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Hydroponics I

Course CodeBHT224
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment


 

People Choose Hydroponics for Many Different Reasons
  • It can be highly productive (and profitable) where space is limited.
  • You can produce cleaner plants; without needing to use so many nasty chemicals
  • It appeals to "technically" minded people, because they can manipulate and control plant growth better than is possible in soil.
  • It appeals to thos who can't (or don't wan to) do hard physical work; because the back breaking jobs can be eliminated from growing.

Our principal started experimenting with hydroponics in 1973, becan texhing it in 1974, wrote a best selling book on it in 1989, and has been gathering experience and information on hydroponics ever since. We have a team of tutors who have worked with hydroponics for decades. Let us help you build your own knowl;edge and experience.

Discover a wide range of systems, simple and complex, and how to grow many different types of horticulturally valuable crops, such as cut flowers and vegetables.
 

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction
    • hydroponic systems
    • global industry
    • comparision to growing in soil
    • resources and contacts.
  2. How a Plant Grows
    • plant structure
    • biochemistry
    • biochemical cell processess
    • mechanisms of nutrient uptake
    • photosynthesis; minerals and nutrients
    • the role of pH in plant growth
    • hydroponic nutrient solutions
    • preparing nutrient solutions.
  3. Hydroponic Systems
    • location
    • equipment
    • systems
    • soilless mixes
    • rockwool
    • rockwool manufacture
    • rockwool properties
    • development of propagating blocks
    • propagation applications
    • recommended practices for propogation
    • nutrient film techniques
    • alternative layouts for NFT
    • methods of solution dispention, closed and open systems; techniques.
  4. Nutrition & Nutrition management
    • understanding nutrient formulae
    • atoms, elements & compounds
    • chemical names
    • what does a plant need
    • calculating formulae
    • mixing nutrients
    • symptoms of nutrient deficiency
    • recommendations
    • adjusting the pH
    • using electrical conductivity measures
    • conductivity
    • conductivity and hydroponics.
  5. Plant Culture
    • flow charting the crop
    • controllers
    • salinity controllers
    • pH controllers
    • post harvest storage
    • cooling
    • drying
    • canning/bottling
    • controlled atmosphere storage
    • relative humidity
    • vacuum storage
    • freeze drying
    • freezing
    • pest and diseases in controlled environments
    • fungi, common funal problems
    • cultural controls
    • current legislation
    • biological and integrated pest management
    • beneficial agents
    • economic thresholds
    • methods of introduction
    • major pests, diseases and disorders of crops identified
    • problem solving and identification of illness
    • difficult to diagnose problems
    • leaf hoppers; thrip; virus; bacteria; caterpillars; harlequin bugs and more.
  6. Hydroponic Vegetable Production
    • commerical cultivation of vegetables
    • propagation
    • temperatures required for seed germination
    • optimum monthly temperatures for vegetable growth
    • harvesting vegetables
    • growing vegetables hydroponically
    • vegetable families
    • fresh-cut herbs in hydroponic culture
    • nutrient solution
    • materials and handling
    • notes on selected crops.
  7. Hydroponic Cut Flower Production
    • growing flowers in hydroponics
    • carbon dioxide
    • automation
    • flower varieties
    • indoor plants.
  8. Solid Media vs Nutrient Film
    • growing media
    • NFT system choices
    • header tank or direct pumping
    • construction materials
    • solution delivery
    • capillary matting
    • channel width and length
    • slope
    • temperature
    • types of media
    • vermiculite; sand; perlite; expanded plastics; scoria; expanded clay
    • organic media; sawdust; peat moss; coir fibre; composted bark
    • indoor plants
    • plant directory
    • transplanting a pot grown plant into a hydroponic 'culture pot'.
  9. Greenhouse Operation & Management
    • growing crops in greenhouses
    • solar energy
    • greenhouses
    • nature of active solar heating systems
    • examples of solar greenhouse facilities
    • greenhouse management
    • what you can grow
    • greenhouse and other growing structures
    • environmental factors that influence plant growth
    • plant needs
    • temperature control
    • heat loss
    • heaters
    • light factors
    • artificial light
    • horticultural management in a greenhouse
    • greenhouse benches
    • greenhouse cooling
    • fog.
  10. Special Assignment
    • plan a hydroponic enterprise.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Aims

  • Explain different hydroponic systems.
  • Select appropriate media for specified hydroponic crops.
  • Describe the equipment used in hydroponic systems.
  • Determine the management of nutrition in hydroponic systems.
  • Explain the management of a greenhouse in the production of a hydroponic crop.
  • Plan the establishment of hydroponic facility to satisfy specified criteria, both commercial and cultural.
  • Develop a management plan for a hydroponic facility.

What are the Possibilities?

There are a bewildering number of choices to be made when deciding what type of system to use. This chapter is designed to help you choose the system that is right for you.


WATER, AGGREGATE OR ROCKWOOL CULTURE

The first choice is whether to use water culture, aggregate culture or rockwool. All three are viable and used successfully with a large variety of crops in many different parts of the world.

Your choice should take into consideration the following:
• What is the cost of each and how readily available are materials in your area?
• Is rockwool made/sold locally? If not, what freight charges are involved in having it delivered?
• Is there a local source of sand or gravel which can be used, or do you need to pay high cartage costs?
• What types of plants will you grow?
• Some plants require better aeration than others. Some systems provide better aeration than others, for example NFT systems.

HYDROPONIC MEDIA

There are three main groups of hydroponic media, based on their origins:

1. Media derived from rock or stone
2. Media derived from synthetics
3. Organic media

General Characteristics
Media is the term given to the solid material(s) used to replace soil in aggregate culture and rockwool culture.

Hydroponic media must fulfil the following criteria:
• They must be chemically inert.
• They must be chemically stable.
• They must be clean.
• They must drain sufficiently freely not to create waterlogging problems.
• They must have adequate water-holding capacity.
• They must have adequate air-holding capacity.

Also:
• Buffer capacity should be good – this is the ability of the media to resist changes in pH.
• It is preferable that cation exchange capacity is at least moderate to good.

 

PLANT SUPPORT

Plants grown in hydroponics tend to be more prone to falling over than plants grown in soil; and thus frequently need some type of trellis support. Water culture methods such as NFT and light weight materials such as perlite, vermiculite and rock wool do not provide firm anchorage of roots in the way that soil does.

• Tall growing plants in particular need support.
• Stronger supports are needed if plants are exposed to wind.
• A greater bulk of plant will need a stronger trellis.

There are two types of trellis systems:

1. Horizontal trellis
Here a mesh of wire, nylon or some other material is supported above the plants in one or two layers (depending on the height of the plants and the amount of support needed).
Carnations, capsicums, and other small bushy plants require this type of trellis.

2. Vertical trellis
This may consist of a similar mesh material stretched along a row, or alternatively, single wires stretched along a row with support posts at each end. Vertical trellis can also be hung from the ceiling in a greenhouse.
• Tomatoes can be grown on wires tensioned and spaced at 50 cm intervals. The stems are tied to the wires as they grow.
• Cucumbers require greater support and are either grown on a vertical mesh, or on wires at 15 to 20 cm spacing. The wires should be tied together every 20 to 30 cm to form a mesh and give additional support.
• In large systems wires need to be connected to turnbuckles so they can be tensioned if they loosen.

 

NUTRIENT LEVELS

Hydroponic systems are reliant on the composition and formulation of the nutrient solution to supply all the essential elements required for optimal plant growth and yields. However, nutrient solutions are complex and the composition of these changes as they flow through the root system and irons are extracted. Many problems in hydroponic systems are either nutrient or environmentally based, making these the main areas where troubleshooting skills need to be developed.

The most common nutrient problem is the development of deficiencies of one or more elements, either due to rapid uptake or unsuitable nutrient formulations and management, which are common mistakes made by many hydroponic growers.

Deficiencies in hydroponic production are more common than toxicities as plant uptake of many elements has the potential to strip out nutrients at a rapid rate, particularly from recirculating solutions. The most common deficiency problems in hydroponic crops are potassium in fruiting plants such as tomatoes, iron under certain environmental conditions, nitrogen in some highly vegetative crops, and calcium in many species such as lettuce, tomatoes and capsicum.

To complicate hydroponic plant nutrition further, deficiencies as they occur in different crops may or may not be a result of an actual deficiency in the nutrient solution. Potassium can certainly be stripped from a nutrient solution rapidly as fruit develop and expand, and also because luxury uptake occurs in many crops. However iron, calcium and magnesium deficiencies on leaves and fruit occur even when there is more than sufficient of these elements in solution. These induced deficiencies often fool growers into thinking there is a problem with the formulation of their nutrient, when the cause is often more complex.

Iron

Iron deficiency is common under cool growing conditions, where the root system might have become saturated, damaged or where the pH is running high.

Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency on crops such as tomatoes can be induced by high levels of potassium uptake.

Calcium

Calcium deficiency which shows as tip burn on lettuce and blossom end rot of tomatoes and peppers is a calcium transport problem within the plant, rather than a lack of calcium in the solution. It is induced by environmental conditions such as high humidity which restricts transpiration and calcium distribution.

Solutions

Working out if deficiency symptoms on a crop are actual or induced by other factors becomes the vital first step to solving such problems. The simplest way for a grower to determine this is to have a full solution or leachate analysis carried out to rule out any deficiency in the plant’s feed regime. Low levels of an element in solution (below the optimum being aimed for) certainly indicate that the nutrient is the problem and boosting levels of the deficient element will rapidly help correct the situation. Some deficiencies, particularly of the trace elements such as iron, benefit from foliar application of these nutrients to help correct the problem in the short term. These however are only a quick fix and the missing nutrient needs to be supplied in the root zone at the correct levels over the long term. Iron foliar sprays are particularly effective where cool conditions or root zone damage have limited iron uptake and caused the distinctive iron chlorosis symptoms on the new leaves.

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