Hydroponic gardening for beginners

I've known what hydroponics are for a long time but I only started experimenting with it a few years ago. It started with a gift. I was given a small self contained hydroponic garden for Xmas. I quickly found out that small scale hydroponics systems for inside your house can produce fresh vegetables and herbs quite well. They are especially useful during the winter. 

Hydroponic lettuce growing system on kitchen counter.

I also found out that a few things I expected didn't quite work out as planned. Of course my experience is limited to a few years with a tabletop hydroponic system, which is by no means the only way to use hydroponics in your home, but it is the easiest. 

The system I used is called the Aerogarden. I'll link to it a little lower on the page so you can take a peek, but first lets gets started talking about hydroponics.

What is hydroponics?


Hydroponics gardening is the growing of plants without soil, in other words, “dirtless gardening”. There are many methods of hydroponic gardening, most of which work better than regular soil gardening because it is easier to give the plant exactly what it needs when it needs it. 

One of the most popular home system types is called deep water culture (DWC). This is a system which suspends plants in water and  uses the water to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the roots of the plant. This is definitely the easiest system to use and the most readily available.

A home hydroponics system is usually made up of a few basic things: a growing tray, a grow light, water reservoir and a pump to circulate the water and give oxygen to the plants.

Plants will only receive what you give them; therefore you will be able to regulate the pH, nutrients, nutrient strength, water quality and light amount. 

Kale, lettuce and herbs growing in Aerogarden.

Hydroponic Gardening Indoors


I've found lettuce, kale, some tomatoes and herbs do really well indoors. Of course that is with using a small self contained system. Larger systems can be purchased to grow larger produce or with a little creativity (and carpentry skill) you could build whatever size you need.

If you want a garden but only have limited time to look after it, a hydroponics system is a great option. Unfortunately there are tons of plants that will just not grow in this type of garden. For that reason I have designated mine for winter lettuce and herbs.

As much fun and as convenient as it is to use the indoor system in winter, it is just no comparison to actually getting outside and gardening in summer. However, if I did not have anywhere to garden then I would definitely have one growing year round! 

This would be great for apartments!

Some of these advantages people always talk about when discussing hydroponics are:
1.  No weeding required.
2.  Fewer problems with pests and diseases.
3.  You don't need to spend time watering your plants.
4.  Say goodbye to digging your garden.

These aren't generally a problem with indoor gardening anyway, except the watering thing. You will need to refill the water in your system every week or so though, so you do still spend time watering.

Seeds sprouting in hydroponic system

How to use an indoor hydroponics system


There are detailed instructions explaining how to add water and plant the seed pods included. I do not want to get into that here as there are a bunch of different systems and instructions differ between them. 

Basic overview: you will fill your system with water, add seeds to the seed pods, put them into the system, add fertilizer and set your computer if it has one. 

Thankfully the system I have has a little computer in it that tells you when it needs your attention. There is a water sensor for when the water gets too low, but fertilizer is added according to a schedule. It will beep all day till you tell it you have added fertilizer! lol

If your system does not have a computer you will have to either keep a schedule or test your water regularly.

The set I have comes with liquid fertilizer. There are certain micronutrients that are necessary for healthy plant growth and nutrition including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, cobalt, boron, iron, copper, manganese and zinc. 

If your system does not have a recommended fertilizer you will have to buy one specially made for hydroponics.

You will set  the light timer on the computer, or separately if your system doesn't have an attached light. Most herbs and vegetables do best with 14 hours of light a day. 

When I'm using a light without a timer (like for seedlings) I usually turn it on when I wake up and turn it off about an hour before bed. That should be adequate light hours for good plant growth.

Hydroponic gardening computer panel with watre settings

Hydroponics for beginners


There are a few things I learned over the years from using this system versus a regular or container garden. 

1) The quality of water you're using can influence the health of your plants. For instance, the natural water in our area is very high in iron and a filter system is absolutely necessary as we have a well. I can't use the water before it goes through the system because the high iron content is bad for plants.

My mother's tap water always has a slight chlorine like smell and her regular plants do not do well on it at all. She has to collect rainwater or give them bottled water.

You'd be surprised how many people can't drink their own water. If you're one of them, your plants don't want excess chemicals or minerals either. This is worse in a hydroponic system where excess minerals can't just rinse away from the plant when watering. 

You might want to get your water tested, or use distilled water if your tap water is high in chemicals or minerals. 

2) Transplanting your plants from the hydroponic system to the garden will probably not work. One of the things I thought I was going to be able to do was get a head start on summer planting by starting seeds hydroponically. I did not get even one thing to transfer to the garden successfully and I tried everything! 

It might work if you only use the hydroponics to sprout the seeds and then transplant them. If the root system develops fully though, it then seems unable to function in soil once transplanted. 

3) Don't fill all the holes when planting your garden. I know the pictures look great in the commercial gardens with every space holding a plant, but there is only a tiny window when that works! 

They very quickly get overcrowded. Better to leave some spaces and plant mostly around the outside so things can spread outwards as they grow.

4) You'll need to clean inside it and it will be slimy. I guess this one is obvious but I didn't think green slime would build up on the sides inside the water reservoir. It wasn't like a huge buildup, but after a few months you definitely want to completely change the water and wipe out any green slime.

5) You will have to trim the roots of plants. I may have mentioned that I use a lot of basil. Since I'm using (trimming) it often, it grows for a long time in my hydroponic garden. 

As a plant grows so do it's roots. They will need trimmed from time to time as they'll start tangling with each other. They can also grow into the pump and clog it. The older the plant, the longer the roots. 


As I mentioned I happen to have an AeroGarden. The one I have is called Bounty Elite which is no longer available but is comparable to this one which is available on Amazon. Sticker shock...I know! It was MUCH cheaper when mine was purchased. 

Which explains perfectly why I tried to give general directions for using indoor hydroponics systems and not specific to that brand. While I do love mine, there are many other brands available that are more affordable and still work well.

If you want to give this brand a try or only want to grow a few herbs, they do have a smaller, more affordable three plant garden.

Whichever brand you try or even if you build your own, I think you'll like growing herbs and vegetables inside your kitchen also..especially in winter!

Want more posts on indoor gardening? Click here for my other posts on houseplants and their care.


~L

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6 comments:

  1. I have 4 Aerogardens, from one with 3 holes to the big Farm XL, and I love them all. Not only do I grow in them, but I use one for starting seeds in the spring. It's great to walk into the next room to pick herbs, lettuce and now I can even pick tomatoes. If anyone wants to start growing hydroponically an Aerogarden is a great way to go, or at least to start!

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    1. Yes...they are awesome for starting seeds! Fresh herbs in winter are just the best thing ever, aren't they?

      Lisa

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  2. Yes, having lettuce and herbs readily available is great, but what is awesome is going in and picking tomatoes out of the Aerogarden in the middle of winter. I had 2 cherry tomatoes in my Farm XL last winter. I got an outbreak of white flies so pulled out the cherry tomatoes this summer (have plenty of tomatoes growing in the garden), cleaned it out good and planted 1 cherry tomato and 1 Roma tomato. Will see how that goes. BTW....Aerogarden still sells the Bounty Elite. If you go to their website you can find them plus many others. You can sometimes get a good price on something as they have sales all the time.

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    1. Yes! Some of the larger models are amazing! Thanks for sharing your experience! I'll head over to the site and see what they have now!


      Lisa

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    2. They usually have some kind of sale going on so you can get them a little cheaper if you wait for a good sale. I usually get mine around Christmas as they usually have a great sale then. Get on their newsletter and they will send you sale emails.

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    3. Great tip Rose! I will have to sign up for the newsletters. Thanks!

      Lisa

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