Photo credit: Ryan Somma CC by SA 2.0
As gardeners, we often look for new and exciting ways to enjoy the way we grow plants. It may be a new gardening method, a new style of container or even a new cultivar of one of our favorite plants. I recently chose to explore the world of hydroponic gardening.
For many, hydroponic gardening is a strange and unfamiliar method of growing plants, although many of us dabbled in hydroponics at a very young age. Maybe you recall sprouting a lima bean seed in a wet paper towel in a plastic bag. This was hydroponics at its very simplest.
What exactly is hydroponics? The word hydroponic is derived from two root words: “hydro” meaning water and “ponos” meaning labor. So, hydroponic gardening is growing plants with water instead of in soil. As with traditional gardening, your plants will still require light, nutrients, oxygen, and water to grow and flourish.
The art of hydroponic gardening can go from simple to quite elaborate, depending on your time, space, and pocketbook. On the simplest side is the small glass bulb vase that we use to grow spring bulbs like paperwhite narcissus or hyacinths: it uses only water. On the more elaborate side are multiple container systems holding several dozen plants, with automated watering systems and nutrient monitoring systems. For most home gardeners a simple system is often the most practical choice.
乐动体育注册To start a hydroponic garden, the first thing to do is to choose the plants you would like to grow. Simple plants like lettuce, spinach, or herbs are a great choice. They have a relatively short growth time, often between 30 to 45 days, and require little space to grow.
Once you have decided on the plants, your next decision is the type of growing system. Growing systems can be purchased as commercially manufactured units or can often be made from items easily purchased at most home centers or hardware stores. A little research on the web or at your local library will guide you with this decision. Growing systems can be either manual or mechanical.
Pumps, timers, and even electronic nutrient control systems are used to control and operate mechanical systems. These systems can be a little complicated to build and operate and may not be the best choice for your first experience with hydroponics.
Manual systems are easier and more portable. These systems do require a bit more effort on your part to ensure that the plants are receiving adequate nutrients and moisture. The easiest of the manual systems are wick, float, or raft systems, otherwise known as manual reservoir systems. These systems have few, if any, moving parts except for a simple aeration system which is similar to those used in aquariums.
As with traditional gardening, all plants need something to grow in. The media provides support for the plant's roots. In traditional gardening a plant is grown in soil. The soil provides nutrients and a firm structure for the root system to grab hold. In hydroponic gardening, plants still require some form of media to establish root growth although they do not derive nutrients from this media. Growing media for hydroponic systems vary greatly but most often contain gravel, sand, clay pebbles, perlite, vermiculite, shredded bark, or rock wool. The type of growing system you use and availability of growing media will often dictate your choice.
乐动体育注册Once the growing system, plants, and growing media have been chosen, the final item to choose is a water-soluble nutrient solution. Just as in traditional gardening, plants need to receive the proper amount of nutrients to grow and meet maximum productivity. Too much or too little of a nutrient will greatly affect the health and growth of your plants. A little research on your plant’s nutritional requirements will be beneficial. Soluble nutrient solutions are available commercially, online, and at garden centers. They are also available in organic and synthetic form. Just one quick note: watch the pH. In traditional gardening, the soil’s pH affects a plant’s ability to absorb nutrients. In hydroponic gardening, the soluble nutrient solution must be checked on a regular basis to ensure a proper pH for the plants being grown.
Starting plants for a hydroponic system is straightforward. Place the seeds in the chosen growing media and keep moist with plain water. Larger seeds such as cucumber can be sowed directly into the planting media. Smaller seeds such as lettuce can be purchased as pelletized seeds for ease of planting. Once the seeds sprout, wait for the first true leaves to appear and change the solution from straight water to one-half strength nutrient solution. Once the plant forms one more complete set of leaves the solution can be changed to full strength for the duration of the growing cycle.
The information shared here is only an introduction into the world of hydroponic gardening. Although not a new form of gardening, it is one that is often overlooked by the traditional home gardener. Hydroponic gardening offers tremendous flexibility in how we garden, where we garden, and when we garden.