Can't Seem to get my Indoor Hydroponic Garden Started

by Fred
(Exeter, NH)

My question is basically: What am I doing wrong? I have an indoor grow box that is 2ftx2ftx3ft, with 200 watts of cfl's, now I have germinated my seeds in a sacket, till they were about 1 inch covered in the dark on a heat pad. From there they went into a 1 gallon pot under the lights. My grow box is 80 degrees and 35% humidity. The plants always die. I've had 5 failed attempts. Do I have to much light? Any tips will be helpful. I'm frustrated and have spent a LOT of money so far with bad results. I'm growing with top of the line soil, and my water is distilled and left out over night. The box is well vented and wrapped in mylar. If you could give me instructions on what to do after the seed has spiked about 1/8 of an inch....how much water to add to the soil and how often. Thank you very much!

Answer: Fred, let me assume for one moment that your grow box is 3 feet high. With 2'x 2' of garden area lit by 200 watts of compact fluorescent light, your garden is lit at 50 watts per square foot. That is pretty much ideal in my opinion. 80 degrees is a little warm. Air exhaust, as well as air circulation inside the box, are both important and should not be overlooked. 70-75 degrees would be closer to ideal as far as temperature is concerned. If you are growing in Spring or Summer, I would say DON'T use the heating pad!

It is also very easy to over-water new seedlings, and I suspect this is where you may be going wrong. Especially if you have used a high quality soil mix with some nutrients in it, as you have indicated, then your problem is almost certainly a watering issue.

A seedling one inch tall will have a tap root also one inch long. Once transplanted into the one gallon pot, you have a very large container of soil with NO roots in it. If you water all of this soil, and there are no roots in the soil to use the water, then the soil tends to stay wet longer than it should. If you water the soil again (before drying in between) you stand a very good chance of water-logging the soil.

Water-logging is when all of the air spaces in the soil have been replaced by standing water within the soil. Unfortunately, nutrient uptake ONLY takes place in the presence of Oxygen....so you must maintain a certain level of Oxygen in the root zone and water-logged soil is not acceptable.

Having struggled with the same problem myself while learning to grow in soil, I can offer a couple of tips. The first is to use more light weight, fast draining soil additives in your mix. A mix with too much peat moss, or too much coconut coir, begins to take on a dense consistency like rockwool....which is not good for a soil mix. It will hold too much water.

To improve the drainage of the mix, include more perlite, vermiculite, pumice, or expanded clay pellets. This will help the soil retain more Oxygen even if a little over-watered. To prevent over-watering, use a hand pump spray mist bottle to moisten the new transplant for the next several days (instead of watering the soil).

My second tip was what saved me personally. When transplanting a plant into a new container, make sure the new container is the right size. Specifically, make sure the new container is NOT TOO LARGE. A seedling started in a 4 oz dixie cup can be transplanted comfortably into a 6 inch round pot....which in turn can be transplanted into a 3 gallon container once it is again root bound. A root-bound plant in a dixie cup should NOT be transplanted into one gallon container. A slightly smaller in-between size would be more appropriate.

Finally, whenever transplanting into a larger container, you should pre-moisten the soil you are using. Then, water the freshly transplanted plant with a minimum amount of water, directed to the soil where you know the original roots to be. Make a conscious effort to check the soil for moisture before you water the plant again....touch the top 1" of the soil with your finger....it should be dry. Lift the container....it should be much lighter. For a fresh transplant, this could be 10 or even 14 days! So be patient, and an eye on your plants every day so you are ready when they are!

Don't forget that air circulation, and Happy Growing!

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Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 22 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people.

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 20 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol).

And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.



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Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!


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This is where my advice ends for people growing in water. But some of you out there are in love with soil gardening and organic gardening, and rightly so! It's a pro-human activity. It is pro-conservation. It is pro-life. It nurtures and promotes life at all levels, from the micro-organisms to beneficial insects, to healthy humans. It's natural. it's spiritual. Gardening is written deeply into our DNA, like how you feel watching a bonfire or sitting by the ocean or next to a river.

My friend John at Food4Wealth has more than 20 years experience organic gardening, so he reminds me a lot of myself. He knows organic gardening like I know hydroponic gardening, and over the years he has learned just about every trick there is to organic gardening. He knows what makes the plants grow, and he knows how to do it with as little effort as humanly possible. His garden never needs digging, naturally repels pests, has no weeds, always produces more than his family is able to eat, produces vegetables everyday all year round, and....only requires 8 HOURS of light, easy effort PER YEAR!


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