When I started out in hydroponics, I wanted to start out cheap. I didn’t feel like blowing a lot of money on fancy gadgets or equipment – I was much more interested in hacking together components and making a system that would produce awesome plants, all for under 100 bucks. I’m still interested in that, but as time went on I became more experienced with my grows and quickly found out that there were a few pieces of equipment I was willing to spend some extra money on. A reliable way to measure the pH of my nutrient reservoirs was one of those things. The more accurately you can monitor your pH, the more you can avoid things like nutrient lockout and a whole host of other issues. I decided to pick up a Bluelab pH Pen and have used one ever since. Here’s what I think about the pH pen.
The Epic Gardening Bluelab pH Pen Review
The very first thing that I plunk down some extra change on was a pH meter. I’ve used pH testing strips in the past as well as the liquid solution. However, neither of them worked very well for me as far as reliability. It could be the fact that I’m partially colorblind, but I felt that basing my plans health off of what shade of “orangish yellowy red” my pH vial or strip was showing me was probably not a good idea in the long run…especially if I wanted to get serious about the quality of my grows.
After doing a bunch of research, I decided to throw down the cash and purchase a Bluelab pH Pen. Bluelab is noted for their quality in hydroponics industry and came highly recommended by the guy at my hydro shop – though he could have recommended it just to get the sale! Nevertheless, I did my research and it seemed like a good buy so I went ahead and purchased it.
The Dirty Details
What exactly do you get if you pick up this pH pen? Here are the main features of the pen:
- Backlit LCD display
- Low battery warning
- Hold reading function
- Fully waterproof
- Auto off function
- Fully guaranteed for one year
- Automatic temperature compensation
- Successful calibration indicator
- Double junction probe
- Selectable units for Celsius and Fahrenheit
Out of all of these, I found that the temperature gauge, auto off function, and hold reading function for the most useful. I usually run deep water culture or ebb and flow style setups, so I’m typically reaching into a reservoir to measure my pH or PPM. Having a hold feature makes it pretty handy to just stick my hand down there, wait a few seconds, and pull it back up.
Calibrating the Pen
This step was so unbelievably easy I actually was able to do it in the hydroponics shop! I ended up purchasing the Bluelab calibration kit just so I would be able to do it at home as well. To calibrate, the steps are pretty simple:
- Soak your probe for 24 hours before you calibrate it
- Place the probe in pH 7.0 water
- Press the calibrate button until CAL shows up
- Rinse off the pro-and place it in pH 4.0 water
- Press the calibrate button until CAL shows up
Maintenance and Usage
With proper care, the Bluelab pH Pen will last quite a long time. As with any electronic pH meter, you need to be extra careful in how you store and care for the pen if you want it to last for a while. They are very sensitive pieces of equipment and misuse can throw off your calibration or damage the device. The care guide that comes with the pen is extremely informative, letting you know what to do in the event that you “mess up” when caring for your pen. One of the bigger mistakes that people make (myself included) is letting the tip dry out.
This is a big no no as it will mess with the calibration, potentially to the point where you need to get a replacement tip or – if you REALLY neglect the pen – you may need to get an entirely new one. Just like when you’re monitoring a hydroponic grow and you have to do a little daily maintenance to make sure everything is running smoothly, the pH Pen requires a bit of love to make sure that it’s going to last a while. It only takes a minute or two post-use and it is well worth the time.
Having made the switch to a professional pH meter, I can confidently say that I would not switch back to the “old way” of doing it. It saves me a ton of time when I’m preparing my water, and also saves meantime daily when I check my pH. Additionally, it’s kind of tough for me to judge the color of a pH solution when I’m working with water that already has nutrients in it. While there are many different types of pH meters on the market, I absolutely love my pH pen for its portability, accuracy, and ease of use. It’s made the daily maintenance of my gardens an absolute breeze, as well as saved me a ton of money on endless pH strips and testing kits that run out over time.
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