18Jul/12Off

Shed a little light on the matter – Part 2

Light is one of the necessities of life – the process of photosynthesis requires light to provide plants with food in order to survive and thrive.  In nature, the light a plant receives comes directly from the sun, so when assembling your hydroponic system the aim to keep in mind is to replace this light source artificially.

In this illuminating issue of our blog we’ll primarily go into a little more detail on the specific bulb varieties available – and how to make the most of them to get the best results from your indoor garden.  Your new HID (High Intensity Discharge) lamps await!

There are two major types of lamp used in hydroponic systems and their proper use can regulate hormonal changes within your crop to trigger fruit and flower production without having to wait for the right time of the year!  Another major advantage of gardening indoors, this allows you to increase your yield further than in a more ‘natural’ setting, as well as giving you the ability to schedule your harvests around you and not the weather.

Grow lights fall under two spectrums – blue and red.  The two distinct variations of bulb correspond to these, with Metal Halide lamps mostly covering the blues and High Pressure Sodium lamps dealing with the red spectrum.  During the vegetative growth stage use predominantly blue light – using MH bulbs – before setting off hormonal changes in your plants by cutting down the length of your lighting periods and switching to the red light of HPS lamps.

It’s surprisingly easy to control your plants’ growth and harvest cycles – as complicated as it may seem, once you’ve started and have your first crop we’re sure you’ll feel like an expert in no time at all.

Because of their high discharge, these lamps tend to lessen their output after a while – this is normal, and old bulbs should be disposed of and replaced.  We would recommend that you replace your bulbs every two to three cycles to keep efficiency at a maximum – alternatively, refresh your MH lamps every 9 months and get hold of some new HPS bulbs every 12 to 14 months.  You can get away with replacing less frequently, but you there will be a noticeable decrease in your yield otherwise.

That just about covers all the essentials about horticultural grow lights – but do contact us if you feel we need to shed some more light on the subject and we’ll do our best to brighten up your day with some sound, trustworthy advice.  For now, though, happy growing from all of us at the BIG Shop!

11Jul/12Off

Shed a little light on the matter – Part 1

When it comes to setting up your first hydroponic system, there’s an awful lot to consider – from merely what plants you want to raise to what pumps you need and what solutions will work best – and it’s easy to overlook something as seemingly standard as lighting.  After all, a light’s a light... isn’t it?

That’s where you’d be wrong, but fortunately the BIG Shop is here to help out!  The world of hydroponic lighting is, like many other ‘technical’ realms, awash with terminology that makes little sense to the new or otherwise inexperienced indoor grower.  Here’s where we step in to help with a few key terms you’ll encounter in your search for the right light.

First off, although you may set out just to buy a standalone ‘light’, you may not be aware that it’s best to buy individual components first and put together your own personalised kit.  Not only is it easier to adapt a DIY assembly for a different hydroponic system if you decide to change something after you’ve started, but there’s nothing quite like the “I did that” effect when you step back to admire your finished piece.  So what exactly do you need to get your hands on to set up the perfectly customisable hydroponic lighting system?

Constructed basically from a ballast, a reflector and a bulb (with a timer being an optional and infinitely useful addition), your setup should be planned around your hydroponic system – after all, the light is quite possibly the most important part!

The ballast is essentially your power unit, used to keep your lamp safely lit and moderate the power input.  It’s best to keep this unit off the floor for safety purposes – you don’t want it getting wet if you have any hydroponic mishaps!  Pay attention to the wattage of your ballast too, you’ll need to match this to your bulb’s – for small scale systems a 400w setup should be sufficient, but if you’re thinking of leaving room for expansion do consider a 600w.

A regular light will spill energy in all directions – and any energy lost to the surrounding area is energy wasted!  That’s why reflectors are essential in order to focus and direct the output of your bulbs to make the most of how much energy will be taken in by your plants.  Especially if you’re growing to sell, it’s a good idea to keep overhead costs to a minimum and getting the most of your energy usage like this is a necessity.

Your bulb is arguably the most important feature of your lighting though – and these come in two major varieties.  Stay tuned to the next BIG Shop blog for more details on this frankly illuminating subject!

27Jun/12Off

The BIG Shop Guide to Hydroponic Processes

Here at the BIG Shop we’ve been using our blog to guide you through how to set up your own indoor garden to help you start growing your own fruit, vegetables and various crops – don’t worry, we’re not going to stop with the advice!  This time though, we’re aiming for something a little more general – a guide to different types of hydroponic gardens, so you can take a look and see which best fits your requirements.

If you’ve been keeping up with our blog or otherwise researching how to make the most of your crops, you’ve probably come across terms like ‘ebb & flow’ and ‘top drip’ to describe systems.  When combined with the vast array of chemicals, nutrients and equipment out there, the world of hydroponics can sometimes seem an intimidating and inaccessible one – especially for the new gardener.  However, armed with a couple of the key terms, you’re set to be growing your own perfect plants in no time at all!

The aforementioned top drip systems are amongst the most widely used set ups around.  Essentially doing what it says on the tin, this process pumps a grow solution periodically into individual plant pots, dripping it down through the roots and collecting the excess fluid to be recycled.  This is the automated equivalent of regularly using a watering can, and being a hydroponic system, generally produces better results.

Ebb and flow systems – also referred to as flood and drain – are also pretty popular, both in commercial and private setups.  This ingenious method incorporates a timed pump in a similar way to top drip systems, but instead of feeding the individually placed pots with their own supply of nutrients, ebb and flow set ups involve regularly flooding the grow area with a nutrient solution, feeding all of the plants at the same time, before automatically draining the grow tray.

These are just two of the major systems used in modern hydroponics – there are many more solutions available, whether they be techniques as mentioned above or standalone units.  From the small, one plant at a time Oxypot unit to the all in one, 320 pot Pi-Rack Vertical Growing System, the world of hydroponics is constantly growing and expanding with new research bringing about new products, all designed around bringing you the best results from your indoor gardening experience.

One wonderful thing about all hydroponic systems is that they’re all so simple but so effective – don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss which setup would be best for your personal needs and resources.  We’ll be happy to give you expert advice tailored around your requirements.

20Jun/12Off

The Hydroponic Gardens of Babylon?

It’s clear that hydroponic gardening is a way forward – scientists from NASA are researching ways of making the process even more efficient and using it in combination with natural energy resources to provide food and sustenance in other environments.  So when did this hi-tech sci-fi idea come about?  You may think of hydroponics as a truly modern system, but the ancient world had it covered a long, long time ago...

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?  They may or may not have been built sometime between 605 and 562 BC as a gift from a Babylonian king to his wife.  We say “may or may not” as it is still not entirely decided whether the Gardens were a physical thing or a purely poetic concept as their foundations have not been discovered, but either way there are several historical accounts of them, some of which go into a remarkable amount of detail.

Built on several levels of irrigated balconies and terraces, the name comes from a mistranslation – the nature of the construction would have led to various flora overhanging the edges of their layers.  Still, they must have been an incredibly impressive build!  However, there is one aspect of the Gardens that the BIG Shop takes a particular interest in...

Based on ancient estimates of the Gardens’ size, their crops and decorative plants would have required at least 37,000 litres of water per day.  The problem with this is that the area of Babylon in which the Hanging Gardens supposedly resided received little to no rain.  Most of the buildings in the city would have been constructed from bricks made with compacted clay and straw, and were not waterproof!

This is where the genius of the ancient Babylonians comes into play in one of the earliest examples of large-scale hydroponic gardening!  Firstly, the materials used in constructing the gardens were said to be waterproofed with a lead coating.  Additionally, accounts of the Gardens mention hidden machines that transported water from the nearby Euphrates River to the top of the structure, but do not state specifically how these machines worked.  A popular explanation is that of a chain pump, a primitive but effective way of moving large volumes of water...

The basic setup of a chain pump involves two cogs and several waterproof containers, turning to constantly relocate the water in question, which would then flow down naturally from layer to layer.  An irrigation system like this would have solved their problems, and it is entirely possible that they used this solution as the first mention of this process in texts was in 700 BC in – you guessed it – Babylon.  So the technology was definitely around for a while before the Gardens were supposedly built!

We do not recommend you use armies of slaves to power your own hydroponic systems and instead take a look at our selection of electric solutions.  A modern approach wouldn't hurt anyone!

13Jun/12Off

Which plants do you grow now?

Those new to the indoor growing experience often ask what plants can be grown hydroponically.  The answer is both straightforward and expansive – if it’s a plant, it can be grown through hydroponics!  Of course, some specific plants require certain conditions in order to grow to their fullest potential.  Here at the BIG Shop we thought we’d give you the lowdown on some of the most popularly grown crops, with a little growing advice thrown in!

Flowers, vegetables, fruits and more are all able to be cultivated through hydroponics, but if you are growing crops at home, think about what you will do with your harvest before you begin.  It’s no use producing thirty cucumbers if neither you nor anyone you know likes them!  It may seem like common sense but do take the purpose of your crop into consideration.

Good choices for first-time growers are generally herbs, fruits or vegetables – think about what you and your family make the most use of before deciding what to start with.  Herbs are a popular choice based on how relatively small the resulting plant is compared to how widely used the crops are.  If you don’t think you use many herbs and spices in your cooking now, just wait until you start growing hydroponically – you’ll find yourself adding more and more complex and sophisticated flavours to your favourite dishes in no time at all.

Anything with roots can be grown hydroponically, but it’s best to plan ahead and design your growing space around which crops you plan on cultivating.  If, for example, you’re looking to grow tomatoes (probably the most popular choice overall) or other vine-based plants, it’s recommended to provide your hydroponic system with a trellis structure or other type of support to provide an anchor as they grow.  These plants tend to grow upwards as well as outwards, so do remember to give each a fair amount of room.

Other growers may prefer to start with fruit, as fruits can only usually be grown and harvested at specific times of the year.  Especially with our usual unpredictable climate, many hydroponic growers across the UK have started cultivating strawberries, blueberries and grapes – as well as more tropical examples like watermelons and pineapples!  Strawberries are so popular because of their relatively high sale value compared to how little space they take up, and as a result are widely cultivated in commercial setups.

Even root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and radishes can technically be grown through hydroponic means, if you submerge the crop itself in the solution instead of attempting to grow it above.  This is, however, a more expensive way of growing something that grows perfectly fine in natural conditions, so most growers steer clear as there is no generally accepted difference in the quality of hydroponic root vegetables over ‘regularly grown’ equivalents.

Make sure to stay tuned, you can be sure we’ll be back with more golden nuggets of advice and guidance on how to make the most of your hydroponic system.  For now – happy growing!

30May/12Off

The BIG Shop Substrate Guide

Substrates are used in many hydroponic systems, not just as a way to anchor plants in place but also to maintain a nutrient reservoir around the roots and provide additional aeration.  Substrates have been used for almost as long as people have been gardening and over the years a variety of materials and substances have been employed like this.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages: this is where the BIG Shop steps in to give you a brief guide to some of the most popular substrates available.

One of the first substrates used in agriculture was sand.  Cheap and widely available, sand seemed perfect for the job; it tends to pack together tightly though, which lessens how much air can get to the plant’s roots.  Additionally, it doesn’t hold an awful lot of water, making it ineffective at keeping nutrients around the roots for the plants to take up.  Its weight can be an issue with many hydroponic systems, too, although this property can be taken advantage of.  Sand can be used to weigh down and stabilise containers with top-heavy plants in, acting as a counterbalance.

If washed properly, gravel can also be used – this includes the gravel often used in fish tanks.  Although it retains air well, gravel is not excellent at holding on to water.  Its low cost and reusability have made it an appealing substrate for many growers, although like sand, its weight can become something of a drawback.

Two similar substances often used as substrates are perlite and vermiculite.  These are both volcanic rocks which have been heated at high temperatures to form pebbles with similar properties to glass.  Still relatively cheap, they are fairly lightweight materials and are recommended for use only with smaller systems – they have a tendency to get washed away with greater volumes of growing solution.  While perlite doesn’t retain a lot of water, vermiculite retains too much, so most growers who use these materials use them both in combination.  Take care when handling perlite, though, as its dust is potentially bad for your health.

Maybe the most popular material used in hydroponics is rock wool.  Originally produced in 1871, rock wool’s name reflects its manufacture; this substance is spun like wool (or candy floss) from molten rock.  Used widely in the construction industry as insulation, rock wool has many unique properties.  The fibrous nature of this material allow it to hold great deals of water and air at a time, which makes it an incredibly effective and useful substrate.  When fully saturated, the mass of a given piece of rock wool can be up to 80% attributed to the growing solution itself – meaning there is a huge potential for mineral retention.

One major drawback of this substance is still being investigated: rock wool is believed to have carcinogenic properties.  It is therefore advised to wear adequate protective clothing when handling this material.

If you have any questions regarding substrates or anything related to indoor gardening, look no further than the BIG Shop.  Don’t hesitate to contact us with any queries you may have – happy growing!

 

16May/12Off

The Aeroponic Method

Here at the BIG Shop we’re all more than well aware of the ins and outs of hydroponic gardening.  But what of aeroponics?  We decided it was about time we gave you the lowdown on one of the most modern indoor gardening innovations – which only left laboratories to become commercially available in 1983!

Considering the practice of cultivating plants has been around for thousands of years, this process is a comparatively new one.  Most forms of growing involve the use of a grow medium, be that soil or another solution, but with aeroponics the clue is in the name – “aero” being Greek for “air”.

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, the aeroponic process constantly suspends the root area of a plant in air, periodically spraying a fine mist of hydroponic grow solution.  This revolutionary concept was first conceived in 1942 and has been developed in laboratory conditions since – scientists at NASA are still currently working to improve and perfect the process for use in space and for a potential Mars landing!

Although that may be quite a way into the future, aeroponics has come a long way since its invention, and is widely used by many indoor growers (both professional and amateur) due to its advantages over more conventional growing systems.  The aspects of aeroponics making it more viable for use in space are its much lesser energy and water requirements – using each only to apply an occasional spray to the plant roots.

In addition, this manner of growing allows for a much more sterile environment than the more traditional methods – as plant diseases can pass quite quickly through soil and grow solution, the idea of plants being cultivated individually under their own growing conditions can put a stop to disease transmission through these routes.  If a plant does become infected with any form of pathogen, an aeroponic system allows the gardener to easily identify and remove the plant in question, stopping the infection passing to others.  The fact that aeroponically grown plants are cultivated separately means their roots do not become tangled, allowing individual specimens to easily be separated.

Aeroponics has also been shown to produce increased growth when compared to other systems.  When directly compared with roots submerged in oxygenated solution in a 1988 study, roots periodically sprayed with the same substance showed greater growth.

With regards to home use, this process is ideal for cutting and ‘cloning’ larger specimens.  Kept in an aeroponic system such as the General Hydroponics Cutting Board (shown above), your young plants and cuttings will be grown to their fullest potential with completely aerated roots before you transfer them to a larger system.  The Oxypot, for example, is an excellent value single-plant device offering optimum growing capabilities.

These systems are always being revised, researched and improved to give the best conditions possible to your plants, so do keep checking the BIG Shop’s stock for any new introductions to the market.  As always, if you have any questions about hydroponics, aeroponics or any other form of indoor gardening, don’t hesitate to contact us.  We’re always glad to help!

 

26Mar/12Off

Control the environment of your growroom – Lighting

The main purpose of almost every growing system is the crop yield gained as a result.  Anyone creating a hydroponic system or modifying an existing one has a wide variety of factors to take into consideration that can directly affect this yield, such as;

  • Temperature
  • Smell
  • PH Levels
  • Water treatment
  • Nutrients

Several blog posts over the past few weeks have been dedicated to these topics and more before now – however, today we’re focusing on the world of:

Lighting

It may be an obvious thing to point out, but the lighting in a hydroponic system is probably the most important part.  Photosynthesis is the process of absorbing sunlight and, using water and carbon dioxide, creating glucose (food) and oxygen.

The process of photosynthesis is the main influence on a plant’s growth and yield, so the importance of a lighting system cannot be understated.

A grow light has three essential components – the lamp itself to produce light, a ballast to regulate the power input of your lamps and a reflector to best direct the output of the lamps.  The interaction between these three parts is essential in the assembly of a functional and effective lighting system.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps come in three varieties for different growing periods, each with different light outputs optimized for specific stages in a plant’s development.  Metal Halide lamps, for instance, emit more blue spectrum light, which is more effective on plants in the early, vegetative stages of development, while High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps produce more red spectrum light specifically for flowering periods.  Some types of lamp, such as Grolux or Sunmaster Dual Spectrum lamps, emit light from both the blue and red spectrums and can, as a result, be used for growing throughout the cycle.

Ballasts come in two major types – magnetic and digital.  Magnetic ballasts work by using a copper coil that becomes electromagnetic as power is drawn through it and into the lamp.  This magnetism reduces the amount of power that can be drawn through the coil, thus regulating what goes into the lamp.  Therefore, the bigger the coil, the higher wattage lamp can be safely powered.  Digital systems use a circuit board instead of an electromagnetic coil, losing far less energy through heat and noise than their magnetic counterparts.

Lamps don’t focus light on their own; that’s the job of a reflector.  Reflectors take all the light energy put out by a lamp and reduce wastage by focusing as much as possible at your crops.  This process means that your plants can absorb the same amount of light with less energy expense on your behalf, and is important in making sure your system is economical.

One more thing to remember is that all lamps produce heat – excess heat isn’t good news for your plants at all, as you can read in our blog entry here.  Don’t forget, you can always ask our experts at The BIG Shop for advice relating to this or any other growing topics.

23Mar/12Off

Control the environment of your growroom – Air Flow

If you’re thinking about starting a hydroponic grow room, or are looking for advice on how to maintain or improve an existing one, you’ve come to the right place.  We at the BIG Shop have been running a series of blogs to help seasoned growers and those aspiring to earn their first green fingers alike - here are the major topics we’re covering;

  • Temperature
  • Smell
  • PH Levels
  • Water treatment
  • Nutrients

Some of these issues have already been addressed – browse our previous blog posts for more details – but today we’re focussing our attention on a very important part of any hydroponic system:

Air Flow

Plants, like all living creatures, need to respire (breathe) in order to survive.  You may well already be aware that plants photosynthesise in light by taking in energy, water (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce food (glucose) and oxygen (O2) – but it’s also essential that they can reverse the process comfortably.

Respiration is biochemically the inverse of photosynthesis, as it uses up glucose and oxygen to produce energy for their own use and releases carbon dioxide along with water vapour.  This process provides plants with the energy to grow – which after all is the crux of any hydroponic system.  Giving your plants nutrients is fine, but without the correct levels of gases to break down those nutrients into useful energy, their food source will be wasted.

In the wild, plants respire constantly but only photosynthesise in sunlight.  They have, therefore, developed to photosynthesise at a more concentrated rate to make the most of the short space of time in which the process can be carried out.  It stands to reason, then, that in a hydroponic growing system where plants are under lighting for longer than they would otherwise be, they photosynthesise more than they respire - meaning that the natural balance of gases with which their growing processes are at their most productive is not achieved without a little outside help.  Put quite simply – a good supply of fresh air will increase your crop yield.

That’s where we come in – we stock a range of fans, filters, ducting, kits and accessories to make your extraction system as efficient as possible.  Taking into consideration the heat output of your lamps as well as your available space will help you make the most of your setup.  We recommend, however, getting the highest output fan within your budget, even if your setup is a small one – when run on low power a larger fan can still have a considerable output while keeping noise to a minimum.  Take a look at our range of Torin High Output Acoustic Wooden Box Fans for several examples of this concept.

Don’t hesitate to contact us via telephone or email for some professional guidance and advice tailored around your specific requirements – air circulation is a massively important part of your hydroponic system, and it’s essential that you don’t neglect it.

20Jan/12Off

Planning your growing room part three

We’ve looked at traditional indoor gardening techniques in the past two blogs to help guide you towards a successful growing career with your plants as you begin planning your growing room. Growing plants indoors isn’t always a soil-based practice. Sometimes, growers do away with the soil and opt for hydroponics instead.

Hydroponics is a simple method of growing crops without soil. This can be a huge benefit for those who want to grow their crops indoors, but don’t actually want the hassle of growing in soils.

Benefits of using hydroponics in your growing room

One big advantage to hydroponic practises is the removal of soil from the growing equation. Without soil, the growing environment is a more closed loop. You create a nutrient-rich solution with water that is completely level-controlled. In growing hydroponically, you keep costs of water and nutrients to a greater control and reduce any unnecessary outgoings for your indoor gardening. In troubled economic times, this is particularly advantageous for any growers that need to restrict their gardening spend.

Growing hydroponically reduces the risk of plant disease or pest problems within your growing environment. Due to the water solution being directly in contact with the roots, each plant gets appropriate and maximum nutrition. This gives the plants an immediate boost. There is also improved and stronger aeration that gives plants a refreshing stimulus.

What can go wrong with hydroponics?

Soil is a balancing environment for soil and it’s also very supportive. Soil can keep a plant alive for longer when something goes wrong within the growing room. When plants are grown hydroponically, they are in less nurturing environments such as gravel, clay pebbles or perlite. That means that these environments are less failsafe than soil-growing, which means that plants or crops can ‘die’ very quickly if something interferes with the growing environment. Hydroponic crops require more care than other growing, but they can produce impressive results.

Soilless growing

Hydroponic plants  are self-contained within their own growing pots, racks or multi-flow systems and provided with the right amount of nutrients in order to survive and grow with amazing life. Hydroponics growing environments can be started off on a small level and then advanced up if you find success in growing your plants this way.

The BIG Shop has hydroponic systems of all shapes and sizes to suit your growing needs from the ground up. We can offer a multitude of amazing hydroponic accessories and systems to give your plants the best shot at life going forward.