Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Step By Step Approach to Creating Your Hydroponic Garden

Hydroponics allows you to grow plants in water that has nutrients in it, and without the use of soil. It is necessary, however to give some means of support to root systems and this is provided by things like vermiculite, peat moss, clay pebbles, rock wool or perlite. Plant roots come into direct contact with the nutrients and also are able to access oxygen, both of which are needed for their growth.

HydroponicsHydroponics ensures an increased growth rate in plants and this can be as much as twenty five percent, while produce also increases by about a third. The plants do not have to work hard to draw the nutrients from water and can manage this even with smaller root systems, thus allowing growth to concentrate on other parts of the plant. It is necessary to control the pH levels and nutrients carefully. Less water is also used, as most hydroponics systems are in enclosed spaces, where evaporation losses are then reduced. Hydroponics systems may take time to set up and can be expensive to set up with the right containers, root support mediums and pumping systems for providing water.

You need to pick up some basic supplies like containers, a light source, support medium for the roots, plant food and of course, the plants you want to grow. You can get plants that produce all the year round, so that you always have greenery around your home. One of the first steps in starting hydroponic gardening is to prepare the plant holder. This can be a smaller container, which you may have to place in a bigger one, so that water is retained. This smaller container needs to have some drainage so that the roots of your plants do not get too wet. A few holes at the bottom of the plant container will serve this purpose. It can also help if holes for drainage are also made on the side of the pot and these are properly spaced out. The second step is to create some space at the bottom of the larger container. You can do this, by laying down a layer of clay pebbles or other hard material, which is the support medium that will give some space between the larger container base and the base of the smaller one, so that water can also fill up this space. The roots will sometimes find their way through the holes and also access this lower space and have more supply of nutrients from the water there.

You are now ready to start planting as the next step of your hydroponics garden. It is best to buy plants from the nursery that are past the seedling stage and have sprouted sufficient roots and leaves. These plants will most probably be in soil and may come to you in plastic bags. Carefully remove the plant from the bag, and then clear the soil from its roots. Use water at room temperature to gently remove the soil from the roots, and see if you can do this without touching the roots themselves. You now have to prepare your smaller container, with the holes to receive the plants. You need to create a layer with clay pebbles or any other growing medium you have decided on similar to the base you prepared in the larger container. The next step is to actually place the plant in this prepared container. Hold the plants so that you support the roots with one hand and put it down on the medium base you have created, so that some of the roots sit along the bottom. Let the other roots remain at higher levels, so that they have to find their way down to the water. Once the plant is stable and supports itself, fill up the container with the support medium that you have decided on, so that the base roots are covered.

cucumber plant cultivated in greenhouse.Your next step has to be to place this container that contains the plant into the larger container in which you have prepared a base with the support medium. Make sure that the container is stable and rests firmly on the base that you have prepared as support. You can use any material for this support, just as long as it is firm enough, as it has no other function rather than acting as a support. Your plant is now ready for growth. You can leave this larger container with the smaller one that has the plant, in the sun, if you have such an area in the home. Alternatively, you can set up a light with a proper reflector, so that light is directed on to the plant. You can also use sensors that keep the light switched off during the day, so that your costs for electricity remain in control. Let your nursery advise you on the wattage of the bulb you will require for the plant in question and the distance that you need to keep between the light source and the plant. You may have to create a separate support structure for your lighting. Just make sure that it is sturdy and position it in such a way that it does not require you to move it around. It should not obstruct you in the future when you are tending to the plant or providing it the required nutrients.

You now need to move to the final stage of feeding your plants with the nutrients that you have purchased when you first arranged for supplies. Mix this nutrient in water and pour it into the smaller container till the roots in the plant container are not fully submerged.  Get in a kit that allows you to check the pH level in the water and maintain the suggested level by changing the water once a week. Your plant is now on its way to growth.

Is Hydroponic Gardening Organic?

Everyone these days is obsessed with the idea of being ‘organic’ and ‘green’ and that is no bad thing. In general, the pursuit of a more organic and natural way of doing things is to be applauded. Under some circumstances however, the term organic can be a little misleading and far too simplistic and it’s in these situations where it becomes a bad thing.

Take hydroponic gardening for instance. Is this type of indoor gardening ‘organic’? Can it be?

And does it matter if it isn’t?

These are all important questions but the answer isn’t quite so straightforward as you might expect or hope.

Read on and we’ll take a look at what hydroponic gardening is and at why it’s overly simplistic to categorize it as either organic or ‘not organic’.

HydroponicsWhat Does Organic Mean?

Perhaps a good place to start is with what the term ‘organic’ really means.

Already we stumble upon something of a problem seeing as the term can be interpreted differently depending on context.

If you were to ask a biologist what the term organic means for instance, then they would tell you that it means ‘biological’. In other words, something organic is something made from carbon. It could be a single molecule but as long as it had its roots in living tissue, it would be considered organic.

Speak to a gardener though and they will often give you a very different description of what ‘organic’ means. To them, organic means ‘not synthetic’ and ‘not processed’.

In other words, it means not using any chemical fertilizers, any chemical pesticides… etc.

A good example of this would be to compare two approaches to preventing slugs from eating your lettuce. A traditional gardener might solve this problem simply by placing slug pellets around the lettuce. By doing so, the slugs would then be killed by the pellets and the lettuce would be safe. This method is highly efficient but it isn’t organic because the slug pellets use chemicals that were synthesized in a factory and that would never normally be found outdoors.

So how would an organic gardener kill of slugs?

One method is to use a beer or milk trap for the slugs. Here, you would simply dig a small hole around your lettuce, insert a small container and fill it with a little beer or milk. Make sure the outer slopes are slippery and steep and the curious slugs will end up toppling into the mixture to drown or just get trapped.

That’s a little brutal though and it’s not super organic. Why? Because you don’t tend to come across plastic cups of beer in the wild. What’s more, this strategy can kill beetles too, which normally hunt the slugs.

Freshly picked cucumbersAnother option then is to lay egg shell around the garden which will prevent the slugs from crawling on their stomachs without cutting themselves – and it also provides the soil with calcium. Better yet, maintain an old rotting tree stump or branch somewhere in the garden. This will attract beetles, which as we just learned, actually can hunt the slugs. This is the ultimate expression of organic gardening: creating a microcosm of the larger ecosystem and using that to ensure that all the living things in your garden support each other.Of course though weevils can attack the roots of your plants so then you need to find something else to combat these… That’s what we call the ‘circle of life’.

Why it’s Hard for Indoor Gardening/Hydroponics to be Truly Organic

With this in mind then, it should become obvious that it would be difficult for any indoor or hydroponic garden to be truly organic in the traditional sense. You can’t have a microcosm of the wider ecosystem inside your house or greenhouse for instance and you’re unlikely to want to keep an old rotten tree stump in your house…

So the best you could hope to do would be to use entirely organic compounds rather than synthetic products.

For simple indoor gardening this is not impossible and in fact it’s relatively easy. This is simply a matter of using natural organic products as plant food and using natural remedies as pesticides (some oils work as pesticides for instance).

With hydroponics though, things get a little more difficult. Here you are growing your plants in such a way that the roots are submerged in a nutrient rich solution. This means dissolving specific mineral elements that cannot contain any heavy metal contaminates or toxic substances. The composition here must be precisely known and even the pH is controlled. This cannot be done ‘naturally’ and so it is not strictly organic.

What’s more, hydroponics really goes against the ‘ethos’ of organic gardening. Organic gardening is essentially about succumbing to the idea that ‘nature knows best’. This means accepting that nature can take care of itself and that synthetic substances and controlled man-made systems are inherently inferior.

The idea of hanging plants into a mineral solution then while controlling the rising and setting of the ‘sun’ with a computer is something that goes completely against the whole idea of organic gardening. And to a lesser extent, this is also true of indoor gardening.

Why it Really Doesn’t Matter

But here’s the kicker: it really doesn’t matter!

This is where the overly simplified idea of ‘organic vs. inorganic’ really exposes itself as being limited and un-useful.

The real reason that organic gardening is so popular and that there has been such a backlash against other means, is that synthetic pesticides can damage the ecosystem. Slug pellets don’t just tip the ecosystem by removing an important natural ‘link’ in the food chain, they also risk poisoning the local cats and birds, damaging the soil etc. Even harming the neighbor’s cat!

This is the enemy. Not man-made products. There is nothing wrong with a man-made synthetic fertilizer in principle. And there is nothing wrong with putting the lighting on a timer.

And when you’re growing all your plants indoors – disconnected from the natural ecosystem – then it really doesn’t’ matter even if you are using toxic pesticides. As long as you’re not compromising your own health, the way you manage your indoor or hydroponic plants won’t have any wider implications.

So do what you like with them!