If you have been thinking of growing herbs, vegetables and fruits at home, you are not alone. Unfortunately, not everyone has a lot of space in their yard to grow a full-fledged garden. Another option is to try growing them hydroponically, where they will grow in water instead of soil.
What Is Hydroponic Gardening?
If you have been searching for an inexpensive way to grow your favorite herbs and vegetables indoors, then you may be interested in building a hydroponic garden. To put it simply, hydroponic gardening is a method of growing plants without soil. Plants are placed in containers of inert media, such as sand, gravel, or water.
The most common form of hydroponic gardening grows plants in a solution of water and nutrients that involves suspending the roots of the plants in nutrient-rich water that circulates consistently. These liquid nutrients feed the plants so that they can reach their full growth potential. This efficient and cost effective method of growing plants has revolutionized the food industry and given people all over the world a great opportunity to grow their food quickly in a controlled environment.
Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening
Hydroponic gardening is extremely easy and can be done almost anywhere. You can get a hydroponic system up on a deck, out in a yard or even in an inside room, providing you provide ample light using electric grow lights. There are a lot of advantages to growing your produce hydroponically. Here are some of the benefits of hydroponic gardening so you can decide if it is for you:
- Because the nutrients and water are fed directly to the root system, there is no need for the plant to develop an extensive root system to filter enough water and nutrients from soil. Therefore the majority of the plant’s energy is used for growing foliage and fruit.
- Water and liquid nutrients are recycled continuously which eliminates fertilizer runoff and environmental pollution. Water usage in hydroponic gardening is also a fraction of the usage required for gardening in soil. By using less water, you avoid depletion of important trace minerals that are found in the soil due to water runoff.
- Because of the elimination of soil from the growing process, pests that breed in the soil are eliminated so you won’t be needing any harmful pesticides to keep away insects that can threaten the health of your plants.
- Testing the pH of the water is also much easier than soil, and can be done with relatively inexpensive equipment. This means that you have complete control over the pH level of the water, the nutrient level, the amount of oxygen the plant receives and the temperature. This allows you to grow even larger, healthier vegetables and fruits.
- As hydroponic gardening doesn’t require soil, it doesn’t take up much space. As a general rule, a hydroponic garden will require only about 20% of the space necessary to grow the same amount of plants in soil. It allows you to setup a grow space in small areas like closets, kitchen nooks, and other unique areas in your home. Some people even get imaginative and creative enough to incorporate their hydroponic garden into their home decor by creating a beautiful, living, oxygen-creating wall.
- Hydroponic gardening is designed to be somewhat self sustaining. You will need far less resources and spend less money during the time you are growing your plants. This method of gardening is also much cleaner than soil gardening. Once your plants have matured, you can be up and running again with minimal time and effort.
- Plants grown in a hydroponic system typically grow in nearly half of the time it takes for traditionally grown vegetables and fruits. During this time, the plants are fed a balanced formula of nutrients, specifically selected to maximize their growth potential with better yields and nutritional value.
Hydroponic Gardening Methods
There are several methods of hydroponic gardening, the most popular for hobbyists being Passive, Drip Systems, Nutrient Firm Technique (NFT), Ebb and Flow and Aeroponics.
- The simplest method is the Passive system, which allows the plants to sit directly in the water and nutrient solution. The solution is oxygenated using an aquarium air bubbler. This method allows you to decide when and how much nutrient solution plants receive.
Drip Systems are most widely used type of hydroponics in the world. They use a submersed pump controlled by a timer. When the timer turns the pump on, nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant. There are two kinds of drips system, recovery and non-recovery. A “recovery” drip system collects and reuses excess runoff, while a non-recovery system does not, while keeping runoff to a minimum.
- The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) uses a system of slopped gutters or pipes in a very shallow stream of water. The plants are spaced along the gutters and a steady stream of nutrient solution is pumped through the gutters. The plant roots will spread out and intertwine all through the gutters, taking up nutrients and oxygen.
- The Ebb and Flow system uses separate nutrients trays below growing trays. Nutrients are pumped into the nutrient trays three or four times a day for a few minutes at a time and then drained back out, allowing the root systems to take in oxygen.
- The Aeroponics method uses a fine mist, sprayed continuously and directly onto the roots systems. This method requires a reliable source of energy such as electricity or solar panels since the plants need to be sprayed every couple of minutes.
Growing Hydroponic Plants
Herbs, Vegetables and Fruits That Are Perfect For Hydroponics
You may be surprised to learn that, except for fungi and mushrooms, you can grow most herbs, vegetables, and flowers hydroponically. Indeed, hydroponics is a great way to grow your own food in a small amount of space in a short period of time, but not all plants do well in a hydroponic system. To maximize the potential benefits of your hydroponic system and avoid disappointment, below is a list of plants that are highly suited for hydroponic gardening.
This leafy vegetable and many other similar plants grow very well using the nutrient film technique. Lettuce and other plants of this type grow extremely fast using this system, and require very little resources to grow.
This amazing vegetable is an important ingredient in many recipes. Celery roots are short and need to be kept wet. The ebb and flow hydroponic system is much more suited for the growth of celery. Too much water could kill your celery so this system will purge the water after it has delivered the nourishing nutrients to the fragile roots of your plants.
There are a number of well-known spices that are used all over the world by various cultures, and basil is one of them. It can grow using either the nutrient film technique or the drip system. Fresh hydroponic basil will taste much better than flakes from a plastic container.
This is another plant that grows very well using the nutrient film technique. The one difficulty about strawberries is that too much humidity can often result in root rot, so some special precautions will need to be taken to protect your plant.
The immediate drawback of blueberry bushes is that they take 2 years to grow fruit, but they grow very well using the nutrient film technique. The positive part is that they will not need to be replanted every year. With such a long period of time to wait for fruit, it’s of little surprise that these berries are often expensive to purchase in comparison to other berry varieties.
There are also several other vegetables that you can try growing using hydroponics. Here’s a short list of popular vegetables you’ll enjoy growing:
- Brussels Sprouts
Vegetables to avoid
You can grow virtually any plant in a hydroponic system, although some plants such as turnips, onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots and rutabaga are not suitable for hydroponic growing. Typically, these varieties of plants will need plenty of soil for their roots to spread out in search of nutrients and moisture.
These types of plants with extensive root structures that are grown hydroponically tend to form stunted root structures resulting in dwarfed plants. Large plants, such as corn and tomatoes, will also require trellises and supports.
How To Get Started With Hydroponic Gardening
Solutions for setting up a hydroponic system are within most people’s reach. Incidentally, you can build your own system from scratch or buy a premade kit. Hydroponics is a fast, inexpensive way to begin growing food in a small space, but how do you do it, and what do you need? Here’s how you can get started with hydroponic gardening.
Setting Up A Hydroponic System
The setup for a hydroponic system can be as simple or complex as you would like it to be. Generally speaking, the water culture system is the easiest and most inexpensive hydroponic garden to build. This can be done by using any type of container that can hold water that allows for the plants to be placed in a floating tray on the surface of the water. The tray that floats on the water will hold the plants in place so that the roots are suspended freely into the water. An air pump or air stone is placed at the bottom of the container to bubble the water so that the roots can get the needed oxygen.
The major drawback of this system is that it is primarily designed for fast growing leaf plants like lettuce. Heavier plants require what is known as a growing medium. This is a porous material that both supports the plants, and holds the nutrient solution close to the roots of the plants.
What You Will Need
- Hydroponic cloner
- Reservoir for the nutrient solution
- 2 inch mesh net pots
- Rapid rooter starter plugs
- Seeds or seedlings
- Air pump
- Air stone
- pH measuring tool
- General hydroponics pH Down
Fill your cloner with water. The reservoir should come with instructions on how high the water needs to be. Then, setup your air pump by connecting the tubing to the water stone and place it under where your plants will be. Connect the other end of the tubing to the air pump and be sure that it has power. Soak the starter plugs in water and set them in the net pots.
When placing the seeds into the starter plugs, place more than a few seeds in each plug because some seeds may not germinate. Be sure to keep the plugs moist so that the sprouts can make it through. Clip off the weaker sprouts so you can have the best crop possible. Be sure to let them root somewhat in the starters before moving to the next step.
Adjusting pH Levels and Adding Nutrients
Once the seeds have germinated, grown and begun to take root, it’s time to setup your plants to grow hydroponically in the water. At this stage, your young plants are living off of their leaves. So if you wait too long they will feed on themselves and eventually die. Check the reservoir pH, and adjust pH level to 5.8 for best results.
Once the desired pH level has been reached, add the required amount of nutrients to the water. Set the rooted young plants into the water, and now you are ready to manage your first hydroponic system. Grow your plants as you like, then harvest to enjoy your vegetables and fruits.
Tips For Successful Hydroponic Growing
Now that you’ve decided that you want to grow your favorite vegetables and fruits in a hydroponic garden, you are likely to have carefully selected the equipment like your grow lights and water pumps. You’ve also probably done the research needed to be sure that you understand how to setup your equipment for a great yield. As you reach the point where your crops begin to grow, you may find that it is not as automatic as you had previously hoped.
Learn the Essentials of Hydroponics
Having the proper equipment is a must for just about everything in life. The same goes for successful gardening, especially in regards to hydroponics. Be sure that you know what every piece is for, and why it is important. Also, be sure to have all of the proper nutrients and the amount of nutrients are needed by your plants. Don’t use any additives the first time you are adding the nutrients.
While, for the most part, most systems will run on their own, however, it is a good idea to keep a daily log so you will be able to easily spot anything that is not normal. Here are some essential maintenance tips to keep your system running smoothly:
- Make sure that the right conditions are always in effect for plant health.
- Have a feeding schedule ready before you begin a crop.
- Use only high quality equipment to prepare your nutrient-rich water.
- Measure and adjust your nutrient water reservoir every day to protect your plants from unforeseen problems.
- Replace your nutrient solution at least once every two weeks.
- Keep sunlight away from your nutrient-rich solution.
- Use a digital timer to keep track of dark periods.
- Check the humidity on a daily basis.
- Inspect flooding and drainage of your system so plants are not drowning or drying out.
- Check ventilation and temperature.
- Use supports to stabilize plants to prevent them from leaning over and falling once they reach a certain height.
- Inspect water levels which can change easily in warmer temperatures due to evaporation.
- Look for any insects or mites that may be plaguing your plants, making sure that you know which insects are good and which ones are bad for the plants.
- Keep your system clean. If you bought a premade kit, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.
After the Harvest
Take the time to clean and sterilize your reservoir after each and every crop. This prevents any sort of contamination. Have an extra reservoir handy for quick replacement after water changes. Garden indoors once the temperature reaches 13 degrees Celsius or below. Only visit your garden after you have changed your clothes. It would be preferable to keep pets out of your garden. Make sure that visitors to your garden follow the same rules.
Hydroponics is rapidly gaining popularity around the world as the best way to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits. By now you should be well on your way to growing and harvesting your first hydroponic crops. With hydroponic gardening, you will enjoy harvesting healthy plants that you know you have grown yourself with a much smaller environmental damage than traditional growing methods.