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Hydroponic Crop Production

Hydroponic Crop Production

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Hydroponic Crop Production

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864 pagine
9 ore
May 30, 2013


how to use hydroponic growing for maximum commercial advantage, this book provides in laymans language and terms what you need to know about commercial hydroponic growing techniques and how best to design systems and structures to make the best use of all those advantages. how to provide the best conditions conducive to performance under all climate and location considerations. we show you how to propagate and grow your hydroponic plants and then explain 'best practise management' for optimum yields under all conditions, how to achieve best quality for maximum saleable product, how to budget your business and for those wanting a change in direction, the pathway to an ecologically sound business enterprise, and much, much more.

May 30, 2013

Informazioni sull'autore

Rob Smith has been in the health, fitness and therapy industry for 25 years. He has a diverse background in the industry. He has attained 18 certifications in the following areas: core conditioning, lower back rehabilitation, corrective exercise, breathing coach, postural restoration, golf bio-mechanic, myo-skeltal alignment techniques, personal training, nutritional microscopy, sports nutrition, bio-cellular analysis and nutrition and lifestyle coaching.Rob has worked with Olympic, professional and Division 1 athletes, clients who he helped lose over 120 pounds, as well as, people who suffered from chronic pain. Rob and his wife own a holistic wellness center in Minnesota that they started in 2007. They offer rehabilitation, personal training, applied kinesiology, designed clinical nutrition and holistic skin care services. Rob has also produced four instructional videos: Functionally Fit: The Kettlebell Way Better Posture Guaranteed Better Posture Guaranteed: A Foam Roll Approach Firm, Flat and Functional: Better Strategies for Better Abs

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Hydroponic Crop Production - Rob Smith



Throughout this book I hope to demonstrate that hydroponics is more than just a scientifically controlled way of growing good fruit and vegetables. One of the major incentives to use hydroponic growing methods is because it allows the grower to have greater control over so many of the traditional problems associated with crop production. Pests and diseases, weather problems including heavy rain, hail, wind etc, can all be conquered which allows the grower to consistently produce greater volumes of fruit and vegetables of superior quality. The use of modern hydroponic technology substantially reduces labour costs and not only results in significant efficiencies in the crop production process but also introduces a high level of environmental awareness.

Capsicums growing in media bags.

Hydroponics uses far less water than conventional growing. Absolutely no herbicides are used and even the amount of insecticide and fungicides are constantly being reduced. In some cases the need for protective, or remedial spraying has been virtually eliminated.

Today we live in an age where the latest product becomes obsolete almost by the time you have arrived home! It is claimed that Asian manufacturers are actually producing obsolete technology, since they could never keep up with the flood of improvements which the back room boys keep feeding out to the production team. It would seem then, that mans ability to go forward is not restricted by his ingenuity only by the practical aspects of gaining some financial return from the existing technology he has already invested in.

No one would argue against the tremendous advances that man has achieved in recent years, and it is very easy to become blasé about many of these technical

achievements. Who for example would really wish to do without the labour saving devices which are so commonplace in both the home and the workplace.

With every advance in technology some disadvantages always seem to appear, for example how many conventional typists lost employment once the word processor became established, and latterly one wonders how many people involved with the processing of telegraphic communications are now, no longer needed, as a result of the rapid introduction of email. These and many other similar problems confront us everyday.

As technology becomes more advanced, the hydroponics industry is also presented with some of these new problems. The increased use of electronics, automation and chemistry in intensive hydroponic production units, can present an intimidating spectre to many prospective growers.

It is unfortunate that the people who are most affected by this problem, may well be extremely good growers of plants, who would wish to use hydroponic methods for their crop production, however feel that they are not sufficiently equipped to take on the new technology.

Hydroponic technology is one part of a growing system which when properly applied gives the grower many advantages over his conventional In the soil neighbour, however, hydroponics does not actually make one a grower and this is a most important fact to bare in mind when contemplating the use of a hydroponic growing system. We have become so used to electronic and mechanical wizardry taking over the responsibility for actually performing the laborious aspects of many jobs, that many would be growers fall for the trap of assuming, that having a sensible hydroponic growing installation, complete with all its electronic monitoring and dosing systems, ensures, that all one has to do is pop in some plants and the system will do the rest for you! It is a constant concern to my associates and I that this is very far from the truth and it would seem that the electronic and automated society in which we live is partly responsible for this misconception.

Growing in the soil here is a thankless task - At this site, ‘Hydroponics’ was the answer. Photo courtesy of Joe Danistasi NSW.

Many who have entered into the industry of commercial hydroponic crop production, have done so with little or no knowledge of plants, their likes and dislikes, or even a basic understanding of how they work, with the consequence of failing in their endeavours and ending up, being completely disillusioned with hydroponics. I find this to be totally unfair and almost feel it to be a personal attack upon those of us in the industry who do have an understanding of the facts, and who can honestly observe wherein lies the true reason for the failure.

The first book that Lon and I wrote, Hydroponic Gardening was conceived as a guide to the hydroponic aspects of growing and did not dwell at any length with crop management aspects, since we in our naivety assumed that those who would consider entering into the commercial use of a hydroponic growing system, would not do so without the knowledge of how to grow a plant - It just did not seem to us, to even be an issue, much the same as you would not expect a person with no medical qualifications to apply for a job as a brain surgeon.

Of course there are many first time growers, who realising the need for an understanding of the subject, have enlightened themselves with the appropriate education and have ultimately been very successful commercial operators. Therefore to recognise your own limitations and to do something about it, is one way in which you can save yourself a lot of heartache and disillusionment.

In this book I have reinforced the basic principles of what makes hydroponics work, and Lon provided some magnificent photographic examples to back up my text and line drawings, in an effort to point out to both the existing and the prospective hydroponic grower some of the more important basic aspects of growing and caring for plants in a hydroponic growing system in order to achieve the optimum result.

In other words: Hydroponic Crop Management.

Hybrid Tomatoes in ‘Panda film’ NFT - Courtesy K & M Growers New Plymouth NZ


Good growing is an art and when 100% successful is a sign of dedication and management techniques expertly employed, to the credit of the grower. Even when we have a grower of this calibre in control, we still have mother nature to consider, and just when you least expect it, she will open Pandora's box and 'pow' it's all over!

We recently had very unseasonable rain, the severity of which wiped out a large crop of lettuce, which were only days from harvest. The owner, who is a top 'in the soil' lettuce producer was philosophical about the incident - years of commercial growing had taught him to quietly accept the vagaries of the weather.

Nowadays we have low cost crop protection systems that would have minimised his loss.

Very obviously we will never replace conventional soil growing for a great many varieties of crops, but in the day of the microchip, surely there has to be a better way of producing the day to day needs of hungry man.

Over the past twenty years many new developments in technology have brought with them a level of human anxiety and associated consumer resistance which in retrospect is hard to believe. Only time has allowed the apparent intimidation from these developments to disappear or at least become acceptable. I remember well the controversial reports being circulated when the ‘Jumbo’ aeroplane was announced - who in his right mind would want to be packed into a sardine can with 400 other souls, traveling at a speed which (then) was inconceivable! What chance would any of them have of arriving in one piece! Who today could imagine the world of international travel without the ‘Jumbo’ jet!

Generally speaking, man does not like too much change and most new inventions throw up the challenge for acceptance and are generally resisted for some real or imagined philosophical or social reason. How many threw their arms in the air in genuine concern over Dr. Christian Barnard and his epic heart transplant operation. Today thousands of people are grateful for the work that he started all those years ago.

Man has always struggled to come to terms with the unknown. Mother nature being the major challenge which man has always had to face. Philosophically I do not think man will ever fully conquer nature, however with a better understanding, I am also sure that we can get alongside of nature to our ultimate benefit.

The driving force has usually been:

‘There has to be a better way’.

I am confident that there is! And the word that you will come to love almost as much as mother is:


Chapter One:Hydroponics the word

Hydroponics is not new, it is not the invention of some back room whiz kid and is very definitely not a man made magic system for growing plants. It goes back to the beginnings of recorded history, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the cane ‘growing rafts’ floated on lakes by the Aztec Indians, and many other natural examples of plants which float in rivers and lakes which receive their nutrition from those waters are all examples of hydroponics.

The word 'Hydroponics' was contrived in America in the early 1900s to describe a method of growing plants who’s roots were suspended in water containing the plants nutritional requirements, the word is derived from two Greek words ‘Hydro’ meaning ‘water’ and ‘Ponos’ meaning ‘to work’, put the two together and ‘Hydroponics’ literally means ‘working with water’. In later years the term ‘soil less’ cultivation has emerged and so today we tend to call any system of growing which does not involve the use of organic soil as being ‘Hydroponic’.

In the early days of modern science it was found that soil contained mineral elements and that by washing these elements out of the soil using water and, thereby dissolving some of them into the water, a mineral solution was produced which plants would grow in. In the space of a few years many of the chemical elements essential for healthy plant growth were identified and many experiments were carried out to establish the relative proportions of these elements, for successful growing.

By the early 1930s hydroponic systems capable of producing crops upon demand were established in the USA and commercial exploitation of hydroponics had begun. These early systems operated on a principle termed ‘flood and drain or Ebb and flow’ (we will discuss this later) which was a very expensive system to install.

Another problem which slowed commercial acceptance at this time was the fact that chemists had still not come up with the ideal mineral element compounds suitable for dissolving into water to prepare a nutrient growing solution, chemical precipitation between some of the compounds then in use limited the useful life of a growing solution to days, rather than weeks or months, regular replacement with a fresh batch of nutrient solution was an expensive operation.

Hydroponics today owes a lot of it’s success to chemical scientists, who, through a better knowledge of the chemistry involved in nutrient solutions and, with the evolution of sophisticated laboratory ‘analysis equipment’ have been able to create specialist growing formulations. Using modern methods of refining natural minerals and producing purer, fully soluble mineral salts, we can now produce nutrient growing solutions which are able to stay in the system for prolonged periods of time, dramatically reducing the operational costs.

British scientists had long used hydroponic methods for research work since it offered total isolation from soil borne bacteria, and for exact measurement of all the inputs which allowed for more accurate results of growing trials. The hydroponic systems used were again rather expensive to set up and did not lend themselves to cost effective commercial exploitation.

It was the British glass house growers, who’s industry was being threatened by the importation into their traditional marketplace, of cheap outdoor tomatoes and cucumbers etc, from other EEC countries, such as Spain and Italy, who brought significant pressure to bear upon the powers that be, to come up with some answers to preserve their threatened industry. So it was that the Glass House Crops Research Institute (GCRI - UK) who, during the sixties, accepted that a cost effective method for commercial hydroponic growing needed to be developed. A research team headed by Dr. Allen Cooper, was set up at GCRI to investigate various soil less (hydroponic) growing systems, resulting in the development in the early 1970s of the NFT (nutrient film technique) system. Today NFT is used world wide to grow a very wide range of crops. The system has been refined with experience, and is now the most cost effective method for the growing of many popular vegetable and salad lines, plus a wide range of flower varieties. Most of these in Europe and colder climates, being grown within protected structures, while large areas of outdoor production of vegetables such as lettuce and brassicas are carried out in tropical and sub tropical regions of the world.

The joy and wonder of sprouting seed

Many people are unaware that all sorts of wonderful and fascinating things are happening around them everyday and those who are aware simply take them for granted, seldom are asked the questions ‘how’ or ‘why’. Growing a plant from a small seed, which then continues to develop until it's maturity results in a huge tree, is a process which is quietly happening, in most parts of the world, even as I write. The study of any living thing reveals to man incredible natural engineering and functional processes.

In order to fully exploit hydroponic methods of growing plants we must first understand some of these amazing processes of nature, for we do not wish to change the course of nature, rather, we wish to exploit these natural functions to our own advantage. Many children have unwittingly experimented with hydroponics during their nature studies.

The blotting paper in the saucer experiment where fast germination rate seeds such as beans, radish, cress etc are placed upon damp blotting paper, the blotting paper being maintained with a water supply within the saucer, children are fascinated as they observe the sprouting seeds, which in time develop to a recognisable form and start to produce their roots and first leaves, the plants continue to grow until they deplete the store of food which the seed it self provided and, unless at this stage additional food (nutrition) is introduced by way of minerals dissolved into the water, the plants will ultimately die. The reason for this is the deficiency of essential elements required for growth. Many of these experiments, traditionally used as teaching aids are today carried another step forward by feeding one saucer with a balanced nutrient growing solution, while deliberately supplying plants in a second saucer with just plain water, so that the performance of the two treatments can be observed.

This demonstration is a simple but very good starting point in learning and understanding about the life cycle of a plant and later we will explore in detail the roles that controlled hydroponic nutrition plays in the development of the plant.

Chapter Two:Getting to understand the plant

To get the most out of your hydroponic system and to fully understand the system design criteria it is necessary for you to have a reasonable understanding of the basic functions which make plants work. Failure, on your part, to do this, could result in some of your actions leading to very poor plant health and ultimately to a disastrous result.

On the other hand, knowledge of the plants needs and desires at various stages of growth will allow you to enhance conditions for the plant and thereby reap the benefits which will ultimately accrue.


There is a parallel between most living things and more often than not the likes or dislikes and the behaviour of plants, follows a pattern similar to the human condition.

The essential manner of the plant in it's desire for recreation, is, in my view one of these similarities. The plant will sacrifice it's own well being in an effort to provide the very best chance for it's seed, just the same way that a Mother will suffer considerable hardship and deprive herself of many things, in order to give her child the very best that she can. Very obviously this is a generalisation and I am sure that as in all things, there are always the exceptions which would test the rules.

In the plant world there are many examples of how the plant will mobilise essential elements within itself to provide for it's seed and this is often done at the expense of the plant itself. The result of this is, that providing the mother plant is in reasonable health then the seed produced by the plant will generally be provided with a complete and balanced food supply to enable that seed to get a fair chance of producing a healthy new plant.

With the huge number of different plant species and their associated seed, it would be impossible to discuss every variety specifically however as a general guide to understanding a particular plant variety and the best way to propagate and grow it to optimum, my advice to you would be, to find out as much as possible about the plants native environment and the general conditions under which it flourishes naturally.

It has to be remembered that in many cases we try to grow plants successfully in conditions which vary greatly from the natural environment of that plant, therefore the more we learn about the plant, it's natural likes and dislikes, the more likely we are going to be able to recreate conditions conducive to good growth.

The seed of plants will often experience some natural pre-treatment prior to germination, for example seed of plants in colder climates may well experience quite low temperatures through the winter and germinate with the rise in temperatures of spring.

For this reason it is often necessary to refrigerate some seed varieties for a period of time prior to planting, so that the warmer ambient temperatures then experienced, fool the seed into thinking it is the spring.

Other seed, can have quite a thick protective skin, to protect it until such time as there is sufficient rain and temperature to guarantee it's successful germination and establishment, this type of seed is pre-soaked, often in luke warm water in order to precipitate the process of swelling and splitting this protective covering skin (coat).

Most good seed suppliers will provide specific sowing information for each variety and this can be very useful, however the more you can learn yourself about the particular plant variety you wish to grow the better able you will be, to provide the optimum conditions required for germination of the seed and the propagation of a strong healthy plant.

The more you learn about the plant the more you will marvel at the wonders of nature. The seed which has been produced by the mother plant is a very complex structure, however for our purposes the important aspect to appreciate is, that the seed carries its own food supply to sustain its growth to the stage of producing its first set of leaves, (often referred to as the seed leaves) it is therefore unnecessary to feed the seed with any nutrition until these first leaves have been produced and in fact it is desirable not to apply any salts (fertilizer) since even relatively weak solutions can cause damage to the extremely delicate new growth. By the time the first leaves have developed the early growth has had time to harden and can therefore tolerate a weak nutrient feed.

The essential aspects of germination are water, warmth (temperature) and air (oxygen). The water should be as pure as is possible since impure water may well contain high levels of undesirable chemical elements and/or disease.

The temperature required for germination will of course be dictated by the plant variety.

The available air supply to the seed will mainly be dictated by the type of seeding media employed. The choice of seeding media has to be based on three criteria:

1/ It must have an open structure which provides good drainage and allows air to permeate, thus providing a supply of oxygen to the seed. Failure to provide this feature often leads to seeds rotting before germination has taken place.

2/ It must have some degree of water retention to provide for the seeds needs, without risk of the media drying out during the critical stages of development. At the same time a media which is too water retentive would inhibit the free passage of air and again the seed would be starved of oxygen and more than likely rot.

3/ For hydroponic systems it is highly desirable to utilise a media which is both sterile and inert, there are a number of materials which fall into this category the three most popular being ‘Perlite’ ‘Expanded clay’ and ‘Vermiculite’ with other materials such as good quality sterilised pumice, gravel, river sand, horticultural rockwool, Oasis, Tecnofin, coir etc, being quite acceptable and in common use in many countries. There are a wide variety of proprietary soilless seeding media's on the market, however, in my experience, very few have consistently produced germination rates such as these preferred materials.


Perlite is a natural mineral which has been heat treated to produce a clean white, sterile, light weight material which is ideal for allowing adequate aeration for the seed. Many grades of this material are available.

Perlite is used extensively in the construction industry as a base for textured plaster finishes etc and for the majority of its building industry applications, usually contains significant quantities of fine particles, which make it undesirable as a seeding media. It is important to specify a horticultural grade which has had all the ‘fines’ screened out, so that only clean granules of perlite approximately 2 to 5mm across are left.

Perlite does not have very high water retention qualities and therefore when using perlite on its own as a seeding medium, it will be necessary to water at very regular intervals to prevent the germinating seed from drying out, for this reason it is generally mixed with a percentage of vermiculite to increase the water retention factor.


Expanded clay is generally provided in the form of small round pebbles measuring from 1 mmØ up to 16mmØ, generally referred to as 'round' grade. It is machine rolled in the moist clay state and then fired in a kiln to provide a material reminiscent of terracotta.

Variations upon the spherical pebbles are in the form of random shapes generally referred to as ‘split’ grades and lastly after firing some grades are manufactured by crushing the round pebbles to form a random mixture of both shape and size, generally referred to as ‘random crush’.

The expanded clay is a natural product and after firing is inert and sterile, it provides very good aeration and adequate water retention for many types of propagation, however for seeding work it is best to use fine grades such as the 1 to 4mm 'split' grade, mixed with about 10% by volume of vermiculite to enhance the water retention properties.

The following photos show a range of soilless medias - This is by no means the complete list since materials such as Pumice/ Coconut fibre (Coir) washed coral etc etc are also good medias and suitable, local material supply should be investigated.

From seed to plant - noting the progressive growth of the seed leaves.


Vermiculite is also a natural mineral (Mica) which when heated expands (exfoliates) into a light spongy textured product, (not dissimilar to making pop corn - what starts out as being a relatively dense hard material, explodes into a soft spongy material) the vermiculite is inert and due to the heating process is also sterile. Vermiculite can hold up to five times its own weight of water and is obviously a good material for that purpose, however if you are using vermiculite on its own, be sure not to over water it, since this will inhibit the free passage of air and again the risk of seed rot will be high.

The ideal answer is to combine these materials together, since in tandem they offer the almost perfect seed mix, the perlite or expanded clay maintains the free passage of air and the vermiculite retains sufficient moisture to provide for the seed. I have found that a mixture of 90% expanded clay to 10% vermiculite or 75% perlite plus 25% vermiculite is very good for seed germination mixes, the ratio can be modified depending upon the size of the vermiculite granules, some small amount of experimentation with the materials available in your locality should be undertaken to establish the ideal air to water ratio of the prepared mixture.


Rockwool is available in most countries. It is manufactured by melting Basalt rock and spinning out fine strands which are then compressed into a slab which usually contains a bonding agent. The rockwool slabs are then cut up into various sized cubes suitable for sowing most varieties of seed.

Tests which I have carried out would indicate that these materials can sometimes be inconsistent in their properties, rockwool is manufactured in several countries and generally has a brand name rather than being called rockwool i.e. Grodan (Holland Growool (Australia) Esplan (Japan) etc.

Consistency is very important since the amount of water retention has to be known by the grower to make sure that the material does not get too dry or conversely does not become water logged. You would be strongly advised to experiment with each new batch you purchase to establish its water retention properties.

It is also a good idea to pre-soak and flush rockwool in water and at the same time modify the pH of the cubes to between 6.0 and 6.5 pH, this can be achieved by the addition of a weak solution of either phosphoric acid or potassium hydroxide to the water until the pH of the ‘soaking’ water has stabilised.

There are a number of other natural and man made products available and these will be discussed in later chapters. It should also be noted that media's such as expanded clay, perlite and especially rockwool, have received wide acceptance in ‘growing on’ establishments and are by no means restricted to propagation use.

Upon contact with water, the dry seed will begin to swell, the outer protective skin will rupture and by cell division a small root will emerge through the seed coat, this will continue to grow and as it does so it bends downward to enter the seeding medium, this first root tissue will then develop fine root hairs through which the seed will continue to absorb water (it is these fine root hairs which can be damaged if high salts levels - fertilizer, are present), the root continues to grow and as it does so will branch out repeatedly, forming a network of roots. A few days after the first root has appeared the plant will also produce its first shoot, this shoot will thrust its way upward toward the light and upon entering the daylight (or artificial propagation lights), the seed leaves will unfold, at this stage of growth we refer to the plant as a seedling.

Continue irrigating with fresh water only until these seed leaves are properly developed, at which time, you will notice the beginnings of further leaf development at the growing tip, at this stage the seedling can be fed with a weak solution of hydroponic nutrients, 2 to 3 CF (See chap 20 for conversion to other conductivity scales) is plenty strong enough for a start, the strength can be gradually increased during the plants development, however it is seldom necessary to apply nutrient at strengths much above 8-9 CF until such time as the plant is ready to be transferred into the hydroponic growing system. Ideally at this time, progressively increase the strength up to the nominal growing CF value for the particular variety over a period of 3-4 days. When new plants are going into a system which already contains mature plants, the CF preconditioning will have to be done in the nursery stage, prior to the plants entering the system.

Some varieties of seedling will require a gradual hardening off period prior to being placed into the system, this process has several effects upon the development of the plant, and is particularly advantageous for plants destined for outside growing systems, outdoor lettuce would be a typical example.

The action of hardening the growth of the plant in fact strengthens the plant, usually encouraging root growth ahead of top growth, it also allows for a gentle transition of conditions for the plant.

The plant has generally been propagated in a protected environment with warm temperatures, and minimal air movement, the action of relocating the plant to a shade house or outside enclosure, (protected from heavy wind and rain) starting with short periods each day and progressively lengthening the hardening period as the time for planting out approaches is very desirable.

In summary, the important aspects of germinating seed to produce a good strong plant is to be vitally aware of stress factors, since the secret of growing a good plant is to keep it out of stress, excepting where some small amount of stress such as that experienced by the plant during the hardening off process are beneficial.

The most common form of stress is caused by over watering during the formative period, this leads to cell death (due to the lack of oxygen) which allows attack by pathogens such as pythium, Sclerotinia etc, many of this type of problem are referred to as ‘damping off’

Chapter Three:Seeding and propagating methods

In this section my aim is to acquaint you with the general principles utilised in the industry to seed plants and propagate cuttings. We will cover the principles of plant propagation. How to do your own propagation - seeds and cuttings, pricking out.

Selection of seed varieties and their care and management of your seedlings.

Understanding what Media is used and why. Selecting appropriate containers and the ultimate planting into the Hydroponic growing system.

Having completed this chapter you will be able to decide whether plant propagation is for you, or whether your operation would be better served by buying in propagated material.


1/ GROPOT circular plastic ‘Gro pot’ filled with ‘Perlite or expanded clay and Vermiculite’ mix or a sterilised pumice, seed mix. These pots are designed to fit into a rigid PVC NFT gully.

Used for wide range of plants, herbs, lettuce, spinach etc.

Reusable Gro Pots in hygiene tray - Media is 75% Perlite and 25% vermiculite

Propagating under ‘GroLux’ fluorescent lights.

2/ DISPOSABLE TRAY POT are widely used throughout Australasia for the commercial hydroponic lettuce industry. Each tray is made up of 35 individual pots. The material is very light weight which contributes to the low cost and were designed principally for the ‘Live’ lettuce industry, whereby the pot stays with the lettuce right through to the end user. The pots are seeded and grown on until such time as the plants are large enough to enter the Hydroponic system, be it a nursery bench (See chapter on Hydroponic Lettuce) or the main system, at this time each pot is easily torn apart from the main body of pots. Note also that the pots are provided with ‘Root training’ grooves down their sides to encourage speedy growth of the roots to the bottom of the pot.

3/ PEAT POTS The peat pot system uses compressed peat.

A popular type in common use in hydroponics is the ‘Jiffy 7’ which when dry loosely resembles a leather washer of about 30mm diameter. Before these can be used they must be soaked in clean water; whereupon, almost like magic they will swell up, as it does so, a nylon netting around the outside walls, contain and mould the swelling peat into a very neat and compact propagation pot. This material is sterile when supplied and as such (providing you do not contaminate the product during the swelling and seeding procedures) can safely be placed directly into the hydroponic system intact, as soon as the plants have developed to the appropriate size.


Are a manufactured foam used widely in the floral art industry. Adaptations of the material have been developed for growing plants, especially hydroponic lettuce.

Generally the seeding foam is produced in slabs of cubes which can easily be separated into individual cubes at the appropriate stage of growth. Again, providing no contamination takes place during the seeding and propagating process, then these cubes can be placed directly into the hydroponic system as soon as they are large enough.


These are similar in concept to the Oasis/Tecnofen however it is wise to pre-soak the ‘Rockwool’ in order to stabilise the pH. This material although extremely popular does vary in consistency from time to time, therefore a small trial with each different batch is not a bad idea.

Rockwool producers such as ‘GroDan’ have evolved complete growing systems whereby the original seeding cube is placed into a larger rockwool cube in order to ‘grow on’ the plant where in turn this larger cube is placed into a rockwool slab (or bolster) to allow for full development of the final plant.


These trays are manufactured from non phytotoxic plastics and are provided with or without base drainage holes. The type without drainage are ideal for standing items 1,2 or 3 (above) in, which allows for ‘Bottom’ watering and feeding of the pots by capillary action. The type provided with drainage holes being excellent for direct seeding. (See diagrams of step by step seeding)


Several materials and mixtures, of different materials are available for the propagation and growing-on of plants in the nursery. For good results the following characteristics are required:

1/ The Medium must be sufficiently firm to give the plant support in the container. Its volume must be fairly constant when either wet or dry i.e. excessive shrinkage after drying is undesirable.

2/ It must be sufficiently retentive of moisture that watering does not have to be too frequent.

3/ It must be sufficiently porous (open composition) that excess water drains away allowing adequate aeration.

6/ It should be capable of being sterilised with steam or chemicals without deleterious effects. (Generally in Hydroponics the materials are purchased in a sterile form and are almost always only used once, expanded clay being the exception to this rule, therefore this statement would generally only apply to conventional seeding materials and techniques).

7/ It should allow nutrients to remain available for plant use. Although I have already covered aspects of the preferred hydroponic growing media's, a quick summary is justified.


Perlite is a grey-white granular material of volcanic origin. It is mined from lava flows and then heat treated, which causes the particles to expand (a bit like pop corn). The resulting material is sterile, very light and has minimum water-holding capacity and good aeration. Perlite is expensive, but it has good physical characteristics and is often mixed with other media's to increase aeration in propagation mixes.


Compressed ‘Peat’ tablets dry (Jiffy’s)

Expanded ‘Peat’ tablets ‘wet’


A natural clay which is worked into small pebble shapes and then kiln fired to result in a porous, inert and sterile medium which can be used on it’s own, or mixed with other materials such as vermiculite to increase water retention. Expanded clay is becoming very competitive as a media, especially for large quantity users, due mainly to bulk transportation now done in ISO containers.


Vermiculite is a light flaky golden material.

It can hold large amounts of water (5 times it's own weight) and drains well when fresh. In time, it’s structure breaks down and it becomes soggy. Vermiculite is commonly mixed with perlite, expanded clay or sand to assist in increasing the water retention properties of the mix and is often used for covering seeds over soil (loam) mixes.


The sand used may vary from fine screened and washed river sand to course grit with a large particle size. The physical characteristics of the various types are very different. Course grains give better aeration of the mix but hold little water. Freshly excavated pit sand is generally clean and should be free of harmful organisms and weeds. It generally does not require sterilising, whereas sand which has been dredged from rivers can often contain high levels of organisms and bacteria and will generally require some form of sterilising treatment.

Other media's can be selected but great care should be given to their selection e.g. Pumice and scoria are often used due to their low cost in some locations. Because they are derived from volcanic eruptions they can very often contain minerals (chemical elements) which can be very harmful to plant life. Some forms of pumice can also break down relatively quickly to a fine powder, which when wetted forms a heavy silt which can seriously effect the media's aeration characteristics.

Recently available upon the market is a screened and kiln fired pumice which has been found to be very acceptable for both propagation and hydroponic ‘growing on’ applications - but beware, some growers are using untreated pumice directly into hydroponic growing systems. This material has long been used for premixing into soil mixes, which is then subsequently steam or chemically sterilised. The use of the pumice in it's raw untreated state could, in my view end in disaster.

Propagation under ‘Metal Halide’ lamps - courtesy ‘Silwood Developments’ Auckland NZ.


Potting mix is not advised for hydroponic propagation. It is not considered to be hygienic enough as a hydroponic media, unless it has been heat sterilised and subsequently stored in a bin or other 'off ground' disease free situation.

Sand, expanded clay and kiln fired pumice are used for taking cuttings.

Perlite and expanded clay are both mixed with vermiculite in varying ratios to germinate seeds and grow-on seedlings.

Good hydroponic propagation and 'growing on' media's are sterile and contain no nutrients, consequently the only feeding that seedlings receive is by watering with hydroponic solution.

Watering with weak nutrient solution should only start after the first true leaves begin to show. Prior to this seedlings are fed from stored food within the seed and consequently only clean fresh water should be used until those first true leaves appear.

Comparisons between soilless and soil based media’s

Advantages of soil less media

1/ Higher degree of uniformity due to less variability in the components.

2/ Can be lighter in weight to handle.

3/ Cleaner to use and retains aeration properties.

4/ Easier to store and needs no preparation.

5/ Does not require sterilisation and some types can be reused over and over again.

Disadvantages of soil

1/ Mixes vary considerably depending on which soil type is used.

2/ Heavy to handle - carry around.

3/ Compacts down to become poorly aerated.

4/ Requires sterilisation to free it from weed seeds, diseases and pests.

5/ Often shrinks upon drying, forming a hard & cracked surface and pulls away from the edges of the container.


Always buy your seed from a reputable supplier.

Request relevant information from your seed merchant. Seed catalogues are available and these give information on various seed varieties, including photos of the product, germination rates and advised plant management procedures.

Sowing guides can be useful. They are a Calendar showing the time of year that the different seed varieties are conventionally sown. These guides do not allow for much of the ‘out of season’ propagation, which is taken as a matter of course by hydroponic growers.

Seed varies considerably in cost and many new growers are quite astounded when advised of the cost of some hybrid varieties, many of the new hybrid varieties however have special attributes such as disease resistance, quicker and higher production of fruit etc. In the very near future, growers will be offered even more expensive seed which has been genetically engineered to provide some outstanding features, hitherto only dreamed about! New growers need to be aware of these costs and should allow for all the expenses involved in plant production, starting with the cost of the seed.

Seed should be stored at temperatures between 5°C and 20°C(41-68°F). Ideally at 10°C(50°F).

After opening the sealed seed container and removing the required quantity of seed, the container should be resealed with tape, and the date clearly written on the container. Care here cannot be over emphasised. Seeds that are sealed and stored below 20°C(68°F) should be viable for at least 3 years.

The longer seed is stored, the less food is available for the embryo and this has a marked effect upon the germination rate, (i.e. the number or percentage of actual plants resulting from the sowing of each 100 seeds).

Birth of a plant from a coated seed

Semi protected, outdoor propagation - courtesy ‘Joe Vella’ NSW


Because some seed varieties have a lower germination rate and can also produce a number of rogue plants it is quite usual to first seed into a tray since the labour involved in this method is very much lower than seeding into individual containers. This means that only seedlings which are sound, are carried onto further propagation stages.

The following sketches illustrate the seeding procedure.

Pricking out is the term used for the seedlings first transplanting. It is best done as soon as the seedlings are big enough to handle because least damage is done then.

This stage is usually when they have fully expanded their seed leaves and are developing their first true leaves. The seed leaves, botanically called 'cotyledons' are those leaves that are present in the seed, and they are usually a much simpler shape than the next leaves to grow referred to as the ‘true leaves’.

Plants grown in trays which are ultimately destined for hydroponic growing systems, are generally pricked out into individual containers (Gro pots), filled with a soilless hydroponic media or media mix, which due to it’s selected characteristics, produces plants that perform better after planting out.

Another common method which is very popular with NFT growers is to prick out the plants at this same early stage and transplant into the proprietary peat pot products such as the jiffy 7.

Pricking out, now gives the seedlings more space to grow and access to more light, air and nutrients.

In conventional soil growing, the seedlings are pricked out into ‘growing on’ seed trays and are spaced appropriately to allow for growth up to the planting out stage.


Prepare the receptacles by filling them with a new mix of moist soilless hydroponic media as previously discussed.

The drawings demonstrate the general procedures. Taking the filled containers. make holes down the centre of the pot with your finger or with a small stick (often called a ‘dibbler’ when used for this purpose). Ease the seedlings out of the tray with a flat piece of wood or a plastic label, sliding it gently under the roots.

Hold the seedling gently by the seed leaves to avoid damaging other parts of the seedling.

Place each seedling into a hole and then lightly firm the medium round the roots.

Water the seedlings lightly and keep them slightly shaded for a few days until they have recovered from their root disturbance.

(A heavy watering can lead to ‘Damp off’ (sclerotinia) or even physically flatten them.

Do not use any poor quality or ‘rogue’ seedlings.


‘Pricking out’ is the first transplanting of the seedling. It is best done as soon as the seedlings are big enough to handle.

You can prick out into seed trays, individual containers, peat blocks or other substrate (media) materials such as rockwool, oasis etc etc.


There are preferred methods of propagating cuttings, the methods used will differ with each plant type, very obviously this book is not long enough to devote time to all the different varieties and their propagation methods.

In order to give the reader a general understanding of propagating cuttings, I have chosen a well known plant type which is indicative of the general aspects

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  • (4/5)
    very good book it gave me most of what I was looking for.