If you know the basics, hydroponic gardening can be fun and easy! Plants can absorb all of the essential nutrients they need for optimal growth from the hydroponic nutrient formula, making them available to the plants. Nonetheless, it would be best if you mastered the tools of the trade to take full advantage of hydroponics, especially EC and pH meters.
Hydroponic nutrient formulas can be measured with an EC meter. Electric conductivity is often abbreviated as EC. The EC of distilled water and demineralized water reverse osmosis water is near zero, as pure water cannot conduct electricity.
Water conducts electricity more readily if it contains dissolved mineral ions (fertilizers). To determine whether the water is nutrient-rich enough to satisfy plant needs, EC is vitally important. EC increases with fertilizer salt concentration in water. If the nutrient solution is diluted, the EC will be lower.
Taking Care of Plants at Different Growth Stages
Overfertilizing is one of the most common mistakes beginners make. Plants prefer a milder nutrient mix during the vegetative growth phase – only a small amount of plant nutrients in water. An EC of low to medium facilitates the growth of young plants and eases their ability to absorb water and nutrients.
During the vegetative stage, growers should use a half-strength grow formula. Young plants could suffer from a nutrient burn if you gave them a full-strength dosage, which would restrict their growth. The plants have a tough time absorbing water as nutrient solutions become saltier. Under high temperatures, plants may not take up enough water if the EC becomes too high. This is known as fertilizer burn, which results in the curling and browning of leaves. It could cause plants to wilt and die if the hydroponic solution becomes even saltier, causing the roots to lose water.
Proper fertilization is easy with an EC digital meter. The target EC for full-strength nutrient formulas is usually around 1.8. You should keep a healthy vegetative plant’s EC between 1.2 and 1.6 during vegetative growth. Add more water to the nutrient tank if the EC rises above 1.8 during vegetative growth. In case of low EC, add more fertilizer. It’s that easy!
As they enter the flowering stage, plants are capable of handling full nutrient strengths. EC and fruit sugar content are directly related to each other. As the EC gradually increases during flowering, plants have a harder time taking up water.
Plants respond by producing more natural antioxidants that act as plant protectors as sugars condense in fruit. A study conducted had doubled lycopene (red pigment) in tomatoes. It raised the vitamin C levels and organic acids in other fruits by more than 50% by raising the EC level to 5. Tradeoffs must be made, though. High EC levels tend to produce smaller, denser fruits and may result in a reduction in yields overall. To maximize yields, growers usually sacrifice overall quality instead of pushing EC to the limit.
Check the EC of Your Garden Daily
Every day, whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, you should check and adjust the EC accordingly. During a hot day with low humidity, the plants will take up more water, leaving nutrient salts behind and increasing the EC levels. It will become necessary to top off the reservoir with fresh water.
When the plants are heavily fruiting or flowering, they are likely to take up proportionally more minerals and leave the water behind. In that case, the EC will tend to go down. When your tank is heavy with flowering, you might want to top it off with a little fertilizer. During heavy fruit and flower production, plants take up proportionally more potassium, so a potassium boost can help replenish the potassium the plant lost.
Replacing the Nutrient Solution
You should empty the reservoir and refresh the hydroponic nutrient solution regularly. Plants take up mineral ions at different rates in the various growth stages, so nutrient levels become unbalanced over time. The EC reading tells you the total dissolved solutes in the water, but it doesn’t tell you how much each element remains in the nutrient formula.
Even if the EC is at the perfect target, the formula could have a nutrient deficiency. Some elements may build up in the hydroponic reservoir over time while a concentration of nutrients is drawn down. You should completely change the reservoir every 7-10 days for the best results.
Organic Fertilizers and EC
In hydroponics, EC can be a very useful tool. However, the results can be misleading when using organic fertilizers since organic molecules rarely have an electrical charge. In a mineralization process, plants absorb small ions through their roots, not large, uncharged organic molecules.
As a result of mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobacteria, mineral ions in organic matter are transported to the roots. Organic fertilizers feed the microorganisms in soil systems, and the microorganisms, in turn, feed the plants. With an EC meter, only the ions that are suitable for plant use will be measured.
Mineral uptake is facilitated by hydroponics. Nutritional elements mined from the earth and processed into its water-soluble, ionic form are hydroponically mined and processed. Hydroponic fertilizers dissolve in water, forming a nutritious blend of positively and negatively charged mineral ions, bypassing microbes and feeding the plants directly.
When you give a plant all its nutritional requirements in water-soluble forms, it can absorb them rapidly. Hydroponics can result in up to 25% faster growth, and plants will reach maturity earlier than soil.
Environmental Conditions for Good EC
The EC management system helps plants adapt to changes in environmental conditions. Growers can reduce stretching and limit vegetative growth under cool, low-light conditions by raising EC levels.
Growing conditions that are high in heat and low in humidity require growers to lower their EC levels.
Growers can adjust EC to make their crops more generative or vegetative at the right time, resulting in better-looking fruits and flowers.
EC vs. TDS
It is worth noting that there is some confusion regarding the relationship between readings from EC meters and TDS (total dissolved solute) meters. It’s not that hard to figure out. Electrical conductivity is measured with both TDS meters and EC meters. TDS meters show the readings in parts per million (ppm), while EC meters display millimeters.
When displaying EC as an average ppm, the TDS meter uses a conversion scale of about 700:1. The equivalent nutrient concentration of one EC is about 700 ppm. There are meter manufacturers, however, who use a 500:1 conversion factor. If you cannot figure out which conversion formula to use with your TDS meter, you might want to use the approximate 700:1 formula.
You should always be careful not to overfertilize your garden. The good news is you can always supplement a deficient plant with what it is lacking, and it will bounce back. Adding too much fertilizer to a plant can result in nutrient toxicity. Also, this is why you should make complete solution changes every week.
Whenever you try hydroponics for the first time, keep it simple. During the vegetative growth stage, use half-strength nutrients, and during fruiting and flowering, use full-strength nutrients. Also, make sure to replenish your nutrient reservoir level regularly.
Even from your first crop, you should get excellent results! Your knowledge of your plants will enable you to tweak your EC levels in a way that maximizes quality and yield. Plants will achieve maximum results when the solution contains the right level of nutrients.