It’s a shame.
You want to grow your own vegetables but just don’t have space.
Maybe you can try container gardening.
But that’s going to limit the number of plants you can grow.
Is there something better?
A way to grow plants in a limited space with limited resources?
Yes, there is.
You can grow your favorite fruits and vegetables in little space.
And you don’t even need soil for it.
This magical way of growing plants is hydroponic gardening.
What is hydroponic gardening?
Water is key.
Not just for us humans, but also for plants.
It’s the main channel that plants use to take in nutrients from the soil.
Hydroponic gardening means gardening that works with water.
But does it work?
Can you really grow plants in water without using soil?
That’s a question answered by the ancient Greeks, Aztecs, and Chinese as they managed to achieve it.
The reason hydroponic gardening was relied upon was that there were problems in the soil causing plants to die.
People were struggling to grow food and were fighting with one another.
That’s when some brilliant people researched about growing plants using water and solving the struggle to grow food.
Hydroponic gardening has come a long way since then.
People are using it to deal with pest and diseases in the soil. To grow food in an affordable manner. And to make people self-sufficient by growing their own fruits and vegetables.
What are the benefits of hydroponic gardening?
Protection from pests and diseases
Since plants are growing in water, they don’t have the pest and disease problems that come from contact with soil.
Weeds can be a big problem when planting in soil. And hydroponic gardening can help you grow a garden without worrying about pulling out weeds.
Higher yield of fruits and vegetables
Plants that are grown hydroponically can produce yields at least 20% greater than when grown in soil.
You can grow fruits and vegetables in any season because you grow indoors and can control the nutrients, light, and temperature required by your plants.
Hydroponic gardening does not use soil. This means you don’t need to worry about preparing the soil.
You also don’t need to use methods and tools to protect the soil and plants from pests and diseases.
There are also not many tools you need to use when growing plants in water.
It will save you time
Since your plants are growing in water, you don’t have to spend time tending to soil between planting.
Since the plants get nutrients directly from the water, they don’t have to spend a lot of energy on it. They use the extra energy they have to grow and produce fruit faster.
They can grow 30-50 times faster than plants grown in soil.
Better quality of fruits and vegetables
Your hydroponic garden will provide the plants with the best nutrients and growing conditions.
You have complete control over the amount and type of nutrients your plants can get.
This means you get a high-quality yield that is superior in size, taste, and nutritional value.
It will lower your work
You don’t need to tend to your hydroponic garden as much as one with soil.
Once you have the hydroponic system set up, little maintenance is required. This includes providing nutrients in the water and checking on your plants for problems.
You can set up the system at a height so you don’t need to bend as much as you would in a soil garden. This makes hydroponic gardening useful for people with disabilities or a bad back.
It saves water
Hydroponic gardening uses just 10% of the water you would use in a soil garden.
This is because the water is recycled and keeps getting reused to provide nutrients to the plants.
Choosing a medium for your hydroponic gardening
The medium you choose determines the success of your hydroponic garden.
You need to choose a medium that can hold the right balance of water and air for the plants.
It’s crucial for the plants to get the right amount of nutrients through the water. But it’s also crucial for the plants to get the right amount of oxygen to take in the nutrients.
That’s why the medium should have the sufficient holes to pass the nutrients to the plants.
The medium should have particles that do not conflict with the nutrients in the water. And it should not leak the particles in the water which could affect the pH level.
Make sure the medium is free from pests and diseases else it could contaminate your entire hydroponic system.
You can ensure the medium is sterile by heating it up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit using a stove oven.
Some other things to look for in a medium is it should be affordable, reusable, and easy to find.
Let’s look at some mediums that work great for your hydroponic garden.
Coco coir or coco peat is a good medium for hydroponic gardening because it keeps a good balance of air and water.
It is 100% organic and does not have the problem of fungus growing in it.
You can get this as a compressed block that expands when you place it in the water.
Perlite is a great medium for your hydroponic gardening because of the good moisture and air it can retain.
It’s a type of volcanic glass that is very lightweight. But this also means it can cause a problem if the system faces high winds.
Lightweight Expandable Clay Aggregate
LECA or lightweight expandable clay aggregate is made by expanding clay granules.
This makes it very efficient in retaining water without causing a change in the pH level.
It’s natural, easily available, and makes for a good medium for hydroponic gardening.
Rockwool is made by melting rock and turning it into a fibrous material.
This makes it great to retain water and protects your hydroponic system from any contaminants.
The only problem with this medium is the manufacturing process which is not environmentally friendly.
This is a recent innovation where organic compost mold is made into a sponge material.
This makes it great as a medium because of its moisture and air retention. It’s also a biodegradable material that is environmentally friendly and easy to make.
You can get the starter sponge in a variety of shapes that is suitable for your hydroponic gardening needs.
What are some types of hydroponic systems?
Hydroponic systems are the essential part of your hydroponic gardening.
They will help provide the plants with the essential nutrients, water, and air they need to grow.
These systems can either be active or passive.
An active hydroponic system makes use of power to circulate the nutrients to the plants. If you set up an active hydroponic system in the right way, it can work for weeks without needing your intervention.
A passive hydroponic system makes use of the natural force of gravity to move the nutrients to your plant roots.
Nutrient Film Technique
The nutrient film technique (NFT) makes use of a tunnel to grow plants hydroponically.
The plants grow on top of the tunnel while their roots are placed inside the tunnel.
The nutrients circulate through the tunnel to the roots of the plants and out into a reservoir. They are then pumped back into the tunnel.
The advantage of this system is that the plant roots are enclosed in the tunnel. This helps keep the moisture inside so that the plant roots don’t suffer from dehydration.
This system is great for growing small plants like lettuce that you harvest in a short while.
The Raft System
This is an affordable and efficient way of creating a hydroponic system.
The plants are placed on a polystyrene sheet and the roots of the plants are exposed.
The nutrient solution is circulated to the roots and aerated to ensure oxygen is provided to the plants.
This is useful to grow short-term vegetables like lettuce that have rapid growth cycles.
The Dutch Bucket System
This hydroponic system is great for growing vegetables commercially.
You can use any of the growing media that we discussed previously with this type of system.
It’s ideal to grow long-term vegetables like tomatoes, basil, peppers, and roses.
The system consists of a PVC bucket that you add your nutrient solution to. The bucket has a drainpipe that slowly drips the water into a reservoir with the effect of gravity.
The nutrient solution is then pumped back from the reservoir into the bucket and the cycle continues.
Autopot Self-watering System
This is a relatively new concept that is useful for people who don’t have the time and space for a large hydroponic system.
Once set up correctly, the autopot system will work passively and are perfect for slow-growing crops.
This comes with a smart valve system that feeds the plants on demand only when the medium starts to dry up.
Another recent invention for hydroponics is an aeroponic system.
This means the plants are placed in baskets that sit on top of an enclosure. The roots of the plants are suspected inside the enclosure and you need to spray the nutrients directly to the roots.
The roots take in the required nutrients and the excess nutrients go into the attached reservoir for reuse.
This makes it very efficient for giving the right amount of nutrients to the plants so they grow rapidly.
The problem with this system is you need to ensure that the enclosure has the right humidity so the roots don’t dehydrate.
How to provide nutrition to plants in your hydroponic garden
Nutrients are the foundation of your hydroponic system.
Plants need four main type of elements to thrive. These are carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen.
Each of these plays a key role in the good development of your plants.
Carbon makes up more than 50% of the plant and is key for producing chlorophyll and sugar.
Hydrogen is essential so that the plant can take in the nutrients through the roots and helps the plant maintain a rigid structure.
Oxygen is important for respiration so the plants can produce sugar and get energy for growth.
Nitrogen is used by the plant for the growth of its foliage and for food production.
The plant does not need to get these elements directly. It can absorb them from the nutrients, air, and moisture that it gets.
It can get the hydrogen and oxygen from the water which is made of these elements.
It can get nitrogen from the soil as well as air and the same goes for carbon.
The nutrient solution you need in hydroponics consists of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can find these elements mentioned on the nutrient packages as N-P-K.
The N stands for nitrogen, P stands for phosphorus, and K stands for potassium.
Nitrogen is important for the foliage of your plants. Too little nitrogen will not allow leaves to grow while excess nitrogen will cause overgrowth and ripening issues.
Phosphorus is used by the plant to grow fruits and flowers as well as a good root system. Too little of this nutrient means you won’t get the growth.
Potassium is the nutrient used by the plants for creating sugar as well as keeping the plant healthy.
Micronutrients are nutrients that plants need in small quantities and may not be part of the hydroponic nutrition.
Calcium is used by the plants for cell wall creation.
Iron helps in chlorophyll development and sugar creation.
Magnesium can help in chlorophyll and enzyme creation. Lack of this nutrient causes yellowing of leaves.
Zinc helps in respiration and use of nitrogen. If there is a lack of zinc, the leaves will not grow well.
Copper helps in the activation of enzymes, respiration, and photosynthesis. If there is a lack of copper, it will result in yellowing of leaves.
How to select your hydroponic nutrient
You can choose between a pre-made nutrient solution or make your own hydroponic nutrient solution
Pre-made nutrient solution
If you’re a beginner, it might be best to go for a pre-made nutrient solution.
Make sure the solution is suitable for a hydroponic garden and not for a soil garden.
Check the N-P-K levels of the nutrient solution so that it’s suitable for your plants. It may also contain some micronutrients and filler material other than the nutrients.
You can choose a 1-part nutrient solution that works for a wide variety of plants. Or you can choose a 2 or 3-part solution that is specific to a certain type of plant.
Make sure to check the instructions that come with the nutrient solution before you use it in your hydroponic system.
Do remember to check the state your plants are in and the related dosage you need to provide to the plants.
Self-made nutrient solution
If you’re an advanced user, you can consider mixing your own nutrients that cater to a specific plant you’re growing.
You need to get the right salts and use them according to the instructions.
Try to get good quality salts that will give the best nutrients to your plants.
To mix your nutrients, take a gallon of warm water, add each salt, and mix it well till it dissolves. When you’re done with one salt, take another and repeat the process till all the salts are dissolved in the water.
Let the water cool down before using it in your hydroponic system.
If you need more nutrient solution, you can increase the amount of water and salts in the right proportions.
Managing the nutrient solution in your hydroponic system
You’ve got the nutrients flowing in the system and your plants are happy taking what they want from it.
But as time goes on, the nutrient solution will get concentrated with the salts and the pH level will also increase.
That’s why you need to measure the levels in your nutrient solution and keep it in check.
You can use digital parts per million meter to measure the salt concentration. And you can use a pH test kit to know the pH levels which should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range.
You can add more water to bring the solution back to the expected level of salts in it.
You should also look out for the microbes that grow in the hydroponic system.
If you let the water stay still and the temperature gets lower, there is a chance that anaerobic microbes start growing in the solution as well as roots of the plants.
If you notice a bad odor or brown roots, it’s time to make some changes to the nutrient solution.
You can measure the temperature of the water with an aquarium thermometer. You should keep the water temperature between 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Your water should not be still and should keep moving so that oxygen is flowing through the solution. This will attract the useful aerobic microbes and keep the anaerobic ones out.
You can keep the water moving with the help of a pump.
How to use good lighting for your hydroponic system
Plants need a good source of light to produce food.
The leaves of plants contain chlorophyll that takes in light and along with carbon dioxide and water converts it to sugars.
And this sugar is used by the plant as food for its growth.
In nature, the plants use sunlight for producing their food.
But for your hydroponic garden, you’ll need to provide an artificial light source that can mimic the sunlight.
The best lighting you can use for hydroponics is the High Intensity Discharge lighting that is a good alternative to sunlight.
It’s much better than using the regular grow lights that are not the best for hydroponic gardening.
They give the plants the best quality and amount of light so they can use photosynthesis for their food production.
And the good thing is the HID lights are starting to get affordable and accessible for regular hydroponic gardeners.
The type of light to use
Your plants need to get 20-50 watts per square foot of light depending on the plant.
You need to place the plants at a distance from the HID lamp based on the wattage of the lamp.
If the HID lamp has a wattage of 250, your plants should be placed about 12 inches away.
If the HID lamp has a wattage of 400, your plants should be placed about 20 inches away.
And if the HID lamp has a wattage of 1000, your plants should be at least 24 inches from it.
You can paint the area where you place the hydroponic system with an eggshell finish that will help the plants get a good amount of the light.
You can use a light meter to know if all the areas of the garden are getting enough light.
You need to provide 16 to 18 hours of light to the plants every day based on their type.
You also need to determine the color of the HID light you should use.
If you’re growing leafy plants, it’s best to use a Metal Halide lamp that emits blue color.
But if you’re growing flowering plants, you need to use a High Pressure Sodium lamp.
Growing plants in your hydroponic system
There are a few things to consider before you start growing plants in a hydroponic system.
Provide the right amount of light to the plants.
Keep the temperature and humidity at the right level for the plants.
Provide your plants with the right amount of air for oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Check the pH levels and concentration levels of the nutrient solution.
Provide the right nutrient solution to the plant roots.
The conditions that you need to maintain in your hydroponic garden may vary depending on the type of plants you want to grow.
But here are some examples:
Basil, parsley, and oregano leafy plants need high lighting. So make sure to use an MH lamp that provides good light. Also, keep the temperature warm for the plants.
Lettuce is a leafy plant that needs plenty of light so make sure to use an MH lamp. It needs cool weather to grow so keep the temperature low.
Strawberries need high lighting so use an HPS lamp and make sure to keep the temperature warm.
Tomato plants can be given good light with an HPS lamp and keep the temperature hot for the plants.
Starting your own seeds
The best way to grow your own plants is to start from seed. This will help you grow the variety you want in an inexpensive manner.
You also have control over the plants’ growth without the use of any chemicals and pesticides.
To start your own seeds, you’ll need to use space separate from your hydroponic system.
Once the plants have grown to a certain level, you can transplant them to the hydroponic system.
You can use a propagation tray to start the seeds and use a seed warming mat to speed up the germination process.
You can cover the propagation tray with a dome to keep sufficient moisture.
You can use a growing medium like starter sponges, perlite, or coco coir to start growing the seeds.
You need to add the nutrient solution that is about half the concentration you would use in your hydroponic garden.
Keep the temperature between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the propagation tray.
Give sufficient light over the tray but not too much. Once the seeds have sprouted you can increase the light exposure.
Remember to keep the growing medium moist otherwise the seeds will not sprout.
Cloning from an existing plant
Another option to grow your own plants is to clone it from an already existing plant.
You can cut a growing tip from one plant and place it in a growing medium. The cut should be about 3 to 5 inches.
You should provide it sufficient light and nutrient solution so it grows into a full plant.
The nutrient concentration you need to use is about 25% you would use in your hydroponic system. You should dip the tip of the cut into the nutrient solution.
Then dip it into a root growth hormone or gel and place it in the growing medium.
You need to provide this cutting with the same temperature, moisture conditions you would when starting from seed.
You also should keep the medium moist enough with the nutrient solution for the plant to grow well.
How to transplant to the hydroponic system
After you start from seeds or cloning from an existing plant, your plants will grow bigger and start developing roots.
Once the roots have developed well, you can transplant them to the hydroponic system you have built.
If you are using a growing medium like starter sponges this is easy to do. Just remove and insert them into your hydroponic system.
But if you’re using loose growing medium, you may need to take the help of basket liners to transplant.
Once you have transplanted the plants, provide them lower than usual light for about 3 to 4 days and then increase the intensity to normal.
What are some plants you can grow with hydroponic gardening
There are some plants that are quite suitable to grow with hydroponics while others that may not be the best choice.
So choose wisely especially if you’re a beginner so you get the best harvest possible without wasting your time and effort.
Arugula is one plant that grows great in a hydroponic system. There are two types of arugula you can grow: rocket and wild varieties.
Most varieties of lettuce grow well in a hydroponic system with the exception of iceberg lettuce.
That’s because it prefers a colder environment that is not part of a greenhouse setting you may use for your hydroponic system.
Basil is a herb known for its fragrance and flavor.
Most varieties will grow well in a hydroponic system as long as you take care of them.
It’s best that you use basil plant varieties that are Fusarium-resistant when growing indoors.
The Italian basil germinates in about 5 to 10 days and you can harvest it after about 3 weeks.
Some other varieties include Asian basil, Greek basil, and citrus basil.
You can grow regular chives or garlic chives in your hydroponic garden.
They will germinate in about 1 to 2 weeks and you should be able to harvest them in about 10 to 12 weeks.
You know they’re ready for harvest when they grow 6 to 8 inches in height.
When harvesting, leave a few inches of the plant from the crown so that they can regrow and you continue to get a harvest.
Another great herb to grow in your hydroponic garden is cilantro.
The seed will germinate in 7 to 10 days and you should have a harvest after 7 to 8 weeks when the plants have grown 12 to 18 inches tall.
You can grow the cilantro using the nutrient film technique or in plant towers.
Fennel takes about 1 to 2 weeks to germinate and you should have the harvest ready in about 7 to 8 weeks when the plant has grown from 24 to 36 inches.
Mint takes about 1 to 2 weeks for germination. They are ready to harvest in about 8 to 9 weeks when the plant is 10 inches tall.
Make sure to keep pruning them so that they give you a harvest for the entire year before you need to replace them.
You should harvest parsley as soon as it grows 6 inches tall. This plant is slow to germinate and takes about 2 to 4 weeks.
You should keep harvesting this plant often so that it keeps on giving you a good harvest. Just make sure to leave a few inches of the plant above the crown so it can grow back.
There are certain varieties of eggplant that are suitable to grow in a hydroponic garden.
These include ‘Agora’, ‘Berinda’, and ‘Taurus’ varieties that are high-yielding staking types you can grow in a greenhouse.
There are different varieties of cucumber and you should choose one based on the temperature, humidity, and light conditions available.
There are some varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew such as ‘Camaro’, ‘Dominica’, and ‘Flamingo’.
Peppers grow quite well in a hydroponic system whether indoors or in a greenhouse.
It’s best to choose a staking variety so they grow vertically and you save some space.
Some pepper varieties you can consider growing are ‘Fantasy’, ‘Triple 5’, and ‘Zamboni’.
There are many varieties of staking tomatoes you can grow in a hydroponic system either indoors or in a greenhouse.
This includes beefsteak tomato varieties like ‘Beverly’, ‘Caiman’, and ‘Caramba’. Cherry tomato varieties like ‘Conchita’, ‘Favorita’, and ‘Juanita’.
Or heirloom tomatoes like ‘Brandywine’, ‘Striped Green Zebra’, and ‘Yellow Pear’.
How to keep your hydroponic garden free from pests and diseases
Pests and diseases can be a major problem in indoor gardening.
That’s because there are less natural remedies to take care of them indoors.
But if you take the right steps your hydroponic garden should be safe from them.
The most important thing you can do for avoiding pests and diseases is to keep your hydroponic garden clean.
Make sure there are no dead leaves, unwanted mud, or debris lying around in the garden.
If your garden is unfortunate enough to encounter pests and diseases, there are a few things you can do.
It’s important to maintain the right humidity in your hydroponic garden.
If the humidity increases too much, there is a chance that fungi start growing. This could also happen if there are dead leaves lying around and not sufficient air circulation.
Always keep fresh air flowing in your hydroponic garden to avoid fungal growth.
If you are careful you’ll spot the problem as soon as it occurs and can take the fungi out using a dry cloth.
If the problem is beyond fixing with a cloth, you may need to use a fungicide to get rid of the problem.
Algae is another problem that could occur in your hydroponic garden.
They may grow on the growing medium or in your reservoir. So you need to make sure to keep circulating fresh water into the system.
You should also ensure there is no direct light falling into the reservoir or growing medium that encourages algae.
If the algae are on the growing medium, you can wipe it away. But if it’s in the reservoir you’ll need to clean it with 1/10th bleach solution mix.
Getting rid of pests
Pests can be a problem in your indoor hydroponic garden.
Before you reach for the toxic pesticide, remember that it’s harmful to the environment as well as beneficial insects.
It’s also something that pests can get used to and no longer be effective.
A better solution is to make use of natural remedies like sticky traps that can capture such pests.
You can make some of your own by using yellow or blue cardboard that has petroleum jelly spread over it.
Isn’t it great?
No longer do you need to worry about space for starting a garden.
No longer do you need to worry about the soil you have.
And no longer do you need to worry about how expensive gardening can get.
With hydroponic gardening, you have the choice to grow an amazing vegetable garden in the comfort of your home.
With less to worry about pests, diseases, and maintenance of your garden, you can easily reap the fruits of your gardening efforts.
Start your hydroponic garden and you’ll be amazed by the results.