Learn more about Managing Hydroponic Systems
This course has been developed to complement Hydroponics I and II; and is intended for people who already have some experience and understanding of hydroponics.
Course Content and Structure
There are eight lessons in this course as follows:
1. Options for Managing Plant Culture - different approaches to cultural operations in hydroponics. Organics vs. hydroponics:Nutrient differences in food products. Is hydroponic food more or less healthy than organic? How feasible is organic hydroponics?
2. Planning a Hydroponic Operation - site and crop selection; matching a system with a crop, materials, resources & services required.
3. System Design Components - pumps, hardware, media, pipes, size, type, and so forth. Components for different types of culture.
4. Managing a Hydroponic System in Hot, Humid Conditions - tropical and subtropical climates or summer in temperate areas.
5. Water Management - water quality measures, treatments, runoff,testing, purifying water, water in recirculating and run-to-waste systems.
6. Nutrient Formulation - standard formulations, detecting toxicities & deficiencies.
7. Controlling Nutrient Levels - using EC and pH measures of concentration levels, solution temperatures, and maintaining nutrient levels.
8.Pest & Disease Control - nutrient and pH manipulation for control of pests & diseases, integrated pest management, common pests and diseases.
What You Will Do
- Learn about the following:
- Hydroponics versus Organic Crops
- Feasibility of Organic Hydroponics
- Hydroponic Food Health
- Types of Hydroponic Culture -Water, Sand, Aggregate, Rockwool, Sawdust, Other
- Planning a Hydroponic Sustem
- Site Appraisal
- Climate -temperature, frost, snow, humidity, light, dust, wind
- Water Supply
- Other Resources
- Site Preparation
- Site Layout
- Matching a System with a Crop
- Grow Bed and Tank Construction
- Pumps and Pipes
- Materials for Different Types of Culture based Systems
- Materials for use with Sand Culture
- Materials for Use with Aggregate Culture
- Materials for Use with Rockwool Culture
- Materials for Use with Sawdust Culture
- Materials for Use with NFT
- Humidity and Temperature
- Pest Control
- Types of Tropical Culture
- Sand Culture in Hot Humid Places
- Ebb and Flow Systems
- Modified Dynamic Root Floating (DRF) System
- Deep Flow and Chilling
- Water Sources -mains water, rain, underground, surface
- Water Quality
- Hard Water
- Water pH
- Water EC
- Sodium Chloride
- Smell and Colour
- Iron Content
- Carbon Dioxide
- Water Recirculating Systems
- Water Treatments
- Compounds for Formulations
- Dutch Classification of Nutrient Formulae
- Nutrient Formulae
- Nutrient Deficiencies and Toxicities
- Nutrient Mobility
- Detecting Nutrient Deficiencies
- Nutrients and pH
- EC and Nutrient Solution Levels
- Maintaining Nutrient Levels
- Nutrient Temperatures
- Integrated Pest Management
- Common Pests and Diseases
Describe different approaches to cultural operations
Demonstrate an awareness of similarities and differences between organic and hydroponic production techniques
Describe how to plan a hydroponic operation through site and crop selection, matching a specific crop, materials, resources and services required, and site layout; for different specific crops.
Discuss system design components such as pumps, grow beds, solution tanks, media and pipes in terms of size, type, and options for different cultures and specific crops.
Provide details of how to manage a hydroponic system in hot, humid conditions such as in tropical or subtropical areas, or in summer, in temperate areas, for specific crops.
Explain options for water management such as water sources, quality, testing, treatments, and use in recirculating and non recirculating systems.
Recommend awareness of natural and other methods of pest and disease control such as biological controls, as part of IPM and nutrient and pH manipulation for different pests and diseases.
Explain and recommend different standards of nutrient formulation, and advanced methods of detecting toxicities and deficiencies in specific crops.
Recommend methods to control nutrient level concentrations by taking EC, pH and temperature measurements, and maintaining nutrient levels for different specific crops.
Learn to Manage the Solution
Hydroponics is only successful if all the components introduced into the system are balanced correctly. In order to achieve this, regular testing is important.
Important Tests in Hydroponics
A number of hydroponics tests may be conducted and amongst the most significant are:
- Water quality
- Nutrient concentration and balance
- The pH of the solution
- The EC of the solution
Water Quality Tests
Source water quality tests are relatively easy to obtain and should be carried out before setting up a hydroponic operation. Since a number of water quality parameters can affect the composition of the nutrient solution and play a role in factors such as pH management, water testing is a vital component of hydroponic testing. A water analysis or report is always the best place to start if water quality issues are suspected. Municipal water suppliers should be able to provide customers with a full water report which includes mineral analysis as well as water treatment chemicals such as chlorine or others. For those using other water supplies such as ground water, well water, river or dam collected water, obtaining a water analysis is relatively easy and all that is required is to send a sample off to an analytical or agricultural testing lab. Water reports, while extremely useful, may not cover all potential problems however they usually give a fairly good indication of where any issues lie with a water supply.
Water samples for testing should be collected in a clean, well-rinsed bottle and sent immediately to the lab. Parameters to be analysed vary slightly between labs, however the following are usually included in a basic ‘irrigation water test’:
pH, EC, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, ammonium, nitrate, chloride, sulphate, phosphate, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron, molybdate, carbonates (CO3), bicarbonates (HCO3), alkalinity (CaCO3)
Most water testing reports supplied by analytical labs will use units of ppm (parts per million), mg/l (milligrams per litre) or mEq (milliequivalents). Some reports may give a guide to the ‘desired level’ however these are generally not useful for hydroponic growers and refer to the use for potable (drinkable) water or water to be irrigated onto soil grown crops.
Learn to Manage Contaminants
All growers, whether involved in a backyard operation or a large commercial set-up, have the responsibility to ensure that nutrient waste does not contaminate the broader environment. There are laws covering this is most regions. Closed systems are far less likely to cause problems than open systems as the water and nutrient solutions are not regularly discharged into the broader environment. However, if open systems are designed correctly they can use the nutrient solution which is not recirculated to fertilise other crops such as turf, etc. The main risk is to water resources since nutrients from fertilisers can leach and contaminate local water bodies. If pesticides are used, this poses a further risk. You should make sure you know the local guidelines for disposal of nutrient loaded water from hydroponics systems and also the capacity for pathogen release into the environment, and the potential for contamination of edible crops grown hydroponically.