Should I grow organics or hydroponics?
Organic means only using natural products for your plants’ growth medium and nutrients. Hydroponics is a general term for a range of methods of delivering water and nutrients to your plants without soil as a growth medium. There are advantages to both techniques, and we can help you adopt the best practices for your garden. Soil makes it easier to grow your plants organically, and is generally a more forgiving growth medium for novice growers. Many consumers say they prefer the flavor of organically grown produce. But there are certainly techniques that hydroponic growers can apply to rival the flavor of soil-grown plants, and nutrients are delivered so efficiently by hydroponic systems that gardens often produce greater yields. More equipment and upkeep may also be required. For novice growers we often recommend an approach starting in soil and requiring a minimum of up front costs until you find your “green thumb”—we want to see you succeed, not just sell you stuff!
Do I have to test the pH of my water?
pH is extremely important in hydroponic systems. Water from two taps in the same house can even test differently. pH must be tested and adjusted as you add it to and maintain it in your system. Gardeners growing in soil can put more trust in their soil as a pH buffer when adding water, but must be careful to maintain their soil chemistry when adding nutrients as soil amendments, and should also test pH as they do so. We sell pH meters for both soil and hydroponic growers, as well as a range of products to adjust the pH of water or of soil. Cap City Organics’ sales associates have all been certified by BlueLab to service pH meters and replace electrodes.
Do I need a fan for my garden?
Depending on the size of your enclosure, it can get very hot very fast, especially if you are using HID (high intensity discharge) lighting. Ventilation is crucial for maintaining consistent temperature and humidity levels in most small gardens. Plants also need to breathe, and stagnant air needs to be replaced regularly. Most tents and enclosures have built-in fittings for various sizes of both intake and exhaust fans. In-line fans are rated in CFM’s, or cubic feet per minute. Ideally you should replace the air in your grow room every 3 to 5 minutes, so if you calculate the volume of the space in your garden, then compare that to the CFM rating of the fans available, you should be able to appropriately size your ventilation equipment. When in doubt, go big. Ventilation is crucial for preventing diseases and the overall health of your plants.
If neutralizing the odor from your garden is a consideration for you, you can add scrubbing filters to your ventilation system that will mitigate any problems, as well as to your intake if indoor air pollution or disease is a concern. Because plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, equipment can also be added to properly sealed spaces that increases CO2 levels to help enhance growth. All environmental conditions must be considered by the indoor gardener, as you are the one determining all of them instead of the natural environment of the outdoors. Indoor gardeners have even found that it helps to stimulate their plants with a slight breeze, making them hardier and more robust. Like the option of using CO2, an oscillating fan may be added to your garden enclosure to enhance growth.
What is the difference between vegetative and flowering cycles?
Not all plants need to go through both cycles to be useful. For example, leafy greens like lettuce, cilantro, basil, spinach, etc. only need to vegetate to produce for you, and for you to propagate them. For plants that do need to experience flowering as part of their growth cycle, light is their essential cue for entering flowering. Plants can respond to both the spectrum of light and the timing of it. Indoor gardeners can simulate the seasonal changes of the sun in the sky by regulating the red or blue of the light spectrum and by how long they keep the lights on. Once your plants enter the flowering cycle, their nutrients may need to be adjusted as well in order to support the redirection of the plant’s energies into growing flowers. Some seeds, hybridized with plants native to subarctic regions with a shorter growing season, are “autoflowering” and start their flowering cycle regardless of lighting cues.
What nutrients and/or supplements do you recommend?
Required nutrients not only vary from one type of plant to another, but also from one stage to another of a plant’s lifecycle. The way these nutrients are delivered depends on the growing technique you’ve selected. If you’re interested in growing organically, we offer a range of product lines from Nectar of the Gods, Humboldt Nutrients, General Organics, and Roots Organics, to name a few. Some product lines that are globally known for their effectiveness even though they may contain some synthetic components include Canna, Veg+Bloom, and Foxfarm. Some soils we offer are also 100% organic, such as the blends offered by Nectar, Foxfarm, & Roots Organics.
All fertilizers, whether organic or synthetic, liquid or soluble, and used in soil or in a separate nutrient additive, can be measured in terms of their nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) content. This N-P-K metric can be seen on the labels of most nutrients in the form of 3 numbers, for example, 2-10-5. Other important “micronutrients” include calcium, magnesium, and sulphur. Plants can exhibit deficiencies for which there are specific additives such as compounds containing calcium. Some growers feel that additives can help to enhance flavor at the end of the flowering cycle. Almost every product line that we stock has a complete diet of nutrients for whatever plants you’re growing, including flavor enhancers, calcium-magnesium supplements, nutrients designed for vegetative and flowering cycles, etc. In addition we have a variety of soil amendments that can adjust the pH of your soil, stimulate root growth, help control pests, and of course change its nutrient contents.
I think my plant has some bugs eating it. What should I do?
It depends on the bug. Where is the plant showing damage? Have you seen what the bugs look like? Are they coming out of the growth medium? Do they have wings? Are their webs on the plants? At what stage of the plants’ life cycle is your garden? Bring us some pics! If you’re deep into flowering already you might have to stick to strictly organic compounds, introducing predatory insects (like ladybugs or mantids) or CO2 flooding for pest control. There are a number of environmental factors in addition to CO2 saturation that can be used to help control pest populations, such as controlling temperature and humidity through ventilation, as well as frequent and thorough cleaning of your enclosure and ductwork with a light bleach solution.
Spot application of certified organic products such as certain plant oils or other natural solutions can help control pest populations, but remember that a healthy garden is a living system and you will rarely be able to keep it pest-free. Instead, any garden should have an integrated pest management program that involves preventive measures such as biologicals (bacteria and fungi that attack pests) applied regularly in order to keep a balanced ecosystem functioning. If you have a severe problem that requires eradication measures, we can offer a range of products, including chemical fumigation.
Do you have seeds or cuttings?
We are frequently asked if we can provide genetics, whether seeds or clones, but this is not a part of our business. We focus only on providing you with the state of the art equipment and the gardening supplies necessary to every kind of customer and every kind of garden, but you must choose which plants to grow for yourself. Then we can help you choose a starter kit right for your garden to grow from either seeds or cuttings into a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. The political and legal environment is changing in and around DC, and so not only are there large indoor gardens in the area that we’re priviliged to have as clients, the small hobbyists using about 5 to 50 square feet of space who comprise the “makers movement” are also welcome to stop by. As the environment changes, we hope that our contractual obligations will allow us to take more of a position of advocacy and to do more to help novice gardeners get started. In the meantime we would be happy to suggest some of our favorite seed purveyors.
LED vs. HID
This question applies to gardeners growing flowering plants only. Gardeners who are only vegetating can use fluorescent lighting to grow their plants, and don’t have to worry about changes in spectrum or much of an electricity bill. LED light fixtures are expensive, but can usually operate in multiple spectrums and have low operating costs due to their low power consumption. High intensity lighting can often seem cheaper in up front costs, but the operating costs are significantly higher. Bulbs must be replaced more often. Both metal halide and high pressure sodium bulbs are required to simulate the different parts of the light spectrum required by vegetative and flowering cycles. In addition your electricity bills will be noticeably higher and the heat put out by high intensity fixtures must be mitigated in enclosed spaces, so the cost of ventilation equipment may be higher as well. However, any experienced gardener will tell you that high intensity means higher yields. Some gardeners even use both, in order to more authentically reproduce the full spectrum of sunlight. For gardeners with more economic incentives than the home hobbyist, HID lighting equipment is definitely worth considering, which can lead to decisions about ballasts and bulbs, and hoods or wings and how to ventilate them. Units of measurement and fixture ratings: watts, lumens, kelvin, etc.
“I just want to grow this particular way I read about online somewhere.”
There is no right or wrong way to do things! How you choose to garden indoors is up to you and your needs and your goals… Whether hobbyist or professional, every gardener must tend their garden through a number of cycles as they hone their skills and find their particular “style” of growing. You must ask yourself, am I doing this for income, for a pleasant pastime and the satisfaction that comes with it, or because I want to take back control of what goes into my food and medicine, which I then put into my own body? Or maybe for all of the above reasons? Remember that in the natural world, plants can live without us, but we can’t live without plants. Return the favor and take good care of the plants you bring indoors. The best fertilizer is a farmer’s footprint!.