Hydroponics - Crop Steering
What is Crop Steering?
Crop Steering is a method of steering plants nutritionally in-conjunction with lighting intensity and environmental changes.
It is a fundamental guide on the amount of water and hydroponic nutrients we feed our plants on a daily basis, this approach to feeding is different for each growing medium and each phase.
The reason you would want to crop steer:
- Increased crop performance
- Improve Crop quality
The volume of water and liquid nutrients we use is subjective to the age of the plant and the size of the pot the plant/s are being grown in.
“Crop steering is a way of feeding your plants using the run to waste method relative to growth.”
The frequency of water and fertiliser being applied is dependent on a few things, specifically consumption, have your plants started to suck the pot dry, potentially wilting in between feeds or are they sitting in an over saturated grow pot not really doing much?
In this crop steering topic, we will focus on the nutritional aspect of crop steering in Coco coir & Coco Coir blended media.
Crop Steering in Coco Coir?
Coco coir is not soil; therefore, we cannot treat it like soil.
- Soil = Hydrophobic
- Coco Coir = Hydrophilic
Coco needs to be kept moist pretty much all the time. If coco dries out too much it inhibits the spread of roots.
Crop steering in coco coir is not very difficult to implement. If you understand the term relative to growth this tutorial will be much easier for you to understand, if not, carry on reading as we break it down.
Everything is relative to growth. If you are in the seedling phase of a plant’s life, you don’t feed it the volume of food that a flowering plant would receive. It’s really that simple. Crop steering is simply the nutrient concentration and water volume increasing as the plants you’re growing become larger, the dosages start decreasing as the plant approaches maturity.
Crop Steering & Dry Backs?
Growers that employ the dry-back method walk a fine line of drying back too much so if you’re not experienced enough, we strongly advise against employing a dry back of you grow pots until you become more familiar with the consumption and growth rates of the plants you’re growing.
Crop Steering - Pot sizes.
500ml seedling pots, under the right conditions house seedlings for the first 2-4 weeks before transplanting into the next size growing pot.
A 500ml pot is not going to consume much food each day initially, but it does require feeding each day.
The idea here is to steer the plants root system to form so it exhausts the pots capacity which in turn requires greater amounts of hydroponic nutrients and water as it grows.
Run to waste (RTW) indicates that upon feeding a fresh non-recirculated nutrient solution that there is a small amount of run off, this tells the grower that the medium has been saturated effectively.
A seedling sitting in a soggy pot, or a pool of excess nutrient solution will do nothing.
(If temperature is not correct, please refer to the temperature blog for more in-depth environmental information)
So, how much is too much? Let’s look at the process:
- Seed planted in propagation cube.
- Seed successfully germinated, small root protruding from base of grow cube.
- Transplant seedling to new pot with coco coir (500ml)
- Make up 1L of water and add 0.5-1ml of the supplied rooting solution and approx. 1.5ml of the corresponding A/B hydroponic nutrients all to the same 1L of water.
- Pick a day to start week 1 from and gently feed seedlings approx. 150-250ml of the hydroponic nutrient solution you have made until the coco coir is saturated thoroughly.
- Now, each day after we will micro-feed them with the same dosage of food per L, the major difference here from the first flooding, is the feeds are now approx. 50-75ml. this volume of solution will achieve a similar run off to the first feed.
- Repeat this each day, until the new feeding week comes around so that on day 8 (week 2 day 1) you will make up a fresh nutrient solution with a slightly increased amount of food and repeat the same steps as week 1, what you should start to notice is the input volume of solution slightly increasing which is indication the plants root zone is larger which also translates to plant mass.
- When your plants have a large enough root system and can consume food rapidly it is then time to transplant into the next size pot, this is the whole point of transplanting, to reduce input. No one wants to feed their exhausted seedling pot 11 times a day. Repeating all the steps from above. The main differences are nutrient strength increasing and the overall volume of nutrient solution being given to each pot.
- During the vegetation phase all established plants require daily feeding, its coco, it loves high feeding frequency. Figuring out how many times your plants need feeding is solely reliant on you as the gardener to understand and organise, but most commonly in veg most gardeners who ‘crop steer’ would feed 1-2 times per day during the 18-hour cycle.
- Feeding a flowering plant does involve a little bit more work and interaction, the goal is still the same though, every day we must feed them. Flowering plants peak at around week 6 and then gradually start to mature, this is when nutrient concentration starts to decrease as we steer the flowering plants to the finishing line.
- The frequency of feeding for flowering crops is again subjective to pot size and volume of solution etc. but commonly between 1-4 feeds per day in a RTW style grow. Remember that the first 2 weeks of flowering the plant is translocating the sugars formed in the vegetation phase so you will find that the volume of solution required at the first 2 weeks of flowering is much greater than the remainder of the cycle.
After the initial translocation phase of your flowering plants, consumption slows down for around 1-2 weeks (meaning you can steer the plant with less feeds per day) when your flowering plant reaches week 4 of flowering period consumption for food increases dramatically very similar to volumes required in the first 2 weeks.
- From week 6-7 of your plants flowering period is the time you start to lower (steer) the concentration of hydroponic nutrients given to each plant. This is to encourage maturation, floral structure and oil production, excess nutrition given in this phase can inhibit this process.
Crop steering plants indoors is always subjective to your environment and conditions. Everything is a guide, each plant is unique like a fingerprint, so sometimes you “The gardener” must understand this and use a little intuition (Green thumb).
Please comment your thoughts below we would love to start a meaningful discussion on this topic.
Einstein once said:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Click this link to see the Mills Nutrients crop steering feeding approach