If you've ever tried to maintain a garden before, you understand how difficult it can be. You spend tons of time and money trying to get just a few tomato plants to grow and it just never seems easy. You fight off the bugs on the plants and the bugs in the soil, and the weather it seems has been feast or famine lately. It's either been too much rain or too little, causing seeds to wash out or causing your plants to wilt.
Of course one of the first things you think about is the fact that your garden is fleeting. It is a seasonal hobby. Its cycle every year is the same: You struggle to make it work, you finally get the bugs and the water and the weeds under control only to watch it wither and grow over in the fall. It never fails just as you hit your stride too, winter strikes. If only there were a way to make it work year-round.
What if you could make it happen? What if you could find a way to grow your vegetables all year long? What if you could make them grow twice as fast. What if you could grow them in your house, with zero worries about pest control or weeds? Indoor hydroponics can make seasonal gardening a thing of the past. You may even prefer to continue using this method and never go back to soil gardening again. What is hydroponics and how does it work? The information below can help get you started.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics refers to a type of gardening which uses water, sand or gravel to grow plants instead of soil. It involves the use of minerals mixed with water to form a superfood. That nutrient-packed water is then delivered to the roots of the plants where it is converted into food and energy. The reason hydroponics works as well as it does is because plants are given the specific nutrients needed when they need it. The delivery system is hastened because the roots can absorb the soluble nutrients quicker than pulling them out of the soil. Thus, the energy those plants once used to remove the minerals and vitamins it needed from the soil can instead be used to grow faster. Plants grow on average 20 percent more quickly when they are hydroponically grown than when they are in the ground. That's a huge difference.
Some of the other benefits of hydroponics include:
Hydroponics are versatile because there is more than one way to grow plants using this gardening method.
What Are the Type of Hydroponic Gardens?
When deciding to start your indoor garden, be aware that there are six different types of hydroponic systems:
1. Deep Water Culture
The easiest form of hydroponics is achieved through deep water culture or DWC. The roots in this system are suspended or soaked in the nutrient water. An air pump, such as one from an aquarium, is placed in the water to keep the oxygen circulating. If you don't have this continual flow of oxygen, the roots of your plants will die as they remove it from the water. Also, if the water is stagnant for too long, the roots may start to rot and drown. Also, light should never be trained on the tank for long periods of time as this may cause algae to grow on the roots.
Wicking is one of the fundamental and cheapest forms of hydroponics. It works by using a conductive material (the medium), like cotton, to surround the plants in one container. This container is then suspended above another that holds the water. A wick is run through the conductive material into the liquid.
Another way to do this is to use a material such as vermiculite or perlite in place of the cotton. The bottom of this container is then placed directly in the water container where the vermiculite or perlite can wick the liquid to the roots as needed.
In the drip system, roots are slowly fed the nutrients necessary through a constant but very slow flow of water. It is recommended that you use a medium that can retain the liquid such as cotton or peat moss. The worst part about a drip system is that it can be subject to clogging. Be sure to regularly check the tubes, or whatever other apparatus transports the water, to avoid a major setback.
4. Ebb and Flow
In this particular system, the roots are flooded periodically with the nutrient-rich water. The water then slowly recedes into the reservoir where the whole process repeats at regular time intervals. Depending on the type of plant, periodically depriving them of water can increase root growth and strength.
If you've ever seen a plant suspended and the roots are showing, then you've witnessed an aeroponic system. This variety of hydroponics utilizes a misting or fogging system to get the nutrient water to the plants.
6. Nutrient Film Technique
NFT, as it's also known, is a method whereby the nutrient water is always flowing over the roots. The roots are exposed and draw their oxygen from the air. The whole system is slightly tilted to allow the water to run over the roots and down.
There are a couple of different ways you can go about starting your indoor garden in one of the methods above. You can look into building a system, or you can buy a kit from a home improvement store or online. Either way, it is recommended that you start small and work your way up to a more elaborate system if you choose. Regardless, unlike traditional outdoor gardens, you have choices when it comes to moving the operation inside.
What Else Is Needed for Hydroponic Gardening?
Whether you're gardening in the soil outside your home or in a five-gallon bucket inside, there are some fundamental needs your plants have. The first is water or, in the case of your indoor garden, nutrient-rich liquid. The second is light. Some plants need more light than others, but all plants require it. Where in your home you are placing your garden will dictate how it gets the light it needs. Sometimes it may be worth your while to invest in grow lights. For just starting out, we recommend trying to find a spot in your home that gets a decent amount of light and placing your garden there.
The other thing a hydroponic garden needs is the mineral-laden water. One of the things that will determine whether you are going to be successful or not is your ability to get the liquid to mineral ratio correct. The other is making sure your pH level is balanced. In soil gardening, many plants die because the pH level is off. It is difficult to test this level and fix it because the water is soaked up in the surrounding soil. Not so in hydroponics. You can buy a test kit to measure the pH. There are ways to balance it and keeping the liquid in balance is essential. As far as the minerals needed for the nutrients, there are also kits you can purchase that will give you the proper amount of the nutrients necessary to get your garden growing.
Once you settle on the best growing system for you and have it all set up, you need plants. You can certainly start your garden from seeds, and that isn't too different from soil gardening. However, when just starting out, it is recommended that you start with seedlings. It takes a little bit of the guesswork out for your first time out of the gate. You can purchase seedlings that have been started in soil, but before introducing them into your hydroponic system, you must get all the dirt off the roots. Wash the plant thoroughly in running water. In this type of garden, soil is considered a contaminant. That's because it brings with it other things that can throw the balance of your nutrients and pH levels off dramatically. Why start out with a problem if you don't have to?
Indoor hydroponics can be a fun way to maintain your garden year round. Once you choose your delivery system, growing medium material (if any) and get your minerals in the right dilution, you'll be good to go. There is maintenance that goes into hydroponics, just like with any garden. You can't just fill it up and forget about it. You need to be continually checking pH levels and even cycling the mineral reservoir every so often to avoid it from getting stagnant and causing your plants more trouble. With hydroponics, you still get the joy of gardening and tending to your plants without the hassle of contending with weeds, bugs and Mother Nature. Inside your home, you can control the weather and be sure your plants get the exact food they need when they need it. In no time at all, you'll be harvesting some of the largest most succulent vegetables from right inside your home. How's that for convenience?