Although hydroponic gardening has been gaining quite a lot of popularity in recent times, it isn’t exactly a simple procedure. In fact, it can almost feel like an undergraduate-level science class at times! Unlike regular soil-based gardening, the gardener needs to keep track of every tinydetail. You must keep an eye on your water quality and, most importantly, the pH of your nutrient solution. Failure to do so will result in your plants getting damaged and all your hard work ending up futile.
It is especially important to mention this because a lot of traditional gardeners don’t take water quantity seriously. After all, the only things you need to keep your soil pH at the right level in regular gardening are a box of lime and compost. Hydroponics, however, demands you to remain much more vigilant. Thus, if you’re truly serious about this hobby, then it is in your best interest to invest in the best pH meters presently available.
However, it can be quite tricky to find a good pH meter for hydroponics. Don’t worry; that’s exactly what this article is meant to help you with. We will see the best pH meters and pH test kits that are available online and then understand why exactly it is so important to monitor pH in hydroponics.
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Also see: Online pH Calculator
Best pH Meters and Testers
Why is it important to monitor your pH in hydroponics?
Scientists have invariably discovered that the pH of any growing system – whether it is hydroponics or regular soil –plays a crucial role in the growth of your plants. It isn’t as simple as some plants preferring more acidic soils and other plants thriving in more alkaline soils; the pH determines the nutrients that are available for your plants to absorb.
Let’s understand it like this – you know how much effort you put in to make sure that your plants get all the essential nutrients that they require. Unfortunately, it’s of no use if your soil’s pH isn’t appropriate. Your plants will only be able to absorb the nutrients if the pH is within the right range, as demonstrated by your test. Otherwise, you will only end up losing your plants and wasting your time, money, and energy.
The relationship between pH and nutrient availability is rather complicated and beyond the scope of this article. However, the important message here is that you need to realize the importance of pH in hydroponics and the need to monitor it.Plants usually do well with a slightly acidic pH of 5.5 to 6.5.There are plants that have more specific requirements, but it is generally advisable to stick to a pH of around 6.2, often referred to as the “sweet spot”.
There’s also another benefit of keeping your medium slightly acidic – a lot of aquatic algae don’t grow well in acidic environments. Since these algae tend to be harmful for plants, it’s an advantageous situation all around.
How does a pH meter measure pH?
You’ve now understood why monitoring the pH is so essential for your hydroponic garden to thrive. Let’s now understand how a pH meter actually works.
A pH meter works by measuring the concentration of hydrogen ions in the water. It is this concentration that indicates the level of acidity or alkalinity of a solution by calculating the difference of the electrical potential between a test electrode and a reference electrode.
The apparatus essentially consists of a glass electrode (test electrode) which is sensitive to hydrogen ions, and a reference electrode which is inert or stable. By finding out the difference of the electrical potential between the two, the meter determines what the pH of the solution is. With the help of this data, you will be able to adjust the constituents of your solution accordingly.
What is better – manual pH testing or digital pH meters?
In the market, you will come across two different kinds of pH meters – manual and digital. If you happen to be a dedicated user of hydroponics, you probably own a digital pH meter already. However, if you’re just getting started, you should carefully go through the advantages and disadvantages of both manual pH testing and digital pH meters that I have enumerated below.
Manual pH testing
For manual pH testing, you just require a simple kit similar to the water pH kits used to test the pH of water bodies such as swimming pools. Not only are manual pH test kits easy to use, but they’re much less expensive than digital pH meters as well. Since manual test kits don’t require any extensive care, you needn’t worry about it getting broken or corroded over time. Thus, they are a great choice for beginners who are just getting acquainted with hydroponics.
However, you will have to put in a lot of time and effort to work with manual pH test strips or pH fluid. This issue of time management can be an irksome issue for experienced growers, especially when compared to the convenience of a digital pH meter.
Also, there’s the issue of accuracy. Reading pH strips can be a tricky thing to do, especially for people who are color blind. As a result, it can lead to incorrect readings which in turn impact your system negatively.
Digital pH meters
If you plan to do a lot of hydroponic growing in the future, then I highly recommend going for digital pH meters. As long as you take good care of them, they are quite likely to last a lifetime. Moreover, if they are properly calibrated, they tend to be much more accurate than manual pH meters and pH test strips. They’re also quite fast and allow you to perform tests quickly and more frequently. As a result, they are much more efficient than manual pH meters.
Unfortunately, digital pH meters have their disadvantages as well. The most important factor here is the price; high quality digital pH meters tend to be much costlier than manual pH meters. Also, they require much more maintenance than the latter. Unless you take good care of the device, it’ll get damaged sooner or later and you will end up wasting the money you invested in it. For digital pH meters to retain their accuracy, you will have to get them calibrated over and over again.
How to calibrate a pH meter?
If you end up purchasing a digital pH meter like most gardeners do, you must know how to calibrate it as well. It is not very different from tuning a musical instrument to the right key; without it, the entire musical composition will sound jarring.
Before you start out, you will require a buffer solution. In case you don’t know, a buffer solution is essentially a laboratory certified standard reference point for your pH meter. Although these solutions are generally liquid, you can purchase them in powdered form and mix them with water if required.
After your buffer solution is ready, you can calibrate your pH meter using the steps given below:1. Immerse your pH meter in the buffer solution. This will help you get accurate readings.2. According to the instructions provided by the manufacturer, adjust the reading on your meter to match that of the buffer solution. Note that these instructions can differ for analog and digital meters.3. If you want even more accuracy, repeat the process in an additional buffer solution of a different pH.4. If you use the pH meter regularly, try to calibrate it once a week or at least once a month.5. Make sure you always calibrate your pH meter after replacing a sensor for accurate readings.6. Lastly, don’t forget to read the instructions that come with your pH meter before calibrating it. If the steps happen to be different, you will have to change the procedure accordingly.
How to care for your pH meter?
Unless you take good care of your pH meter, calibrating it will be of no use whatsoever. The most important thing to do in this regard is to carefully read the instruction booklet that comes with your device, no matter how boring it is. With the help of these tips from the manufacturer, you will learn how to care well for your pH meter. If the device didn’t come with a manual, call the manufacturer and enquire about the instructions.
You will find some of the basic things to be done for every pH meter below:
- Read the instructions properly.
- Keep the device calibrated.
- Store the device with storage solutions in the cap upright for optimal saturation.
- Swirl the device lightly in the storage solution to get rid of air bubbles.
- Avoid touching the sensor electrode and reference cell, because they can be damaged by skin oils. That, in turn, will negatively affect the readings.
- Avoid storing the sensor in distilled water.
- Store the device away from intense heat and humidity.
- Finally, remember to always handle the pH meter with care.
Hydroponics gardening is a wonderful hobby, and a pH meter will help you get an even better experience with it. I hope this article helps you learn all the important facts about pH meters.
Last update on 2021-12-01 using Amazon Product Advertising API