As far as conditions go – here are the 4 main factors that all contribute to creating the ideal conditions for growing with hydroponics:
When you’re growing with hydroponics it’s easy to forget how sensitive crops are to temperature but this is definitely one factor you don’t want to overlook! Whether it means providing heat during cold winter months or proper ventilation and air conditioning during hot summer months the optimal temperature range when growing with hydroponics is between 65-75 degrees F.
If you’re growing vegetables another thing to keep in mind regarding temperature is that there are two main kinds of crops. Of course you can mix and match crops depending on what type of produce you want to grow but for optimal results you should try to rotate your crops based on season and/or your ability to properly regulate your growing temperatures. If you’re growing with hydroponics completely indoors and can regulate the temperature using heaters and proper A/C feel free to grow what you want, when you want!
- Warm season crops: tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, herbs, eggplant
- Daytime = 70-80 degrees F
- Nighttime = 60-70 degrees F
- Absolute maximum temperature = 90 degrees F
- Cool season crops: lettuce, cabbage, green onion, peas, spinach
- Daytime = 60-70 degrees F
- Nighttime = 60-70 degrees F
- Absolute minimum temperature = 40 degrees F
Daytime vs. Nighttime temperatures are a critical component of temperature regulation as plants need a nighttime cool-down period for their metabolism to function properly. Plants have evolved over the course of many, many years and are used to a period where the sun goes down and the temperature drops and the whole goal of hydroponics is to mimic a plant’s ideal growth conditions including both nutrients and lighting.
- *TIP* The biggest challenge to growing with hydroponics is going to be heat so make sure you take the necessary steps to keep the temperature in that magic 65-75 degree range!
Anybody who’s ever been inside a greenhouse would think that high humidity is ideal for growing with hydroponics but this is actually not true at all! High humidity actually makes it hard for plants to breath properly and also interferes with pollination; not to mention it also creates a breeding ground for nasty mold and mildew. Ideally you’ll be able to keep an optimal humidity of 50% but anywhere between 40-80% will work just fine.
A good way to stay on top of humidity and temperature levels is by picking up a combination thermometer/hygrometer that displays both the temperature and humidity levels. There are even some that display the high and low readings in a given 24hour period so you can keep track of your ranges on a daily basis.
Proper air exchange and circulation is a must for growing with hydroponics! Remember – plants deplete the air of carbon dioxide so fresh air must be provided at all times. If you’re using a closet or small bedroom for your hydroponic system make sure to keep the door and/or window open a bit to allow fresh air in. If you’re using a closed off room you might even want to go as far as installing an exhaust fan to vent out stale and moist air (think bathroom fan). At a minimum all hydroponic systems should have a fan running 24/7 to promote growth, circulate air, and prevent mildew. Keep in mind you don’t want to blast your plants with a tornado style wind – you just want to see gentle leaf motion and a cheap oscillating floor fan set on low will do the job.
Most people have successfully grown house plants or flowers without a second though about lighting but it takes a little more to grow big delicious crops like tomatoes and lettuce. While normal house lights are more than enough to help your hydroponics garden to grow, your garden will need very bright lighting in a specific spectrum and wavelength that replicates natural sunlight to actually bloom, flower, and bear fruit.
In a traditional garden, vegetables usually need about 5 hours of direct sunlight and another 10 hours of bright indirect light on a daily basis and you’ll need to recreate these conditions when growing with hydroponics.
- *TIP* More is not necessarily better! Its natural to think if 15 hours of light works well, 24 hours of light will work even better! Unfortunately this isn’t the case as plants, just like you and I, need time to rest and recuperate and it is during this downtime that helps plants really grow and mature.
If you have a very sunny window that can provide strong, ample sunlight this should do just fine. However, if you don’t have this type of space of if you’re not seeing the types of results you were hoping for it may be a good idea to invest in supplemental lighting.There are two main types of grow light systems depending on your needs: Fluorescent and HID (High Intensity Discharge). There are also LED and Plasma options that are relatively new to indoor growing and have the higher costs associated with any new technology application.
- *TIP* Proper lighting is going to be your second biggest challenge next to temperature when growing with hydroponics. Without enough light your seedlings will almost certainly grow long and spindly since all your plants’ energy will be used to search for enough light and eventually fall over. If your flowering plants do manage to grow nice, thick stems they will also need the proper light to encourage flowering. If you’re not getting results using direct, natural sunlight it may be time to invest in a small lighting setup.
When you’re ready to start growing pick up a hydroponic grow kit and start your own indoor garden!