There's only one thing I love more than writing and making videos about hydroponics and indoor gardening: receiving FEEDBACK! Often I receive questions that really remind me of just how bewildering it can be to start-out, and trying to answer them is a great grounding experience and gives me tons of inspiration for which videos to make next.
So, today I received an interesting set of questions from a friendly grower named Paul Thompson. He recently subscribed to my YouTube channel and, if you're reading this Paul, many thanks for subbing—and for posting your questions. I bet you didn't think you were going to be the inspiration for my blog post today! But here we are!
Right—for the rest of you—just in case you can't read the graphic clearly, here's what Paul asked me:
"How many times do I water and feed my plants a week? It seems that sometimes they don't need any watering until 6 / 7 days later as the soil is damp and moisture is still there. How do you know when to water it? (by hand and tank) if I have a nutrient reservoir, and I have the water going through tricklers (drippers). How long do I release the nutrients/water into the plant (20 / 30 secs - maybe more give or take tube's size) and how many times a day? Thanks."
Reading between the lines it seems like Paul is just starting out. There's nothing wrong with being a beginner. We've all been there. But have you ever asked somebody a question and all they do is ask you questions back? Sometimes it can be really frustrating—especially when you forget what you wanted to know in the first place!
I remember when I first started out as an indoor gardener—I was just 17 years old. I made up for my lack of cash with enthusiasm, and I was a permanent fixture at my local grow store where I continually bothered the staff during what would've been their quieter moments. I remember one chap, called Greg, who was particularly patient and knowledgable. He had a natural gift for explaining fairly complex and unfamiliar things in easily-graspable terms and was a real inspiration to me.
I'm not sure I can live up to Greg's now legendary pedagogical skills but I'll do my best!
First, let's look at the information Paul has given:
1) He's growing in a soil-based potting mix.
2) He started out watering his plants by hand.
3) He (wisely) wants to dial in an automated dripper system (so he can have a life!)
However, there's a lot of information missing. But, for the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to make quite a few assumptions:
1) What species of plant is Paul growing? I think I can safely assume a vigorous, fast-growing, light-loving, heavy-fruiting annual.
2) What type of soil potting mix is Paul using? How well does it drain? How absorbent is it? I will assume a professional potting mix tailor made for indoor gardeners, probably a popular brand purchased at a specialist indoor gardening / hydro store rather than a mainstream gardening center. My guess is Paul is probably using something like BioBizz All-Mix.
3) What type and size container is Paul using? Obviously smaller pots require more frequent irrigation. Also, it could be a plastic pot, or maybe a fabric, breathable container such as a Smart Pot. Fabric pots are fantastic for root health but do require more frequent irrigations too. However, while fabric pots are great for beginners, my guess is that Paul is using ordinary plastic pots. Hopefully Paul is staging his transplants too, with small nursery pots for seedlings or cuttings up to three or four inches tall, then perhaps an intermediate pot of around a 1-3 liters' volume, and a final pot to take the plant to full maturity—normally 7.5, 10 or 15 liters. (Roughly 2 gallons, 3 gallons, and 4 gallons.)
4) What about Paul's growing environment? Paul doesn't mention the size of his indoor garden or what type of lights he is using but this is just auxiliary info—what we really need to know, assuming Paul has sufficient light, is the room's temperature and relative humidity. Hopefully it's around 25 - 27 °C (77 - 80 °F) during the lights-on period, not too much lower at night, and relative humidity around 60 - 65 % for vegetative development, 50% for transition, and gradually lowering to around 40 - 45 % for flowering and fruiting. Low relative humidity and high temperatures will necessitate more frequent watering, of course.
5) What type of nutrients is Paul using? I'm just interested to know—it's not really essential info at this stage.
Finally—some general tips for Paul to help him grow successfully, from one grower to another—feel free to add your own!
1) Less is more. Many newbie growers over-water their plants—drowning them with kindness! Over-watering inhibits new root growth and can deplete oxygen levels in and around the root zone, inviting harmful pathogens, and lowering metabolic rates. Plants need oxygen as well as moisture so take it easy. Lift your pots often. Only water when they feel pretty light. If in doubt, wait!
2) Don't transplant plants into a pot that's too big. As mentioned already, stage your plants—nursery, intermediate, and final pot. Wait until your plants have used every square inch of potting mix in their current pot before transplanting. Roots should have totally explored the pot, without circling. As a general rule, if you're having to water your plants once or twice a day, they've probably outgrown their home and it's time to move them on! Always transplant your plants when the growing medium is dry and in need of a water. They are much easier to transplant. Water your plants in thoroughly once you have them established in their new pots. You may have to leave the plant five, six, even seven days before watering again. Let it explore its new home!
3) Water each plant slowly and evenly. If a dry crust has developed (often the case with soil-based potting mixes under grow lights) on the top that repells water, just take your time to gradually, ever so gradually, moisten it again until it starts to re-absorb moisture. Measure how much water you feed your plants. You should aim for 20% of the water you feed your plants to run out the bottom. This tells you that you wetted the entirety of the potting mix and it also helps to rinse any excess salts out of the growing media.
4) Look into mychorrizae "My-ko-rize-zay" products! This is an amazing, natural beneficial soil fungus that forms a special relationship with your plants, helping to mitigate drought stress and actively more moisture and nutrients to your plants. Check to see if your plant species is able to form relationships with mychorrizae.
5) Choose a light-airy potting mix with at least 30% perlite to help with drainage and oxygen levels in and around the root zone.
6) Relax! Take it easy! And get to know your plants! Remember, soil-based potting mixes probably have more than enough nutrition within them to take your plants through a few weeks of vigorous vegetative development. After that, start supplementing with a light nutrient mix at first. Wait, record, and observe! Have fun with it.
7) Once you have 'dialed in' your plants' requirements through hand-watering, you'll be in a far better position to set-up a dripper system. Check out my video here:
DIY Dripper Systems
DIY Dripper set up and dialling it all in!
I hope this was of use. Paul (or anybody else) - if you have any questions or comments, fire away. You can also post at our Facebook group too if you swing that way. :)