Just like soil, hydroponic reservoirs can become infected by harmful bacteria and fungus (such as pythium aka root rot). In fact, certain infections can even be more common in a hydro setting because of the higher potential for the water to become anaerobic; such as when an air pump dies while you're on vacation, or when you don't have a water chiller and the water gets too warm. These colonies will latch onto your plants' root zones and cover them in gunk, which causes a myriad of problems such as choking out the roots and preventing them from absorbing nutrients.
I had recently purchased a used water chiller for my RDWC system (for those of you unfamiliar with RDWC, this stands for recirculating deep water culture. All of the buckets are connected, which means if 1 bucket becomes infected then it will travel and infect the entire system), so sure enough I started seeing some brown gunk in my plants' roots due to the prior user. Instead of dumping an entire product into the setup, I decided this was a good time to try a hydro tea.
The Typical Solution
There are a number of different companies out there with products that were designed to ward off those nasty germs. One of my personal favorite solutions is Hydroguard by Botanicare. Simply pour the liquid product to water in with your plants, and the product will do the rest.
What makes this product work is a single key ingredient which is (you probably guessed it) a strain of bacteria! More specifically, the strain in this product is called Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens. This is a mouthful, so it is commonly referred to as BAA. It certainly earns this acronym, because this germ out-powers all the rest.
BAA does wonders for your plants' rhizospheres (root zone). Once inoculated, this strain will release enzymes that not only break down organic matter, but also destroy other bacteria by deteriorating their cell walls. This will bar the bad stuff from colonizing and harming your plants, while also stimulating your roots to maximize nutrient uptake. Gardeners Path has an excellent article on BAA if you're interested in learning more about this fascinating microbe.
Since the recommended dosage of products like Hydroguard is intended for preventative measures, the dose that they recommend is typically lower that what you'd need to cure a big infection. With this being considered, the BAA may have a hard time catching up to the preexisting colonies that had already been established in the system.
I wanted to create an experiment with brewing a single beneficial strain of bacteria to fully inoculate the 8 site RDWC system I had running.
This experiment intends on creating a LARGE batch of the BAA, so that it will fill the system and rapidly crowd out any bad bacteria to revitalize the reservoirs. Think of it as a jump start for the BAA in a microbial war of attrition.
My concern with dumping the product as-is along with molasses was the notion that it would simultaneously feed the existing infection. The BAA would most likely win in the long run due to their aggression and effectiveness, but I wanted to give them that jump start.
Here is a little clip of the brew:
After the brew was aerated for 24 hours, I measured up a gallon of the mixture and applied the entire amount to the system. The solution circulated and I waited an additional 24 hours to let the germs do their thing. The following day, I checked the roots and found the following results:
The results were positive! The roots were whiter than ever and the gunk was gone. Now keep in mind that this experiment was done without any controls, so there was no side by side comparison. This experiment was conducted based on theory and common practices of compost tea brewing.
We will most likely circle back to this experiment when we have the means of running 2 identical systems with the same infections (probably mad-made). Future edits will be added to this post.
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