Growing plants by hydroponic methods is very easy and is only as expensive to set up as you wish it to be.
Growing plants in a soil-free media, is a fascination for many gardeners and the term ‘hydroponics’ arose from this activity. A number of hydroponic shops popped up some years back selling all sorts of equipment to enable both home gardeners and commercial operations to grow plants by this means. We now have hydroponically grown vegetables, especially lettuces, available in many supermarkets and vegetable outlets.
A fun automatic system will cost you a small pump, some piping, plastic containers and plastic fittings, put together with common sense. Or if you have the time to pour some solution 2 or 3 times a day, very minimal costs are involved.
Try the following bucket method to grow say three lettuces, a tomato plant or a potato plant.
Get a 20 litre plastic bucket or container and at about 40mm up from the bottom, drill a hole of a size suitable to place a simple plastic tap. The tap should be the type that has lock nuts, washers and thread. Glue a piece of fine mesh over the nut end of the tap (prevents the tap blocking).
Next obtain a bag of pumice granules, these should vary in size from fine to course. Fill your bucket to near the top with the pumice and with the tap turned to on, pour in clean water till the tap flows freely.
Next take say three lettuce seedlings and wash the mix off their roots by rinsing them in a bucket of water. Plant them into the pumice in a triangle formation near the rim of the container. This means that they will grow well enough apart and over the edge of the container as they mature. You now need a complete liquid food that will give the lettuces all the nutrients that they need to grow and mature.
In the past, Hydroponic foods have been two parts, A & B which you would mix together. A few years ago a Hydroponic Company produced a new nutrient formulation called Matrix Reloaded. It has all the goodies and you simply put 10ml into a Litre of water to use. Another big advantage of this food is it’s in balance for both growth and flowering so you don’t have to switch to a different type of nutrient when flowering starts on tomatoes and other flowering fruiting plants.
With the tap still on, pour a little of the diluted Matrix Reloaded over each of the seedlings. When the tap starts dripping turn it off. Pour a few more mls of the solution onto each of the plants. That’s all you need to do at this time. Make sure your planted container is in a sunny, sheltered situation and somewhere where you do not forget to check it every day. A glasshouse is perfect. When the pumice looks dryish, open the tap and slowly add more mixed up solution till the tap starts to drip. Turn off the tap and add a little more solution.
There is a reservoir of moisture/solution below the tap line and this moisture will be drawn up as the level of moisture above decreases (capillary action). As our plants grow the amount of moisture/nutrient needs increase and we will need to add more nutrient or water once or twice a day. Salts will build up in the bucket which is not desirable.
It’s a little trial and error but once you reach the point where you are adding nutrient every day then every second/third day just add plain water. Nutrient one day, plain water next two days and then nutrient. At 14 days run plain water, with the tap open to flush out system. Following day use nutrient, next day water etc. Flushing is important. If growing a tomato make sure you have a stake in the container for support. Tomatoes need more nutrient than lettuces so one day nutrient next water and third day nutrient.(Once again at the time when moisture has to be added every day).
To grow a potato you don’t fill the container with the pumice, instead you plant the seed potato just above the tap level and cover it. As the foliage grows you keep adding more pumice to cover. Do so till you are about 70mm from top of container. As the new potatoes form they will displace the pumice which may eventually spill over the sides of the container. Fairly simple and a bit of fun.
If you want to use a pump system then you set up a length of plastic spouting with stops on both ends. Obtain 30mm thick polystyrene sheet and cut into a strip so it fits neatly into the top of the spouting. Obtain some grow-tubes or small plastic pots which sit into the polystyrene when you cut suitable holes for them, spaced apart for allowing the plants room. A hole is drilled low on one end of the gutter stop and a hose connector secured there with grommets. Set the guttering up on blocks with about a 10 degree fall to the hose connector end, with a holding tank below to collect the nutrient. Sit your pump in the tank with a pipe running up to the higher end of the spouting. Use with an adaptor to 13mm common irrigation tubing so that you can put a adjustable on/off in this line. (So you can adjust flow rate.) Place pea metal in the base of the guttering to slow and spread the flow of liquid. Place your plants with clean roots into each of the pots holding the plants secure with sphagnum moss.
Fill the tank with clean water and run the system for a day. Empty tank and fill with Diluted Matrix Reloaded. Run the system. For the next 7 to 14 days top up tank with plain water as needed. After this time take solution and water into gardens or pot plants and start a fresh solution off. You can enhance either method by adding some MBL (Magic Botanic Liquid), Mycorrcin and Ocean Solids (dissolved), for all the benefits these products give to plants. If slimes or algae happen put in a few drops of Moss Control or spray the same over areas that the green is building. You can add some diluted Neem Oil to the solution to help with insect pests.
The guttering method is great for growing strawberries, dwarf beans and lettuces where tomatoes, cucumbers etc will require extra support. A frame can be made to support two or three levels of guttering and piped so one flows into the other downwards to the holding tank. The guttering is stepped outwards so they don’t shade each other. Smaller growing plants on the bottom, with taller plants supported on the top.
It’s a lot of practical, productive fun with Matrix Reloaded making it easy to do. Matrix Reloaded is available from many Garden Centres and its a wonderful liquid plant food for gardens and containers as well. When using it as a plant food you mix Matrix with water and leave it for half an hour before using. This allows the mix to adjust.