Growing Hydroponic Produce at Home
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Hydroponics is a method of gardening that does not use soil. The technique has been around since the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Aztec floating gardens. It is a fun, easy and eco-friendly way to grow fresh produce all year round.
Simple and Cost-Effective Techniques
For do-it-yourselfers, free, detailed plans and videos for creating a system are available online without spending a fortune. Complete systems can also be purchased and assembled at home. There are several different types of hydroponic systems. The right one will depend on the space it will occupy, the types of plants grown and the cost. Several systems have common components such as a reservoir to hold the water and nutrient solution, net pots to suspend the plants, growing media, and an air pump and air stones to supply oxygen to the plants. Systems that move the nutrient solution also require a water pump. Here are examples of the types of systems for home use.
Wicking systems: Most beginners start with a passive hydroponic system that relies on a wick to bring the nutrient solution to the growing medium and the plant roots. A wicking system is best for smaller plants like lettuce, mint and basil. They are the easiest to set up and maintain, take up the least space and are the least expensive.
Deep Water Culture (DWC): In this type of system, the plants are suspended over the reservoir and the roots are submerged in the nutrient solution. DWC is a low-cost, low-maintenance system. Like the wicking system, DWC is not for large plants.
Nutrient Film: This technique delivers a constant thin film of nutrients and water to the roots, which are not submerged. The nutrient film technique ensures that the roots don’t suffocate, a risk with DWC. Vigilance is required to ensure that the roots do not overgrow and clog the channels. This is a great system for a green house.
Ebb and Flow: Also called the flood and drain system, it works by flooding a grow bed with a nutrient solution from the reservoir. Gravity is used to slowly drain the solution from the grow bed and back into the reservoir. A timer is used to allow time for the roots to dry and oxygenate before being flooded again. This system can accommodate a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
Aeroponics: This system suspends plants in the air and the roots are misted with the nutrient solution. An aeroponics system is enclosed in frameworks or towers. Because the roots hang naked, the plants take in extra oxygen, accelerating their growth. This type of system uses less water than any other system, and their vertical structure permits them to be used in small spaces. However, aeroponics have the highest initial cost and are more challenging for the do-it-yourselfer. Aeroponics systems require more maintenance and attention than other home systems.
Begin with sterile seedlings or cuttings, as plants that have been in contact with soil can introduce harmful microbes into the hydroponic system. Use distilled or bottled water to reduce the risk of high levels of chlorine or other chemicals that can harm plants. Lastly, monitor the pH levels to ensure proper nutrient uptake by the plants.