Hydroponics, or gardening without soil, is a fun way to grow herbs and vegetables indoors or out. In fact, it’s a much more time consuming strategy than you might imagine! Although difficult to verify historically, people are believed to have been experimenting with growing things without soil as far back as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Aztec floating gardens.
Over the past few decades, hydroponics has skyrocketed in popularity. Growing all kinds of vegetables and fruits hydroponically is relatively easy. No need to even weed! If you want to keep it simple, there are many pre-fab kits you can buy to grow plants without soil. There are also lots of DIY techniques.
Most DIYs use what’s called a passive hydroponic system, which relies on the plant’s ability to absorb water without the need for a pump or aerator. These systems can be constructed from plastic buckets or tubs. However, it’s important to understand that hydroponics isn’t about sticking your plants in water and hoping for the best: you need to pay attention to the plant’s nutrient and pH needs to have a successful crop.
Plants that harvest frequently do best in passive hydroponics systems. That includes lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, strawberries, and non-woody herbs like basil, oregano, mint, and thyme. Plants such as cukes and tomatoes must be closely monitored to produce well in a hydroponic system, so they are not ideal for beginning hydroponic gardeners.
Here’s what you need to know about making a DIY hydroponic garden:
You can build a DIY hydroponics system yourself.
You don’t need to spend thousands to build a hydroponic garden. Many university coop extension services offer free, detailed plans for creating a hydroponic system with basic supplies such as vinyl fence posts or 5-gallon buckets. Vertical hydroponic towers are particularly easy to build. Or you can create a simple floating garden with 2 x 6 treated lumber and plastic sheeting. You can try creating a mini-garden using a 5-gallon bucket. Outdoors, you keep your garden in full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight); Indoors, you’ll need supplemental lighting like LED grow lights.
Start with sterile seedlings or cuttings.
It is not so easy to go to the nursery and pick up some seedlings. You can’t put any plant in contact with soil in your hydroponic garden, which could introduce harmful microbes into your system. A variety of growing media are used to start plants, but the cheapest option for home gardeners is to start cuttings or seeds in rockwool cubes, which hold water and nutrients well.
Watch what kind of water and fertilizer you use.
Tap water can be softened or contain high levels of chlorine that can harm some plants. If you can, use distilled or bottled water. whatever you are do Use tap water, let it sit in a bucket for 24 hours first. It helps flush out certain chemicals. Also, it’s easy to use a pre-mixed water-soluble hydroponic fertilizer to ensure you’re getting the right combination of nutrients. These products are designed to dilute properly so they won’t clog pumps if you’re using one.
Check your pH level.
The pH level is important because it affects nutrient availability to your plants. Most plants in a hydroponic garden grow well in a solution with a ph range of 5 to 6. This usually allows plants to absorb appropriate nutrients. If you need to lower the pH, you can use white vinegar at a ratio of 2 teaspoons per gallon of water. Inexpensive pH strips are a great tool for regularly monitoring your pH levels.
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