Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hydroponics Report #1

Note: this post will be updated periodically as new information is gathered.

Recently I became interested in hydroponics as a potential source for growing fresh vegetables for myself. The designs for an at-home system look interesting, and according to multiple sources you gain higher yields, more nutritious vegetables, and leave less of a footprint than soil-based agriculture. I also love being around nature and find it very calming. So I've begun research into the field and wanted to present what I've found thus far.

Hydroponic Systems

There are two Instructables I liked. The first is fairly simple and would probably work best for small plants. The second is more complex, but could also support larger plants and would probably have higher yields and potential for a more "commercialized" operation. The estimated cost can be found in this spreadsheet I created for the supplies (price estimates as of January 2013). Of course one could easily reduce the cost by purchasing less of the supplies, building a more basic structure, and eliminating some of the complicated wiring steps. But I would estimate these setups to cost between $200 and $250.
Note: in the first Instructable, he claims to have built his setup for around $30, but I don't see how that's possible unless you already had some of the supplies. At the absolute bare minimum, after setup, seeds/plants, etc. it's probably going to be over $100, but even then, you're probably going to have to make changes/additions which will eventually raise the cost.

What To Grow

Alright, so after you've taken a look at those setups and understand what it is I'm doing here, what about plants? I looked at various articles about which crops to grow, but most would only say a 3-4 plants at a time without revealing a nice comprehensive list. Why? Who knows. So I'll do it, here are all the plants I could find listed that people have grown Hydroponically.

  • Lettuce / salad greens
  • Chervil
  • Endive
  • Collard
  • Mustard greens
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Celery
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers (colored, bell, hot, chili, etc.)
  • Corn
    • Warning: these take up a lot of space and need special care/consideration.

Root Vegetables
  • Turnips
  • Radishes
  • Onions (bulb)
  • Spring Onions (scallions, green onions)
  • Potatos
  • Carrots
  • Yams
  • Beets
  • Parsnips

  • Pepper plants
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Dill
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Cilantro
  • Tarragon
  • Mint

  • Tomatoes
    • Apparently these respond especially well to Hydroponics.
  • Eggplants
  • Strawberries
  • Melons, zucchini and squash
    • Warning: these take up a lot of space and need special care/consideration.

  • Yarrow
  • Lilies
  • Tulips
  • Carnations
  • Orchids
  • Roses

  • Banana trees

Some Basics

Lastly, let's talk about some basic tips and other information you should know before jumping into Hydroponics.
  • Mixing plants in the same nutrient water can yield varying results since certain plants need different nutrients.
    • It's probably best at some point to dedicate a tub per plant type.
  • Refresh your water/nutrient mixture at least every 2 weeks since it can become toxic.
    • Storage bins / containers should be opaque since light can damage roots and cause harmful algae to grow.
    • Be sure to maintain the water level which can deplete quickly. One solution I found said that if you're going to be gone for a few days, try dangling a string or wick that can soak up water deep in solution. That way liquids will still try to reach the plant if the water level drops.
  • Be cautious about introducing foreign substances into your growing area since waterborne diseases can easily kill your plants.
    • Sterilize tools, tubs, and other items that come into contact with the system.
    • Regularly check on your system to make sure the plants look healthy and there are no visible bacteria growths.
  • Hydroponics works well because the plants can focus all its energy on growing fruits/flowers/leaves, rather than roots to find water. This results in higher yields and better tasting plants.
    • Additionally, soil doesn't allow for proper aeration and may lack important nutrients that Hydroponic systems deliver continuously.
  • The growing medium used in these systems are simply there to support the plant and allow liquids to flow through them. Make sure the medium you buy is pH neutral and clean.
    • This site had some good information regarding different mediums.
  • Some plants may be better suited to Aeroponics like root vegetables which grow down.