Hydroponic Gardening

I recently read a book (free Kindle download) on hydroponic gardening with herbs. The book wasn’t written very well, didn’t quite flow in any order to make sense, but it piqued my interest to look into the topic.

What interested me most was the statement that hydroponic gardening produces a greater crop and the author emphasized basil, my family’s favorite. Although my garden is growing, I’ve been having problems with my soil and fertilizer lately. I’m going to work on correcting this issue while I learn to hydroponic garden.  It might be a great option to have both gardens going to see which works best and which one I like the best. 

Hydrophonic gardening can be done indoors, in a greenhouse or in the great outdoors.  I read of ideal outdoor places being an urban rooftop, balcony or family patio.

While flowers and vegetables can be hydroponically grown, the book I read focused on herbs.  Here’s the list of herbs the author recommended for this type of garden: basil, mint, chamomile, oregano, calendula, St. John’s Wort, lavender, lemon balm, feverfew, horehound, fennel, yarrow, rosemary, safe, and French tarragon.

So, why should you have a hydrophonic garden?  Speaking strickly of herbs, one reason is the yield can be significantly greater than with soil gardens.  Quality of the herb and the quantity can make the difference.  The example I read about was with basil.  Comparatively, the author found that the hydroponic basil had more flavor and the yield was about 1 1/2 pounds per month.  I didn’t take count of my basil crop last year because sometimes I took a bunch to make pesto, other times I clipped at it for individual meals.  I’d like to see the difference for myself but it sounds good.

Another benefit is that you can grow herbs year ’round.  Here in South Alabama, basil grows like a weed in the spring, summer and fall with our warm temperatures.  But come winter, it can’t handle even a brief spell night-time lows.  Each fall, I take cuttings and root them for small pots.  Then on cold nights I bring them in the house.  If it’s chilly several days in a row I leave them inside but I’m sure it confuses the plant.  Suddenly there’s a different climate and different sunlight source to get used to.  I have one window that actually gets southern light in the winter for maybe an hour.  We’re heavily wooded to the south so the house stays shaded all winter.  Hydroponic gardening with a garden lamp may help me keep basil all winter.  Likewise, herbs that prefer the chilly weather can grow inside all summer.

And, of course, if you’re any degree of a Prepper, it’s a great way to safeguard your garden from airborne toxins (we had toxins sprayed nearby during the Gulf Oil Spill), from bio-terror attacks in which the soil is contaminated, and just to keep plants growing year-round for family nutrition.  It’s always good to have a family garden.

The author of this particular book I’m referencing made the hydroponic growing system sound difficult to use.  I’ve since researched and found there are very easy, self sufficient hydroponic systems on the market.  Just prepare to spend a lot at once.  But, starting a new soil garden can get pricey, too. 

You can start your hydroponic garden by seed or cuttings or soil grown plants from the nursery.  The seed-starting requires many, many steps.  Because of the complexity and lack of personal interest at this time in seed-starting, I won’t list the steps here but you can easily google them to get the step-by-step list or get directions from the system you purchase.  I am interested in the way you start using either cuttings or soil grown plants.  I go for easy.  For cuttings, root them first.  There is a rooting gel you can find at stores to make this part go quicker, although I have never had a problem rooting simply in tapwater.  It just takes a few days.  For soil grown plants, remove them from the soil, wash off all of the dirt.  Then clip a very small amount off the tip of each root and put into a weak hydroponic nutrient solution (purchase this).  Trimming the roots will help the intake of nutrient to get the plant started in this new environment.  Only soak it for about 10 minutes.  Then move it to a “growing medium”.  Growing mediums can be rock wool, or composted tree bark.  The rock wool needs soaking for 24 hours before using.  Always follow directions of each item/supply being used so you can get your timing down.  There are other media that you can find out about online or from your local hydroponic nursery or landscape company. 

There are some downsides to hydroponic growing.  These include a greater chance of whitefly infestation than with soil based gardening.  With soil growing there are many sprays you can use on your plants and soil such as neem oil and liquid kitchen detergent/water solution.  With hydrophonic gardens, you take the plants from the nutrient solution, flush the system, wash the plants in hydrogen peroxide solution, soak them in another solution and redo the whole system, which can take up to 48 hours. 

Another downside is that you have to keep up with the pH of the water/nutrient solution or your plants will die within hours.  It’s easier, I read, to revive a dehydrated plant in your garden with water than it is to revive a hydro-grown plant.  Also, systems can fail, which causes plant death.

I still think it’s worth a try.  I’ll be looking into this all summer, maybe experiment a little before diving in but I would like to grow herbs indoors during the winter.  I will have to purchase a plant lamp and because it will produce it’s own heat, I can probably do this in my garage. 

I hope this has been helpful and would love to hear of your experiences growing herbs and vegetables hydroponically.  As a side note, I kept typing “hydrophonically”.   I may just have to install an mp3 player near my garden to see how it affects the growth.  Any suggestions for music tastes?  I’m thinking Surf tunes.

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