Hydroponics Seeding Techniques -American Hydroponics Webinar

 

Hi, I’m Paul with American Hydroponics and welcome to our monthly webinar: Seeding your hydroponic system. Now what we’re going to do this afternoon is talk about a few different ways for how you can seed your hydroponic system. Two of our master growers Jenny Harris and Joe Swartz are here to help us and to demonstrate these different techniques. Again you don’t have to be a master hydroponic gardener to do these, they are very basic and these are what you will start doing when you buy a system from American Hydroponics. So watch closely and if you have any questions or comments use the questions and comments section of the website, type those in and we will take those as we have time. Anyway, let’s get started. Jenny is going to talk about hand seeding.

Hi, so today I’m going to show you basically how to hand see some of the most common kinds of seed that we have. What we like to use here is Oasis. This is thin cut Oasis and you’ll also see some of the other Oasis we use but you can use rockwool or any kind of rope cubes but for this they should all come in a standard 10 20 size that fits into a standard 10 20 tray. This is what we’re using. You can kind of see it go like this. It’s scored a little bit so each one of those when you actually go to plant will break apart. So what I do is I start with dry Oasis and i set it in a tray and I fully wet my Oasis. I n a watering can I have some essential it’s a root accelerator and it just really helps the roots grow and take root. You don’t have to have that you can do this also just with water. But we like to use the essential you can see when I poured out there you can see it’s kind of a dark brown, That’s from that’s from the Essential. So I make sure the Oasis is really nice and wet all the way through and that the Oasis has soaked everything up. If you can see in there you actually see that the water has come up through the holes so you know that everything is fully soaked up because you don’t want any dry spots in your Oasis. Then what you’re going to do, and this is going to be a little bit of a trick, you’re actually going to drain your oasis. I have a bucket right here you’re just going to drain your Oasis. I don’t know if you can see the different colors of Oasis as it’s draining out a little bit, but you don’t want it sopping wet because it’s messy and it’s just too hard to handle, so you definitely want it soaked all the way through. I’m going to show you a couple of different kinds of seeds. If you’ve watched our webinars before and you know we like to use seeds primarily from Jonny’s. We order from Jonny’s and we use seeds from Paramount seeds, they’re super high quality seeds.

 

If you have a local company that grows seeds and they’re high quality then we encourage you to use that but we don’t just generally run down the store and buy seeds, we like to come and use the seeds that we know are really going to work for us since we have commercial quality crops. So what I put out here as you can see are the different types of seeds. You can see the basil seed and they’re super tiny. Any seeds like this that are generally super tiny you’re going to put about seven to ten seeds in each cube. Same with the arugula here, and kale looks a lot like this too, you can see they’re very very small. The raw lettuce is even smaller and a little more difficult. The thing about raw lettuce seeds is you only want to put one of the seeds in each cube. One of the seeds will grow into a head of lettuce, whereas in a bunch of basil you want a whole bunch of stems coming up. Same with arugula, you want a whole bunch coming up but with the lettuce you really only want one lettuce head per cube unless you’re doing some product mix. This is called lettuce mix and this is what we use for our baby lettuce mix. That is, we put these kinds of seeds in there and then we cut them as baby lettuce leaves we don’t ever let them get too a full head. Now these seeds right here are called pelleted seeds. You can see them they’re covered in a clay and they’re this same seed. They’re one of the same seeds right here just covered in clay and you can tell they are much easier to handle.

 

These are what we use if you want to grow a head of lettuce because they’re so much easier to handle. And you can get both Johnny’s, Paramount, any of the seeds companies almost always sell both the raw and the pelleted version. The pelleted version is so popular that most people use those. And the last thing I wanted to show you here, these happen to be sunflower seeds and we’re growing dwarf sunflowers, but these will be vine crops. Generally the vine crops a little bit bigger, not always, tomato seeds are tiny, but like cucumber seeds and the melons they’re a little bit bigger. So that’s kind of the basic seeds we have. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to first just take some of our pelleted seeds, this is summer crisp lettuce, so we’re going to take these and all you’re really going to do is you’re just going to drop one per hole just exactly like that. I always start at one end and work to the other so we can really easily, systematically see what all we’ve harvested. So you’re just going to go through here and you’re just going to go just like this. You might think, oh my gosh hand seeding that takes so long, but you can see it really doesn’t take that long.

 

I’m just going to seed those two rows right there and then what I’m going to do is take a sharpie, and these plastic gardening sticks come in super helpful in your greenhouse because what you’re going to do is you’re going to then write on here what these seeds are because all of the pelleted seeds looks the same. Some of them come orange, some of them come white, some of them come tan and you have no idea what kind of lettuce they are and even if they’re sprouting up you can’t always tell. So what I’m going to do on this little plastic gardening stick is write that this is a summer crisp lettuce, I’m going to write the date I planted it and I’m going to write the Lot number right here that all the seed companies put on their seeds and I’m going to write that on here and I’m going to stick it in my Oasis like this, so as it grows up I know that’s what that is. So that’s one way. The pelleted seeds are the easiest to harvest, now this is a little bit of a trick, so we’re going to harvest some arugula now. This is just how I like to harvest it, people do it different ways but I just get cardstock, and I keep the same cardstock out in my greenhouse and pour some arugula seeds in there. Obviously I’m normally seeding a lot more arugula because it’s super popular and people like it. All you’re doing is you’re scooting seeds off into it you’re just going to put about, I don’t know if you can get a close up of this and see about how many seeds that we’re doing and I’m doing it a little bit slow so you guys can see, normally I kind of run like a demon through these things. And even though I’m seeding you know 288 or almost 300 arugula cubes, it goes pretty quickly. Then what you can do, you can see some of the arugulas are off, I just kind of take the plastic thing and I just kind of do this and I scoop a all back into the cubes so you don’t have any random ones sitting out there. So that’s arugula, I do the same thing with kale. Raw lettuce, if you’re going to let lettuce mix, you’re going to do the same sort of thing. And you’re just going to put them in there and you’re going to do the same sort of exact thing and you’re just going to kind of a scooch a few of them in there just like that. You can kind of see you can go a little quickly on it. Same exact sort of thing. The last thing I want to show you is basil, buy we’re going to come back to it because we have a trick for how you seed basil. So as you know, the basil seeds are tiny tiny little black seeds, they are slightly bigger than a flea. You’re going to put some basil in a cup, about an eighth of an ounce and the cups we like to use have the little markers for measuring. I’m just going to get this wet right here, and I’m going to just put water this is and this is what it looks like. Dry basil seeds going in there and fill it up with water. Now we’re going to come back to that in just a minute. I’m going to show you a trick to wet basil seeding.

 

Hi everybody! So as Jenny was showing with the seeding your lettuce and leafy crops, it’s very straightforward and very simple. However, a lot of systems especially when we’re lettuce growers who are seeding one individual seed per cube, it can become very time consuming and sometimes diffucult. Even with a small, to midsize operation such as this size right here, you could be seeding several thousand cubes per week and as I said, it can take up a fair amount of time. If you take this is our Oasis and this is the 162 sheet. This is one sheet of Oasis horticubes and there are a hundred and sixty two individual cells. So if we’re seeding let’s say our pelleted lettuce seed and we’re seeding each individual cell, it again take a long time and for some of us like myself it can make your eyes cross after a little while. So a good economical option and a piece of equipment that I would recommend for small to mid-sized growers is a vaccum seeder. It’s just a few hundred dollars and it’s a very simple, basic machine but it can speed up your seeding time and make your life immensely easier. This is one of the pieces of equipment that I myself as a grower had resisted buying for several years and once I bought it I couldn’t believe I ever lived without it. So basically the way it’s set up is this is basically a seeder box and just a simple box with an aluminum cover. These aluminum covers are interchangeable so you can actually have these made specifically with holes in them for the right size for whatever you’re seeding but also to match whenever growing media you you’re using.

 

So if you’re using Oasis or using cocoa fiber blocks or other plugs they have different spacing between them so you can have seeder plates made for that specific seed and that specific growing media and these are all interchangeable. So I have one of these seeders and I have several different plates for several crops. Again, makes things much easier and it’s very quick. So what you do is once the aluminum plate is installed on the box. It’s connected to a very simple shop vac and when the shop vac is turned on what it does is it creates suction at each one of these holes. So we can fill the plate with seeds and move it around a little bit, it takes a little bit of maneuvering and one seed will stick and each space and then we can pour off the rest of the seeds and then seed them directly into our tray. So I’m going to do it slow and I’m going to talk about once you get a little practice and get a rhythm going, you can see several trays per minute. So if we’re seeing a few thousand trays maybe we’re seeding eight or ten Oasis cubes so we get it done in 10 or 15 minutes and have very nice uniform seeding. So it definitely will make your life easier. So again as I said it takes a little bit of practice, sometimes first time growers are a little frustrated with it but it’s very straightforward. We just basically have pelleted lettuce seed. This is what Jenny was showing; the raw lettuce seed is seen as kind of long and irregular shape.

 

In some cases they coat it in a clay coating, this is a pelleted coating and it helps make seeding easier but that also helps absorb water when you are germinating and actually helps you get better germination. Pelleted lettuce seed is a little more expensive than regular lettuce seed, but I highly recommend most growers use them because it makes better quality crop. So anyway, let’s get started. What you need to do is have a nice clear area set up to have your seeder set and however many trays of Oasis or whatever other cubes you’re using. So the seeds are set and I have everything I need, I’m going to talk over the vacuum a little bit. So now we have suction at all the holes and we pour the seeds out and it takes a little practice and doing but basically all we’re doing is moving the seeds around so all the seeds cover each of the holes. Once that’s done and all the seeds are suctioned down, I’m going to pour the excess seeds out, and you can expect to have to redo a few seeds but now there are seeds in every hole. Now we just take the Oasis and flip it over, and this is the part which takes a little bit of practice. You want to very carefully set your Oasis over the seeds, then we’re going to pick it up and hold the Oasis and seeding plate and flip it over and shut off the vacuum. We just disconnect the tube and that instantly cuts the vacuum at the hole. So now all that should fall throught, just give it a little tap and we now have one seed in every hole. Once you get started you can do several a minute. Now as Jenny was showing, what we do now is we water these down very very heavily, we drain them down and put them in our propagation systems. So this is a very relatively inexpensive piece of equipment that will save you a lot of time. I highly recommend you get one if you can. Leafy green growers all over the world use this when seeding.

 

Hi there. So now we’re going to look at seeding basil, and if you remember, the basil seeds are those tiny tiny seeds and they’re very hard to seed even doing it the way I was doing it with the cards. So what you see here is I just put some plain basil seeds in here and just added water. And so now if you look at the seeds they kind of have a little gelatinous coating on them and we just take a dropper that we get from the drugstore. This one happens to be a five milliliter dropper and you suck up seeds and all you’re going to do is you’re going to go through here and you see how quick that is and you’re just going to go through here you’re going to suck up and then you can see how quickly it goes. Basil is a super hot seller for most of our growers, so when seeding basil there’s usually a lot of it. And you just go through here and because you’re just using water, it doesn’t matter that it’s going into the Oasis cubes. So there you go, that’s how you wet seed basil, that easy!

 

  1. So now that we’ve got our leaf crops seeding techniques, were going to talk about vine crops and for some growers who are growing tomatoes or peppers or cucumbers, this is a little bit different. When we’re growing leafy crops in an NFT system like you can see here, now this is system here is 3000 square feet with over 10,000 plants. So obviously we’re seeding one individual cube per plant, we’re seeding a lot of cubes, but with vine crops it’s just a little bit different.

 

We’re growing singular plants that are very large and grow over very long time so a similar sized system would only have about 250 to 300 actual vine crops. And they are only seeded once or twice every year. So basically this is much easier to do by hand, most growers, unless they very large, seed vine crops by hand. So the seeding process is very simple, just as Jenny did it before we start with our cubes and our seed and most growers literally just do this just by hand. You can use a pair of tweezers or use your fingers, it doesn’t really matter, all we’re doing is we’re seeding 1 seed per hole. Most tomato and cucumber and peppers varieties that are bred for greenhouse production have a very very high germination rate so you don’t need to put several seeds in a hole like some people will do. One seed per hole and you should have about 95-98 percent germination so you’ll get many many good seedlings so we don’t need to worry about putting in multiple seeds. Now with these we’re not using this one single one inch cube and placing it in a channel what we’re doing is we’re grwoing a seedling that instead of being two weeks old and going into the system may grow and our propagation system as a baby plant for 3,4,5,6 weeks depending on where you are and your crop. So what we want to do is we want to take this plant and germinate it just as we do with our small leaf crops. So basically what we’re going to do as we germinate the crop, they are going to be separated into one inch cubes.

 

So what you’re going to have is a germinated seedling in one small cube but a tomato or pepper plant is going to grow very large very quickly. So what we want to do is move them into a larger block, it’s called the propagation. This is a very common block that we use, this is a Jiffy Pot, they are blocks that are made of Rockwoll. Will there be peat and others grow mix these in particular are made with cocoa fibers, from coconut husks and some vermiculite or perlite. So it’s very similar to a common growing mix you get the garden center and as you see it’s very wet and it’s dry. This is a compressed block for shipping and if you want to order them through us, you get a case of them, and they ship very very well. They’re easy to handle. So all we do before use is we just saturate them with water. I just took one of these just a few moments ago and I just ran some water on it and as you can see it absorbs water and enlarges. So now this and this are the exact same thing but this is now holding onto a significant amount of water. So this propagation block is basically going to be your plant’s home for the next several weeks. So once we have our germinated seedling, all we’re going to do is take a well saturated cube with some nutrient solution in it and I’m going to place it directly into that cube and now we’re able to put that in our propagation system and were able to raise the plant to size of four to six weeks. So it is ready to go into its generative state which is when we would plant it out in the greenhouse we want it to start producing crops.

 

This is just a small melon, it’s a little bit small but it’s a perfect example of kind of what we’ve got. You can see the root system is essentially contained in the block but we also have it already starting to grow through the bottom, a nice healthy root system. And what we want to do is now transplant to our growing system. We can have different growing systems we have a gutter system with coconut fiber bags and in this case we have Dutch buckets, these are also called bato buckets they are very common in the hydroponic industry. So this is filled with a material called perlite. This is very lightweight, porous material that is fed nutrient solution that allows the roots to penetrate to grow in. So this will basically be the home or your plant or its productive life. So what we need to do is we have our bato bucket system and we have feed tubes and each one of these tubes will provide water and nutrients. So basically you have a stake or drip stake at every one of these buckets and it will constantly be feeding the proper amount of water and nutrients. So what we do when the system is prepared and our seedlings are large enough to go we have a nice wet material here and all we do is make a small indentation, we place that block on top but we want to embed it a little bit so it has good penetration into the growing material, and then we just take our drip stake and we’re going to stick it right in here.

 

So essentially all the nutrients and water place will be fed through the cube, bathing the roots that are here but very quickly now the roots are going to penetrate into this bucket into this growing material. As you can see there’s a large amount of volume so as the plant grows and matures and starts using roots here in the side is where all the roots are going to be contained. So you have all the root systems contained very well in the system but they’re getting a constant supply of water as well. And that’s basically it. So we start with a small one inch cube, we germinate them we move them into propagation block and then from the propagation block you start with the heavy nice set of roots with the amount of regrowth system and that’s really the best way to get a good start.

 

So we’ve looked at seeding an Oasis for the channels, we’ve looked at seeding with an auto-seeder, seeding vine crops in bato buckets, and now we’re going to look at something a little different, we’re going to look at microgreens. A lot of you that have a little extra space on your propagation table will be growing microgreens because they’re a pretty profitable prop especially just to use up some extra space. So I’m taking the same little cup that I have and I’m going to pour out about an ouce of seeds. We like using the Jonny’s spicy micro mixes and mix of different brassica seeds. So about an ounce of seeds, which is about that much, will produce about a pound of microgreens in less than two weeks. So we grow our microgreens, this has already been wet down with some Essential and then rung out, but this is the medium that it grows on and it’s like a felt. It comes at a great big roll and it’s not very expensive at all, it’s around $69.00 for the roll and we just cut it off to fit right inside the tray. You don’t want it too wet because it kind of weighs it down and you get all the seeds stuck in the tracks but then it’s super easy, you’re going to take the seed and you just have to sprinkle it evenly throughout. Just like that! And like I said, an ounce of seeds will produce about a pound of microgreens and generally people don’t buy a lot of microgreens but you can get about $40/pound for your microgreens. So for this tray and one ounce of seeds, you’re going to get about $40 a pound for your tray. Then I’m just going to take some water and you can to do a hand sprayer like this or we have an air mister and all you’re going to do is wet the tops of the seeds. I’m going to cover it up with a piece of plastic like this and I’m going to cover it for the first two days. You can cover it with anything, we just happen to have these trays and for the first two days I’m going to spray them to water them. These over here are what they are going to look like, you can see the mat underneath there, and these are the microgreens, we used the same exact mix, you can see how nice and dense they are, how thick they are and this is less than two weeks old. This is when you harvest them and then you sell them by weight and like I said this will be about a pound of microgreens. We use our little plastic stake to tell us when we planted these seeds and exactly how old they are. After two weeks you’re going to hook this up to your propagation system, by the seeds will have taken root into the mat a little bit so they won’t be washed away and then it’s just an automatic feeding schedule. So that’s how you seed microgreens.

 

So lastly, one of the most common questions I get is regarding automation. People are always looking whether this is a greenhouse system or indoor vertical growing system they ask about different ways they can automate to lower their labor usage and speed up their time and efficiency. One of the questions I get a lot is about an automatic seeding system. They like to look at the vacuum seeder like this but it’s still considered a manual system. And so they’re looking for an automated system where basically trays that are pushed through, seeded and watered automatically and there certainly are number systems that are available. Keep in mind though that a system like this for those mid-sized growers is very very effective. We’re looking at say five to six hundred dollars for a system like this. This would be good for growers up to say 43000 square feet. So you may be seeding 100 trays a week spending or five hours, but you’re seeding 26 or 27 thousand cubes a week. That’s a very substantial operation. Once you go beyond that, then it may make economic sense to look at an automated system but these systems are generally custom to your operation and they can be quite expensive. Most of them are made in Europe and can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $40,000. And what they usually take is a conveyor system that will take your Oasis or whatever rooting medium and slide it on the conveyor under an automatic seeder that literally will just seed each row as it goes through.

 

So as the tray follows a ten foot conveyor, it goes through, it gets seeded, it gets soaked with water, and gets drained and then it gets moved over to the propogation system. They are very handy and it’s very effective. I’ve looked at a number of systems here in America and also in Europe and for large scale growers it is very effective. But I would say for under an acre growing area that probably this is probably going to be much more cost effective. But as you can see as you say there are many many different options and most growers have a whole array of different tools that they use, thees are just one of many.

 

Here you’ve seen a whole bunch of things you’ve seen hand seeding with all the different types of seeds, you’ve seen vacuum seeding, wet seeding, vine crops, microgreens, and we talked a little bit about some of the automated seeders. So we have a couple quick questions here. One is when selecting are there specific varieties that work better when seeding for hydroponics? Yes! There are a number of different seeds when you look at a seed catalogue and when you get to lettuce you see literally 20,30,40 different varieties of lettuce. There are varieties that are specific to hydroponics and more specifically to greenhouse growing environments. They tend to grow better under certain lighting conditions, certain environmental conditions like humidity, and also a lot of greenhouse growers focus on varieties that may not be as large or uniform but have better flavor and texture. Most seed companies have a specific greenhouse section or you can always call us at AmHydro and will give you a recommendation.

 

The last question was about cleanliness and do you need to wear gloves or protective clothing when you’re doing this and certainly cleanliness in the greenhouse as you can see, this greenhouse is super clean and you see all the empty channel because this is a school run greenhouse and they are done for the summer so they’re cleaning out this whole section really give it a good thorough cleaning. You should always wash your hands and wear gloves, when the kids come here they wear gloves but you should always consider cleanliness and make sure you pick up everything off of the ground. Whether you have a cement floor or gravel, be sure to pick all of the stuff up off the ground. That’s everything for seeding, thanks for joining us! On the next two slides you will see that we have our seminar coming up August 13th and it will be held in Humboldt County in this greenhouse and in some of the local areas around here. There’s a special code that you can use so when you sign up for the seminar you get two free nights in a hotel. Our next webinar is July 20th and it will be about getting 26 harvests per year in your hydroponic system. So thanks for joining us and we will see you next time!



Joe Swartz

Author Joe Swartz

Involved in all aspects of the Hydroponics Industry. Currently in my 32nd year as a commercial hydroponic vegetable and herb grower. (Over 50,000 hours of greenhouse production time). I am experienced in all levels of design, set up, crop scheduling, workforce training, and specialty produce marketing. I have consulted for growers/investors across the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Western Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia.

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