By Ashleigh Smith, True Leaf Market
Photographs courtesy of True Leaf Market
Hydroponic gardening seems to be all the rage these days, but what exactly is it? It is the process of growing without soil. You may think this sounds crazy, but it is totally possible and can be extremely beneficial in the right setting. What can you grow in a hydroponic setup? Well, a lot of things.
Hydroponic methods can be applied to many fruits, vegetables and microgreens. What exactly does a hydroponic system look like? That really depends on what you are growing and how you want to set it up. While hydroponic gardening has been growing in popularity, it is still a developing practice. The system that is best for one type of plant may not work for another, and not all plants grow well without soil. The key to success is to first learn and understand what your plants need, then design your system from there.
Once you are able to balance your constructed system with the needs of your plants, hydroponic gardening allows food production in climates and locations where traditional outdoor growing is challenging or not possible. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here though. There are many options for you to get started from the comfort of your home.
Growing without soil may seem like an incredible challenge, but many plants are accepting of these conditions. To understand what a hydroponic system needs to be successful, let's take a look at what soil provides to developing plants. The most obvious is nutrients. While soil plays a role in nutrient delivery, roots can also directly pull them from water. From season to season, nutrients are supplied from eroding and decomposing matter. In a hydroponic system, this need is met by supplementing nutrients through a running water system. This can allow you to maintain more control over what and how many nutrients are available to your plants. You can also use a pH test kit to monitor and adjust the water pH within minutes.
Next, soil provides structure to support plant growth by giving the roots something to hold onto, pore space for oxygen delivery to the roots, and an exit for excessive water to drain away. The most popular products for providing this needed structure, space for root development, and drainage include rock wool, sponges, clay pebbles and a trickling water system. These allow the roots to bind to something for support while allowing access to water, oxygen and nutrients throughout the growing process.
As for what you can grow, there isn’t a defined list saying what you can or can’t succeed with. It really comes down to if you can meet the needs of the plant. However, we have seen the greatest success with microgreens and leafy greens. Microgreens can be grown with hydroponic mediums like micro mats, bamboo or jute pads. These allow you to plant in trays like normal without as much worry about how clean your soil mix is. It does, however, require a watchful eye to prevent the growing medium from drying out too quickly.
To get started you will want your microgreen starter kit to include a traditional microgreen tray, a growing medium, a spray bottle, a pH test kit and some seeds. Simply place your growing microgreens near a well-lit window or under an indoor grow light.
For a larger harvest, consider growing an assortment of leafy greens and herbs. Hydroponic systems are perfect for growing small and nutrient-packed plants like these all year long. Whether you want something that can be placed up against a wall or that sits nicely on a countertop, there are many systems that can fit your growing needs. We have found indoor growing systems like the Aquatree Garden make growing both microgreens and leafy greens or herbs hydroponically a breeze. It can circulate the water constantly, allowing you to live life on the go without killing your developing plants.
Larger systems, both commercially produced and homemade, can allow you to grow larger plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants outdoors where they have access to plenty of sunlight. Homemade systems can be built by simply utilizing PVC pipes connected in sloping rows with a water basin and a pumping mechanism to cycle the water. You can also stack plastic bins or buckets with water pumps and tubing placed to trickle water from one layer to another for a successful grow.
Whether you decide to purchase a growing system or do it yourself, you can have a successful hydroponic garden, both large and small. With advances over the last several years, there are many commercial growers utilizing hydroponic technology to grow year-round within greenhouses for greater access to locally produced fruits and vegetables. Like traditional gardens, be sure to provide the necessary support for vining and vertical growth.
Don’t let the unfamiliar territory of growing without soil scare you away from trying a hydroponic system. You don’t have to start with anything big. Something as easy as microgreens can give you a feel for what a soil-less garden can be like. While it doesn’t give the same feeling of dirt in your nails or mud on your boots, it is a great way to continue growing well into the cold and dreary winter months.
Keep your family healthy with fresh greens, herbs, and more when growing hydroponically. Learn more: www.trueleafmarket.com.
Ashleigh Smith is the Managing Editor at True Leaf Market with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. True Leaf Market is a nationally certified organic, non-GMO seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The True Leaf Market staff specializes in supplying a large selection of conventional, heirloom, and organic seeds to home gardeners everywhere. Learn more about our seeds, supplies, and other growing ideas: www.trueleafmarket.com.
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