This is a summary from an Autogrow webinar. Click here to watch the full webinar.
1. What is automated dosing?
Simply put, an EC or pH probe constantly monitors your reservoir and adds nutrients, additives and pH adjuster, as needed, to maintain your set points. Stock tanks full of different nutrient parts and additives, as well as pH adjuster, both diluted, are fed through pumps and into your reservoir.
2. Why should you measure your reservoir EC and pH levels?
Knowing the condition of your root zone is crucial for growing quality crops. The pH level and electrical conductivity or EC (sometimes referred to as CF or TDS for total dissolved salts or solids in parts per million) are both vital for healthy plant growth.
Large swings in EC and pH levels can put undue stress on plants. Stressed plants can have stunted growth and make them weak, leaving them an easy target for pests and disease
3. Why is pH so important?
pH can affect the availability of certain elements to the plant. If the pH is too low or too high, certain things like nitrogen and iron can become less available to the plant creating deficiencies resulting in lower quality crops. Even the most well balanced nutrient mix will be useless in a system where the pH is outside of the appropriate range.
The most suitable ranges are between 5.5 and 6.5 but that will depend on your crop as each one has different needs.
4. What are the drawbacks of dosing your reservoir by hand?
Managing your reservoir by hand can be very time consuming with a pH that's constantly changing - some growers reporting two to four hours a week just checking their EC.
This is even more difficult if you’re in a cold weather climate or your calibration solutions are cold. Just calibrating and waiting for temperature to the probes to compensate can be an issue. If you walk up with your handheld meter you may have to sit there for three to four minutes before the EC is actually compensated enough that you’re getting a true reading. Then you still have to go and manually adjust it.
If you have more than one reservoir, this can take a very long time. Add in busy growers, time constraints and sometimes human error and it’s a combination that can have a negative impact on your crops.
5. What will happen if you overfeed or underfeed your crops?
Over or under feeding will definitely affect crop performance and lead to potential crop loss. You can see the results of overfeeding sometimes in lettuce with tip burn where the nutrient solution is too strong and they will reach out to the tips of the lettuce and underfeeding can cause nutrient deficiencies.
6. What are the benefits of automated dosing?
Decreased labor costs' is the biggest benefit. You’ll be able to focus more on the plants than the solution you are dosing them with. When a plant is fed a perfect balance of EC and pH on a consistent level the plants will be healthier. Those with a system connected to the cloud can receive alerts the minute something is going wrong so there’s a faster response time to resolve any problems before your crop is adversely affected.
7. Is it expensive? What’s the return on investment?
Some of our growers have reported saving 2-4 hours a week in measuring and adjusting their reservoirs, depending on how many reservoirs they have. You have peace of mind through remote access and text or email alerts if something goes wrong. If you get a full featured dosing system that can handle multi-zone irrigation you can save even more money. The expense is relative and each grower would need to ask themselves how much their crop is worth to them and how long would it take them to recoup if they lost the crop (including key relationships with their own customers).
8. Can I use an automated doser if I grow in soil or soilless media?
Yes. An automated doser can definitely benefit soil growers as well as soilless.
9. What type of maintenance is required?
There’s often a misconception that automation is difficult. There is a certain amount of maintenance you have to do with an automated doser because you’re relying on you pH electrode, EC probes to give you accurate readings but it’s not onerous.
- Weekly - pH probe calibration
- Bi-weekly - EC probe calibration
- Once a month - probe clean
- Once every three months - lubricate the peristaltic pump tubing
- Once a year - replace the peristaltic tubing.
10. Can I access my data remotely? Receive text alerts?
If you use our IntelliDose or IntelliClimate controllers you can have access to the cloud-based IntelliGrow platform – www.autogrow.com/intelligrow