Unlike planting in your garden, we need soil to support our plants and this is also where they get their nutrients. But with hydroponics system, since your plants are dependent on water’s essential nutrients, it needs medium into where they can hold up into. This cam of the medium should be inert, which means that will not decay or rotten while soaked in water while providing the plants with nutrients. They also help in holding the oxygen and nutrients for the plant’s roots. This media has the same function with soil.
Growing medium don’t provide vitamins and minerals for the plants, they only hold the plants and help the roots retain the nutrients and keep it moisturized. Your water nutrition solutions do the job in providing your plants with their food.
There are different media to choose from for your hydroponic system. And each of them has specific functions and have different properties from each other. The most common media used are grow rock, rock wool, coconut fibers, and perlite.
The media you will choose will depend on your hydroponic system design and what kind of plant you will grow in this system; these two things are important factors.
There may be one medium that is suitable for this system while not goes well with the other. Whatever you need to weigh in according to your water system and plants, the only goal is to keep the roots hydrated. A media chosen should not be saturated and/or saggy because these may lead to suffocation of the roots and leads to root death.
Below are hydroponic media you can choose from and details about its characteristics and functions are listed down below.
Coco fiber/ Coco Chips. The coconut husk can be a medium for your plants. Most of us think that coconut husks are useless, but it’s one of the best medium we can use in growing our plants. Since this medium is organic and decomposes slowly, it’s a good medium for your hydroponic system. Coco chips/fiber has a neutral pH which your plants prefer. They can also hold up moisture and nutrients for your roots. Before using, soak your coconut fiber and chips in water for few hours before you use them as medium.
Aged and Composted Pine Barks. Just like your coconut husk, pine barks were also thought to be wastes only. Then they discovered that pine barks are far way different than other tree barks because it has less organic acids in it and good at resisting decomposition.
Floral Foam. This is what we commonly see in flower shops. These foams can be a medium to your water pump system because of its ability to absorb and hold water. It’s almost the same with Oasis cubes but floral foams have larger cell size. The disadvantage of this medium is that you don’t want it to be in constant contact with your water supply because it crumbles easily and can cause clogging. Sometimes, it leaves particles in the water.
Grow Rock. Called as hydro core or known as L.E.C.A (lightweight expanded clay aggregate) is a commonly used medium in hydroponic system. A kind of clay those are heavy enough to support and carry water and essential nutrients but light enough to float on your water. This clay absorbs water to nourish the roots of your plants, and has a neutral pH level. And this medium is reusable, you just need to thoroughly clean them and sterilized. It may take your time in the cleaning process before you can use it, but it’s more economical in the long run.
Godstone Hydroponic Substrate. Unlike hydrocarbons, these stones are made from recycled glass. The recycled glass was made from clay and marbles. They’re not sharp and not even cut your skin. Just like your hydrocarbons, they’re reusable and not heavy. They come in different shapes and sizes. This grows stone offers good aeration to your plants and as well as keeps their roots moisturize. They also can absorb more water than hydrocarbons do. Just make sure it will not drown your water plants by creating a drainage system. Avoid root rotting of your plants by keeping the top of your medium dry, because this is the common problem with hydroponic medium.
Oasis Cubes. Is quite similar and do have the same property with rock wool cubes. But it looks like cube version of your floral foam. They are used to hold flower plants as decorations. The material of this medium can absorb both water and air. It can wick the water and essentials need of both water and air which helps the roots expand freely. It isn’t as the same as floral foam and rock wool cubes that constantly having clogging issues, though it’s better to avoid constant contact to avoid same issue in the future. This medium is also good for starters.
Perlite. This medium expands like popcorn does. It can absorb water and nutrients and has a neutral pH level, too. You can use perlite alone, but it can also be mixed with other medium since it is flexible. This medium isn’t a good option if your hydroponic system is the same as flood and drainage system, because since it’s light weight it easily floats with your water.
Pine Shavings. For huge hydroponic system and drainage, they use pine shavings because it’s an economical growing medium for water plants. Commercial growers prefer this medium because it isn’t expensive. Only use the pine shavings and not the fine dust. Because pine dust can cause clogging to your water pump system. Make sure that your pine shavings don’t contain chemicals. Upon purchasing, make sure to read the labels to ensure it doesn’t contain any harmful additives or chemicals. This type of medium is made out from trees, which means they are good at water absorption but the problem is water clogging. To avoid these circumstances, make sure you have a good drainage system. You can purchase cheap pine shavings either in feed stores or pet shops.
Polyfoam. This is used as an alternative medium to your rock wool or your oasis cubes as your starter medium in growing plants. It isn’t commonly used in hydroponic system because hydroponic stores don’t sell them. They said it has good results with starting plants. This commonly used for our home furniture and sold in fabric stores.
Rockwool. The popular growing medium in hydroponic system. This is a product of heated and melted limestone, granite, and mixed with cotton threads. This is sterile and can’t be easily broken down medium. Since it comes in the form of thread cotton, you can shape it up into sheets, cubes, blocks, or how you want to look like in your water pump system. Since cotton are known as great absorber, avoid them in constant contact with your water system to avoid saturation which causes suffocation of your plants and root rotting. Before using your rock wool, you need to soak it in the water that is already pH balance.
River Rocks. This is an inexpensive medium, especially when you just collected them from the river. They are commonly use in pet shop’s aquariums. The rocks you collected from the river should be clean and sanitized first before you use them. To do this, soaked it in a water with bleach the whole night and rinse. Since they come in different size and shape, your plants can get more oxygen because it has plenty of air pockets. The downside is that it doesn’t retain moisture as much like other medium. Rocks don’t absorb water so it’s advisable to have a water flowing schedules. Another solution is to add cocoa chips to help the water to remain and gives moisture to your plants. Rocks keeps your plant’s roots being saturated and this will avoid plants suffocation and root rotting.
Rice Hulls. This is easy to find if you’re near a crop farm. Though they’re organic, they also break down slowly like coco chips and fiber. Rice hulls are mixed together with other medium, like pine barks. Once they were mixed together, they create a balanced pH which is between 5.7 to 6.5 which our plants will love. Remember, you only need to use parboiled rice hulls, but you must steam and dry them after milled in a machine. This process will kill the presence of chemicals, bacteria and fungus that it has. Fresh rice hulls are not a good idea because it comes with “other” things that might toxic for your plants.
Sand. Another commonly used medium in pumping systems. Better use larger grain of sand and not those fine ones. Once you choose large grains of sand, it promotes good aeration your plants because of plenty air pockets. The problem is it’s heavy for your hydroponic system. You can just mix it up with other lightweight medium to lessen its weight. Don’t forget to clean your sand before using them.
Vermiculite. Another popcorn-like medium because it expands when exposed to high temperatures. It’s lightweight; therefore, it has the tendency to float in the water. It can hold up nutrients of future purposes. Be sure to purchase them in a nursery because they come variety.
Water-Absorbing Polymers. Like the foam polymers, this is also not commonly used in hydroponic system. A good example of these is those diapers. Yes, they contain water-absorbing polymers. And in flower shops, they use this to keep the flowers fresh the whole day. A pound of these crystal polymers can hold up gallons of water. It usually will take them an hour or more to fully absorb water which will look and feel like gelatin. This type of medium isn’t expensive and its ability to absorb water is making its name into hydroponic system medium.
Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening
It has countless benefits not only for you but also for the environment. The product it produces is cleaner, healthier, bigger, and more nutritious. For sure, this will become a trend in the future. How does it benefit both your pocket and environment? These are the checklist.
- It doesn’t take a lot of your energy and effort, maybe building the setup but planting and monitoring them isn’t because machines do the job for you.
- You can put it anywhere you want them.
- Who said you can’t grow plants in your condo or apartment?
- No need to worry about extreme temperatures. You can keep them inside your homes.
- with proper set-up, say goodbye to stress!
- No need to go to parks or forests to keep in touch with nature, it’s just a few steps away from your bedroom or house.
- We needn’t soil. So, it’s free from germs and other elements.
- Healthier plants and can produce more compared to plants grows in soil.
- No need to use pesticides.
- Water issues in your town? No worries, you can recycle the water in the reservoir.
- No soil means no weeds to pull out every now and then.
Perlite as a Hydroponic Medium
Perlite is one of the most commonly used medium for hydroponic plants. Why should we focus more on perlite as a growth medium? Keep reading. This perlite medium is used for years already by people who have a hydroponic system at home. It is added to increase aeration and moisture to both plants growing in soil and water system. Like what has mentioned above, they’re like popcorns that pop and burst when exposed to high temperatures. It is considered as the best growth medium for your hydroponic plants. You can mix it up with vermiculite, about half is perlite and the other half is vermiculite. But if you want to use pure perlite as a medium, it’s fine too. Perlite medium is best used for the wick-type hydroponic system because it can absorb water faster and retain their which helps your roots moisturize.
But its issue is it can’t retain water longer. It might dry out easily, that’s why you need to have scheduled watering for this kind of medium, and an automated one is advisable.
Be cautious when handling perlite medium, its dust isn’t good for your health. Wear face mask and goggles every time when you come in contact, this is to protect your eyes and respiratory system.
Uses of Perlite
Perlite is not only a good medium for your plant growth, it also as versatile as it gets.
Construction and Manufacturing. Used as plasters because it’s lightweight. It can also be good for concrete and mortar, insulation and ceiling tiles as well.
Horticulture. A medium for your plants, both soil growth, and hydroponic growth. In soil, it prevents soil compaction which is a good aerator and in hydroponics a good medium because of its wicking characteristics.
Filtration Aid. An alternative of diatomaceous earth and popular filters for beers before they are put inside the bottle.
Ceramics. It can be mixed with clays or an additive to metals and cryogenic insulation. Only small quantity is need from perlite but it isn’t complete without it.
Biotechnology. It has great resistance to microbial attacks, stable mechanical and thermal ability, and non-toxic –it’s used as explosives and bioremediation.
Perlite Benefits for Your Plants
Since it is best known for its wicking characteristic and good drainage capabilities, no wonder perlite is popular among hydroponics system gardening. It’s a good aerator for your plants, which will not cause suffocation and root rotting, too. It has neutral pH levels which your plants prefer. And it’s the inert and sterile type of medium, which means it’s safe to use. This medium is reusable, you just need to wash it off, clean, dried, and restored to regain its neutral pH again. Perlite doesn’t decompose, so it’s economical and inexpensive. It is guaranteed that you can reuse them for a couple of years. It’s not only good in absorbing and drainage abilities, it can also help your plant’s roots be protected from extreme and sudden temperature change.
Advantage and Disadvantage of Perlite
Of course, before purchasing perlite as a medium we must weigh the pros and cons first. A wise consumer always does this.
- Inexpensive. You can buy perlite at a lower cost through online. Other medium costs twice the price of perlite.
- Reusable and Economical. It doesn’t decompose. You can use it for years and when you’re going to reuse it, you should clean and sterilize them first.
- Neutral pH Level. Perlite has neutral pH which is recommended to plant growth.
- Sterile. Perlite medium is sterile because it underwent a heating process to achieve no presence of fungi or microbes and bacteria.
- Dealing with Anaerobic Conditions. This medium can hold both air and water well, so the roots of your plants are well-oxygenated. If plants are oxygenated using perlite because it is made of large grains and has a lot of air pockets, so the roots can breathe.
- Non-Renewable Resource. Sad but true. Perlite is considered as not renewable to human time. It will take billions of years to process this kind of material.
- Blockage. Perlites are composed of small particles and have air pockets but its space isn’t that spacious. If your plant’s roots are growing aggressively, it has a high chance of blocking the space or air pockets.
- Perlite Dust. Perlites are made out from recycled glass so it isn’t advisable putting them in an aquarium. Though it will not cut your skin when in contact, it can be abrasive. Use mask and goggles when handling this type of medium. They can cause eye irritation as well as respiratory problems. Don’t forget to wear gloves, too. Better be safe than sorry.
- Solids Formation. Your perlite does have chances of catching debris, algae, and other things.
Is Perlite Safe to Use for Your Vegetable Plants?
Perlites are made from volcanic glasses. They are taken from active volcanic areas. They are quarried and processed to become small white balls. They become bigger in size once they were exposed to extreme heat. It’s safe to vegetable plants since it’s non-fibrous. But the dust it comes with isn’t good at all. When you use this medium, you must use goggles, face mask, and gloves to protect you. And it’s advisable to wet them first before handling.
Perlites have tiny crevices which can attract nutrients and helps the roots of your plants moisturized and keep oxygenated. This substance can be both ideals with soil and water growths. With soil growth, it helps in preventing compaction of soils underneath. And in hydroponic growth system, it can be a medium to pick up the water and hold nutrients to keep the roots moisturized. It is also a good aerator for your plant. It is also known to have better drainage abilities compared to another medium.
This medium is lightweight, so its downside is it will float when used in water pump system. And since its water-retention ability isn’t that good, it is better mixed with another medium like vermiculite, which is a famous partner of perlite. It is advisable to mix these two mediums, half perlite, and half vermiculite. Vermiculite helps in holding and retaining water for about 30 – 50 percent. This is a perfect combination because the roots are provided with both water nutrients and air. Research shows that the best combination ratio is with the range of 25 to 35 percent by its volume.
Before deciding to buy perlite medium, think first if it would fit your hydroponic system type. There are water pump designs that will not fit with other system but work well on the other. Avoid using a water pump system that is flood and drainage design because of its lightweight, it will easily drain down.
Perlite is inert medium, it’s sterile because of its heating process, inorganic, reusable, and economical. They also help in soil aeration to prevent compaction. This means that it doesn’t possess any biologic threat to your hydroponic system. It’s also a good insulator to your plants. This means that that protect the roots of your plants from sudden shifting of extremely high temperatures to low temperature or the other way around.
To answer your question, yes, it’s safe to use for your vegetable garden. You don’t only have healthy vegetable products but also economical materials being used.
The key to producing healthy and nutritious plants products lies underneath its stem. Take care and pay attention to the roots of your plants, it’s their heart. Everything starts underneath.