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Your Hydroponics Garden Needs Clean Water

A reverse osmosis unit A reverse osmosis unit

You know water is essential to your hydroponics plants, but you may not realize that most tap water and well water in North America is polluted and bad for you to use when you grow your hydroponics plants.

Bad water poisons your plants, kills beneficial root zone microbes, makes your crops taste and smell bad, interferes with your nutrient absorption and gums up your hydroponics irrigation systems.

In almost all municipalities, your tap water is treated with chlorine or chloramine. It also likely contains fluoride. Unfortunately, these additives kill beneficial microbes and fungi that assist your roots.

Also likely to be in your water are sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, lead, copper, zinc and manganese that can add as much as 800 ppm to your nutrients water.

Problem is, you don’t know exactly how much or which of these are in your water. What difference does it make? A lot, when you consider that many of these materials are also plant nutrients.

What happens is that your careful feeding program can be thrashed by what’s in your water. You can end up with nutrients lock-out so your plants are unable to intake nutrients they need.

In some cases, your hydroponics plants can become toxic from nutrient overload or undersupply due to problems related to the water you’re using.

Some hydroponics growers get anonymous water sample tests to see if levels of calcium, chloramine and other materials are unacceptably high.

The most successful hydroponics growers don’t take any chances. They install reverse osmosis systems, and/or they collect rainwater.

These two methods are almost guaranteed to give you zero ppm base water that provides you a clean slate to work from when you’re adding nutrients, maintaining optimum pH and aiming for your highest quality crop.

You can get decent reverse osmosis units for around $300, but be aware that RO units use filtering membranes that have to be replaced on a regular basis, and these membranes can be quite expensive.

To combat this, some growers employ a two-step process in which a water softener filters the water first, and then it goes to the RO unit. This saves you money because you don’t have to change your membranes as often. I recommend this approach if you have water that’s unusually thick with pollution, minerals, etc.  because even after you factor in the cost of the water softener mechanism, you still save money on membrane replacement frequency.

But other than collecting rainwater, reverse osmosis is pretty much the only way to go when you want clean base water in your hydroponics garden.

You’ll hear some growers claim that tap water is ok, or that you can let tap water air out before using it so that you evaporate the chlorine.

These opinions are based more on wishful thinking than on facts. For example, I live in a large city and the city water department claims the water is safe for humans and plants.

But the water smells terrible and tastes bad. I use a distiller to generate pure drinking water (a distiller is too expensive and slow to use for your hydroponics needs), and at the end of the distiller cycle my distiller tank has a thick layer of sludge …which is stuff I would have drank if I had not distilled my water.

This gunk is red, green and white, and the city water quality “expert” admits that it’s most likely comprised of iron, calcium and copper in significant amounts.

Some growers say that water with calcium and other minerals is safe because plants need them to grow. But while it’s true that your hydroponics plants can use small amounts of properly-configured substances that are required for plant growth, in most cases it’s better to start with a clean slate via reverse osmosis water or rainwater.

Well water is sometimes suggested as an alternative, but due to lax enforcement of the Clean Water Act and other factors, most underground water is polluted with pesticides, herbicides, human waste, highway run-off, and other bad stuff.

From what I’ve experienced, installation and proper maintenance of a well-designed reverse osmosis system gives you fewer crop problems and higher harvest quality.

In all situations, whether you’re using RO water, tap water or any other water source, make sure your base nutrients have multiple chelates that can cut through any type of water so your plants easily absorb the hydroponics nutrients they need.

Of course, you might be one of those incredibly lucky people who are among the few that live in areas where your supplied water is clean and zero ppm. But for the rest of us, I suggest reverse osmosis or rainwater so your hydroponics plants are safer, cleaner and healthier.

Here’s a typical reverse osmosis unit for hydroponics:

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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 June 2011 21:48

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