 3-4 foot away from the canopy of the propagator. That should have enough distance between the light to the actual seedling itself that the light dissipates down to such a degree that it’s adequate light for them but not too intense.
Right, with a 400 watt light, approximately 3-4 foot away from the lid of the propagator, ok, and you would want to run that light, well, I’d have it at least 18 hours a day, possibly 20 hours a day, so about 4 foot away, approximately there from the lid [shows distance between propagator and light] Now I wouldn’t run the light 24 hours a day as a lot of grow books say. What you’ll find is that if you run a light 24 hours a day for seedlings is that you end up stressing them out and undue stress is not what they need at this particular point in their life. They’re very, very fragile and they need an easy breaking in not a hard one. So give them a sleep, the whole of nature to my knowledge requires sleep why are seedlings going to be any different? These books that state 24 hour lighting, it can work in a lot of cases but it also has a lot of detrimental affects that they don’t tell you about. So lighting on for approximately 18-20 hours a day, approximately 4 foot away from the canopy, the seedling will start to grow. Before long, it will develop leaves. [picks up rockwool cube from propagator] Now ideally, what will happen is before it’s develop ed enough leaves, or sustained itself to a degree where it can be transplanted into another system, you would want to break it in to a bigger rockwool cube, ie what will happen is roots will grow out of the side and the bottom.
They’re going to become root bound before you can actually get them into another system. However, they’re still very young and still very fragile so what we recommend doing is that as soon as any roots start growing through the side and through the bottom, you then need to transplant that rockwool cube to a bigger rockwool cube and then put it back into the propagator and propagate for some more. [puts small rockwool cube down, goes off stage to get more props] I’ll get you that cube just to show you it. This is a whole strip of rockwool cubes, [holding strip of rockwool blocks] you break one off. With the stock solution, again adjust the CF level to around 12 then bring the ph down to around 5.5. You can use Formulex again, [picks up bottle] it’s tailor made for rockwool or at this point you can go to Grow A and Grow B nutrient solution, but again when you add the Grow A and Grow B, you have to make it to quite a weak CF level to approximately 12 which if you was measuring it from the instructions on the back, one third the dilution ratio they tell you on the back. So what you would then do is drop your rockwool cube into the stock solution, [drops rockwool block into solution] allow it to saturate, again you can leave it overnight if you wish otherwise just let it get to the bottom and then pull it out, [pulls out rockwool block] give it a squeeze to get rid of approximately 10% of the water content from the cube and then without damaging the roots [picks up small rockwool cube and inserts into larger rockwool block] that are already there, ease it into the block and then squeeze it tight. That will then go back into your propagator, ok and you would then water it less, because it is in a much bigger medium, it holds the water more so at that point you’ll probably find that you need to water it every 4-5 days instead of every 2-3 days. Ideally, I would then want to propagate with the lid on until you’ve got at least 3-5 sets of leaves.
Now if you’re in a jiffy pellet, and the roots have grown through the side and bottom, we still recommend going into a bigger rockwool block so although you avoided doing the ph adjustment and CF adjustment to get the seedling going, you now have to do it for the bigger rockwool block. [picks up another rockwool block] Once you’ve done it, the same thing would apply, you would soak it, [drops rockwool block into solution] get it to a level where it is completely saturated, [removes rockwool block] give it a wee squeeze and you put the jiffy pellet in its place. That would then go back in the propagator. Now ideally, you would want to propagate till you’ve got 3-4 sets of decent leaves. I’m not talking about leader leaves, the original set, I’m talking about decent leaves so fundamentally what you have is almost a very small plant. At that point you know it’s a secure plant even if you shock the life out of it, it shouldn’t die. It’s at a point now where it’s eager to live and strong and it can survive most situations. This is the point if I was a beginner, that I would then transplant it into the system. However, I would wait until roots are growing through the bottom or growing through the sides. Ideally, you do need to see root systems coming through the side or bottom before going into your system. Most systems run on a lot of water, now if the rockwool blocks become absolutely saturated and the root ball isn’t through the rockwool block then what will happen is it will starve itself of aeration and prohibit the growth of the plant, so wait until you’ve got nice roots growing through the side and bottom, 3-4 sets of leaves at that point it can go into your system.
That is seedling/young plant propagation process finished.
Hydroponic Systems and Growth Cycles
The seed has now developed 3-4 sets of leaves; it’s got a nice root system in the bigger rockwool block. At that point it’s ready to be transferred into your system which basically means you have to get your system ready to receive them.
Now, you have the medium which is clay pebbles. Clay pebbles through transit and the original process of the manufacture of them, they end up quite dirty, quite dusty. Ideally, you want to get rid of all the grit, all the dust, all the debris before putting them into the pods themselves. Now the easy way to do that is simply stab some holes using a big screwdriver into the bottom of them, hose pipe on top, in your garden for at least half an hour, the longer you do it for the better. The more dirt, the more grit, the more debris you get off of the pebbles the better off the ph stability is going to be in your tank. If you haven’t got a garden, obviously you’ve got to use the messy method which means take it into the shower, open the top up, stick some holes in and shower it, or even stick it in your bath and sieve them out. It is fundamental that you do wash the clay otherwise you end up with a hell of a sediment on the bottom and every time you disturb the sediment, it could alter the ph which is not what you need. So, wash the clay thoroughly. Once the clay has been washed absolutely thoroughly, it’s ready to go into the system.
Before putting it in the system, [picks up one of the pods] make sure that the grommets [points to the pipes in the pods] which are in between the pipes are snuggly sat in place. Sometimes in transit, these grommets can come out. Now if you don’t have the grommets in place and you put the pebbles in, the pebbles can get down the pipes and it can cause all sorts of troubles with the flood and drain cycle.
So just make a quick check that the grommets are in the pipes; if all the grommets are in the pipes then fill up the pods with the pebbles. If they are not, find the grommets and put them in their right place. OK, [puts pods down] so we’ve checked that the grommets are there, the pebbles are washed, the pebbles then go in the top of the tank onto the pods themselves; you really want to fill them up to the level of the overflow pipe, [points to overflow pipe] ok which will be approximately about 12 litres of clay pebbles. Now I’m just going to put these out of the way. [removes sack of pebbles from the table] Now, pods are full with pebbles which have been washed; we’re then ready to fill the reservoir up with water.
Now a four pod reservoir holds approximately 45 litres of water. Now these are independently housed reservoirs which means that you can fill it up with a bucket or you can fill it up with a hose. They don’t need to be plumbed in, so you’d fill the reservoir up to 45 litres of water; we recommend filling to the overflow pipes. At that point you’ve got enough space if you need to adjust up and down with water to dilute the solution, you can do so.
OK, we’ve washed the clay pebbles, we’ve checked the grommets are in place, we’ve filled the pods up with clay to the overflow pipes. [picks up pump] Now, we’ve filled the reservoir up with approximately 45 litres of water, we’ve then got our pump. The pump connects directly to the down pipe inside the reservoir. It’s a submergible pump; a lot of people don’t realise that ironically, but that’s the way it works, underneath the water. So what we have is the flow pipe attaches directly to the top of the pump and the pump sits in the bottom of the water tank.
Now, [puts pump down] once that’s done, you can then test the flood and drain cycles and it’s worth doing this because the bigger the pod system you use, the more time you need to flood the system. On a four pod it should take approximately 1 minute to flood the entire 4 pods, on an eight pod it should take approximately 3 sometimes it takes 4, on a twelve pod it can take 4 sometimes 5 minutes. On a bigger system where it’s using outer runs, you can add another minute on because the outer runs have more pipe which means you need more time to do the flood and drain.
What we always recommend doing is an acid test; basically get the pump in the water, then turn the pump on, time how long it takes to wet your finger, put your finger approximately 1 inch beneath the clay pebble surface and physically time how long it takes before your finger becomes wet. It’s a very easy acid test to do but that will give you the precise time you need to do a flood and drain cycle. So, we’ve got the water in, we’ve turned the pump on, we’re timing how long it takes and we’ve discovered it takes 1 minute on a 4 pod. But do test it yourself just to confirm it.
Assuming it takes 1 minute to flood the entire system, you then have to program your digital timer. [picks up digital timer] Now this is possibly the hardest bit of the whole equation is programming one of these little beasties. They’re very similar to programming VCR recorders from 10 years ago where you have to put the time in, the date in, you then have to program it to come on and off. It does come with full instructions and if you persevere with them you will understand it, however, we are only a phone call away and we don’t mind being questioned about it because we’re used to it now. They are not too hard once you get your head round it. Quite simply, what you have to do is if the 4 pod is taking 1 minute to flood, let’s say our light cycle is turning on at 9 o’ clock in the morning, then what we would also want is our pump cycle to coincide with it, to turn on at 9 o’clock in the morning. So at 9 o’clock the pump turns on, you program that into your timer and then at 1 minute past 9, you program to turn the pump off. What we recommend doing on a system of this design, be it a 4 pod, an 8 pod, a 16 pod or a 24 pod is to flood the system every 3 hours. Every 3 hours until your programs have run out. It should do it basically 24 hours a day.
Now, the system only really needs, or the plants only need water during the lighting cycle, however, we’ve found that flooding and draining at night does no harm to the plants, however, it does stop the tank from stagnating. It gets oxygen into the water; it keeps the water in motion. The more the water is in motion, the more alive it is. So program your timer to come on every 3 hours for the desired amount of time and the way you find that desired amount of time out is putting your finger in the system, 1 inch beneath the pebbles and timing how long it takes before your finger becomes wet. Just to recap, on a 4 pod it should take 1 minute, on an 8 pod it should take 3 minutes, on a 12 pod it should take 4-5 minutes. And if you’ve got a 16 or a 24 pod that employs outer runs, you want to add another minute onto the outer run. And that’s basically how you would flood and drain the system, but you do have to turn it on and turn it off, otherwise you end up turning your pod system into a deep trough NFT and you lose the benefit of the flood and drain cycles.
Now, once you are happy [puts timer down] that it’s flooding and draining to the desired level, every 3 hours, you would then adjust the nutrients in the tank. Now, just like rockwool, you would add the Grow nutrient first before adjusting your ph. At this point, you are not using Formulex – the one part nutrient, you’ll be going onto a two part nutrient. [picks up 2 bottles] Now two part basically means you’ve got Part A and Part B. Now, they are dual in nature. The reason that you have A and B in separate bottles is because when they are concentrated, they conflict. They don’t conflict to the same aggressiveness as ph up and ph down - there’s no danger in mixing these 2 together, however, if they do get mixed together in a concentrate, you get nutrient lock which basically means that the plant will not be able to dissolve the desired nutrients it needs to sustain itself, so when measuring A and B out, use separate measurement containers, separate pipettes or separate measuring cups. Never mix these 2 together concentrated otherwise the plant ends up losing out from the nutrients it should get.
Now, what we’ve got is 45 litres of water in the tank, you would then follow the instructions on the side of the bottle. In this case, it tells us that it requires 4 ml of A and 4 ml of B to each litre of nutrient tank. OK. So you would put 4 ml in per litre of water in the tank and you could measure that out and you will get it somewhere right. Now on these nutrients, on all bottles of nutrients, they tell you the full dosage rate, ie if you had a plant that’s 2-3 foot tall, strong, in the middle of fruit or flowering, what they’re referring to is full strength nutrient on the side of the labels. What you have to do is remember that you are only putting seedlings and cuttings in and they actually desire approximately one third to half the nutrient a fully grown plant would want.
Therefore you would half the dilution ratio it tells you on the side of the bottle. And just to confirm you’ve got it right, [puts bottle down and picks up meter] you would then employ a TDS meter. Now what I would personally do is pour a splash in, [picks up bottle again] give it a stir, pour exactly an equal amount of B in and give it a stir. Then I would then test with the CF meter until I got to the desired level. Ideally, where you want it is approximately CF of 12, ok, just like the Formulex. You want that level of 12, that will give you just the right amount of nutrient for a young plant and you would keep it on that CF level of 12 until you got the plant approximately 9 inches to 1 foot in height.
So to recap you would half the dilution ratio, put that into your tank, you would then stir the tank, put the meter in to confirm you’ve got it to the desired level. If you find that the CF reading is too high, you would then add more water into the tank to dissolve the level in order to reduce the CF value. If you find that the CF level is too low, you would then administer an equal amount of A and an equal amount of B into the tank, give it a stir until you got the level to the right number which in this case for young plants we recommend a CF level of 12. You can go to 14, so 12-14 is approximately where you’ll want it. Once you’ve balanced the nutrient in the tank and you’ve got it to the desired CF level, oh by the way if you put too much nutrient into the tank you’ve obviously got to pump a lot of it out to dilute it down. So you would add a hose pipe to your pump, turn the pump on, pump one third of the tank out, then add normal water in order to dilute the level down. So, if it’s too low add more, if it’s too high, take it out add water. Simple.
Next, once you’ve got the level to approximately 12-14 you would then check the ph level. [picks up ph meter] You always do the ph after you do the food because food alters the ph so there’s no point getting the levels right with the ph then adding food because you’re going to find that that’s going to skewiff the level. So you always do the ph after you’ve added the food in the tank. It’ll save you a lot of time and a lot of ph up and ph down. So, we’d then pop the ph meter in and again the level that we’re looking for now would be a ph of 6. So it’s slightly higher than the rockwool because the root ball has now migrated through the rockwool and is now looking to live in the clay pebbles. And ideally, clay pebbles to start with, a ph of 6 is approximately where you want it. So, if you found the ph level is high, you would administer your ph down in very small amounts exactly like we did with the rockwool, always adding a little each time until you get it right.
Now, once you’ve got it to a ph level of 6, ok, you would then want to flood and drain the system a few times in order to make sure the reservoir is mixed. There’s an override button on the timer and all you have to do is switch it on [top button on timer]. You then let the system flood and then you would switch it off, give it a couple of minutes and all the water returns back to the reservoir. It will be a fully mixed tank then. You would then test again with your CF level [picks up CF meter] to make sure that the food level is right and adjust up or down bearing in mind what the meter says.
After you’ve done that you would then check your ph [picks up ph meter] and check your ph level, adjusting up or down as you need it. Now because the cuttings or seedlings are very young that are going in the system, if you accidentally put too much ph down in and you end up going to a ph of 5 for example, you’re much better off emptying out the tank and starting again than you are using ph up. Ph up and down should only be used when a plant is strong enough to cope with them. If you use a lot of ph up and down when your plant is very young – 3 sets of leaves for example – it can do irreparable damage to the root ball. So if you do take the ph down too far, empty out some water, put some water in and that should hopefully raise the level up. Start again basically.
Ph up and down are really only to be used for very fine adjustment – never use a lot of it – if you use a lot of it you end up doing the plants more harm than good. So, once you’ve got the ph level to 6, the TDS level to 12, the system is flooding and draining, you’re ready to put the plants in the system.
[take rockwool block from the propagator] What you would do, is have a lovely well rooted plant; now you want to administer it, oh let’s put that another way. What you want to do is plant it in the system doing minimal damage to the root ball. Now an easy way to do that is to turn the pump on, flood the system so all 4 pods are completely saturated with water. At that point, you can bury the whole rockwool block into the pebbles without doing much damage to the root ball. What you do have to remember is to take the plastic off of the rockwool block. [picks up rockwool block with plastic covering on it] If you don’t take the plastic covering off, it will prohibit the root ball from growing out of the side of rockwool. In so doing, restricting the oxygen to the root system. Now that’s one way of doing it, is flooding the system and then burying the rockwool in. The other way of doing it is bailing out x amount of clay and then putting it in place and then putting clay on top in order to secure its position. Either way will suffice; I find it a lot easier and quicker just to push it into a flooded system.
Now once it’s in place, you’d want a pebble mass just to cover the top of the rockwool itself, ie 1-2 levels of pebbles. You do not want the rockwool exposed to the light. Because the rockwool is very water retentive, it ends up holding a lot more moisture and in so doing when the light’s reacting with the moisture you can get algae breakouts which isn’t too sightly; it’s not that detrimental to the plant but it can encourage all sorts of unwanted diseases and bacteria and that sort of thing, so if you bury it beneath the clay pebbles, the pebbles act as a barrier to the light reacting with the moisture in the rockwool.
Now you would then at that point, look to lower the light possibly by 1 foot. Originally you had the light 3-4 foot away from the canopy of the propagator; at this point now you would want to be 3-2 foot away from the canopy of the plant, so you would raise it or lower it slightly, but you wouldn’t want to drop 1 foot instantly ok. If you dropped it 1 foot overnight, the plants could go into shock, so you gradually do it over the course of a week, a couple of inches a day. There’s a very easy acid test to find out exactly how close you can get the light to the plant and that’s simply the back of your hand. If you raise the back of your hand up to the lamp itself as soon as you feel any radiant heat hitting the back of your hand, that is approximately how close you can get the light to the canopy without killing it. However, on seedlings and cuttings and young plants, you have to overcompensate that. To give you an example, if you had a plant that is approximately, I don’t know, 2 foot tall, and strong and bushy and really having the lust of life, you would then lift your hand up to the back of the light until you felt the radiant heat and then you would get that as close as you can get your hand to it without burning your hand, without feeling that heat.
When they’re this big [about 8 – 12 inches high] you still want the light a good 3 foot away from the canopy of the plant. The plant will then grow up, as the plant is growing up you want to be bringing the light down, so the plant’s growing up, the light’s coming down till you get to the point where you can’t get the light any closer to the plant without burning it, then the plant goes up and so does your light. Now at this point what we recommend doing is raising the plant to approximately a foot, a foot and a half tall on your Grow A and B nutrient, [picks up nutrient bottles] ok, you’re on a photo period of approximately 18-20 hours a day and you’re using the Grow continuously through that period, always keeping the CF level to around 12-14, always keeping the ph level to approximately 6. You can let the ph raise to 6.5 and then knock it back to 6, then let it raise to 6.5 and then knock it back, but always maintain it at around 6.
Now, [picks up bloom bottles] once they’re a foot, a foot and a half tall you can then basically change your nutrient solution to Bloom, or it’s also known as Floras, it’s also known as Flower which is a different stock solution, but you would also then change your lighting period down to 12 hours on, 12 hours off. Twelve hours on, 12 hours off in most species of plant will induce the fruit or flowering phase. What the plant thinks is happening is the summer is coming to an end, the nights are drawing in and they are forced to reproduce, so what you are basically doing is tricking the plant into the thinking that the summer and the winter is coming on strong, ie, the summer is ending, winter’s coming we better reproduce our fruit or flowers and a 12 hour photo period in most plants will induce it to fruit or flower.
Now, when you’ve gone onto the 12 hour light period, you will then want to go onto, instead of Grow nutrient, you’d go onto Bloom nutrient. [picks up bottles again] Bloom nutrient. You have Bloom A and Bloom B. Dual pack nutrient. Again, you would administer the exact amount of A into the reservoir and the exact amount of B in the reservoir. Now you would only use Bloom A and Bloom B when you’ve got to a plant at least a foot and a half tall and you’re on a 12 hour photo cycle, or if the plants are showing signs of fruit or flowering.
Now, at this point the plants need more nourishment, ok, we’ve been underfeeding them on purpose in order to make them hungry so at this point they can suck up more of what they need. What we would recommend now is to raise the CF level in your tank [picks up CF meter] to approximately 18; so you’re going from 12-14 to approximately 18 –20. OK. So what you would then do is administer more A and more B into your tank. You’re almost on full strength as per the instructions on the side of the bottle, but not yet. Almost. Probably about 80-90% strength. In so doing, you would then still maintain the ph level to 6 – 6.5. OK.
Now, it’s good practice every now and then, approximately 3-4 weeks to do a nutrient tank flush. To put that in layman’s terms, to empty out the tank, put fresh water in and start again. It’s not a necessity, however, it is highly advisable. Easy way to empty out the tank is just to attach the hose pipe to the pump, turn the pump on and empty it out. What a lot of hydroponicists would also recommend is running nothing but ph adjusted water in your system for a day. In so doing, it flushes any dead salts, any unused salts out of the media back into the reservoir, but you do have to adjust the water, ph adjust it to approximately 6.
So, let’s say on this bloom cycle 3-4 weeks in, you said let’s get rid of the tank, empty it out and start again. (that make sense?) Right, now it’s good practice to do that at least once a month, however, we’ve known situations where; we’ve even done it ourselves, where we’ve not flushed the tank at all, not for the whole crop, not even for 2 crops. You can get away with not doing it, however, puritan hydroponicists would say, aagh, do it every 2 weeks, do it every 3 weeks and it’s not a necessity, but it is, well it can help the plants but if you are lazy, you don’t have to.
Now, we’ve put Bloom A and B into the tank to get to a CF/TDS level of 18-20, we’ve then adjusted the tank to 6 ph level and we’re still flooding and draining. At this point, we’ve the got the light as close as we can to the plants without burning them. Now what you will find is that some plants are going to grow quicker than other plants. It’s the law of nature. You always get some that are stronger than others. The ones that are taller, we recommend highly, pinching them out. Either chopping the tops off or taking the centre 2 growth, the centre tip out of the plant. In so doing, it encourages the side growth of the plant instead of the centre growth. That will allow the smaller plants to catch up in height and again keep on doing it.
The name of the game in hydroponics is to get that light as close as you can to ALL the plants.
If you get a few that bolt, that are growing taller than the others, you have to chop them back. You’ve got to be cruel to be kind. Because if they bolt and you end up lifting the light up, because they’re growing so tall, the others are then going to elongate and stretch because the light isn’t close enough to them, and in so doing, the tall plants will benefit and the little plants won’t be worth growing at all.
OK, now the plants are going to continuously grow and the light is going to continuously go up with the plants growth. Ideally, you want to keep the crop even, the light down as close as you can to all the plants and let the plants grow and the light evolve as the plants grow. Now approximately 5 weeks into the Bloom cycle, into the fruiting cycle, ie the 12 hour lighting scheme, you would want to administer some solution called PK13/14; it’s a bloom stimulant, fruiting boost stimulant.
Now plants only require this PK13/14 during the 5th week of the 12 hour lighting cycle, so when you go into your blooming stage when you start using your bloom food and you first initiate your 12 hour light cycle, you must write down the date because 5 weeks into that cycle, you want to add to your nutrient tank the PK13/14. Some species of plants take longer to fruit or flower. When you administer the PK13/14, it’s approximately 3 weeks before harvest of your plants. You’d follow the instructions on the back of your bottle and go in full strength, but never exceeding a CF level [picks up CF meter] of 22-24. So you’d add your stock solution, your Bloom, you’d then add your PK13/14, get it to a level of around 22-24. If it’s below that level, you’d add more Bloom A and B. OK. If you do end up administering too much nutrient into the tank, bleed some of it off and start again using the PK13/14 first as your primary nutrient. Again, once that’s in the tank, reduce the ph level down to approximately 6. You would have used the PK 13/14 or bloom stimulant for approximately 1 week, ok, so once you’ve added it to the tank, you use it for the 1 week and 1 week only. You wouldn’t administer it again.
You will find at this point, 3 weeks before harvest, the plants are going to be sucking up a whole tank at least a tank a week. So, you’re going to be filling up that tank possibly on a daily, or a bi-daily basis. And once you’ve filled it up over the course of the week, then go back on to your [picks up bottles] Bloom A and your Bloom B and not using your PK13/14 anymore. At that point, when you’re 1 week away from harvesting, 1 week away from cropping your plants, what we highly recommend doing is emptying out the reservoir, filling the reservoir up with nothing but clean water, ph adjust it to a ph of 6 and then feed the plants nothing but clean water for 1 week. This is what they call flushing.
It benefits multi levels. One it benefits the system because it gets rid of any nutrient build up in the pebbles themselves, two it benefits the plant because it actually encourages the plant to take all the nutrient out of it, itself. If you’re growing fruit or veg, or any plant that is consumed, if you don’t flush it at the end in a hydroponic system, you end up [picks up bottles] with an excessive amount of nutrient build up in the plant and that can make the plant taste quite bitter. So it’s fundamental to flush the system and the plants for 1 week before harvest and that point you’re ready to crop the plants and start again. Job done.
Once you’ve harvested your plants, you end up with a lot of root system in your pebbles. Now what we recommend doing is flooding the system, pulling the majority of the root ball out. You can empty out the pods and disinfect it but there’s any easier way round that. You take the majority of the root ball out, you would then add a nutrient to the tank called cannazine. Cannazine has active enzymes that dissolve dead root systems. They turn those root systems into food for the next crop. So if you don’t want to get all messy and sweaty, take the majority of the root ball out, and then put a good strong dose of Cannazine into the tank and flood and drain it every 3 hours like you used to. You can then plant on top of that existing root system as well as not having to worry about changing the reservoir. We do however recommend before you use the Cannazine is to use a very strong H202 hydrogen peroxide bleach to disinfect the system in between crops. Disinfecting it will discourage any diseases of any description. So, firstly, remove the root ball or the majority of it, you then add H202 to the tank, you flood and drain that, you then bleed that H202 off, add new water using Cannazine and then at that point you can plant on top of your existing system. And that’s how you would start again.
An Esoteric Hydroponics Production.
Our Old Manual
This is the hydroponics manual, previously only available to our treasured regular customers. This is the information we want all of our customers to have - and can now do so only in electronic form. It contains a condensed guide to starting and running your own hydroponic garden. Learn simple rules gathered from years of expert growing - and have fun.
- Introduction - Technology Meets Nature.
- Propagation - Starting a hydroponic garden from seeds and cuttings.
- The Nutrient Solution - Choosing the right nutrients for your plants. Includes tips and detailed examples for calculating the best concentration.
- Growth Enhancers - accelerate plant growth. Includes an overview of a wide range of products. Visit, phone or EMail us for help or more details choosing a growth enhancer.
- Lighting - Hints and rules of thumb from experienced users. Also: the benefits of light movers.
- Hydroponics - Explains the many types of hydroponic systems, their construction and best placement.
- The Growing Environment - providing a stimulating atmosphere and avoiding common pests.
- Further Reading And Information - recommended books, magazines and videos for all levels of experience.