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Food Storage, Gardening, and Self-Reliance for Busy Moms

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Did you know that you can grow plants without soil? Hydroponic gardening is an innovative way to grow a variety of plants with just air, fertilizer, and water.

Did you know that you can grow plants without soil? Hydroponic gardening is an innovative way to grow a variety of plants with just air, fertilizer, and water.

While this method of growing might seem like something out of a sci-fi novel, it has actually been around for thousands of years.

And hydroponic gardening isn’t just a trendy alternative to traditional gardening that “looks cool.” It offers countless benefits to commercial farmers and hobby gardeners alike.

That’s not even the best part:

Hydroponic produce could be the answer to world hunger.

Many plant varieties thrive in these soil-less hydroponic systems — some even seem to prefer hydroponics to life in the ground!

Image: pixabay.com

So how exactly does hydroponic gardening work? And how can you bring this hobby into your garden at home?

Image: pixabay.com

At first, hydroponic gardening might sound impossible. After all, soil is responsible for providing support, nutrition, and water to almost all plants.

Even cacti need soil to survive.

But hydroponic gardening does away with soil entirely. Instead, each plant’s roots are left completely bare.

Image: pixabay.com

Without soil you are probably asking:

“How do these plants receive phosphorus, nitrogen, and other important nutrients?”

In hydroponic gardening, these nutrients are delivered in special blends of water-soluble fertilizer added to the water.

Okay, but what about supporting the plant?

While there are countless different styles and designs of hydroponic garden systems (we’ll discuss these a bit later on), most utilize pipes, trays, or buckets to hold and submerge each plant in the growing solution.

Plus, the lack of soil does not mean that hydroponic gardening does away with all growing mediums.

Some systems use a sterile medium like pebbles, perlite, or vermiculite to support each plant’s roots.

Image: pixabay.com

Hydroponic gardens might seem highly industrialized (and in some cases, they are) but these systems can function on any scale. You can grow a single hydroponic plant in your kitchen window while an agriculture company grows millions of plants in a warehouse.

You don’t need a tractor or a plow or other big implements, and you don’t need to inherit a farm. – Bob Hochmuth

Image: pixabay.com

Although people sometimes use these words interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Hydroponic gardening, as we mentioned above, uses nutrient-rich fertilizer dissolved in water. But with aquaponics, living fish take the place of this fertilizer.

An aquaponic garden has two parts: the plants above and a fish aquarium below. Typically, the plants’ roots are submerged in this tank. Between the plants and the fish, a self-sufficient cycle is formed. The plants’ roots release oxygen into the water, giving the fish what they need to “breathe.” And the fish’s waste breaks down and provides the necessary nutrients for the plants.

Image: wikimedia.org

Now that you understand what hydroponic gardening entails, let’s dive into the history of this gardening method.

Most modern hydroponic gardening systems look extremely futuristic — some even look like they belong in a science-fiction movie!

Here’s what you need to know:

6th Century B.C.:

The first examples of hydroponic gardens are the Hanging Gardens in Babylon and the Floating Gardens in China.

Image: wikimedia.org

10th Century:

After being driven from their homes, the Aztecs of Lake Tenochtitlan develop floating hydroponic gardens. This system becomes integral to the survival of the Aztec civilization and the eventual development of Mexico City.

Image: wikimedia.org

17th Century:

English scientists, Sir Francis Bacon and John Woodward, research the possibility of growing plants without soil. While an important first step, neither one is entirely successful in their endeavors.

Image: wikimedia.org

1929:

William Frederick Gericke of UC-Berkeley reintroduces hydroponic gardening and successfully proves it’s possible by growing a 25-foot tomato vine.

Image: wikimedia.org

1938: 

Two more UC-Berkeley scientists, Dennis Hoagland and Daniel Arnon, take over Gericke’s research. The first commercial hydroponic gardening results from their research.

Image: media.defense.gov

As you can see, hydroponic gardening did not hit the agricultural world overnight.

In fact, it took over a millennium of research and development to finally reach the point where we are today.

In the 21st century, when food scarcity and limited resources are a growing concern, hydroponics has proven itself to be a worthy contender against more traditional forms of gardening.

After centuries of trying to grow plants hydroponically, and finally succeeding in recent years, you might be asking yourself:

“Why is hydroponic gardening such a big deal?”

In short, this method of gardening offers countless advantages over traditional gardening. Check out the chart below for all of the pros and cons of large-scale hydroponic gardening:

Image: wikipedia.org

While the basics remain the same, there are four distinct types of hydroponic systems:

Image: pixabay.com

Each of these methods comes with their own set of pros and cons, but many gardeners will use several systems throughout their hydroponic gardening career.

The best hydroponic system will also depend on the variety of plants being grown.

Some plants do much better in one system over another. Others, however, thrive in any hydroponic system you place them in.

Image: pixabay.com

Most hydroponic enthusiasts consider the wicking system one of the easiest hydroponic gardens to manage. In fact, many small at-home hydroponic kits rely on this technique.

When using a wicking system, your plants sit in a grow tray filled with a sterile growing medium like perlite or rockwool.

The water is kept in a separate reservoir and connected to this growing medium through “wicks.”

Through capillary action, the same movements plants use to pull water up through their roots, these wicks move water from the reservoir to the growing medium above.

Some hydroponic crops use 90-percent less water than traditional growing methods.

Wicking systems are 100 percent passive, meaning they don’t rely on any machinery or moving parts. This is great for beginners and hobbyists who can’t afford to invest in an industrial-level hydroponics system.

Plants that require little water are the best candidates for a wicking system.

Many at-home hydroponic gardeners grow leafy lettuce or garden herbs in these systems.

Watch the video below to make a wicking system for herbs:

Some growers consider the deep water culture system to be the purest form of hydroponics. In this system, the plants’ roots are suspended directly in the water and nutrient solution.

Image: pixabay.com

No growing medium is needed.

If you’re a home gardener, you may have used a deep water culture system in the past without even realizing it. Bulbed flowers like hyacinths are frequently grown in a simple jar of water.

That is, technically, a deep water culture system.

That’s not all:

When used on an industrial scale, deep water culture systems use large reservoirs of water. Above these reservoirs, plants are placed into holes in a floating styrofoam tray.

With this system, countless plants can be grown in a very limited space.

Of course, it’s not enough to just place a plant’s roots in a reservoir of water and hope for the best. You must also supplement the water with nutrients and oxygen.

While water-soluble fertilizer offers Nitrogen and other nutrients, most large-scale deep water culture systems require an electric air pump and airstone.

Check out the video below to learn more:

The ebb and flow method of hydroponics also called the flood and rain method, is a bit more involved than either way above.

Image: wikimedia.org

In this system, the plants’ roots remain exposed. But instead of sitting in a constant reservoir of water, water is forced over the roots several times per day.

This hydroponic gardening system relies on several moving parts to work correctly.

While this method uses a growing tray and reservoir, it also requires a submersible pump to move the water from the reservoir to the tray.

Ebb and flow hydroponic systems can be overwhelming at first.

Here’s why:

They typically require a bit more equipment and knowledge than the wicking or deep water culture methods.

But once you have everything set up, this system is surprisingly easy to maintain.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the ebb and flow growing method, check out this short video from Just 4 Growers:

The nutrient film technique (NFT) system is very similar to the ebb and flow method described above. There are some differences though.

Image: wikimedia.org

Here’s what we found:

The main difference between these two systems is that an NFT system maintains a constant flow of water and nutrients over the plants’ roots.

Instead of flooding your plants’ roots multiple times per day, a very slow trickle of water moves over the roots day and night.

The recommended flow rate for most NFT systems is only about 15 to 30 gallons per hour.

Since you do not completely submerge your plants’ roots in the water solution, they have constant access to oxygen.

Like an ebb and flow system, you will need a strong and reliable pump to move water from the reservoir to the channel containing your plants. While this can be a somewhat costly up-front cost, this system is pretty easy to maintain once it’s up and running.

One of the greatest advantages of an NFT system is being able to grow and harvest plants quickly without disturbing the rest of the crop.

Because of that, the best plants for an NFT hydroponic garden are typically small and fast-growers.

Since this system doesn’t provide any structural support, larger plants like tomatoes and squash aren’t great candidates.

Check out the video below to learn more:

Hydroponic gardening isn’t just a trendy alternative to traditional gardening. It also offers potentially world-changing benefits when it comes to agriculture and sustainable food production.

Image: pixabay.com

As the world’s population continues to grow, it is becoming more and more clear that our current agricultural practices won’t be able to keep up.

Don’t freak out yet:

According to many experts, hydroponics could be the answer to growing enough food without stripping the Earth of its natural resources.

You might even be eating hydroponic produce without even knowing it!

Image: pixabay.com

Hydroponic herbs and vegetables are becoming more commonplace in natural food stores around the United States. Even some chain grocers have added hydroponic produce to their shelves.

Image: unsplash.com

Many restaurants, especially those who promote farm-to-table dining, have also begun using hydroponic lettuce and other produce in their kitchens.

Unfortunately, some people believe that hydroponic vegetables are taking away from organic, soil-based produce.

In 2017, protesters even tried to have hydroponics banned from organic farming.

While these protesters were unsuccessful, it brought light to the fact that industrial hydroponic farming could potentially put smaller organic farmers out of business.

No matter which side of this debate you empathize with, hydroponic gardening seems to be here to stay. At least for the foreseeable future.

Image: pixabay.com

While hydroponic gardening might seem like the answer to all things plant-related, there are actually only a few plants that truly thrive in these systems.

As technology advances and new systems continue to emerge, this list is likely to grow. But for now, most beginning hydroponic gardeners should stick with one of the plants below:

Image: unsplash.com

For the beginning hydroponic gardener, herbs are an easy and versatile option.

These plants are quick growers and their small size means they fit on a windowsill or other small space.

Most herbs thrive in hydroponic gardens.

Some of the most popular varieties include:

If you’re interested in trying out hydroponic gardening for yourself but are nervous about jumping in feet first, we recommend trying out a simple wicking system with any of these herbs.

Image: wikimedia.org

When it comes to growing fruit hydroponically, strawberries are the most famous example. But there are actually several other fruit varieties that do well in hydroponic systems.

Here are some of the most popular:

Image: pixabay.com

Berries of any kind might seem like an obvious choice for a hydroponic system.

After all, berry bushes are small, fast-growing, and typically stay low to the ground.

Trees, on the other hand, might come as a surprise.

Here’s what we found:

Hydroponic gardening experts have successfully grown a wide variety of citrus trees using an ebb and flow system.

Fruit trees are probably a bit too ambitious for the average novice hydroponic gardener. But they serve as an important example of what is possible with hydroponic technology.

Image: wikimedia.org

Leafy vegetables are the poster child of hydroponic gardening.

And while hydroponics work great for all kinds of plant varieties, vegetables are probably one of the most popular options currently being grown.

Lettuce is the obvious hydroponic vegetable of choice, but there are many different vegetables that to do well in these systems:

Image: pexels.com

If you’re interested in knowing where and how your family’s produce is grown, hydroponic vegetables are a great place to start. With just a little room and some basic equipment, you can grow leafy greens and more without pesticides or herbicides.

With a little time and work, you could even grow an entirely hydroponic salad!

Before hydroponics was the trendy growing method for lettuce and tomatoes, it went hand-in-hand with the cannabis industry. 

Before widespread legalization, countless illegal growers used basic hydroponic methods to grow marijuana.

Image: wikimedia.org

Image: wikimedia.org

Now that several states and Canada have legalized recreational use, the hydroponic cannabis industry has grown exponentially.

Hydroponically grown cannabis gained popularity because it was cleaner than growing cannabis outdoors or with soil indoors.

 As marijuana legalization spreads across the nation, hydroponics suppliers have cashed in big time. But with the current state-based legalization of marijuana, some hydroponics experts continue to find themselves in a tricky position.

Image: unsplash.com

Like the hyacinth mentioned previously, some flowers naturally thrive in hydroponic conditions.

But since most flowers are grown ornamentally, hydroponic flowers aren’t particularly popular.

However, some large commercial greenhouses have turned to hydroponics as a way to grow cut flowers for florists, event planners, and other professionals.

While home gardeners have little reason to grow most flowers hydroponically, some of the best varieties include:

Image: wikimedia.org

Hydroponic gardening systems are a great option for these flowers because they are often highly susceptible to fungus or soil-borne disease.

These flowers can be grown year-round in a hydroponic greenhouse.

After learning about these unique gardening systems, are you tempted to create one of your own?

If at-home hydroponic gardening is something that interests you, getting started might be easier than you think!

Image: pxhere.com

Image by Futurefarm

Here’s what you should know:

For beginners, one of the easiest ways to start an at-home hydroponic garden is to purchase a ready-made kit.

There are countless kits on the market that provide everything you need to start your own at-home hydroponics system.

These kits are normally fairly small and compact, which is great for prospective gardeners who don’t have a lot of extra space.

Here are just a few of our favorite at-home hydroponics kits:

Image: YouTube

The AeroGarden Harvest offers a compact herb garden for your kitchen counter. This small hydroponic system uses a simple deep water culture method to water your plants and includes a LED grow light.

Fertilizer is added to the water using a Miracle-Gro fertilizer stick.

This hydroponic system uses light indicators to let you know when it requires more water or fertilizer.

If you’re looking for an almost fool-proof introduction into at-home hydroponic herb gardening, this is a great option. It costs between $120 and $150.

Image: Amazon

The Aunifun Hydroponics Grower Kit is an extremely basic deep water culture hydroponics kit.

It includes a plastic reservoir and lid fitted with six grated slots for your plants’ roots. It also includes an air pump and stone for oxygenation.

While this hydroponics kit isn’t as stylish as others on the market, it is an excellent introduction to this growing method. It’s also affordable, costing between $20 to $25.

You can use this kit multiple times with a variety of different plant varieties.

Image: Amazon

The DreamJoy Hydroponic Growing System uses lets you switch between ebb and flow or deep water culture at any time.

This hydroponics kit uses an elevated channel system with net pots for up to 54 plants.

If your hydroponics hobby continues to grow, you can even stack multiple growing systems on top of each other for even more planting potential.

It is a great starter kit for new hydroponic gardeners who want to grow plants on a slightly larger scale. You can find it for between $70 and $150 depending on the size you need.

Image: YouTube

The WePlant Hydroponics NFT System is another channel kit with multiple size and capacity options. This hydroponics kit uses the nutrient film technique, using a continuous flow of water to feed the plants within.

This kit includes everything you need to get started, minus the plants.

The smallest version of this kit fits 36 plants, but you can add on more pipes as desired. You can buy it for between $100 and $140.

Image: pixabay.com

Buying a pre-made hydroponics kit is the quickest and easiest way to get started, but it is certainly not the only way.

The hydroponics community is filled with D.I.Y. enthusiasts of all backgrounds.

Many of these enthusiasts will happily share their knowledge and experience with beginners.

It’s a MacGyver’ hobby. You can buy prepacked packages, or you can get pieces and parts and tinker with them. – Dan Lubkeman

If you would rather build your own hydroponic gardening system from scratch, here are a few of our favorite D.I.Y. plans:

The Kratky Method is an extremely popular D.I.Y. hydroponic gardening system for beginners.

This method combines principles from deep water culture and NFT systems to create a simple, low-maintenance hydroponic garden.

All you will need are:

Image: pixabay.com

Putting your new hydroponic system together takes a few short steps:

For more information about the Kratky Method of hydroponic growing, check out the video below:

The floating raft method is very similar to the Kratky method above.

However, it does require a bit more equipment.

If you have an old aquarium or large plastic tub lying around, you can easily transform one of these into a floating deep water culture system.

To create this D.I.Y. system, you will need:

One of the great things about this method is that it can be scaled up or down to fit your gardening needs.

To see this method in action on a larger scale, you can check out the video below:

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even make your own at-home ebb and flow hydroponics system.

To complete this project, you will need:

You can find the full assembly instructions in the video below:

Keep in mind that this D.I.Y. hydroponic gardening system requires significantly more monitoring maintenance than the other two listed above.

If you decide to construct this system for yourself, make sure you’re up for the responsibility first!

Image: pxhere.com

Just like any other garden, a hydroponic garden requires care and maintenance to flourish. While hydroponically grown plants might not need soil, they still need adequate light, nutrients, and humidity to stay healthy.

When it comes to caring for a hydroponic garden, most basic gardening principles remain the same.

However, there are a couple of factors, like fertilizer and pH, that will vary a little.

Here are the factors you need to pay attention to:

Hydroponically grown plants have the same light needs as their traditionally grown counterparts.

Accessing the right amount of light can be difficult if your hydroponic system is large and immobile.

Image: pxhere.com

Smaller hydroponic gardens that only include a couple of plants can normally survive with light from a windowsill or other source.

Image: pixabay.com

For larger systems, though, many hydroponic gardeners opt for grow lights.

Using grow lights instead of relying on natural sunlight allows you to place your hydroponic system wherever it is the most convenient. You can even garden in your basement.

Keep in mind:

You can place hydroponic systems outside.

If you have the space to leave your hydroponic system outside, then your plants should receive more than enough natural sunlight.

Your garden’s preferred air temperature will largely depend on the type of plant you grow. But most plants thrive at room temperature.

As for water temperature, you want to maintain your reservoir at between 65 and 75 degrees.

Image: pxhere.com

If your hydroponics system is somewhere warm, you might need to insulate your reservoir to maintain this temperature. Bacteria can quickly take over your reservoir if the water is too warm.

Image: pixabay.com

That’s not all:

For humidity, most plant species need between 50 and 70 percent humidity.

If your home gets unusually dry, especially during the winter, investing in a small humidifier may be a good idea.

If your plants’ leaves begin to dry out or curl, it’s time to up the humidity!

Proper pH plays a major role in successful hydroponics. In traditional gardening, soil pH is affected by several factors but normally settles between 5.5 and 7.0. But in hydroponics, your chosen water source will determine your system’s pH level.

Fortunately, you can easily measure and adjust your hydroponic garden’s pH-level as needed.

Image: pixabay.com

Image: pixabay.com

You can find pH kits online or at most gardening stores.

With hydroponic gardening, you typically want to aim for a number between 5.5 and 6.5. Your water’s natural pH will determine whether you need to make any adjustments before starting your garden.

Make sure that you check your reservoir’s pH about one or two hours after adding your nutrient solution.

The solution will change the pH of your water and could make your initial readings inaccurate.

Image: pixabay.com

Hydroponic gardening systems require routine cleaning to prevent build-up inside the system or on your plants’ roots.

For most systems, draining and cleaning should be performed every seven to ten days.

Others recommend doing a full change-out every two weeks or even monthly.

For routine cleaning, draining and thoroughly wiping down your system should suffice. There are times when you will want to deep clean your hydroponics system.

To deep clean a basic hydroponics system, we recommend following these steps:

via GIPHY

Plants grown through hydroponic gardening are much more disease-resistant that traditionally grown plants.

However, there is still always a chance that bacteria or pests could enter your hydroponic system.

Of course, the best method for fighting plant disease is prevention.

Always ensure that your growing medium, water, and other supplies are sterile before adding them to your system.

If disease does appear in your hydroponic gardening system, you do have options.

One of the first steps to eliminating plant disease is to drain and clean your hydroponics system fully.

Water-borne diseases are the most deadly to a hydroponic garden.

Image: pixabay.com

The sooner you eliminate the source, the better chance your plants have of survival.

If you start to notice signs of disease or pests on your plants’ foliage, we recommend starting with this simple household solution:

Spray your plants’ foliage with this solution to help fight disease.

Always cover your hydroponic gardening system’s reservoir and other exposed areas before using this solution.

Whether you’re a veteran gardener or just getting into the hobby, hydroponic gardening is an exciting venture. While hydroponics might not be as new as many people believe, it is constantly growing in popularity, and new technology is emerging all the time.

There are a variety of at-home and industrial hydroponic systems to meet any style or scale of gardening.

Image: pixabay.com

Despite hydroponic gardening’s elicit connection to marijuana, this growing method seems like a potential solution for food shortages around the world.

Plus, you can grow tons of different plant varieties in a hydroponic garden! From citrus trees to herbs, hydroponics is proving to be more versatile than ever before.

Image: pixabay.com

With hydroponics’ growing popularity, aspiring gardeners are able to purchase ready-made kits from a variety of manufacturers. Or, if you feel like getting your hands dirty, you can find countless D.I.Y. instructions online in the form of blog posts, videos, and forums.

At the end of the day, hydroponic gardening is not much different from its soil-based counterparts.

Hydroponic plants still need light, nutrition, and care. Without proper care and maintenance, even the most efficient hydroponic system will ultimately fail.

Image: pixabay.com

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