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You may have heard the term “hydroponic farming” as it relates to large-scale operations, but did you know hydroponic gardening can be used in your home? With our long, cold winters and the increasing number of people living in smaller spaces, hydroponic gardening is a welcome solution for the in-home growing of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Hydroponics is a method of gardening without the use of any soil. Instead, plants are grown in a solution of water and nutrients.
Hydroponic gardening is loved for its flexibility and versatility, so there isn’t just one way to do it. You will find scores of how-tos and DIYs about putting together your own hydroponic garden, in endless different designs. However, they all follow the same basic principles. The system you select will depend on many factors including what you plan to grow, the space you have, how much money you want to spend, and the time you want to commit to the project. The three most common set-ups used by beginners are Wick Systems, Water Culture Systems, and Ebb and Flow Systems.
The wick system is comprised of two containers connected by a wick. The first container is a reservoir of water and dissolved nutrients. Above is a container filled with a growing medium that holds plants. Popular types of growing mediums include coconut fiber, rockwool, clay aggregate, and perlite. The wick draws the water up from the reservoir to the growing medium where it delivers nutrients to the plants’ roots. The wick system is a very simple system, with no moving parts, making it the easiest to get set up. However, as it supplies the water very slowly to the plants, it is not ideal for larger plants or those that require lots of water like lettuce. The wick system is ideal for small plants, like greens and herbs.
In the water culture system, plants are set directly on top of the water reservoir by way of a Styrofoam platform. The plants receive nutrients through the water both by way of the Styrofoam absorbing the water and passing it along and the plants’ roots growing directly into the water. This system is easy to get started but does require a bubbler air pump in the water reservoir to deliver oxygen to the plant roots. The water culture system is great for plants that need a lot of water, but doesn’t work so well for plants that have a long grow time, like some vegetables.
The ebb and flow system is very versatile in how it can be set up, though it is a little more complicated to get started. This system will require a submersible pump with a timer. This pump works to deliver a flood of the nutrient/water mixture to the plants’ growing medium. The excess water then drains back into the reservoir to be sent to back up to the plants via the pump, according to the timer.
The advantage to the ebb and flow system is that the timer and water delivery can be adjusted and designed according to the size of your garden, the types of plants you’re growing, the conditions of the room they are in, or any other factors that might affect your plants’ needs.
While you can grow just about any plant hydroponically, it’s a good idea for beginners to start with some fast-growing plants that require less maintenance, like herbs. These plants are a good first choice as they don’t require a broad range of nutrients. Since they are fast growing, you will be able to assess quickly how well your hydroponic system is operating. This way, beginners can learn about their system and progress to more complicated plants as they go.
In most homes, there isn’t a spot that receives sunlight all day long so most people will need grow lights to provide additional lighting to their plants, as most edible plants will need at least six hours of daylight, but will do best with 12 to 16 hours of light every day. It’s best to get a grow light with a timer that can be set to go on and off at the same time each day.
You will also want to consider the room conditions where you want to have your hydroponic garden. Things like temperature, air quality, and humidity can all contribute to the success or failure of your garden. Ideally, you want humidity levels between 40-60% relative humidity, with temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees and regular air flow to provide CO2 to the plants.
Hydroponic gardening can provide a great alternative to those looking for year-round gardens or for homeowners short on garden space. This at-home project is incredibly versatile, with easy solutions for beginners as they hone their skills and expand their knowledge.