My obsession with indoor gardening started last March, when the pandemic prompted me to order groceries online, along with everyone else in Minnesota (or so it seemed). While I loved the idea of having someone else do my shopping and deliver groceries to my door, what I didn’t love was the sad and tasteless salad greens and tomatoes I ended up with every week. I live in a rambler with few windows, so indoor earth boxes were out of the question, and I don’t have the room or budget for a greenhouse. Hydroponics seemed to be an opportunity to feed my need to garden year-round while also feeding my body fresh greens.
Hydroponic gardening allows us to grow plants without soil — a bonus for the indoor enthusiast. You can build your own setup from a few basic supplies. Another option is to purchase a ready-made system, available at many big-box retailers or online suppliers, and grow a variety of vegetables or flowers at the touch of a few buttons.
The most practical hydroponic method for the home gardener is deep water culture. This is the method that pre-made garden systems use; it will be the least expensive for those who choose to build their own. Deep water culture allows the plant roots to float and expand freely under the surface of the water, where they take in liquid nutrients.
Other methods of hydroponic gardening include ebb and flow, nutrient film and drip system. These are advanced methods that require expensive equipment, which makes them better suited for commercial growers.
Building your own deep water culture setup can be a fun family learning project. Schematics and instructions are easily found on the internet or in many do-it-yourself books and magazines. Here are the basic supplies:
• Water and nutrient reservoir (like a plastic bin or bucket).
• Additional light source, unless you are growing outdoors in the summer.
• A platform to balance your pots over the water (a piece of old insulation board works well).
• A small pump to aerate your reservoir, and some plastic tubing.
• Plastic net pots.
• Substrate (coconut husk and gravel are common choices).
• Liquid nutrient mix.
I bought a ready-made countertop garden and liked it so much that I added a larger model to support eggplants and tomatoes. They both came with their own light source, which allows me to grow my tasty winter salad buffet in the dark, windowless tomb also known as the basement workout room. Other than the boxelder bug gang sunning themselves under the lights, I don’t have any pest issues yet. It is important to be vigilant and watch for signs of aphids and spider mites, as they can enter the home from outside sources like grocery produce.
Visit the University of MN Extension service at tinyurl.com/1w9p1h07 for more information on hydroponic gardening and how to get started if you’d like to set up your own system.
Paulette Greenberg is an Anoka County Master Gardener intern.