Now that your system is complete, you will want to run a quick test before committing a crop to it. There is another slight difference in operation between the 4" and 6" systems in that the smaller system requires that the nutrient level actually touch the bottoms of the grow cups - see picture at right - you'll notice the water level just touches the bottom of the basket so that the GroRox will wick up enough moisture to get seedling started without flooding them out. As the plants mature and their roots grow down into the chamber, you can lower the standpipes to about 1" below the cups.
The larger system, since it has an internal sprayers at each grow site, doesn't require that the nutrient level be run so high. Make sure though that you adjust the nutrient level so that if the spray isn't at least splashing nutrient up into the cups, the nutrient level touches the bottom of the cups until the roots grow down into the chamber.
Operation of the system is rather simple, I like to use a cycling timer that is adjustable like Diamond's NFT-2-this allows me to vary the amount of time that the pump is on for and the amount of time that it is off for as well. For example, when I first start seedlings in the system, I like to run the pump on for ten minutes and then off for twenty. As the plants mature, I cut back to a five minute on time and a thirty minute off time. This cycle continues until you unplug the timer. This is because seedlings need the extra watering time to help them develop roots. Once their roots grow down into the chamber, they are bathed in the nutrient solution and the sprayers are acting more as a means of aeration that a source for nutrient.
Inset A - seedlings just moved to the system. Foreground - after an adjustment period during which time roots begin to grow...
Inset B - close-up of basil plant after 7 days in system, notice roots below grow cup.
During the first week in the system you must pay close attention to your plants and constantly check that the GroRox inside each basket are getting moistened with nutrient.
Once all of the plants roots extend below the baskets and into the nutrient solution, your crop will really take off! After the roots reach the bottom of the chambers, you may lower the standpipes so the nutrient level is just below the baskets. After the roots get real strong, you can even remove the standpipes entirely and run the system as a hybrid Aeroponic/Nutrient Film Technique system. Access holes in the chambers and on the reservoir should be covered with an opaque plastic sheeting to keep light from causing algae growth - REMEMBER - keep light and heat away from your nutrient solution!
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