Most of us associate gardening with soil based growing of green, flowering, or edible plants. A seasonal outdoor garden is quite common. It is possible to garden year round indoors without having to tend to a garden with soil, pests, and weeds. The way to do this is through a practice referred to as hydroponics.
What is Hydroponic Gardening?
A hydroponic garden is basically a container based system in which plants are cultivated in a water and nutrients solution supplied to the roots. There is no soil. This means there are no potential soil-borne diseases or pests. This is clean gardening that does not require pesticides. In addition to containers, the only things the plants need are water, added nutrients, air, and some form of light. This type of gardening can be done on a small scale or as a part of a larger commercial agricultural business.
Advantages of Hydroponics
One of the best things about growing plants in water is that you can increase your yield per square foot of area. The root systems are being given nutrients at the same rate as their neighboring plants, so there isn’t much of a need for competition for space at the root level. Hence, roots don’t spread out as much.
In most cases, plants that are given the correct amount of nutrients and water each day will grow faster than those that are searching for moisture and food in soil.
Once your hydroponic garden is set up and functioning on a schedule, all you need to do is make sure there are clean water, proper nutrients, and a light source. There is no weeding, aerating of the soil, or potentially harmful chemicals necessary.
Harvesting is easy and clean. You will be able to pick flowers, herbs, and vegetables without having to wash them of dirt or chemical residues.
Methods of Hydroponic Gardening
There are kits available to get you started with a hydroponic garden. These often come with containers, grow lights, pumps, nutrient solutions, and even cloning systems. However, it is possible to make your own hydroponic garden with some items from the hardware or garden supply store. Some homemade containers include:
- Plastic jugs and tubs
- Plastic trays with Styrofoam rafts
- PVC plumbing pipes
- Roof gutters
Often there will be a layer inside your containers of a medium that can anchor the roots in place. As well, the stems of the plants might be surrounded by a plastic sheet with holes or a floating piece of foam also with holes. The anchoring mediums might include:
- Coconut fibers
Once you have chosen your containers and growing medium, and have found a nice sunny spot or have installed grow lights, it is time to figure out the water and nutrient supply system. Nutrients are available in either powder or liquid form from garden supply centers or online. There are 3 basic methods to ensuring your plants are getting the nutrients they need.
1. Wick or Passive Method
This method is fairly simple. Basically, you control the amount of nutrients the plants receive. A small home or classroom hydroponic system often includes a water reservoir, a growing tray or raft, an air pump for oxygen, a water source (can be hand delivered), natural or artificial light, and plant nutrients.
Styrofoam trays or rafts are a good option, as they simply float on top of the nutrient solution, allowing roots to absorb nutrients and water as needed. You control the amount of water needed for the roots.
If you would like a super simple passive system just to try your hand at hydroponics, you can use what is called The Kratky Method of hydroponic growing. It is inexpensive and requires little effort and no electricity. It is an off-the-grid approach. You can watch a short video by JustAZ.com on how to do this.
2. Flood and Drain Method
Flood and drain is also referred to as the ebb and flow method. This approach allows for placing seedlings in growing trays or individual pots that are flooded with a nutrient solution. The solution is then drained back into a reservoir tank. You may need a little more space because you need room for both the growing container and a reservoir tank. You also need a pump to maintain proper nutrient levels.
3. Drip Method
A drip system uses a pump that is controlled by a timer. The timer turns on the pump which then drips the nutrient solution onto the individual plants. This system is a bit more sophisticated, but just as efficient.
The method you choose depends on how much space you have, how much electricity you want to use, and how much manpower you want to put into the garden. If your goal is to be more energy efficient, you might consider going with a version of the passive method.
Indoor hydroponic gardening is an efficient way to maximize plant yield in small spaces. Having plants in your home is extremely healthy. Plants absorb pollutants and carbon dioxide and they give back the oxygen we rely on to exist. They are also exciting to observe as they grow and change daily.