Grow a hydroponic garden

Vicki Liston checks on her hydroponic tower at her home in Clovis, N.M., Oct. 17, 2020. Like urban chicken coops and backyard beekeeping, interest in hydroponics has surged during the pandemic. (Photo: NYTimes)
Emily Marsh read about the surge in gardens and felt the urge to plant her own. But her only real option was a hydroponic setup due to living arrangement constraints.اضافة اعلان

“I was completely against it at first,” she said, adding that it just didn’t seem like real gardening. Reluctantly, Marsh purchased a unit from Lettuce Grow, a company that sells ready-to-grow hydroponic kits. “Now it’s just my favorite thing,” she said.

Hydroponic gardening lets you bring your garden indoors.

Like urban chicken coops and backyard beekeeping, interest in hydroponics has surged during the pandemic. DIYers are building hydroponic gardens out of PVC pipes and 5-gallon buckets.

Compared with traditional in-ground gardening, “hydroponics grows more food in less space with less water and less time,” said Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America.

That is, if you get everything right. Hydroponics is about optimizing growing conditions: You must have the perfect amount of light and nutrition available at all times. Nail it, and plants can grow up to five times as fast as they would in soil outside, Aerogarden marketing director Paul Rabaut said.

Here’s how to reap a lot of produce without so much as getting your hands dirty.

A hydroponic setup requires a few basic elements:

Whether you construct it yourself or buy a kit, a hydroponic garden needs the following:

— Seeds or seedlings. If you are doing this inside, look for varieties that thrive in containers. This will ensure that none of your plants get so big they take over your whole hydroponic setup.

— A reservoir for the nutrient solution, which is made up of all the macronutrients (think nitrogen and phosphorus) and micronutrients (like iron and calcium) plants need.

— An aerating pump for oxygenating your nutrient solution, since plant roots need oxygen, too.

— A water pump to move water out of the reservoir and onto your plants throughout the day.

— Light! More on this below.

— A “medium.” Since you are not using soil, you will need something to hold the plant’s roots in place. Many mediums also help keep roots moist between waterings. Lubkeman recommends a material called rockwool for beginners.

Decide whether to build yourself or build out of a box

As with most hobbies, you can spend a little or a lot. Originally, Marsh wanted to go the cheap route. Setting up a medium-size DIY system with a few buckets and an aquarium pump can set you back less than $150 in the US. But Marsh worried about getting everything working correctly.

Ultimately, the decision to buy a kit or build your own comes down to whether you enjoy tinkering or would rather not spend a Saturday gluing PVC pipes and plastic tubing together.

It’s all about balance

Once your setup is set up, you may see seeds sprouting within three days, though some plants take longer. By two weeks, your seedlings should start to look like real plants. Which is when Vicki Liston, a DIY hydroponic garden builder, realized that her hydroponic experiment was not going quite right. Just a few weeks in, her plants were dying.

It turned out her tap water was too alkaline. A pH buffering solution fixed the problem. (Water testing between 6.5 and 7.0 on the pH scale is considered ideal.) A setup like AeroGarden will tell you when you need to add fertilizer or adjust the pH of your water. If you built your own operation, you will need to remember to add nutrients and check the pH of your water (using testing strips) weekly.

There is too much of a good thing

If some plant nutrients are good, more would be better, right? That is not at all the case, Liston said. So far, she has managed not to overfeed her plants, but too much plant food can result in dead or severely damaged plants. How often and how much you will need to feed depends on the type of nutrient solution you are using. Read the directions on the bottle.

Let those lights shine

You may be able to grow lettuce, kale, or herbs in a sunny window, but as days get shorter, investing in a full-spectrum grow light is worth the expense. These lights provide the same range of light as the sun, and you will see much faster growth, Lubkeman said.

Goodbye, bugs (for better or worse)

Liston’s favorite thing about growing indoors is that its bug-free. While that means you will not need to pluck slugs from your lettuce, you will need to take over for bees and do your own pollinating.

For plants like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, Rabaut said that some customers report getting decent pollination rates just by shaking plants gently every day or two.

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