Hydroponics is a wonderful way to grow plants because it allows for tremendous control over the conditions within the root zone. But with added adjustability comes the need for added vigilance; there’s more you have to pay attention to. In the end, added adjustability is only beneficial if we’re able to use it to our advantage. Let’s discuss hydroponics dosing computer controls.
If you’re old enough, you might remember having to adjust the choke in your car every morning before you could start it. It was a clunky way to adjust the fuel mixture, and if you forgot to set the choke back after the engine warmed up it generally drove like crap. Once electronic fuel injection was introduced people decided adjusting the fuel mixture was better left to a computer, and rightly so. As a result engines ran smoother thanks to the computer controlled mixture control, and people could concentrate on actually driving their car. The computer control was unequivocally regarded as superior to making the fueling adjustments manually.
If you consider it, that argument can be applied to your hydroponic nutrient solution, except it’s the nutrient concentration and pH you’re constantly fiddling with. And just like in the choke example, if the grower isn’t able to actively monitor and precisely regulate those variables then he or she won’t realize their plant’s full potential. So why not let a computer do the hard work?
Would anyone really complain if they were told that they never had to feed their plants anymore? Like most people living today, I’ve got things to do! Probably the most compelling reason to embrace computer-controlled nutrient delivery is simply for the convenience. Every time I have to feed my pants I almost invariably make a mess, I’m usually tripping over electrical cords and hoses in the process, and when the stars and moons are in perfect alignment I’ll get the nutrient concentration and pH around where I need it on the first try. And then I can’t forget to rinse all of the measuring cups and other vessels out or else the next time I use them they’re going to be a crusty, salty mess.
Letting a computer handle nutrient delivery and pH adjustments provides a most welcome break from feeding duties, but there are also measurable advantages in letting a computer perfectly maintain your nutrient solution.
How do you feel when you miss breakfast one day? Not great? Well when nutritional requirements aren’t available to your plants they become physiologically stressed in much the same way people do. This can happen if nutrients aren’t being actively replenished as they consumed by the plant, and also when the pH drifts up or down enough to lockout particular micro-nutrients.
In 1990 Cornell University constructed what they call their “Controlled Environment Agriculture” facility to help students and researchers understand how a given environment affects plant growth, including nutrient solution management. Their conclusion? “The lack of buffering within [a hydroponics] system can lead to significant instability of control with rapid, and possibly detrimental changes of nutrition levels unless there is careful and continual monitoring and control.” They don’t mix words when pointing out how quickly damage can occur, “Quality and productivity suffer when careful attention to every small detail is omitted, even for a day.” To be fair, you probably won’t lose an entire crop if you ignore it for a day or two, but the information published by Cornell quoted above were recommendations for those that wish to grow pants on a commercial level. In other words, these are instructions for those looking to get the absolute most out of their investment. Are you?
The theory is actually very simple. Nutrient dosers utilize electrical conductivity and pH probes in order to continuously monitor the nutrient concentration and pH respectively. Anytime the solution deviates from the user’s intended targets the computer will correct the imbalance by either injecting plant food or pH modifiers as necessary. This can go on for about 2-4 weeks at which point you should flush the entire system and start over with fresh water again. All you have to do is set your target, and make sure the system never runs out of fertilizer.
Computers aren’t being integrated into absolutely every facet of our lives because they’re chic, it’s because computers are perfect for monotonous jobs that require serious precision. I don’t want to have to sit by my hydroponic system and adjust the pH every time it changes, nor do I want to measure out and add more nutrients every time I top the system off. But if I ignore these duties then I’m not going to get the most out of my plants. So it seems logical to incorporate some computer assistance in order to get the most out of my crop. After all, what’s the point of spending all that money buying the latest and greatest nutrients if you can’t ensure they’re always available to your plants?
Why Computer Controlled Nutrient Delivery?
To that end he earned a BS in mechanical engineering, but shortly after graduating he realized his time spent in school created more questions about everything around him than answers. In an effort to prevent from overwhelming himself now he focuses just on making gardens as fruitful as is scientifically possible. He spends a lot of his time optimizing grow spaces to make the most of the resources available, and also strongly advocates quality automation systems. He would since he co-owns a company that designs and sells their own automation equipment, but despite the conflict of interest he actually does provide excellent insight into the “how” and “why” of gardening.