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Hydroponics Offers Growers Fresh Produce Year-Round

An Indoor Garden

Hydroponics are often looked at as complicated, expensive, and time consuming—but they really don’t have to be. The basic idea behind hydroponics is simple: growing plants in a soil-less medium while controlling the nutrient level and quantity of the water used to feed the plants.

Some of the earliest evidence of hydroponics comes from the banks of the Euphrates River, where water was drawn out of the river and moved to drought stricken areas allowing crops to be grown. Often this can be done simply and cheaply in even a small space, allowing people to enjoy fresh produce year round.

The average home has many great places to set up a hydroponic garden. The basement, attic or a spare bedroom are good places to start. In the Northeast, basements are often the preferred area because of the consistent temperature. Decide what you would like to grow, the area you would like to grow it in and tailor your hydroponic system accordingly.

Leafy vegetables and herbs can be grown with less intense light than their heavy fruiting counterparts. As the actual density of the plant increases, so does the need for more intense light. This can be found in the form of HID (High intensity discharge lighting) or LEDs (Light emitting diodes). HID lighting is a tried and true method that is used in commercial greenhouses and homes alike, while LEDs are a new technology that has advanced drastically over the past decade. The advantages of LEDs are lower electric draw (and utility cost), less heat given off and the ability to keep the lights closer to the plants for more efficient use of the electricity drawn.

With the ever growing interest in home hydroponics, the cost of the equipment needed has gone down drastically. Today, a simple hydroponic system can be set up for under 200 dollars. A basic setup would include a reservoir, pump, tray to hold plants, growing medium and nutrients.

The next step is to decide what style of hydroponics you would like to start with. The two simplest forms are what’s known as Flood/Drain and Drip Systems. Flood and Drain is essentially a nutrient rich reservoir located under your growing table that is pumped up, flooding the table (and your plants) several times a day. The root zone is flooded with a nutrient rich solution which then flows back into the reservoir allowing respiration and oxygenation of the water. This system has the least amount of moving parts and is the cheapest to set up and maintain. It’s usually a good place to start for the novice indoor grower.

Drip Systems, which have more components, are fairly straight forward to setup but often require more maintenance. In drip systems, nutrient solution is pumped through low-volume drip emitters that allow a consistent trickle of nutrient solution to be pumped into the base of the plants. This system is always running, and lends itself to more problems due to nutrient build up in the drip lines.

The next most important things to understand in the world of hydroponics are N-P-K rating and pH. N-P-K stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, the three macro nutrients required for proper plant growth.

During vegetative growth, Nitrogen is the macro nutrient in highest demand. This high demand for Nitrogen usually coincides with high photosynthesis activity, and will lead to vigorous growth. Phosphorus aides in the development of fruit and flowers which occurs during the later stages of plant growth. Lastly Potassium is used in both stages of growth and lends itself to root development. Without proper roots the plant cannot flourish. pH is rated on a scale of 1 to14. 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most basic. The ideal pH range for hydroponics is around 5.5.

Understanding and working with hydroponics is a gradual process, but one that can lead to fresh food year round and a life long hobby. If lower food costs and higher quality produce interest you, give hydroponics a try.

Andrew T. Webster is the regional manager of Harvest Moon Hydroponics

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