How to use clay pebbles?
Have you ever heard of planting without soil? Yes, you heard it right. Growing without soil is indeed possible. This is an emerging trend globally. Most countries and states, especially those with challenges with plantation and water, have been looking for new ways to enable them to use what is available for them in planting. With the help of ECA (Expanded Clay Aggregate), planting without soil has become a reality, all thanks to clay pebbles.
Besides clay pebbles, you can also refer to them as hydroton, hydroponic clay balls, or LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate). I’m sure the next thing you’d want to know is how to make hydroton clay pebbles and how to use hydroton clay pebbles. Don’t worry because we’ll cover all these in the following sections of this article. For now, let’s look at some of the benefits one enjoys from using clay pebbles. Imagine something you can just wash after harvesting, then re-use to plant your favorite fruit or vegetable.
Today, many people are using the clay pebbles technique to plant and harvest their produce. Clay pebbles are suitable for both Dutch bucket and media bed techniques. Here are other benefits of using clay pebbles. Retaining moisture, providing excellent drainage since hydrotons absorb water, improving aeration, lasting long, making it possible for you to use them many times to plant, and the fact that they’re environment friendly since clay is a natural substance.
How to Use Hydroton Clay Pebbles
If you’re a small grower using the media bed or Dutch bucket technique, using clay pebbles is the wisest idea you could ever think of. They are the size of peanuts, lightweight, and easy to transplant. They also make harvesting easy. But, whenever you source new hydroton clay pebbles, always remember to rinse them before use because they can be dusty, which may result in clogging problems.
Here’s how to effectively use hydroton clay pebbles to realize good produce.
• You need to rinse them
Are you planning to use hydroton clay pebbles in a hydroponic system? Well, don’t just apply them before properly washing them. Washing these pebbles ensures you get rid of all the dust and other debris formed on their surface at the manufacturing stage that can cause clogging problems later on. There’s nothing special needed to wash them thoroughly. Just put them under running water until you see clear water. This sign shows that they are now dust and debris-free, hence ready for the next step.
• Soak them after washing
Perhaps you’re busy asking yourself why on earth you need to soak them after such a thorough wash. I’ll tell you why. Soaking these hydroton clay pebbles after you’re confident they’re clean is reasonably necessary. These clay pebbles need to undergo a complete saturation process, including their inner pores, before putting them together with your plants. The saturation process will ensure that the roots of your plans don’t struggle to get the moisture they need to germinate. You can either use a diluted nutrient solution or water to soak your clay pebbles for 6-8 hours, but better if you can do it for 24 hours.
You need to lift them up to determine whether they’re well saturated or not. If they’re no longer lightweight, then your clay pebbles are ready to be used.
• Using hydroton clay pebbles
Once they are thoroughly soaked and saturated, you can now apply them to your hydroponic system. It’s simple, add them to your planting container that you put your plants in. There are two ways of using these clay pebbles.
a. For germination
You can use hydroton clay pebbles for germinating your seeds before transplanting them. But, you’ll need to crush them first so the seeds don’t remain too dry to grow. This is because these clay pebbles are known to absorb excess water. Crushing them also increases their surface area, enabling them to retain increased moisture. After crushing them, place them in a growing medium or container, then plant your seeds. Remember to soak these pebbles first before use. Once the seedlings are out, gently transplant them into a different container with uncrushed pebbles.
b. For rooting cuttings
Don’t think that just because these hydroton clay pebbles are lightweight, they aren’t steady enough for rooting cuttings. They can hold in place even the most delicate plant cutting. These clay pebbles will offer just the needed amount of nutrients and water perfect for rooting cuttings.
Advantages of using hydroton clay pebbles in the hydroponic system
• Retains water, but the plants don’t dry off
• Creates high pore space
• Are renewable
• Environment friendly
• They’re easy to plant and harvest
• You can re-use them
Disadvantages of Hydroton pebbles
• A bit expensive, especially if you’re using them for large scale
• Holds water
• Can cause problems with pumps
How to make clay pebbles
Clay pebbles used in the hydroponic system mainly come from aggregate companies. These companies start by mining the clay from the ground, then crush the clay using some grinding machines to their size. After grinding them, they will then roast these clay particles in what they call massive rotary kilns until they expand. The temperatures in these rotary kilns can be between 1500 to 2000 degrees. This range is relatively high, which is why it’s not easy to make clay pebbles at home. So, I would suggest you buy the ready-made clay pebbles available in the market from these aggregate companies. Not even the internet would help you much because there are no DIY videos or step-by-step guides on how to make clay pebbles.
Though possible, investing in rotary kilns is not worth the trouble. You also need to remember that this equipment is extremely dangerous and should be handle with utmost care. Here is a process you can follow to make clay pebbles if you’re willing to risk it all. I’m not quite sure if anyone has ever tried it and if it worked. So, you can just try it out then let us know the outcome.
• Talk to potters in your area to know where you can get natural clay. You can take a small amount for testing before you could commit to a large scale.
• If you cannot purchase a new rotary kiln, you can always borrow or rent out one for use. Put a large amount of clay inside this equipment to make clay pebbles. You can adjust the rollers to cut pebbles to your desired measurement, like 1inch diameter.
• But, if you don’t get the rotary kiln completely, you can still do it manually. Mold clay about 1inch in diameter by hand.
• Please put them in other heat sources that can reach 2000 degrees to roast them.
• Ensure you heat these pebbles until you see bubbles forming and breaking. You can heat it overnight then wait for at least 10 hours for the clay pebbles to cool.
• Finally, soak them for them to saturate before putting them in contact with your plants.
How to clean clay pebbles
It doesn’t really matter how you call them, but these lightweight clay pebbles are an excellent growing medium for hydroponic systems. There are several reasons to use them, but my favorite is that they take up space in the medium bed, which only means that I need a small amount of nutrient reservoir. I know most people invest in clay pebbles because they’re reusable. But before re-using them, you need to thoroughly clean them to get rid of all the debris on their surfaces, including dust.
Here are some of the best ways on how to clean clay pebbles how. The first practical method is following these five simple steps.
- Five Steps to Cleaning Clay Pebbles
You need a large boiling pot, a large colander, something you’ll use in stirring pebbles, and a drying surface after cleaning. You’ll realize how easy it is to rinse clay pebbles using a colander. Consider drilling several holes on the sides of your large gallon pot to make it easier for you to rinse clay pebbles outside. We recommend the use of hot water when rinsing to remove the stuck-on particles.
• First, get rid of the large debris
Remove anything you can see on the surfaces of these clay pebbles with your hands, including plant particles and roots. If you can get these clay pebbles dry out a little, the better and more accessible this external debris will fall out on its own. You can also use slotted gardening trays to shake these pebbles for the trash to fall out through the holes.
• Use hot water to rinse them
You need to rinse these clay pebbles then. A large strainer or colander can be used in this second step to drain all the hot water as your pebbles clean up. After exhausting all the water, put them through on a tap with hot water running to remove any remaining material stuck on them. You can stir them at this stage to increase the effectiveness or simply shake if you can’t find anything fit to stir them.
• Boiling step
Here is where you put them in a large boiling pot to boil them for up to half an hour. This process ensures all the fungus and bacteria are killed. If you can get a colander that will perfectly fit your boiling pot, the better for you.
• Rinse again
Repeat the second step at this stage. Some of this debris can be difficult to remove but rinsing again at this stage will ensure you remove them all.
• In the final stage, soak and dry them
Spread these clay pebbles in a large tray to allow them to dry up. You can use a 1020 garden tray if you have it. Once dried thoroughly, they are now ready to be re-used. Remember to soak them in a nutrient solution before using them again.
If you can remember, we said earlier that LECA pebbles are capable of holding moisture. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put them back into the system when they have water you used in cleaning them. That’s why we recommend that you dry them up first to drain that water and allow them to absorb the nutrient solution you’ll use to soak them. It’s this nutrient solution they’ll deliver to your plants’ roots for germination.
- Cleaning Clay Pebbles Using Other Means.
You can use other means on how to clean clay pebbles how and still preserve the beneficial bacteria in them. If you don’t want to kill these bacteria, then you shouldn’t boil your clay pebbles. Instead, remove all debris from these pebbles, then rinse them several times to remove anything stuck on them from your last harvest. This is where the 1020 gardening trays come in handy. Put these clay pebbles on this tray, then add water to submerge them. You’ll need a good brush to scrub these pebbles thoroughly as they rotate and clean up. Once you’re sure that you’ve done enough scrubbing, rinse them again to remove any dirt left.
To sanitize your clay pebbles, you can either use hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol.
• Using Isopropyl Alcohol
Though alcohol evaporates fast, you can still use it to sterilize your cleaned clay pebbles before re-using them but put in mind that they may not sterilize thoroughly. This particular alcohol is so effective since it evaporates slowly, hence an extended contact with your clay pebbles.
• Using hydrogen peroxide
You can soak your clay pebbles in a hydrogen peroxide bath to sanitize them if boiling isn’t a good option for you. This is after you’ve cleaned them thoroughly to remove dust or any debris on their surfaces. Prepare a 3% hydrogen peroxide bath, then add your clay pebbles inside to soak for at least one hour. After one hour, remove these clay pebbles from the hydrogen bath, then rinse them using water to remove any stubborn debris left. Drain them, then spread them on a tray to let them dry before re-using them to plant.
It doesn’t really matter how to clean clay pebbles how. As long as you clean them and maintain them well, you’ll be increasing their effectiveness and use them every year for several years. We wash clay pebbles before re-using them for three important reasons; to reopen their pores, remove any decaying debris from the previous planting, and remove all the built-up nutrient salt absorbed from the last season. These expanded clay pebbles are cost-effective. If properly cleaned and maintained, they can last for many years without the need to replace them. But, if you don’t properly keep them, they may form difficult clogs that aren’t easy to remove, forcing you to invest in new ones whenever you want to plant.
How to make hydroton clay pebbles.
Hydroton clay pebbles are clay balls that have been heated in a rotary kiln in high temperatures around 1500 degrees to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The heating process will make these hydroton clay pebbles pop up, forming the needed pores on their surfaces. These pores make hydroton clay pebbles lightweight and an airy medium that provides plants with good drainage, water, and air. For large-scale purposes, it’s the aggregate companies that make these hydroton clay pebbles since the process is both risky and costly. You need mining machines, grinding machines, and high-temperature roasting machines to complete the process. Here is the complete process.
• The companies will first mine the suitable clay from the ground.
• Then transfer this large clay to the grinding machines to crush it.
• After crushing them, put them on massive rotary kilns to roast and expand them at most 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Remove and allow them to cool down for 24 hours before selling them to the public market.
As you can see, the process is enormous and expensive, so you need to think twice before making them yourself. Are you willing to spend dollars on these machines? Think about it keenly so you can make a wise decision. Though challenging, it’s still doable. You can follow the steps we outlined on how to make the clay pebbles section above to try it out.
Do you now see why using the clay pebbles technique is becoming more and more popular across many countries? The benefits above explain it all. From being re-used, cost-effective to being environment friendly, the clay pebbles technique is undoubtedly worth trying. If you have raised gardening beds to have an added advantage, you can effectively use clay pebbles outdoors. You can line these beds with plastic and set them up as drain and flood systems. What you’ll get combining the clay pebbles with drain and flood systems is an advantage you can never think of. The roots of your plants will remain well aerated and moist after every draining cycle.
I hope you enjoyed reading this tutorial and that you’ve learned a lot from it. We would love to hear from you. Please tell us what you honestly think about this article in our feedback section below. Also, feel free to share it with your friends and family so they can also benefit from it.