How to Grow Using Hydroponics
To grow plants like vegetables outdoors successfully, you need the correct balance of nutrients, soil, oxygen and sunlight. But if one of these elements is lacking, you can still grow plants in a controlled environment like a greenhouse. Many people, however, also develop thriving indoor gardens using hydroponic techniques. With this method, you can eliminate the factor of soil condition because you grow your plants without using soil. This type of garden puts chemistry and plant science to work for you.
Choose containers for your hydroponic garden. You can use a regular flowerpot filled with a soilless growing medium that holds the plant roots. If you want to use a hydroponic system with plants in water only, you should consider using a plastic container or trough.
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Select your plants. You can grow almost any vegetable and many fruits using the hydroponic method. Novice hydroponic growers can have success with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. Consider fruits like strawberries and melons such as cantaloupe or watermelon. Root vegetables like potatoes and turnips can be difficult for beginners.
Pick a sunny location for your hydroponic crops. They need as much sun daily as any plant that grows in soil. Most growers recommend a minimum of six hours of strong sunlight. Your location can be indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference and weather conditions. If you select an indoor location, you will have the option of supplementing the available sunlight with grow lights from a hardware store.
Construct your garden. You can order manufactured hydroponic kits from specialty garden suppliers, or you can assemble the materials you need and build the system yourself. Virginia State University suggests that beginners use a simple hydroponic system that only requires a 3- to 5-gallon plastic container, an air pump, a plastic mesh tray that holds the plants and a soilless growing medium that supports the root system. Your growing medium can be sand, gravel, coir (coconut husks) or vermiculite.
Prepare the container for planting by adding 1 to 2 inches of gravel or sand to the bottom. Place the air pump on top of your medium and plug it into an electrical outlet. Add enough plant nutrient solution to fill the container to a level of 2 inches below the top. Place a mesh tray over the top of the container.
Insert your plants in the tray, allowing the roots to hang down 1 inch into the solution. Start your pump when you have finished inserting the plants. The pump will provide oxygen to the plants’ roots.
Monitor the level of nutrient solution in your container. Add more solution as needed, usually one to three days. The frequency will depend on how many plants are in your container.