Why do we choose hydroponics over soil based horticulture? In short, hydroponic systems allow greater productivity while minimizing resource inputs, all in a shorter time interval as compared to traditional gardening or farming. Given the upfront investment in the hydroponic equipment we buy to build our gardens and the expense of water and nutrients, it makes sense to try to capitalize on these strengths. At the Fifth Season Gardening Co. at Carrboro, we have devised a simple, yet elegant system that operates efficiently and produces quickly. We start sweet basil cuttings in an EZ Clone 30-site cloner where they remain until rooted. The rooted clones are then moved to a 4×4 Botanicare Top Drip system where their roots and shoots can develop. After several weeks, the plants are moved to a 4×4 Botanicare Ebb and Flow system where they are finished off before we take the clones necessary for another crop and harvest the leaves that remain. Ideally, each specialized system is always occupied with plants and our harvest is perpetual. In this blog post, I will discuss the advantages of each system for the plant growth stage for which we have designated them:
EZ Clone 30– These cloning machines are the most efficient and effective systems for the production of uniform crops. For easily rooting cuttings such as basil, mint and tomatoes, a grower can expect this aeroponic cloner to produce ready-to-plant rooted clones in 4-5 days. At the Fifth Season Carrboro location we have successfully rooted cutting from mothers as diverse as begonias and coffee plants. Be forewarned: Being able to check the progress of a cutting without pulling it out of a rock wool cube or starter peat plug can be addictive!
Botanicare Top Drip– This set-up is ideal for freshly planted clones. Especially in Hydroton rocks or similar media, top drip systems ensure moisture for shallow, undeveloped root systems and encourage root growth all the way to the bottom of the pot. A Top-Drip system’s biggest advantage is the efficiency and economy with which it dispenses nutrient solution through dripper stakes planted in the media; as a result the reservoir can be significantly smaller than flood and drain systems. A smaller reservoir means less water and fertilizer and a smaller pump.
Botanicare Ebb and Flow– Ebb and Flow systems that feed plants by flooding the grow tray are ideal for more mature plants. In mature growth phases when metabolism is near its peak, plants consume the greatest volume of water and nutrients via highly developed root systems. Due to plants’ rapid consumption and the volume of solution required to flood a table, a larger reservoir is required. A larger reservoir also minimizes swings in pH and PPM levels during aggressive growth, flowering and fruiting phases. Since in Ebb and Flow systems the whole tray floods, they are also the most adaptable as one can easily add or subtract pots without altering the infrastructure of the system.