Loving gardening is an all-year affair, so why should your green thumb rest during the winter? If your desire for fresh produce and organic vegetables stays strong even during the off-season, it might be time to consider starting a hydroponic garden. Indoors hydroponic gardens are especially useful for harsh Midwestern winters, which don’t provide healthy growing climates. Once you know how to grow a hydroponic vegetable garden, you’ll be able to have bountiful harvests of your favorite greens even while fresh lake-effect snow piles relentlessly outside.
Choose a Method
Hydroponic gardens are all about the water and nutrients you give your plants. Unlike in an outdoor soil garden or in an indoor container garden, the plants you grow don’t gain any nutrition from the medium in which they grow. And while it may seem like you’re using a lot of water at first, the water you put in the tank only needs a full refill once every two or three weeks. You’re saving water that would otherwise drain wastefully into the soil.
For beginners, there are typically two growing methods to consider: wick and drip irrigation systems. In a wick system, strands of material—often coco coir or processed coconut husk—will stretch down from the grow medium to the nutrient solution below. Gravity pulls the solution to the plants’ roots, much as you would use a straw for a drink.
With a drip system, an air pump provides a limited amount of nutrient solution to the plants every day. It’s a bit more expensive, but it allows you to automate your plants’ nutrition. Once you’ve picked your method and set up your hydroponic garden, you can begin to fill it with plant life.
Pick a Grow Medium
Any method you choose requires you to decide on a grow medium. Grow mediums—such as rockwool, coco coir, or clay pellets—are sterile and merely provide your plants’ roots with material to grow into and around. There are plenty of different mediums to choose from; some people have even used aquarium gravel for their hydroponic plants!
Start Your Seeds
Keeping seeds safe in a hydroponic garden is far easier than it is outdoors. Since you’re in total control of your plants’ environment, you won’t have to worry about harsh weather or animals tampering with the crop. Starting your seeds in a hydroponic garden requires a bit of extra care, as you must keep them moist in a seed starter. If you want, you can start your seeds in soil before moving them to your hydroponic garden as long as you clean off the roots.
Feed and Water Your Plants
Once your seeds have started and you’ve prepared your system, all that’s left for how to grow a hydroponic vegetable garden is picking the best nutrients for your plant and maintaining the pH of the water. If the list of nutrients seems overwhelming, consider buying hydroponic fertilizer to mix into the water. As long as you’re careful of how it affects the pH level of your water, a fertilizer offers a beginner-friendly option for new growers.
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