You don’t have to wait for spring to start a garden. And you don’t even have to have a garden. With some water, some light, and some basics, you can grow plants hydroponically.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using a mineral solution dissolved in water instead of soil.
Here’s how to get started.
Why grow hydroponically?
There are many reasons someone might try growing vegetables and herbs hydroponically, said Dutch Baggerly, manager at Long Beach Hydroponics and Organics.
One reason for this is the lack of sufficient space in the garden: some people do not have a large garden, or their garden is mostly concrete, or maybe they have clay soil that is difficult to grow things in. With a hydroponic system, you can avoid these challenges.
Hydroponic gardening also allows gardeners to control all the variables in ways they cannot with traditional soil growing, such as: B. PH, Strength of the solution in which plants are growing. Plant care becomes a science.
“You don’t just put the stuff down and dig a hole and say, ‘Oh, I hope it grows,’ you actually have control over how well it grows, how fast it grows, all the different aspects that you You’re in the driver’s seat right now and you’re 100% in control of your yard,” Baggerly said.
Interest in hydroponic gardening is increasing, he said, and once people start doing it, they realize how much fun it can be.
“Their creativity is kind of heightened because they see all these different things that they can control in their yard.”
What Kind of Plants Should You Grow Hydroponically?
“Just because you can grow something in a hydroponic system doesn’t mean you should,” says Eileen Cullen, professor of plant science at Cal Poly Pomona’s Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture.
She said the types of plants that do well hydroponically are usually leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, bok choy and Swiss chard, and herbs like basil.
You can also grow some fruit plants hydroponically, including cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and even strawberries.
At AGRIscapes, the advisory and educational center for Cal Poly Pomona, strawberries have been grown hydroponically for years.
Craig Walters, director of AGRIscapes, said the land that uses AGRIscapes has heavy clay soils and the climate is a bit hotter than strawberries typically prefer, so a professor came up with the idea of growing them hydroponically.
Now they are grown in stacked styrofoam containers and a system pumps in a fertilized water solution when needed.
Cullen recommended some plants to avoid hydroponic growing.
Plants that have such deep root systems that soak up the nutrient solution too quickly or just don’t grow well include potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, hops, beets, onions, garlic, runner beans and peas, Cullen said.
Types of hydroponic systems
Cullen said there’s a lot to think about before getting into hydroponics. Before a potential grower goes to the store, they need to think about what type of system they want, where they want to put it, and what type of light they need.
There are two types of systems, Cullen said: dynamic or active systems, which use pumps that oxygenate the water, and static or passive systems, which don’t.
An example of a simple active system would be a deep water culture system. With this system, the plants sit on a platform that floats on a nutrient solution. Their roots grow in the nutrient solution and an air pump connected to an air stone agitates the solution and provides oxygen.
Rudimentary versions of this system can be purchased for $50 to $300 (although some more advanced versions can cost up to $700).
A passive system would be something like the Kratky method, where plants are in a non-soil growing material like rockwool and their roots sit in a nutrient solution. Part of the developed root system sits above the nutrient solution, giving the plant its oxygenation with this method. The plants and solution can sometimes be placed in something as small as a mason jar. You can get the accessories for this method starting at around $20-$30.
Cullen said that sometimes you can find the nutrient mix already prepared in some stores.
Where you place your system can determine how much light you need. Systems placed indoors may require additional lighting. Cullen recommends speaking to your local hydroponic shop to determine what your lighting setup should look like.
So you’ve planted your leafy greens, tomatoes or cucumbers in your hydroponic system. What now?
“The plants will tell you a lot,” Walters said. “When the leaves start turning yellow or wither, you know a lot about it.”
Yellow leaves can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies.
Walters said it’s important to follow directions carefully to ensure the solution your plants are growing in has the right amount of nutrients for the plant.
“If you over-fertilize, it can be as bad as not fertilizing at all,” he said.
You want to keep the area around the plants clean and dry, and dispose of plant debris like dead leaves to prevent exposing the plants to potentially harmful pathogens, Cullen said.
But if you follow these instructions, you’ll soon have full-grown leafy greens or cherry tomatoes that you’ve grown with scientific precision.
“You have total control over what you put in that head of lettuce, and I think for a lot of people it gives them peace of mind,” Walters said.