A Guide To The Best Hydroponics Growing Media (Soil Substitutes)

Growing plants, veggies and herbs hydroponically is all the rage these days. People are joining in fast on the fun of having a green thumb, but most of them don’t know exactly what it is that they are doing. For example; what is hydroponics? We will explain it to you here so you too can be in the know.

There are many different types hydroponic systems out there, some are among these 6 major systems and others are mix. The systems are:- 

  •  WICK
  • AEROPONICS
  • EBB AND FLOW
  • DEEP WATER CULTURE(DWC)
  • DRIP
  • NUTRIENT FILM TECHNIQUE(NFT)

more about this later….

Put simply- Hydroponics is the growing of plants without the need for soil. Though other Growing media are used that can support the plant and the roots in a nutrient rich water. There are different ways of designing hydroponics systems, but the essentials remain the same.

  • ROCKWOOL
  • SAND
  • SAWDUST
  • FLORAL FOAM
  • EXPANDED CLAY
  • PERLITES
  • COCO PEAT/ FIBRE
  • VERMICULITE
  • RIVER ROCKS

But all this varies on depending what you are growing, what system you are using and also your personal preference. so, lets get to know a bit more on the mediums stated above.

ROCKWOOL

Rockwool is a mineral fiber made from a naturally occurring volcanic rock. This mineral is used in a wide range of applications, including horticulture (as a growing medium and wick)

Rockwool is an inert, porous, inorganic material with a strong affinity for water. It easily absorbs and stores water and nutrients, so that they are readily available to plants. Rockwool is a medium that all growers can use successfully.

When rockwool is completely wet, it contains around 60% water by weight. A rockwool slab is much lighter than soil or coco because of its high moisture content.

In addition to moisture retention, rockwool provides good aeration for optimum root growth. Optimal aeration and moisture retention are the two most important conditions for vigorous plant growth in any substrate.

Rockwool comes in slabs, cubes, plugs and loose granulate. The material is made from melted rock that is spun into filaments like cotton candy or synthetic fibers used for clothing. The fibers are then compressed under high pressure into blocks or sheets.

Slabs come in various sizes and thicknesses; larger slabs have more air pockets between the fibers than small ones do. This characteristic makes large slabs more suitable for rooting cuttings than smaller ones are, since cuttings need less moisture and more air around their roots to develop well

The first step before planting into rockwool is to soak it thoroughly with water

FLORAL FOAM

floral foam is a water absorbent and soft material. The foam is cylindrical and available in different sizes, depending on the application. A variety of floral foam products exist as blocks, disks or cones to be used for flower arrangements in vases and containers.

Floral foam brands are also available for creating wreaths and other forms of designs. Floral foam is made from a combination of plastic, wood or petrochemicals and is usually green in color.

The foam is designed to hold flowers in an upright position without damaging their stems or leaves. A florist uses the foam to create bouquets and arrangements that can contain a mix of fresh, silk and dried flowers.

Floral foam has been used since the 1950s when it was commercially developed by the OASIS Floral Products company based out of Michigan. The first version of floral foam was created in 1954 by Samuel Jaffe, who was experimenting with polyurethane materials.

OASIS Floral Products patented the first dry block of floral foam called OASIS Floral Foam Maxlife in 1991. This product contained a biocide that killed bacteria which rotted flowers faster than usual. This improved the life expectancy for arrangements made with fresh flowers that were placed

CLAY PEBBLES

Clay pebbles are baked clay pellets that form an ideal hydroponic growing medium for plants. They are also called “hydroton” or “leca.”

Clay pebbles are made by baking pure clay. The clay is formed into pebbles and fired in rotary kilns at 1200C°. This causes the clay to expand, like popcorn, and become porous. The result is a hard pellet, light enough to float, with a hard shell and a porous core.

At first glance, they might look like something you’d find in your aquarium filter, but there’s a big difference between the two. Aquarium filter media is intended to trap fine particles of dirt and debris while allowing water to flow through it. Leca is designed to hold water so that roots can grow down into it.

PERLITES

Perlite is a naturally occurring form of volcanic glass that has been used as an inert soil amendment for more than half a century. In the horticultural industry, perlite is used to improve soil aeration and water drainage in potting mixes.

Perlite is a generic term for naturally occurring siliceous rock. The distinguishing feature which sets perlite apart from other volcanic glasses is that when heated to a suitable point in its softening range, it expands from four to twenty times its original volume.

This expansion is due to the presence of two to six percent combined water in the crude perlite rock, which causes the rock to expand into porous glass particles when quickly heated to above 1,500°F (816°C). The exceptional physical characteristics of expanded perlite make it useful in a wide variety of commercial, industrial and horticultural applications.

VERMICULITE

Vermiculite is a mineral that has the property of greatly expanding when heated. The heating process for vermiculite is called exfoliation or expansion, and it causes the mineral to pop (like popcorn) and expand up to 15 times its original size. It is then crushed into small granules.

Vermiculite has the unusual property of being able to absorb many times its own weight in water, and retain it for long periods without drying out.

Vermiculite is used in a wide range of products, including potting mixes, insulation, horticulture, construction materials, fire protection and as an additive to plaster.

COCO PEAT/FIBRE

Coco peat, also known as coir dust, is made from the fibrous material found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of a coconut. It is a 100% natural product with multiple uses. Coco peat is widely used in horticulture as a soil conditioner and growth media.

The unique features of coco peat make it an ideal growing medium for Hydroponics, Soil less potting mixes, Lawn dressing, Landscaping and Green houses.

RIVER ROCKS

River rock is a naturally occurring stone that is deposited by flowing water, such as a river or creek. It ranges in size from large boulders to smaller stones, such as pebbles. The term is used to describe landscape rocks that are found in a river bed or along the shore of a river.

SAND

First of all i would like to say,  avoid sand that will increase the PH of your nutrient rich solution, sand also get heavy when wet so when planning your hydroponic infrastructure and system and your desired use of media is sand get platforms or surface that will support. also here is a tip, get soil that has big particles to allow water retention and aeration of the roots.

SAWDUST

This media has good water absorption and retention. Be careful not to buy fine sawdust as it wound not have proper aeration for the roots of your crops. Also avoid sawdust that has been chemically sprayed. Before use wash thoroughly with clean water. It also breaks down you might need to add or replace the sawdust regularly. 

Conclusion

No matter what hydroponics system you choose, your plants will require media to grow in. Choosing the right hydroponics growing media is an important consideration in long-term success. The best growing media allow roots to expand and take hold while providing nutrients and water to the plants as they need it.

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