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Understanding Hydro: What are Chelates and Amino Acids?

Sirius J



Most hydro nutrient solutions these days advertise having amino acids, chelated minerals and humates, but how do these additives translate to bigger yields or better flavor? The science of hydro is continuously advancing and many products made for cannabis are on the cutting edge.

In the 19th Century scientists discovered that plants only needed air, sunlight, water and certain mineral salts to survive. They found plants consume certain elements in small amounts (such as iron, zinc and copper) and called them micronutrients, and consumed others in high amounts and called them the macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. By mixing up small amounts salts like potassium nitrate and magnesium sulfate they discovered plants consume certain minerals as they grow.

These relatively simple mixtures of inorganic salts respond to all the necessary nutrients for plant growth, but this isn’t exactly how nature intended it. Nitrogen is present in the Earth's soil mainly in the forms of ammonium and nitrate (which is also how hydro nutrients supply them) but the roots aren't on their own down there. In living soil, beneficial fungus and bacteria grow around plant roots and cooperate with plants for food. Fungus and bacteria feed on the soil and produce organic compounds as waste that help lock in nutrients as well as regulate the pH directly around the roots.

Organic acids and amino acids hold nutrients in solution and make them easier to absorb compared to plain inorganic salts. Chelate comes from the Greed word χηλή, chelè, or “claw,” and refers to the way that these organic compounds surround elements like zinc, calcium or iron. Chelated minerals are generally more soluble than in their inorganic form, and will contain less heavy metal impurities. A few chelating agents adding just citric acid or glutamic acid helps growth by recreating an environment that is more similar to natural soil, hydro researchers have found a diverse mixture has the best results. The right amount of these compounds can even prevent calcium deposits from clogging up pumps. Calcium forms insoluble compounds with phosphate and sulfate, and irreversibly precipitates jamming pumps. In the presence of amino acids glutamate or glycine, calcium forms a soluble chelate with these organic compounds so they don’t fall out of solution.

Apart from chelating minerals, amino acids, which also contain nitrogen, are fundamental in helping the absorption and metabolism of nitrate. Though nitrate is the cannabis plant’s main nitrogen feedstock even in nature, bacteria growing around the roots supply a small amounts of amino acids. Scientists have discovered that these amino acids help regulate the enzymes that transfer nitrate through the xylem and to the rest of the plant.

Humic acid or humates, and fulvic acid or fulvates and compounds are generated in natural soil by the action of bacteria on dead plant matter. If you have ever noticed a decaying tree the rich, black soil that it eventually turns into is called humus. The fertile soil where the tree decomposed into will be richer in these same humic substances found in many hydro nutrients and soil amendments on the market today. These large molecules resist further decomposition, and act as a very large organic acid with many binding sites for minerals like potassium, ammonium or. Humates form in soluble complexes with beneficial nutrients but mostly insoluble complexes with heavy metals and act as a buffer against excessive aluminum or iron, protecting you and your plants against these toxic metals. 

Fertile natural soil already should be rich in humic substances, but adding humic acid supplements to ganja grown in potting-soil from a bag provides a great boost in nutrient availability and pH regulation, and it's hard to add too much. Humic substances can provide the same added benefit of nutrient chelation for hydroponics, but keep in mind that ppm readings will always be lower. To gain the advantages its unbeatable mineral chelation you have make sure the water is always oxygenated, anaerobic environments make bad bacteria grow.

Try out a hydro nutrient with chelation agents for yourself to see the difference if you are already growing with hydroponics. If you grow in potting soil, look into natural soil amendments that provide humic acids, or try brewing a compost tea for natural, bacteria-generated chelating agents. Compost teas also work great for soilless, drain to waste hydro by providing natural mineral chelates. Growers who seek flavor swear by organic, soilless hydro rich in compost teas and natural mineral chelates. Even growing indoors you don’t have to miss out on nature’s benefits.

Photo credit: VortexFarmacy