I was recently approached by Chris Wimmer about a guest blog for The Adventures of an Urban Flower Girl. After checking out his blog I thought my readers would definitely be interested in hearing a little bit about hydroponics, a perfect solution for urban gardeners.
Chris is an urban hydroponic hobbyist who uses hydroponics to maximize his 400 square foot yard and extend the short Chicago growing season. Chris blogs about his hydroponic experiences at CaptainHydroponics.com.
We’ve all learned to associate hydroponics with indoor gardening. For most people, knowledge of “soil-free” gardening is limited to the illegal marijuana grow-ops featured on television programs like “COPS”, or from what we’ve seen at our local greenhouses and gardening centers.
The fact is that a gardening system doesn’t need to be located indoors to be considered “hydroponic”.
What makes a garden hydroponic?
Plants are planted in an inert medium such as rockwool, sand, cotton fiber, etc. This allows the roots to breathe better and absorb water, nutrients, and oxygen from the automated watering system that feeds them.
Traditionally, soil was thought to be best because it contains the nutrients plants need to grow. With hydroponics, we give the plant everything it needs – when it needs it. No soil is required for rooting or feeding.
As mentioned above, the plant is fed via an automated process. In most cases, water and nutrients are introduced by an electronic pump using the following hydroponic techniques: Drip, Nutrient Film, Ebb and Flow, or Aeroponics.
Another method, called “Water Culture” involves floating your plants directly atop your nutrient solution, with the roots being oxygenated by an airstone which is powered by an air pump outside the tank.
All the above methods can be set up fairly cheaply. The “Wick Method” is another option for automated feeding that doesn’t require mechanical parts. Literally a wick is used to draw the feeding solution from a reservoir to the root system of the plants. These passive systems are great for windowsill gardens or school experiments.
All plants need light; hydroponic or not. Indoor grows require an artificial light while outdoor hydroponic garden setups can use the sun.
Benefits to creating an outdoor hydroponic garden
- Less space required: Everyone wants more for less. That’s a given. Because you’re not using soil, the root system of the plant doesn’t need to grow downward to receive nutrients and water, nor does the above-ground portion of the plant have to grow as large before it produces fruits, veggies, or flowers.
- Less water and fertilizer: The feeding solution is recirculated so little water or fertilizer is lost. Most systems use 90% less water and 25% less fertilizer.
- Zero lighting costs: With indoor grows, you have to pay for lighting (ballasts, fixtures, bulbs, etc.). Outdoors you’re using the sun. Enough said!
- Automation: With a regular garden, you would have to mix, water, and manually spray fertilizer to give your garden the extra nutrients needed at every stage of the growing process. With outdoor hydroponics, the sun comes up every day, and your garden’s feeding system runs with little necessary intervention. You can go on vacation without worry of your plants being deprived of anything.
- It’s fun: You can tell your friends and neighbors all about what you’re doing and make yourself look like a clever scientific-minded horticulturalist in the process! Hydroponics is so much fun because you’re controlling all the variables needed for maximum plant growth.
What you can grow
The sky’s the limit with what you can grow. Some plants are easier to grow than others and certain plants will prefer specific feeding systems.
Make sure you do decide what crops you want to grow as this impacts the type of system you should make.
- Root vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, onions, yams, etc., will need a little extra care than above-ground veggies. However, all of these plants can thrive and bring you massive yields with a little experimentation. The best system should have a large grow tray such as an ebb and flow system.
- Water hungry fruits and veggies such as melons (all kinds), tomatoes, berries, lettuce, squash, cabbage, zucchini, cauliflower (anything large or juicy) – will prefer constant water and don’t grow well using a wick or raft system.
- Herbs and leafy greens all grow exceptionally well using any growing method, including thyme, tarragon, parsley, lavender, dill, fennel, marjoram, cilantro, spinach, kale, coriander, etc.
If you’d like to try to make a hydroponic system this spring, I’d recommend checking out instructables. People have posted lots of creative DIY systems