Troubleshooting Your Home Hydroponics System

Troubleshooting Your Home Hydroponics System | Farm Culture

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A home hydroponics system is a stellar way to enjoy fresh produce at home. With minimal upkeep, this indoor garden will grow fresh greens and herbs year-round. However, hydroponic systems can be a challenge to restore once something unpredictably changes.  

If you find yourself dealing with mold, wilted plants, or seeds that never seem to sprout, this guide is for you. Let's troubleshoot some of the most common issues with hydroponic systems so you can address them before they compromise your harvest. 

Here's how this works. Ask yourself the following questions if things are starting to go south with your growing system. The answers will offer insight into what you need to change to get things back on track. 

Note: Our advice is directed towards the Grow Pad Mini, a small-scale smart hydroponics system that lets you grow herbs and flowers easily in your home. However, the troubleshooting tips here will apply to most other systems. 

What's Your Water Supply?

The wrong kind of water will wreak havoc on your hydroponics system. 

Using water with a high mineral content can cause buildup that clogs tubes or sensitive motor pieces. It can also throw off the water's ability to conduct electricity and mess with its electric current (EC) readings. Serious growers rely on these readings to determine how much fertilizer to use, so incorrect readings may mean you accidentally deprive your plants of what they need.  

Tap water isn't much better, as it contains chlorine that can damage plant roots at high concentrations. 

That's why we highly recommend you use filtered water in your home hydroponics system. Filtered water has a neutral pH, meaning it's gentle on plants and doesn't lead to buildup. 

Is the system clogged or malfunctioning?

Hydroponic systems need water at all times, and sometimes sediment or mineral buildup can cause parts to clog and disrupt the water flow, consequently damaging the plants. 

It's best to check your Grow Pad Mini every few weeks. You can take out the basket rinse out the white basket and put the plant back. 

Is there mold or algae?

Despite your initial alarm, mold and algae are normal in hydroponic systems and typically not a reason for concern. You can expect to see some mold during the sprouting stage, as it is actually a sign of healthy bacterial activity. 

Algae's presence indicates your system is getting lots of light. If it starts to take over, consider reducing its light exposure. You can scrub things down with a toothbrush if the green scum gets out of control.

Are the seeds wet enough?

You're going to run into problems if your hydroponic system's growing substrate is dry to the touch.

Seeds need water to germinate. Before you first plant the seeds, make sure you soak the growing substrate in water for about a minute then place it inside the pot. You can then place seeds directly on top.  

Once things sprout, make sure you check the water level window in the planter at least once a week and adjust the water levels if they are low. 

Did you give the seeds long enough to sprout?

It may feel like an eternity to wait for your first hydroponic seeds to germinate, but don't give up until you've given them at least a month to sprout. If you've passed the seven-week mark and see no signs of life, it's time to consider tossing them and start over. 

Still no success? Check the expiration date on your seed packet. The seeds may be too old to sprout reliably. Some expired seeds may still work, so consider testing their germination rate with a paper towel before throwing them away. 

Are the plants yellowing?

Plants turn yellow for a variety of reasons. They might be dealing with a nutrient deficiency, dehydration, or too little sunlight. 

If your plants are yellowing, first assess your hydroponic system's water level and the amount of natural and artificial light it has access to. Is the LED grow light turning on and off every twelve hours? Even if it's working correctly, you may want to move the planter to a sunny, south-facing window to increase light exposure. 

If things don't improve within a week, a nutrient deficiency is likely to blame. Insufficient amounts of nitrogen, potassium, or magnesium can lead to yellowing leaves, so look for a liquid nutrient fertilizer that offers a pH buffering system for use in hydroponic systems. 

Is the system exposed to extreme temperatures? 

You might think your home hydroponic system is safe from the elements indoors, but setting it near a drafty doorway or too close to the radiator can lead to erratic temperature swings that can stress plants and stunt their growth. 

Consider moving your system into a more protected space that maintains a steady temperature between 60-80°F and see whether the plants perk up. 

What's the fertilizer status?

While filtered water and a growing substrate are all you need to sprout seeds in a hydroponics system, the plants themselves will need a nutrition boost to thrive. That's why we highly recommend you use a liquid plant fertilizer to support their growth. 

Look for an all-purpose, water-soluble plant fertilizer designed for hydroponics systems. To use, follow the manufacturer's instructions to add a small amount to the water once the plant has developed its first true leaves. 

Are you growing the right kinds of plants?

Hydroponic growing is a stellar indoor gardening strategy for many plant varieties, but it doesn't work for all types. You won't have much luck growing root vegetables like carrots or radishes, and space hogs like squash rarely do well in a home setup. 

If you're using the Grow Pad Mini, we recommend sticking to the seed varieties we sell, as they are guaranteed suitable for hydroponic conditions. 

Does the system have good airflow?

All plants need good air circulation, but it's extra crucial in hydroponic setups. Consistent airflow strengthens plant stems, assists in temperature regulation, and reduces the chances that molds can form and cause decay.   

Keep your Grow Pad Mini in a place where the air doesn’t stagnate, and make sure the included airflow fan runs at 15-minute intervals.  

Monitor Your Grow Pad Mini for Hydroponic Success 

Home hydroponic systems offer an easy, almost effortless way to raise plants—so long as you know how to keep things operating smoothly, you’ll likely be okay. Turn to this troubleshooting guide for home hydroponics when you see signs of problems with your Grow Pad Mini, and you'll get your system functioning better in no time.