Investing in your first hydroponic system. Researching and re-researching proper lighting, nutrient, temperature and humidity. All this time and effort boils down to one thing. Harvest. And when you’ve already worked THIS hard to achieve the crop of your dreams, it’s worth going just a little further to optimise that growth to the parts of your plant that you will harvest. Let’s talk about what that means and how you can do it.

The plants in your garden, whether edible or not, will go through two main developmental phases. These are known as growth and bloom (vegetative and regenerative).

During the growth stage, plants carry out a process called photosynthesis. This means your plants use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to create oxygen and energy. During the developmental stage, this energy is spent producing thick stems and lush foliage.

Once the growth stage is complete, your plants move to bloom. They will redirect energy to flowers, fruit, pollen and seeds.

Hopefully, that part all makes sense, but we hear you asking, “what does this have to do with balancing growth?”

Well, it’s simple. For some plants, we harvest foliage and for others, we harvest fruit.

For example, if you’re growing lettuce, you will want that plant to be hyper-focused on leafy growth.

If you’re growing tomatoes on the other hand, you’ll want that plant to be more focused on fruit production.

Working with your garden to optimise growth by stage is critical to achieving the award-worthy crops you’ve been dreaming of, it all comes down to balance.

Let’s go deeper.

If you’re harvesting foliage, you’ll want to prevent early flowering. This phenomenon is also known as bolting.

You can think of bolting as your plants inbuilt panic button.

Your plant is in it’s growth phase and becomes stressed. Then, worried for it’s life and hyper-focused on survival, your plant makes one last effort to continue it’s lineage; it goes to flower.

Bolting has some tell-tale signs; for example, leggy stems and flowers where there should only be lush, leafy growth.

Early flowering takes energy away from foliage development, which means you’ll end up with a bitter-tasting crop and woody roots/stems.

Bolting is caused by stress, so the easiest way to prevent it is to keep your plants happy.

Planting your crop in the right season will make it less susceptible to heat and frost.

Giving your plants enough space will prevent them from becoming rootbound.

Ensuring a consistent watering regime will keep your plants fed and hydrated.

If you’d like to go the extra mile to keep your crop from bolting, you can add a seaweed or liquid kelp additive as these have been proven to improve stress resistance.

Now, on to bloom.

If you’re growing a crop for it’s flower, seed or fruit, you want to balance the ratio of fruit to foliage. Aim for enough vegetation to support fruit growth but not so excessive as to be wasting energy on leaves instead of fruit/flower production.

The first and easiest way to combat excessive vegetative growth is through pruning. Remove old, dead, sick or excessive foliage as you see it.

Another technique for limiting vegetative growth is through stress which isn’t surprising -as we’ve discussed, stress causes early fruit/flowering.

One way growers achieve this level of minor stress in plants is through deficit watering. Deficit watering practices include reducing the water volume applied at each irrigation or allowing more time between each water.

A bit of tough love can benefit your fruiting crops but use this technique with caution. Too much stress and your plants will be met with blossom end rot, cracks, and far from optimal flavour.

In hydroponics, it’s not uncommon to see lush, vegetative growth at the expense of fruit/veg yields (or vice versa). Understanding the different growth stages of your plants will allow you to maximise your harvest by trading all growth for the right growth.

We hope you have enjoyed today’s instalment of the Aquaponics WA and Hydroponic Xpress newsletter and as always, happy growing!