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Hydroponics 101: How To Create Your Own Indoor Garden

Overhead view of hydroponically grown vegetable plants, College Park, MD. (Edwin Remsberg / VWPics via AP Images)
Overhead view of hydroponically grown vegetable plants, College Park, MD. (Edwin Remsberg / VWPics via AP Images)

Hydroponics lets you cultivate a terrestrial plant in water. How cool is that?

Growing hydroponically is a great way to create an indoor garden with limited space. But it's not just a method for inside the house; the word hydroponics means "water working" in Latin. You can also grow hydroponically outside during the warmer months.

This hydroponic set-up is in a controlled environment allowing for proper temperature and airflow in addition to the water system. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)
This hydroponic set-up is in a controlled environment allowing for proper temperature and airflow in addition to the water system. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)

The Gear

As the name implies, you first need something to hold the water for your plants to grow, and there are several methods you can try. Don't forget, your water must be infused with nutrients for whatever it is you're growing.

Managing the water's pH levels will be critical to your success. Most plants thrive with water at a 5.5 to 6.2 pH level. Tap water typically hits the pH scale at 7.0, so you'll most likely need to acidify your water. Be sure to research optimal conditions for whatever you want to grow.

You'll also need some sort of medium to grow your plants in. Rock wool cubes, expanded clay pebbles, or grow stones in a net pot are all great options, and new mediums are becoming available all the time.

Providing the right lighting is the most important part of your setup, but you get what you pay for, so don’t scrimp on this.

As you can see, costs can add up, so draw up a budget beforehand. You'll also want to figure out how much space you're going to devote to growing.

Methodology

There are different methods to consider before jumping into hydroponics. Flood and drain tables is a great option for your setup. This table allows you to literally flood the growing area with water and nutrients. Then, the water drains back into a reservoir after a specific amount of time has elapsed.

Deep water systems are another popular option. Pictured below is a 20-gallon system, where each bucket contains water and nutrients for each plant.

The water, infused with all the necessary nutrients, is fed into the plant-holding buckets with a pump (which lives in the bucket with the blue top.) As the buckets fill, the water will then spill out the top pipes and back into the larger bucket via gravity. This all occurs in a continuous loop. Oxygen stones live in the individual buckets for oxygenation.

A deep water hydroponic system. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)
A deep water hydroponic system. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)

There are advantages and disadvantages to all systems. The flood table, sometimes called ebb and flow, can enable the roots to get entangled. You also have new flushes of water each time, which can make controlling the pH levels more difficult. The cost can be similar with both systems, depending on size and scope, so weigh the pros and cons of each.

Then there are drip and emitter systems, which control the specific water flow to plants and can be more finicky than either flood and drain or deep water culture growing. This is how the professionals often hydroponically grow. It can be intimidating at first, but don't be afraid to give it a try.

Get Growing

One of the easiest plants to grow hydroponically is lettuce. If you go to almost any grocery store you can find lettuce that has been grown this way. Often, you'll see the remains of the roots from when it was harvested. Lettuce can be grown and harvested in just a few weeks.

You can also grow cannabis hydroponically. Many of the professional growers will do this on a large scale with sophisticated water systems providing the proper amount of nutrients, environment and light.

Roots growing down through the plant medium. These roots would be using the water with the proper nutrients to grow. (Courtesy @johnnyhydro_ on Instagram)
Roots growing down through the plant medium. These roots would be using the water with the proper nutrients to grow. (Courtesy @johnnyhydro_ on Instagram)

When you're growing hydroponically, you must first germinate your seeds before transplanting them into your hydroponic setup. From there, it's a matter of watching the water levels and giving those plants enough light and food. You'll also need to keep the water moving or aerated.

If you're overwhelmed or stumped, the internet is a good source of guides and instructions. A quick Google search will most likely provide instructions on how to hydroponically grow whatever plant you are thinking of.

The best way to learn how to hydroponically grow plants is to just dive in and try it out. There are lots of beginning growers out there and no shortage of how-to videos, online tutorials, and plenty of brick and mortar stores to help get you started.

Lettuce seedlings started in a growing medium before being transplanted into a hydroponic set-up. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)
Lettuce seedlings started in a growing medium before being transplanted into a hydroponic set-up. (Courtesy of user @johnnyhydro_ /Instagram)

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