Tuesday October 1, 2013
Lately I have been thinking about the similarities and differences between hydroponic and traditional gardening. To some they seem as different as night and day, but there are actually a lot of similarities.
You have to purchase a lot of specialized materials for both types and they both take up a fair amount of space, making them both relatively expensive and commitment-heavy hobbies when compared to say, reading or cooking. In Hydroponics, some of the materials you might buy include lights, tents, fans, equipment such as reservoirs and grow trays. In traditional gardening you need shovels, hoes, seed starters, etc. Another similarity is that you need to know and love the basics of plant care, such as pruning, starting seeds, and knowledge of the basic nutrients they need.
The differences can be pretty striking though. Especially when you look at a hydroponic garden vs a traditional one, hydroponics can seem futuristic and detached, not connected with the earth. You don't have that same pleasurable, visceral sense that you are connected with the earth as when you are working in a soil garden. For some people, like those living in cities this might not be an option so hydroponics is a great way of somehow connecting with nature even if you cant grab a handful of soil!
Friday August 30, 2013
For beginners, hydroponics can seem like a super expensive hobby to start up, but the truth is it doesn't have to be! You can DIY almost
everything in your system with cheap, easy to find materials. You may have to purchase a few things but you definitely don't need to buy an entire pre-made kit. You can even reuse some of the materials you buy if you decide hydroponics isn't for you.
First of all, let's talk about the basic things you need for any hydro system. If you want to start with a super basic setup, try Deep Water Culture or Wick. These systems have no moving parts -- this means no pumps, no filters, no electricity needed. All you need is a reservoir(which you can easily DIY out of materials found at home, check out the link to find out how), a grow tray, growing medium, nutrient solution, pH testing kit (only a few dollars for strip tests), lights if your system is indoors, plants and of course, water.
If you decide you like hydroponics and want to move up to a more complex system, you can easily create a Nutrient Film system or even Ebb and Flow with a few simple add ons. You'll need to update the grow tray to fit whichever system you choose and purchase a pump and timer to circulate the water. None of these things cost too much money, and you can always keep your system to a size that is manageable for your budget.
Sunday July 28, 2013
One of my favorite "problems" in hydroponics -- and gardening in general -- is finding ways to make a closed-loop system. By this I mean something with no waste at all -- every single bit of material that goes in is used as efficiently as possible, and every single output is put back into the system to be reused.
We all know the mantra "Reduce, Reuse Recycle" but how many of us really put that into practice in our daily lives? Sure, it is easy to buy a soda and recycle the bottle, and it feels a lot better to recycle than to throw it in the trash, but we often forget that Reduce and Reuse come before Recycle. Can you live without the soda? Can you give the bottle new life and reuse it instead of throwing it in the bin?
These are the types of questions that gardeners have been asking for centuries -- how can I get the most out of my garden with the least amount of input? This means taking the output and turning it into input -- For example, turning straw from your grain harvest into baskets to winnow the grain with, or using manure from cows to fertilize the fields on which you grow their hay.
Although hydroponics is generally very efficient on resources, there can be a lot of waste involved. In Ebb & Flow systems, the entire reservoir must be emptied out periodically and replenished with clean water. This is essential for plant health, and still uses less water per plant than most traditional gardens, but still, what a waste! You can use this water on your grass, houseplants, or soil garden if you have one, but there are other ways to reduce waste as well. Aeroponics systems are incredibly water efficient. They spray a fine mist directly on to the root of the plant, and often collect any runoff and reuse it. Aquaponics systems are the most water efficient by far -- once you fill them up, the water is recycled indefinitely, plus you have the added bonus of a fish harvest every few months.
Aquaponics isn't the only way to add animals into your system, though. Rabbits, ducks, and worms can be used instead of or in addition to fish to add nutrients (thereby saving on producing, packaging and transporting artificial fertilizers) to your hydro solution.
Another big energy hog is lighting and cooling your system. If you have outdoor space I would highly suggest using it as much as possible, to reduce electricity use and cost. Otherwise, think about combining lighting and cooling systems with a hood vent. These cool the air directly under the lights, allowing you to get the plants closer for greater growth and reducing the overall energy used to cool the system.
Monday July 1, 2013
One of the coolest hydroponics systems I have come across was an outdoor Nutrient Film Technique
system. I love hydroponics and think that each system has its own inherent beauty, but even I must admit that the plastic, metal, and oftentimes artificial light can be kind of an eyesore. I'm used to seeing hydro systems tucked away in a closet, garage or basement.
This one, though, was outside and connected to the natural world around it. The hydroponic vegetable garden was surrounded by a traditional flower garden and channel used for the nutrient solution had been integrated into a waterfall filling the pond below the garden, ensuring that it was completely sealed to avoid any cross-contamination. I could barely even tell the channel was there! This garden incorporated the high-tech, optimal conditions of hydroponics with the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.
I thought it was a wonderful thing to see, and it inspired me to incorporate a little bit more of a decorative element in my own garden at home. After so many years it was wonderful to see a garden that inspired me so much, and so unexpectedly!
What ways have you gotten creative with your hydro gardens? If you have any ideas, tips or stories I'd love to read them in the comments!
Monday July 1, 2013
Hydroponics relates to so many disciplines taught in school- Biology, Natural Sciences, Physics, Health and Nutrition. If you are a teacher in any of these disciplines, setting up a hydro system in your classroom would be a super easily and fun way to illustrate where food comes from, the biology of plants, and the physical properties of water. A perfect system for teaching is the Wick System
. Wick systems are super easy and inexpensive to set up, because they don't use ay electronic or moving parts.
A Health or Cooking class would be a great place for a Wick system- they are ideal for herbs and spices!
A Physics classroom could use a Wick system to illustrate wicking, one of the basic properties of water.
Biology classes often illustrate the start of life by growing small seedlings -- with a hydro system in the classroom, students could watch their seedlings become full-fledged flowers and vegetables!
Check out my article on Wick systems to find out some more fun experiments you can try out!
Are you a teacher or student looking to bring hydroponics into the classroom? Have you done this before and want to share a story? I'd love to hear your questions and read about your experiences, please share in the comments below!
Monday July 1, 2013
What if I told you that scientists ad NASA developed the most efficient hydroponics system to date, with a reduction of up to 98% water consumption and yields hundreds of percentages higher than traditional hydro systems?
You may have heard of Aeroponics in the past, but if not you are in for a treat! By misting or spraying the roots directly, this system is able to optimize plants' nutrition uptake and growth by leaprs and bounds. This kind of system, or something like it, is likely what will be used to sustain life on the Mars space station some day.
This is a perfect example of how Hydroponics is more than just a hobby- it is a science and an educational pursuit.
Check out my article on Aeroponics on about.com and share your questions or comments below!
Tuesday June 11, 2013
Have you considered hydroponics, but thought it was too complex or expensive? Or do you just not know where to start? This is a hobby that, while incredibly enjoyable and simple once you get into it, can seem very intimidating to the beginner -- especially those without any gardening experience.
My Absolute Beginners Guide to Hydroponics is a great place to start if you are considering starting a hydro garden. Hydroponics doesn't have to be expensive, complicated or incredibly time consuming. There are a number of systems that are cheap and easy to D.I.Y and simple to maintain.
If you have any questions about Hydroponics, or want to share your stories and encouragement for newbies, please share in the comments below!
Tuesday May 28, 2013
When I first started gardening hydroponically, it took me a while to get used to the idea of closely monitoring pH levels. I was used to traditional gardening, where you slowly adjust the pH level of your soil as needed.
In soil gardening, you use soil amendments to adjust pH or add needed nutrients and there is always room for error. It is a relatively slow process, involving soil testing, finding the right amendments, mixing them into the soil and testing again.
In hydroponics, pH is a whole different ballgame. Nutrient solution is much more sensitive than soil and pH levels can change from day to day, even hour to hour if you are changing fertilizers. In order to have healthy plants you need to really be on top of it.
It can seem daunting and intimidating at first but with time, practice and the right materials, adjusting the pH in your hydroponic garden becomes an easy part of your garden maintenance routine. In my article about monitoring pH levels, I recommend that beginners start off by checking their nutrient solution pH every day. This gets you in the habit and gives you a good baseline knowledge of what to expect out of your garden.
Do you have any tips, tricks or favorite products related to pH levels? Let me know in the comments!
Thursday May 23, 2013
Hydroponic gardeners often end up with a surplus crop, and need a way to preserve the extra fruits and vegetables. Sometimes a surplus is grown on purpose, but often we just don't know how good our systems are until they surprise us with 50 lbs. of tomatoes in one season! Luckily our harvests are just as easy to preserve as they are to grow. Here are a few ideas for some of the most commonly grown and hugely productive hydroponic plants:
Ebb & Flow is the most popular system used to grow tomatoes. Sun-dried and preserved in olive oil: This sounds a whole lot fancier than it is! You can easily make "sun dried" tomatoes in your oven. Just cut in half and bake on the lowest setting for a few hours. Store them in a jar covered in olive oil, and tell your friends you special ordered them from a small farm in Tuscany.
Leather Britches: If you've ever been to Appalachia, you've surely seen Leather Britches hanging outside on the front porches. This is food preservation in its simplest form -- you simply thread some floss through a needle, string the beans up, and hang them to dry. If you keep them in a well-ventilated area for a week or two and let them dry out really well, they will keep for months. They still taste great when you rehydrate and cook them, especially with some potatoes and a ham hock. Plus, something about dried beans on a string gives your home a certain old-country charm.
Instead of the usual hot sauces and salsas, why not try the opposite and make some hot pepper jam? You may have to add a little (or a lot) extra sugar depending on the spiciness of your particular pepper, but the mix of sweet and hot ends up being truly delicious spread on a slice of toast.
Lettuce Rafts are becoming hugely popular in the hydroponics world. You may think you can never eat enough salads, but when you are faced with five shopping bags of lettuce in one harvest, you may change your mind! Try making lettuce sauerkraut. Slice the lettuce up and stuff it into mason jars as full as you can get them and then fill with a mixture of vinegar, a but of sugar, salt and spices. It makes a delicious topping on sandwiches and is an interesting treat to bring to a summer BBQ.
What are some ways that you have preserved your harvests? Let me know in the comments!
Thursday May 23, 2013
Hydroponic gardening is a fun hobby --I started with a tiny herb garden years ago and haven't been able to stop since! Many hobbyists come to hydroponics because they love gardening but don't have access to land, or because they love technology and are intrigued by new methods of growing plants. A lot of people do not recognize what I believe to be the number one benefit of hydroponic gardening -- restoring physical and mental health.
When I lived in a small apartment in the city seven years ago, I felt bombarded by stress. There was the stress of commuting to work, smog, noise pollution and the inherent rudeness of strangers, but also the stress of being away from nature. I had no yard, no parks nearby, nowhere to go to find solace from the man-made environment I was surrounded by every day.
Not only that, I found it hard as a recent college graduate to afford nutritious foods. I craved fresh vegetables and expensive herbs. When I discovered hydroponics, my whole world changed. I not only had a new, fun hobby to take up some of my time and mental energy, I had a source of fresh, nutritious food and got to bring a little bit of the natural world into my tiny apartment. Even if I had ramen noodles for dinner, freshly picked herbs from my Hydroponic garden made my meals delicious.
Hydroponic gardening became a huge part of my life and followed me to every place I moved after that, the systems increasing in size and complexity each year. I helped many of my friends set up gardens as well, and they felt the same solace in having a bit of nature brought back into their homes. If you feel lost, stressed or just want some fresh food in your home, consider the benefits that growing your own food cheaply and easily could have on your life. [link to beginners hydroponics article]
If you live in the city, what are some of your favorite strategies for relieving stress? Do you have a favorite park, or go hiking on the weekends? Comment below and let me know!