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!

 

25Apr/12Off

Why Choose a Grow Tent?

When choosing to start growing plants and crops indoors, many options are open to you – so many choices of lighting and ventilation systems, so many different atmospheric conditions to control – but the first important decision you have to make is specifically where to begin.  Once again, The Big Shop is here to help!

Ideally a cellar or spare room would be converted into an environmentally secure area, with installed lighting and air circulation throughout, but this situation is not open to every aspiring indoor gardener.  It may be that you don’t have a whole room to set aside; perhaps you don’t like the idea of conducting extensive work on your own to hang and install lights and fans; maybe you don’t have the legal right to make adjustments to your abode; it’s possible that you simply don’t want to invest in the parts for a homemade system.  Any combination of these factors could lead you to considering a grow tent, one of the most increasingly popular trends in indoor gardening.

Grow tents allow the budding gardener to create an environmentally sealed climate-controlled space within a room without modifying or damaging the existing locale.  Easy to set up and portable, they are also widely used by gardeners who move around a lot, such as those in non permanent residences, as well as being very budget conscious – not everyone has enough cash to spare to start from scratch!  Many are also drawn to this solution for aesthetic purposes, with the sleek black cloth wardrobe being more appealing than a large system of pipes, wires and lights.

Easy to set up, these grow tents are fireproof, waterproof and insulated thoroughly to retain temperature, with heavy duty zips and a reflective interior to make the most of the light within, ensuring no electricity is wasted.  With your crops kept in an environment such as this, it is simple to monitor and adjust the temperature, airflow and lighting levels to adjust for maximum yield.  Grow tents are provided with ventilation socks to encourage air flow and facilitate the installation of more complex air flow systems as well as hangers to support any equipment your grow setup may need.  This is a much simpler process than suspending similar features from ceilings or attaching them to walls.  We would, however, recommend keeping your lighting ballast outside your grow tent to cut down on unnecessary heat.

Here at The Big Shop we stock two manufacturers of grow tents – Homebox and Secret Jardin, the latter of which has two distinct ranges.  The Secret Jardin Dark Rooms are a premium choice boasting dual layered 210D Mylar fabric and a thick light proof material, with waterproof removable floors for simple cleaning.  The Dark Street variety is aimed at those on a slightly stricter budget, but hardly skimps on the quality of its predecessor, and are made with a 190D dual layered Mylar fabric.  Whichever variety appeals to you most, visit our web site or contact us for more information.

11Apr/12Off

Building your 1st indoor grow room Part 2 – Getting equipped

The idea of starting your own indoor grow room is one that appeals to many, but to the more amateur and less experienced grower, the process of starting out from scratch is daunting.  All those pieces of equipment – so much choice – so many chemicals!  Here’s where we at The Big Shop step in to lend a hand with a few words of advice, continuing from last week’s blog, which you can read here.  In the meantime, here are a few words about what you may need to get started...

Lights

The light set up of your growing system is probably the most important part – the process of photosynthesis in plants is how they grow, so the amount and quality of light is of paramount importance.  A single 600w bulb should be enough to cover around 5 feet of growing space, if positioned at least 5 feet above the crop.  More information on the importance of light can be found in a previous blog by clicking here.

Air Flow

Probably the second most important part of your grow room will be your air flow system.  The use of a small fan or two to keep air gently flowing around your developing and growing crops is invaluable if you intend to maximise your growing potential, but even more important is the incorporation of an adequate extraction system.  Find out more about this here.

C02

Carbon Dioxide is an essential ingredient for plant growth and crop production, being another major contributor in the process of photosynthesis.  Levels of C02 would normally drop in an enclosed area as your plants continue to use it up, and as a result their growth would slow and eventually stop.  Replenishing and maintaining levels of carbon dioxide, therefore, can lead to dramatically increased growth, and similarly incremented yields as a consequence.  For more details on the effects of C02, read more here.

Relays and Contactors

Your grow room equipment will need a steady supply of electricity, and it’s important that this is regulated to ensure safety.  If lights are turned off during the day and turned back on overnight, for instance, the sudden activation of many high-powered lights could create a small surge if not properly regulated.  At The Big Shop, we stock a variety of equipment to reduce the impact on your electrical supply.

Environmental Control

This encompasses everything from the pH of your growing solution to the temperature of your grow room.  In addition to the obvious potential pest problems, issues may arise regarding odours that may become problematic and should be dealt with.  The Big Shop stocks everything the new indoor gardener needs to cope with these environmental issues.

Stay tuned for more advice on setting up your first grow room, including what nutrients and other such products would be required.  Good luck – and happy growing from The Big Shop!

 

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.

5Mar/12Off

Control the environment of your growroom – Carbon Dioxide (Co2)

Controlling the indoor environment of a growroom is key to increasing the successful growth of your crop. We have addressed two primary issues regarding environmental control including temperature and odours. The main points to consider with this are;

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

Today we are focusing on...

Carbon Dioxide (Co2)


Co2 is one of the most important factors in an indoor growroom. For those of you who have studied up on its integral role in this process will know it is referred to as Photosynthesis. When plants combine Co2 molecules with water molecules they form complex sugars that result in spare oxygen atoms being released back into the air. These sugars are processed further by the plant to form natural polymers for growth. Remember, carbon makes up the largest portion of the dry weight of the average plant and it is supplied in the air. Carbon Dioxide is as important to a plant’s life cycle as oxygen is to human beings.

Many plants benefit from raised Co2 levels. Carbon Dioxide enrichment is a process that can be used throughout all stages of the plant growth. The ambient level of Co2 in air is 300-400ppm, fast growing plants in your growroom or glasshouse can use all the available Co2 in less than an hour slowing photosynthesis and therefore growth to a virtual halt.

So what do you need to control this aspect of the environment?

A Co2 Controller would be a good place to start. The Evolution Digital Controller (one of our preferred choices) has more features and functionality than any other product of its kind. It’s a highly accurate way of monitoring your Co2 levels with a great deal of accuracy. Then there is the Unis Co2 Controller with regulator, specifically designed to allow easy Co2 enrichment for home growrooms. This product helps to cut out the trouble of calculating things like gas flow rate, pressure and timing. Perhaps you just want to keep things simple and go with just a Co2 regulator without all the digital trimmings.

A Growth Gas Generator will help increase overall growth rates and will yield a larger end product by introducing the Co2 into the atmosphere of the growing environment. It runs on propane gas and electricity producing heat and Co2. Assorted extras such as Co2 washers and release tubing might also need to be considered.

The importance of Co2 goes beyond being a luxury and falls into the vital camp. You need it in order to grow a crop that yields real, lasting results. Increased levels from 1000pm-3000pm will generally increase yields by 20-30% and take roughly two weeks off of the 3-month growing cycle.

Invest in Co2 to help grow a healthy crop and increase your yield. Contact us for more information at The Big Shop.


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.

 

 

 

10Jan/12Off

Planning your growing room part two

In last week’s blog, we looked at planning out our growing rooms in order to make sure that our growing efforts and crops are as successful as they can be. We took the time to focus on the specifics of tanks, tents and lighting choices for your plants. This time, we’re looking at plant nutrition choices and growing items that will give you the ultimate yield from the crops you’re nurturing.

Our growing rooms are personal to us. We take our plants into our house, so we want to get the most out of their time with us. We want full, healthy plants or thriving crops for us to enjoy time after time, so we need to think  about every aspect of our growing rooms in order to achieve this same level of quality each time without fail.

Nutrients for hungry indoor plants

Nutrition for your plants may look confusing or overwhelming, but it’s really a simple step in getting your plants everything that they need to grow. Plants need a broad variety of ingredients to maintain healthy growth within an indoor garden.

Liquid fertiliser comes in all sorts of varieties. If you want fast growth and don’t mind synthetic ingredients, there are chemical fertilisers that will provide both macro and micro-nutrients to your crops. These will give you impressive results in the growth of the roots and the plant itself.

Of course, some people are much more selective when it comes to growing their plants. They want to grow them in the most natural way possible without any chemical fertilisers or pesticides making their way into the growing room. There are bio-fertilisers to choose from with some weird and wonderful ingredients. These options are completely organic in order to provide your plant with natural nutrients during its life-cycle indoors. The organic option yields a higher quality crop and gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your crop is naturally and lovingly grown.

Growing aids

We all want our crops and plants to thrive indoors, so planning our growing rooms has to give some consideration to the benefits of growing aids. There are plenty of enriched ‘super-soils’ available to give your plants a super-boost when they’re growing up.

Organic soils will give a natural boost to crops with natural additives, nutrients and even weird and wonderful things like worm manure, garden peat and peat moss.

The BIG Shop is able to give you expert advice on the right nutrients and growing aids for your crops. Our experience in indoor gardening has given us the ability to guide our customers on the right sort of growing room and accessories for their needs without cluttering up the conversation with sales-speak. We want to help you to nurture your crops and grow them successfully every time, using only the best and most appropriate equipment.