You might remember the term hydroponics from science-fiction, where a hydroponics farming system is one of the best ways to get food on a space station. However, hydroponics aren’t just a science fiction trope; they are something that people are doing right now. In fact, you can do it yourself from your home.
Before you can start growing your own food with hydroponics, it’s essential to know what hydroponics are and why it is different from growing food in regular soil.
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What is Hydroponics?
Growing food with hydroponics is different from typical gardening and growing in one critical aspect. Hydroponics does not use soil when growing food, while regular gardening depends on dirt for the plants to thrive.
Hydroponics instead relies on water and a mixture of nutrients to emulate what is typically found in soil. The first recorded use of modern hydroponics was with a man named William Frederick Gericke, who was a student at Berkeley. He came up with the idea that plants could be grown in just water and nutrients and grew a 25-foot tall tomato vine to prove his claim.
The Benefits of Using Hydroponics
One of the most significant benefits of hydroponics is that plants can be grown year-round, unlike soil-based gardening, which can be affected by several different types of factors. Soil can lose its effectiveness because of changes in the temperature, the PH level, and whether or not it has been overused.
For hydroponics, you just need to change the water and nutrient bath, and you are all good. You can also save a lot of water because hydroponics water can be recirculated. Any water that the plants cannot absorb can be recycled back into your water storage area and then can be used again.
A hydroponic farm also produces more than standard plants, and they also require less space. If you live in a smaller apartment or area that limits the amount of space you have to garden, then hydroponics is a great place to start.
What Plants Should I Grow As A Beginner?
For your first hydroponic setup, you should be focusing on plants that grow themselves without too much outside intervention. Greens like lettuce and kale, herbs such as basil and mint, or tomatoes and strawberries are all excellent choices. Even in a standard garden, these plants are very low maintenance, so you can very easily get started with them.
How to Get Started With Hydroponics
Whatever the reason you have to start wanting to grow hydroponics, you need a few things to get started.
First, you need one of these four hydroponic systems: The wick, water culture, nutrient film technique, and ebb and flow. Here’s a quick rundown of each and how they keep your plants hydrated.
The wick system is straightforward to set up and even simpler to understand. It works the best for plants like herbs or peppers but is too slow for tomatoes or lettuce plants.
The water culture system is suitable for plants like lettuce and just about any other lettuce like green. Everything else cannot do as well in this hydroponic garden. The water culture system places the plants in a styrofoam platform that sits on the reservoir.
The ebb and flow system is a bit more complicated. Instead of sending nutrients and water to your plants in a steady drip, it instead floods the plants at certain times. Then the excess water drains back into your reservoir.
While flooding might seem detrimental to your plants, remember that the Nile river banks do the same thing, and people in Egypt have been farming the banks for thousands of years.
Finally, the nutrient film technique creates a loop between the reservoir and the growing medium. The nutrient-rich water simply flows around in a circle, and the plant roots absorb the water whenever they need it. This system works the best with faster-growing plants and herbs that are always hungry for moisture.
For this guide’s purposes, we are going to assume that you are using a deep water culture hydroponics system.
Step 1: Create A Reservoir
No matter what type of hydroponic system you decide to build, you need to have a reservoir set up. This is where you can keep all the water and nutrients poured so they can get to your plants, and you can keep the water inside the reservoir for around a week at a time. You need to change the water at least once a week.
Step 2: Set Up Your Water System
Since your plants are submerged inside of your reservoir and need to have their roots touching the water, it’s essential that your reservoir be two things. It must be opaque, and it needs to be big. You need to have enough room to place an air stone to aerate the water, and that stone is connected to a pump.
The air stone is placed inside the water and then connected to the pump that sits to the reservoir’s side. When the pump is turned on, it pushes air through the stone, and that helps to aerate the water to keep the oxygen levels high.
Step 3: Set Up The Growing Platform
Most hydroponic gardeners like to use net pots and styrofoam to provide a platform for the plants’ top half to sit on. While the plant’s roots need to be underwater for a deep culture hydroponics farm, the rest of the plant does not. You should cut out a styrofoam platform and cut out circles for your plants.
Your plants need to be inside of net pots, which are pots that look like netting. The bottoms are perforated and exposed to the water. Once you slide your plant into the spot you’ve made in the styrofoam, you should have the bottom half of the plant halfway in the water while the top half is dry.
Step 4: Set Up Light
If you plan to have your hydroponics next to a window or other source of natural light, then just make sure that your plants are exposed to that light. If you are not using natural light, you need to set up a natural light source using a lamp.
For lamps with incandescent light bulbs, you need to set the lamp at least 24 inches away from the plants. If you are using LED bulbs, you can shorten that distance to 12 inches.
What Nutrients Do You Need?
You’ve got the system, the reservoir, and an idea of your plants. However, your hydroponic farm still needs nutrients for your plants to grow. You can purchase store-bought nutrient mixes from your local gardening store or make your own.
You can do this by purchasing a macronutrient formula that contains some of the nutrients that plants need. Most macronutrient formulas have nine essential ingredients, and you need to make sure that your formula has all of these:
If your macronutrient formula is lacking in even one area, then your plants pay the price in terms of their growth. In addition, every plant requires micronutrients as well, and your natural plant booster should have them. Micronutrients include:
How Do I Make My Own Formula?
Assuming that you have a water-soluble macronutrient formula that contains all the micro and macronutrients, you can mix the formula into a gallon of water. Depending on how big your reservoir is, you might need to use several gallons of water and fertilizer. The ratio should be two tablespoons of fertilizer for every gallon of water.
Then you need to add one teaspoon of Epsom salts for every gallon of water. Epsom salts are a supplement for your plants, and while it is optional, it is recommended for a better yield. Mix the solution well, check the pH level, and then pour it into the reservoir.
Making your own formula can be a rewarding and fun process that allows you to get even more hands-on with the entire hydroponics process.
Finally Benefiting From Your Garden
After all of this hard work has been done, you just need to keep an eye on your plants and change the water every week. Little by little, your plants should start to grow, and soon you can harvest the fruits of your hydroponic labors. Don’t wait around, and instead take a bite of a fresh grown vegetable or fruit, or throw some fresh herbs on your next meal.
Something about eating food that you have grown yourself just makes it taste better. With your hydroponics setup, you can focus on growing your own food. You can also take solace in knowing that you can grow your own food in half the time and double the yield compared to a standard garden!
Even if you have a black thumb, you should be able to make some real progress with hydroponics. Then you can see the power that comes with growing something yourself and getting to eat it too!