Every indicator has it’s own characteristic proton affinity which means that it changes at a different pH value. Since the optimal pH in hydroponic growing for most species is between 5.5 and 6.5, we will use an indicator that changes around this value and can tell us if the nutrient solution differs from the ideal setup.
The indicator which best suites our needs is Chlorophenol Red. This substance changes color from yellow (pH 4.8) to red (6.4) (wikipedia is wrong about it changing to violet !), at the pH of our interest, which is 5.5-6.0, the indicator is orange. You can buy an already prepared solution of the indicator ready for testing here. A 100mL solution will allow you to perform thousands of tests at 1/10th of the cost of a regular pH meter.
In order to test the pH, add about two tablespoons of the nutrient solution inside a transparent glass, then add two or three drops of the indicator, mix and watch the results. If the indicator is either red or yellow, you are off the desired value. If the solution turns orange, your nutrient solution’s pH is just about right ! (Below, the color change of the indicator as a function of pH, notice that the orange region is precisely around 5.5-6.0 .