Soil Planting

by Rob Gee
(Queens, NY)

I have a few questions actually. The plant is 3 months old, the humidity levels are normal, and the lighting is fine 6500k fluorescents (dual bulbs), plants 19" tall- I cut the bigger leaves off, is that OK? Which type of nutrients should I use and how much of it. Oh, I'm growing tomato plants...any tips? Should I give more lighting, did I do something wrong by cutting the bigger leaves? Did that stunt their growth? Because one plant is growing taller than the other. Any tips on soil growing please! Thanks a load!




Answer: Rob- let me start with lighting....6500k indicates what color your light is made of, but it does not indicate how STRONG the light is. The strength of a light is measured (most commonly) by the number of watts it takes to power the light. To get a good idea how strong the light is for your plants, you need to divide this number (watts) by the number of square feet you are lighting with it. If you are using a two bulb, four foot long fluorescent light, this normally breaks down to only 10 watts per square foot.

Unfortunately, most garden plants prefer "full sun", which would be a minimum of 40 watts per square foot. Furthermore, fluorescent lights need to be kept within 12 or 14 inches of the plants in order to be effective. If you used 4 two bulb fluorescent light fixtures placed in the shape of a pyramid, this would provide 40 watts per square foot (but would only provide enough growing space for one or two tomato plants).

You could continue to add fluorescent lights to increase your garden area, but you would still need to keep the vegetation within about 14 inches of the lights. The "next step up" from this strategy would be to purchase a 400 watt or 600 watt HPS light. This would give you a greater garden area, and would light that area more effectively (up to 2 1/2 or 3 feet from the light).

With proper lighting in mind, it will be much easier to understand how you should be pruning your plants. Every leaf is like a solar panel, creating food and energy for the plant to grow. As long as the leaves are within the effective light zone, they should be kept on the plant. If you are using fluorescent lights, for example, you should keep all the leaves on the top 14 inches of the plant....leaves below this area can be pruned off.

The vegetation lower down on your plants will not receive enough light to produce good fruits and flowers. The vegetation lower down on the plants will not receive enough light to produce food and energy for the rest of the plant. There is really no good reason to let those leaves keep using up your nutrients. Removing the lower vegetation will let your nutrients move up the plant to vegetation that is receiving better light. Removing the lower vegetation will also help increase air circulation under and around your plants (which is very important).

The only exception to this general guide would be when you "top" a plant. "Topping" is done to stop the upward growth of a plant and encourage it to grow wider instead (or "bush out"). Topping is usually done the first week of the flowering cycle or before. To top a plant, you simply remove about an inch of vegetation from the top-most point on the plant.

If you inadvertently clipped the top off of one of your plants, it might appear as if it's growth were stunted. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, this is not exactly the case. However, if you pruned off too many leaves from the effective light zone, this WOULD in fact stunt the growth of your plant. Depending on how severe the pruning was, the plant should recover within a week or two.

If you have one plant growing taller than the other plants, I would recommend topping the taller plant. It is much easier to light your garden evenly when all the plants in the garden are approximately the same size.

Most garden plants, including tomatoes, are heavy feeding. With most fertilizers, this means feeding your plants "full strength". Ultimately, how strong "full strength" really is will differ from one nutrient to the next. It is always best to use a TDS meter or EC meter to determine how strong the nutrient solution is before using it. If you do not have one, it is best to use 20% less than the "full strength" recommendation on your fertilizer package.

This (above) would be the nutrient strength you would use to FINISH your plants. If they do well, you can experiment with (increase) the nutrient solution strength in your next crop to try to get the best yield. Young plants should be started at 50% of the recommended nutrient strength, and the strength should be increased each week until you arrive at your "finish" nutrient solution strength.

All the advice above assumes there are very few nutrients available in the soil you are using. If you use a high quality, organic soil mix (like Fox Farm), you will want to reduce the strength of the nutrient solution you use to feed your plants. In fact, when a really good soil mix is used you can give your plants plain water for the first three weeks after you transplant them.

My number one piece of advice for soil growers would be to use a high quality soil mix. A good recipe is 1/3 Fox Farm Forrest, 1/3 Fox Farm Ocean, 1/3 perlite, and add enough worm castings to the mix to make up about 5% of the total mix. This is a good "base" recipe that you can customize many different ways....for example, adding kelp meal or bat guano.

Concentrate on the basic nutrients at first. Make sure the fertilizer is highest in Nitrogen for the vegetative state and highest in Phosphorus for the flowering state. Once you have good success with a crop, consider using a nutrient additive to take it to the next level. After 15 years of gardening, there are 3 additives I consider the best....

If you can afford only one other thing, make it vitamin B1 (ie Superthrive). B1 constantly pushes the cell division in your plants, leading to extra growth and yield. A very close second would be liquid seaweed (like MaxiCrop). Using seaweed adds micro-nutrients and plant hormones to your water. Third, include a Silica additive (like Silica Blast). Silica helps the plant create a crystalline matrix in the stems of the plants and increases the immune system of the plants.

When using quality soil and quality fertilizer, it is not necessary to use your additives at the full recommended strength. In fact, you should use only 50% of the recommended strength for your additives. It is particularly important that you DO NOT go over the recommended amount when using a Silica additive. These three additives should be used in EVERY DROP of water you give to your plants, whether or not you are also giving them fertilizer at the time.

These three additives can be used together at the same time (in the same water) without any problem. The only time you would not want to give them to your plants would be if/when you are flushing your plants (the last two weeks of the flowering period). I hope this helps, and Happy Growing!

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Misc Hydroponic Gardening Q&A.

Check out all of Jason's recommended items.
Find out the cheapest and easiest ways to garden productively in this article.

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.



Make a year's worth of compost in one week!
What is colloidal humus?

Make the world's best compost


Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 20 years and I have only just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole year! I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients.


High Efficiency
Hydroponics

One final solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants is concerned. Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle, you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system!


Aquaponics

Click Here to learn more!

This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 20 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.


Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

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!


High Efficiency
Soil Gardening

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!


Low effort organic gardening!

Years and years of experience and results can't be argued with....the Food4Wealth gardening strategy is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work....specifically for organic gardeners who love soil gardening. THIS is the most efficient and productive way to do organic gardening, period! And combined with the ability to make a years' worth of colloidal humus compost in just one week (see World's Best Compost), this overall organic soil gardening strategy is just unstoppable- foolproof, low cost, and low effort!

Learn about high yield organic gardening






If you've found this site helpful at all, I would really appreciate it