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Hydroponic growing is, essentially, growing plants in soilless medium that is rich in nutrients. At its most simple, it means that the plants are suspended in a solution that provides all the nutrients it needs.

It’s a great way to grow plants using soilless media and break the monotony of growing plants in soil. The roots don’t  necessarily have to look for nutrients. So they’re small and efficient. It means the plant will often grow bigger and more quickly than in soil. You can grow all year round and reduce the risk of pests. And because you don’t need soil for extensive roots, it takes less space and causes less mess. 

Organic hydroponic vegetable farm growing in greenhouse.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos

How To Start Hydroponics 

1. Support Structure

First, you’ll need something to support your plants. Exactly what you’ll need depends on what you’re growing and how you are growing it. However, it might be as simple as wire mesh to support a plant sitting over a bowl or bucket with the nutrient solution.

Plastic pipe or drain is a good option. It can serve equally well for a window ledge or in arrays for bigger growing projects. This works particularly well with systems that require a flow of nutrient solution.

2. Reservoir

If you are not using the water culture technique, you’ll need a reservoir for your nutrient solution. A bucket or plastic storage box will suffice. The biggest consideration will likely be size, which will dictate how often you’ll need to check and top up. Aesthetics might also be important if your system is in a living area or a small apartment.

3. Growing Medium

If you need a growing medium, there are plenty to choose from, from simple gravel to perlite or vermiculite, coconut coir, peat moss, etc. If you’re growing from seed, then you might want to consider special hydroponic sponges.

4. Water Pump and Tubing

These are essential in circulating the nutrient solution. Water pumps are cheap and available in online stores, and once you set them up, you can use them to keep the solution flowing. Alternatively, you can create a flood and drain system with a timer.

5. Light

Plants need light to grow, ideally six to eight hours a day. If you’re setting something up with lots of natural light on a windowsill, you don’t need to think about it. If you want to grow in a room with few windows, you might need to consider extra lighting. 

You can get a light for any set-up, from a USB-powered desk-style lamp to large ceiling-hung panels. These are very effective at providing artificial lighting. Some of them even produce UV light, so you might need to be careful about exposure if it’s in a living space.

6. Nutrients

These are simple to use. Just mix the nutrients with water. The best water to use in the solution is fresh rainwater. If you’re using tap water, you should test it first. Each area will have different compounds. The acidity is usually a little low, which will need adjusting.

  • Buying nutrients designed for hydroponics is best. These will have the right nutrients and concentrations. 
  • It’s important to check the pH level of your solution.  It should be between 5.5 to 6.5 or slightly acidic. 
  • Check if the temperature is right. This should be about 68º. It’s a little below room temperature. Getting the temperature wrong can damage the plants.

7. Cost

Hydroponics is a cost-effective way to grow anything, but there is a set-up cost. Depending on the method you use, this might be close to nothing. 

Kits containing everything you need for small growing costs $50-$120. The costs can quickly mount if you’d like to grow on a bigger scale. Add the cost of the initial set-up, which includes lighting. You can end up with thousands of dollars and high running costs afterward. However, this is settled by having a year-round production.

Hand holding hydroponic coriander plant.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos

Steps for Starting Seeds for Hydroponics

  1. First, you’ll need a growing tray; one under a clear cover is ideal to ensure it’s light and warm is ideal. If you’re growing in a cooler area, you might also need a warming mat. Check to see what temperature your crop likes. Lettuce, for example, ideally grows when it’s a little warmer than room temperature during the day.
  2. You can use starter cubes, like those made from rock wool. These won’t dissolve in water, so you don’t risk clogging up your system later. To begin, these should be soaked in water or some nutrient solution (but only about half-strength) for an hour before dropping a few seeds in each hole.
  3. The water or solution will need to be topped up, but after about four days, you should see sprouting.
  4. An even easier way is to germinate the seeds in a Ziploc bag. Simply seal the seeds in the cubes in a bag with a bit of air and leave them in a dark, warm place. This emulates a greenhouse environment. Again, sprouting should take about four days. You’ll have to be careful to remove them promptly, as the sprouts will need light.
  5. After the seedlings have been established, it’s time to start providing them with a full-strength nutrient solution to support their growth. Once you notice roots beginning to emerge from the bottom of the starter cube, you’ll know it’s time to transplant them. The time it takes for this to happen varies depending on the seed, but lettuce seedlings should be about two inches in height at this stage.

Steps for Starting Seedlings for Hydroponics 

  1. Transplanting is simple and less traumatic for the plant than transplanting to or from the soil. It’s simply a case of making space for the cube in your growth media and moving it over before gently covering it. It would be best if you watered from above for the first few days to feed the plant while it develops its root system and finds the nutrient source you use.
  2. After transplanting, keep an eye on your nutrient solution and the system to make sure everything is alright. Having grown strong seedlings, you should soon see strong plants. If you’re growing lettuce, you can expect to start being able to pick leaves after around six weeks. Other crops will vary, but you can generally expect your first harvest in one to two months.

What Plants are Possible to Grow Using Hydroponics

There are various plants that can be grown in a water-based medium, including those commonly found in outdoor gardens. These plants can come in different sizes, from smaller to more compact varieties. Regardless of the size of your garden, it can thrive as long as it receives sufficient light and nutrients.

Start with greens like lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard; herbs like basil and oregano; fruiting plants like tomatoes, strawberries, and hot peppers; and herbs like mint, parsley, and cilantro.

Clay pebbles are a good choice for supporting larger plants such as tomatoes. They allow the roots to hold onto something and give them support. Below is a list of vegetable plants that can be grown hydroponically.

15 Vegetables to Grow In an Indoor Hydroponic Garden

Purity Wamoyi
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Purity Wamoyi is a horticulturist. She studied BSc Horticulture at the University of Nairobi. She has a passion for agriculture driven by her urge to be a champion and ambassador in fighting for food security.She believes that the world would be a better place if we did the little things that bring peace and uphold humanity. During her free time, Purity loves watching soccer and is a huge ardent Chelsea fan.

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