Home Hydroponics

The other week I received a call asking about small scale hydroponics. This is something that I had never really looked into before so of course it inspired me to learn more. One of the things I love about my job is that I am constantly learning about new things so I dived right into researching small scale hydroponics.

Hydroponics is derived from two Greek words – "hydro" meaning water and "ponos" meaning labor or work. Plants are grown without soil and the roots are submerged in a liquid nutrient solution. This history of hydroponics goes back a long ways – Ancient Babylonia, Aztec Indians, and there is documentation that indicates that Ancient Egyptians used hydroponics as well. In the 1930s, Dr. Gericke from the University of California gave name to this soilless growing method coining the term hydroponics. He is considered the father of modern hydroponics and made advances through experiments and research.

So what options are available for home hydroponics growing and what does it take? This is where DIY and some supplies comes in handy. You can go and buy formal hydroponics kits, but if you want to give it a try without getting too fancy or spending too much money DIY is a great starter route. A colleague of mine, Candice Hart, wrote up a great tutorial on how to build your own passive hydroponics system using a shallow 3 gallon tub.

You can get the instructions here: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/downloads/69520.pdf

One of the important things in hydroponic growing is managing the nutrient solution. This includes testing the pH of the water and the EC (electrical conductivity) to make sure they are within acceptable ranges on a weekly basis. You can find test meters online. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension has a great document about EC and pH requirements for various plants and you can locate that document here: http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-10397/HLA-6722web.pdf

With water – I would recommend avoiding water that is attached to a water softening system, if you do have a water softener buy bottled water to use in the hydroponics system. You don't need to figure out how to mix up your own nutrient solution, you can purchase nutrient solution concentrate that you mix with water at certain ratios – those products can also be obtained online and provide instructions on ratios. You'll want to make sure to change the water completely every 2 weeks. If you notice that your pH is off in your system (most plants in a hydroponics setup are good in the 5-6 range) you can purchase products that can raise or lower the pH. Why is pH so important? It affects nutrient availability for plants so if it's too high or low, the nutrients become unavailable to the plants.

Unless you have a very bright sunny window such as a southern windows, it's likely you'll need supplemental lighting. A shop light with one cool white and one warm white fluorescent bulb or grow lights are perfectly suitable – keeping it just a few inches above the plants.

The easiest plant to grow in a homemade passive hydroponics setup is lettuce, though you can grow other plants such as kale, basil, cilantro, various greens, etc. When starting out I would recommend sticking with one type of plant in the system until you get a handle on how the system works and what plants work best for you.

There is a lot of great information out there on hydroponics from various Extension services to help get you started beyond what I've mentioned earlier. I figure this is a great way to have fresh lettuce and herbs during the winter and as a gardener and a foodie – how can you go wrong.