New to Hydroponics and Indoor Gardening?

New to Hydroponics and Indoor Gardening?

Alex
Alex
07 Aug 2014

The world of hydroponics and indoor gardening can be a confusing place to enter for the first time but this shouldn’t put you off embracing the exciting challenge of growing plants! This guide is for anyone thinking about starting out as well as those of you who have only just begun and want a little help with what to do next! 

Everybody arrives here at different stages in terms of their gardening ability – from ‘never grown anything before’ to ‘allotment king’ – so we intend to try and provide a guide that covers all of the bases. Rather than reinvent the wheel though, the plan is to offer up concise answers to frequently asked questions alongside overviews of products and practices and then link to existing articles in the blog for more comprehensive demonstrations. That way, if you need help on a certain aspect of growing you’ll have less content to sift through!  

Information is structured to flow logically, beginning with the meaning and principles of hydroponics, then moving on to an exploration of what you can grow as well as a look at the key products and processes for setting up, before finally taking a start-to-finish tour of the plant growing cycle. To give you a complete overview, we touch upon all of the following:

1. A really quick introduction to hydroponics and indoor gardening

1.1 What is hydroponics?

1.2 Is growing indoors the same as growing outdoors?

1.3 Can I grow indoors with soil?

1.4 Which growing medium should I choose to use?

1.5 Should I be cautious of anything in particular?  

2. Grow what you want, when you want!

2.1 What plants do you recommend for growing indoors?

2.2 Where is the best place to find out more about the plants I want to grow?   

3. Location, Location, Location!

3.1 How much space do I need to grow indoors?

3.2 Is there a minimum suitable height?

3.3 What temperatures and humidity will my plants thrive in?

3.4 What else do I need to take into account?  

4. Setting up a grow room

4.1 What are the main things I need?

4.2 Why should I use a grow tent?

4.3 Why do I need a ventilation system?

4.4 How do I create a lighting system?

4.5 What is the best growing system for me?

4.6 Are there any other items of equipment I should know about?   

5. Feeding your plants

5.1 How do I feed plants in a hydroponics set up?

5.2 Have I got to feed soil-based plants or are there nutrients in the media?

5.3 What do plants growing in coco need?

5.4 How often should I feed my plants?

5.5 What additives shall I give my plants and when is it the best time to do so?

5.6 Are there any guides to follow for mixing nutrient solutions?  

6. Ready, steady, grow!

6.1 Is it easy to get some plants started off?

6.2 Should I do anything now that I can see signs of initial root development?

6.3 How do you move your plants into a main system without upsetting them?

6.4 What is necessary to accelerate and prolong plant growth?

6.5 How can I get my plants to start developing fruits?

6.6 When is it the right time to start my harvest?

6.7 Is it too late to try and save the genetics of my plants at the end of a crop?

6.8 What should I do if bugs or disease threaten to ruin my crop?  

7. Gearing up to go again!

7.1 What do I need to clean after a crop?

7.2 How should I store my nutrients and boosters?

7.3 When is the right time to replace equipment?  

8. A final note  

 

Honestly, getting to grips with the basics of hydroponics and indoor gardening takes minimal time and effort – in fact, finding your way to a good source of information is arguably the hardest part! And fortunately, you’ve arrived at one!  

Now, where to begin? How about with…

1. A really quick introduction to hydroponics and indoor gardening  

1.1 What is hydroponics?

By reaching this page it’s fair to say that you may already have a rough idea about what ‘hydroponics’ means. Nevertheless, just to clarify in a short and simple manner, the term basically refers to the method of using water instead of soil to deliver nutrients to plants.  

How the water is effectively made to deliver the nutrients to the plants can differ depending on the system design a grower selects (e.g. a bubbler/DWC system ‘bubbles’ the water whereas a dripper-based system ‘drips’ it), and each different type possesses unique benefits compared against the next – for more details see section 4.5. 

In order for the plants to properly uptake the nutrients, you must mix the feed concentrate correctly with the water. This involves checking and adjusting the pH level and conductivity of the solution, which might sound quite daunting but actually takes just a few minutes – for more details see section 5.1.

 

1.2 Is growing indoors the same as growing outdoors?

Yes and no. A lot of the same principles apply but you have much closer control of your plants in an indoor environment. Being able to precisely tailor grow room conditions makes it possible to nurture species only normally found away from the UK and to produce plants all year round. Creating the perfect setting for plants to thrive in also encourages them to completely fulfill their potential and produce bucket-loads of high quality fruits. Not bad, huh?   

 

1.3 Can I grow indoors with soil?

Certainly. We are strong advocates of hydroponics, yet the traditional method of growing plants in soil should never be ignored. It is rather messy and yields (total fruit production) tend to fall well below ‘soil-less’ alternatives, but on the other hand it is incredibly easy to do and promises exceptional results regarding looks, tastes and aromas. 

Sitting between soil and hydroponics you’ve got coco too. This organic growing media gives you the best of both worlds (high quality, big yields) and appears strangely familiar – feeling and looking a lot like soil.  

 
Soil Soil

1.4 Which growing medium should I choose to use?      

Depends on your goals and confidence. Soil often suits beginners because it’s quite simple to manage, whereas organic soil will please the purists and really hit the mark in terms of quality of fruits.  

Getting Your Hands Dirty – Growing In Soil  

Growing With Organics  

Coco represents a great stepping-stone for soil growers who want to work up towards hydroponics or for those demanding quality and quantity in equal measure.  

Hydro-Organics: The Coco Alternative

Just like hydroponics, the coco approach requires pH and CF tweaks to nutrient solutions – not that this should deter you from either option.  

Hydroponics is very clean and efficient, so much so that crop times are often considerably reduced! The main benefit concerns yields, which will go through the roof and overshadow what can be achieved with other methods!   

 

1.5 Should I be cautious of anything in particular?

The only things that can stop you from achieving great results in an adequately sized grow room (for more details on dimensions see section 3) are extreme temperatures, bugs and disease. With a suitable ventilation system (see 4.3 Why do I need a ventilation system?), pest management strategy and plant health maintenance regime (see 6.8 What should I do if bugs or disease threaten to ruin my crop?) there is nothing to worry about! 

Plants Plants

   

2. Grow what you want, when you want!  

2.1 What plants do you recommend for growing indoors?

If you’ve made your mind up and want to grow indoors, the chances are there is already a particular fruit or vegetable influencing the decision – be it lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries or something equally as appealing. Indeed, you can even produce bananas!  Top Banana!

Most plants that you can think of will really flourish inside a specially created grow room, but each one inevitably has very specific requirements with regards to feed strengths, feed frequencies, room temperature, room humidity, etc.  

In terms of a recommended starting point, chilli plants are a favourite of ours at GroWell.  

Question Time: Growing Chillies 

The Twilight variety stands out, proving to be relatively straightforward to grow irrespective of your level of experience. For a ‘start-to-finish’ grow diary based around this plant that’s aimed at beginners, have a look at the following link:  Twilight Chillies Grow Diary – Hydroponics and Soil

 
Twilight Chillis Twilight Chillis

2.2 Where is the best place to find out more about the plants I want to grow?

It’s important to do your research into the needs of the plants you would like to grow. For some help and guidance, talk to our tech team on the ‘Chat with us’ tool (bottom right of the page) or call. Check out a few of the examples below that are taken from the blog:  

Friars Hat Chillies (aka Bishops Hat and Barlett’s Bonnet)  

Masdevallia Constricta Orchids  

Triple White Metel Brugmansia (aka Angel’s Trumpet)

3. Location, Location, Location!  

Growing Growing

3.1 How much space do I need to grow indoors?

A spare room, empty garage or vacant loft will be ideal. Then again, you can use the corner of a room or even a closet if space is at a premium! Look for an available area of at least 75cm x 75cm. 

3.2 Is there a minimum suitable height?

Height represents the biggest issue – you could get away with 160cm from top to bottom but we’d suggest no less than 180cm to allow for a decent amount of foliage. Be aware that grow lights generate heat so you will want to establish some form of a gap between them and your plants to avoid burning the canopy.

3.3 What temperatures and humidity will my plants thrive in?

Target room temperature Target room temperature

Although it does depend on the type of plant being grown, most people’s target room temperature tends to range from 24oC to 28oC. At certain times the selected setting will be a challenge to maintain (in super hot summers and freezing cold winters) but there are plenty of tips and tricks to overcome any potential problems.

How To Survive Soaring Temperatures This Summer  

Winter Is Coming…

 
Humidity Humidity

The close relationship involving temperature and humidity means that one should never be talked about without reference to the other because warmer air holds onto more water. Depending on your temperature, the recommended relative humidity is 70 - 85% (propagation), 65 - 75% (veg) and 45 - 65% (flowering). However, a greater understanding of these two important factors is required if you want to fully optimise your grow room.  

Harnessing The Power Of Humidity  

Temperature, Relative Humidity and Vapour Pressure Deficit

Nutrient chiller Nutrient chiller

If you’re going to grow plants hydroponically, you must also remember to take care of nutrient solution temperatures. In the root environment, the most favourable conditions sit between 18oC-20oC. Again, you can find equipment to help ensure your target is reached during heat waves and big freezes.  

Keep Your Nutrient Solutions Cool This Summer  

Everything You Need To Know About Nutrient Heaters!  

Cold War Heroes – Nutrient Heaters

3.4 What else do I need to take into account?

Ensuring that fresh air is able to reach your plants should be high up on your agenda – at the very least you should make the most of the passive intake holes featured on a grow tent. For the best outcome though, we suggest installing an intake fan and drawing air in from a different area to the one housing your plants.  

You must also consider the implications of the size of the preferred growing system, both in terms of ground covered and height (e.g. NFT Systems are low to the floor whereas a Wilma System is taller), and whether suitable access to your plants can be gained.

4. Setting up a grow room  

4.1 What are the main things I need?

Once you’ve identified a decent location for your plants, it’s time to work out what equipment to use. The main hardware will include a ventilation system, a lighting system and a growing system. We also recommend installing a grow tent rather than just attaching reflective sheeting to your walls.  

Building Your First Grow Room  

Setting Up A Grow Room

Light Light

4.2 Why should I use a grow tent?

You can create a perfectly suitable grow area for raising plants with as little as a roll of plastic sheeting. However, a grow tent will help you improve your overall control of the environment, cleanliness and bug prevention, conveniently separating plants off from the immediate surroundings. Quality designs from the likes of BudBox feature durable tent canopies and super sturdy frame pieces that are guaranteed to stand up to numerous crops, therefore representing a very worthwhile long-term investment.  

How To Make The Most Of Your Grow Tent

4.3 Why do I need a ventilation system?

After constructing your grow tent we recommend focusing on the ventilation system. The extraction element of it usually hangs towards the back of the tent – an otherwise difficult section to reach with a light already suspended – and comprises of a fan, carbon filter and all the necessary ducting parts. When the equipment is set up, you can reliably and regularly replace the air in your grow room to keep the surrounding environment fresh and clean. An additional fan for intake purposes also proves worthwhile for use with 150mm extractor fans and above sizes, whilst air circulators do a great job at keeping air continuously on the move.  

Fan Filter Fan Filter

4.4 How do I create a lighting system?

To set up a safe and effective lighting system we recommend equipping yourself with a reflector, lamp, ballast, timer, contactor and light hangers.  

You must carefully consider the power rating of your lighting system – 250 Watt, 400 Watt, 600 Watt or 1000 Watt. More light typically equates to more growth but you have to take into account the size and height of the growing area. On the same note, the reflector/lamp should be carefully positioned to ensure plants receive the optimum amount of light whilst not suffering from overexposure to heat.  

Light Light

A very effective way of reducing the heat that reaches plants via your lamp(s) is to employ an air-cooled lighting system. These feature special reflectors that connect up to a fan and ducting to allow for air to be blown across the lamp in an attempt to keep it/them and the surrounding area cool.  

Close Encounters – Air Cooled Lighting Systems

Reflectors are designed to guide the light produced by a lamp down towards your plants. The better the design, the more of the light that will reach the all-important areas.  

Flexible Reflectors – Adjust-A-Wings Avenger vs Adjust-A-Wings Enforcer  

Don’t Waste A Watt – Effective Reflector Designs

Over time the light output of lamps and the reflectivity of reflectors will naturally decline due to usage – be aware of when you need to replace them.  

How Much Yield Are Your Lights Losing You? 

In some instances where you can accommodate multiple lighting systems, it makes better sense to set up a LightRail. This basically enables one light to cover the area that would otherwise need to be occupied by two, giving you a whole host of plus points.  

Lights, Rail, Action!

Lights Lights

4.5 What is the best growing system?

All of our growing systems are excellent – we wouldn’t sell them otherwise!  

If you’ve decided to go down the hydroponics route, you’ll soon discover that there’s a wide range of distinctive soil-less growing styles, each with their own specific systems. But how exactly do they differ? It essentially comes down to the application and delivery of the nutrient solution. For example, Flood and Drain Systems feed plants by periodically immersing the roots in a mixture of water and nutrients before then gradually draining the whole lot away, whereas Bubbler/DWC Systems require the rootzone to be constantly submerged in an aerated solution. The consequence of these different designs is unique sets of benefits, so take the time to review our growing systems pages and blog articles (links below) and carefully think about what appeals to you.  

Choosing A Growing System – A Buyers Guide For The Beginner  

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponics Systems  

Bubbler/Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponics Systems  

Flood And Drain Hydroponics Systems

Soil and coco growers are more restricted in terms of suitable growing systems. We highly recommend Rhizo-Pots to both sets of people, since these innovative products facilitate the hugely advantageous process of air-pruning to eliminate root circling and push new root growth.  

Introducing Rhizo-Pots!  

The Stress Factor: Air Pruning For Improved Roots

Aside from Rhizo-Pots, users of soil and coco also have the options of plastic round and square pots. To automate feeds, the latter can be put in a gravity-fed system like the AutoPot, a dripper-based system like the Wilma or alternatively made part of a DIY irrigation set up.  

Producing Awesome Chillies With An AutoPot System  

An Introduction To Irrigation  

Automating Feeds Using DIY Drip Irrigation Components  

Setting Up An Irrigation System Using A GroWell Holiday Watering Kit

Autopot Autopot

4.6 Are there any other items of equipment I should know about?

Given the huge number of gardening products that are currently available, it is not unusual to accidently scan over some of the more ‘small but brilliant’ components that are often very useful in the grow room. Whilst a lack of these items won’t prevent you from growing, having them in place can work wonders!  

Grow Room Essentials  

All The Small Things

5. Feeding your plants  

5.1 How do I feed plants in a hydroponics set up?

By creating nutrient solutions. You basically just fill a bucket or tank with water and let it stand for 24 hours (to de-chlorinate) and then mix in an appropriate amount of base nutrient, which contains key elements for growth. Adding stimulants and boosters will up the amount of certain elements, leading to all sorts of different benefits. You also need to appreciate how pH levels have an impact on the availability of nutrients, whilst conductivity (CF/EC) indicates nutrient strength and the suitability of feeds for plants.  

What’s The Best Nutrient For You?  

A Beginner’s Guide To pH Management  

A Beginner’s Guide To CF Control

Changing nutes Changing nutes

5.2 Have I got to feed soil-based plants or are there nutrients in the media?

Some soils feature enough nutrient content to get you through propagation (BioBizz Light Mix) and the early vegetative growth stages (BioBizz All-Mix), so you only need to give plants water at these times. Later ‘grow’ and ‘bloom’ feeds are still required – just like for hydroponics. The only major difference between hydroponics and soil feeds is that the latter doesn’t require pH and CF checks/adjustments.

5.3 What do plants growing in coco need?

Coco closely mirrors hydroponics when it comes to feeds – you can even use the same additives! However, coco specific formulations will deliver the best results for base nutrients.  

Growing In Coco – Getting The Basics Right!

Coco Coco

5.4 How often should I feed my plants?

In anything other than standalone pots, your plants will automatically be fed nutrient solution. We recommend completely changing nutrient solutions as opposed to regular top ups. If you can only do the latter more often than not, make sure it is all replaced at least once every 1 or 2 weeks, with ¼ strength feeds between changes.  

Changing Nutrients  

For plants in standalone pots of soil or coco, conduct feeds with a watering can, bucket or large measuring jug. Afterwards, lift each plant to get a sense of how heavy they feel when “full”. Then every now and again check the weight to see if your plants have been drinking. The “lighter” they feel, the more likely they’ll need a feed sooner rather than later. 

5.5 What additives shall I give my plants and when is it the best time to do so?

If you are growing plants in soil, stick to soil-specific additives (not that this is a limitation, there are loads to choose from!)  

Hydroponics and coco growers have got even more to play with than their soil counterparts due to the extra degree of control on offer. A wide array of stimulants now exist, letting you enhance almost every aspect of a plant for the end gain of bigger yields!  

Top Tips For Boosting Your Yields – Hydroponics Additives And Stimulants

Silicon Silicon

5.6 Are there any guides to follow for mixing nutrient solutions?

Yes. You’ll find feed charts for all of the big nutrient ranges on the relevant product pages of the GroWell website. They are in the ‘Related Product Information’ section (underneath the main image), as print-friendly PDF files.  

Vita Link Max  

BioBizz Grow and Bloom  

Canna Coco Professional  

6. Ready, steady, grow!

6.1 Is it easy to get some plants started off?

There are two methods for beginning a new crop – either you take cuttings or start off seeds. In both cases, the main objective is the production of roots. To do this you will need a propagator, a scalpel, rooting gel, measuring cup, fluorescent lighting, a sprayer, propagating media (products exist for hydroponics, coco, soil and organics) and cutting/seedling feed.  

Starting from seeds has its advantages if you’ve not got a mother plant or are completely new to gardening.  

Starting Off Seeds

Seeds Seeds

Taking cuttings gives you the ability to clone an existing plant and continue the genetics – something every grower should want to do with a top performer.  After all, this often leads to a replication of the original success!  

Taking The Perfect Cuttings

When you are competent at taking cuttings, you ought to try out different types of equipment and products in an attempt to reduce rooting times and quicken up the overall grow cycle. For example, the propagator you choose to use can make a big impact.  

The Race To Root Cuttings: The Propagator Challenge  

6.2 What needs to happen once I can see signs of root development?

Roots will emerge from your propagating media 10 to 20 days after the seeds/cuttings have been started off. The plants are now rooted and ready for the next stage – transplanting. Here you aim to provide the plants with a more stable base ready for when they take up their final position in a main system or pot.  

Hydroponics Transplanting  

Soil Transplanting  

Back To Basics: Transplanting In Soil

 
Transplanting Transplanting

6.3 How do you move your plants into a main system without upsetting them?

First it’s important to understand when to act. For adopters of hydroponics, the sight of roots pushing out of the bottom of the transplanting cube tells you the moment has arrived. If you’re intending to move a plant growing in coco or soil from a small pot to a large pot and can’t see the roots, you must make a judgment call based on the development of the foliage.  

Introducing Plants To A Main System

6.4 What is necessary to accelerate and prolong plant growth?

When you move your plants into the main system they will be at the vegetative growth stage of the lifecycle. Keeping the focus on root and foliage development encourages them to become bigger and stronger, improving the efficiency of internal functions and supporting the addition of numerous new flowering sites. An 18-hour lights on/6-hour lights off daily program and “grow” nutrients/stimulants are required to promote vegetative growth and prevent flowers from forming too soon.  

The Big Move The Big Move

Sometimes you’ll want to extend the vegetative cycle, maybe because of slower than expected growth or an overriding passion to produce massive plants. On top of closely managing your lights and feeds, there are extra tactics you can employ.  

Extending The Vegetative Cycle

6.5 How can I get my plants to start developing fruits?

Understanding how and when to get plants to switch to the flowering stage is a mightily important skill. All your work will have been for what follows next, as the precious fruits begin to appear! Again the transition from vegetative growth to flowering largely depends on the light and nutrients supplied to plants. The light cycle changes to 12-hour lights on/12-hour lights off and for feeds you swap out the ‘grow’ nutrient for a ‘bloom’ one. Easy!  

Switching To The Flowering Stage  

Being able to properly prune your plants will encourage fruits to ripen at a faster rate.  

Pruning Plants For Improved Ripening

6.6 When is it the right time to start my harvest?

Having a harvest strategy might seem a little unusual but there are a few different ways to collect the fruits that pop up on your plants.  

Enjoying The Fruits Of Your Labour

Chilli Chilli

6.7 Is it too late to try and save the genetics of my plants at the end of a crop?

Missing the opportunity to take cuttings earlier on in the grow cycle doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve completely lost the chance of saving the genetics of a plant. There are several options including overwintering, seed stratification and taking cuttings during flowering.  

Saving Plant Genetics: Overwintering  

Saving Plant Genetics: Stratification  

Saving Plant Genetics: Taking Cuttings  

Saving Plant Genetics Revisited

6.8 What should I do if bugs or disease threaten to ruin my crop?

Don’t panic! Just put into place a pest management strategy and plant health maintenance regime! This involves regularly checking your plants and using products for prevention, identification and treatment.  

A Bug’s Life  

The Definitive Guide To Dealing With Spider Mites  

Attack Of The Aphids  

The Neem Tree And Its Impact On Indoor Gardening  

Got Rotting Roots? Pythium: An In-depth Analysis

7. Gearing up to go again!  

7.1 What do I need to clean after a crop?

Everything. Thoroughly. The area you intend to grow plants in must be kept clean before, during and after a crop, otherwise pests and disease will soon run riot. Sweep the floor and walls, hoover up as much dust and dirt as possible and spray the entire room with a reliable cleaning product like RoomClean or Oxy-Plus. Running the latter through a hydroponics system also works to kill all harmful bacteria and pathogens – we recommend adding it to water at 10mls per litre. 

Clean Clean

7.2 Where should I store my nutrients and boosters?

Ideally, nutrients and boosters need to be stored somewhere out of direct light and with a stable temperature. Certain bottled products require extra care due to the threat of precipitation, but obviously nothing too strenuous!  

Protect Your Nutrients And Boosters From The Cold  

7.3 When is the right time to replace equipment?

General wear and tear will lead to a gradual decline in the effectiveness of most growing products. Pay particularly close attention to your grow lamps and reflectors, since these items have a huge impact on yields and start to deteriorate after the first crop.  

How Much Yield Are Your Lights Losing You

8. A final note

Growing plants is very much a case of trial and error, with every crop providing valuable experience and an opportunity to learn something new. Enjoy the process, recording what works well and what could have gone better. Very few people get the perfect mix of products and processes first time out, so expect some set backs as well as pleasant surprises along the way. Apply a little bit of patience and soon enough the results will come! 

Chilli's Chilli's

We have friendly experts on hand at GroWell to provide advice and help you with any problems encountered. You can reach us via the website chat feature, by leaving a message towards the bottom of a blog article, through our facebook page, at any of our shops and from calling the customer careline.  

Happy growing!

Alex
Alex
About the author

Alex is one of our Directors! It's his job to sniff out the best products and keep operations in order. His toe stays firmly dipped in marketing, too! 

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