Introduction: Experimental Gardener: Growing Things to Eat in a Hydroponic Garden

My idea is to create a small hydroponic garden.

I am growing vegetables indoors since the outdoor growing season in Oklahoma is coming to an end. Soon we’ll be bundled up in our parkas and wishing we had nose mittens. With those colder temperatures, our little seedlings wouldn’t have a chance.

I was inspired to pick this project because of some lettuce I purchased at a local grocery store. I made a salad with it and thought the salad tasted so much better than what I normally buy. The leaves were very tender and just overall more flavorful. I looked up the company and realized they are a locally owned company that has a large aeroponic operation. This fascinated me because I had taken an earth science class recently and did a research project on aquaponics. While hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics aren’t the same, they are similar in that they are all using methods to grow things using less resources than traditional gardening, plus they can be maintained year-round regardless of the weather or climate. I think this is a topic that needs more awareness so we can find options for alternative growing methods, especially in countries with extreme climate and limited resources.

Still not convinced?

In the past, I’ve tried traditional outdoor gardening. I haven’t been very successful though. I mean I can grow a few things, at least for awhile, but I end up fighting bugs, weeds, and disease then I give up in July when the temperatures are so hot here I break out into a sweat as soon as I take the first step outdoors. I’m hoping by bringing my garden indoors, those obstacles won’t be an issue! I’ll be gardening in my comfortable 72-74 degree climate controlled house. The hardest part of this project will be trying to keep the plants thriving, plus finding the space to put them. Setting up the garden should be really easy though just to give it a try, so what do you have to lose? You can do this!

Step 1: Yes, You'll Need Some Supplies:

But not too many at first.

For starters, you'll want some starter cubes and seeds.

Starter Cubes: The brand of growing starter cubes I used are called Grodan. They are the 1 inch cubes but it really doesn’t matter how you start them. You could start them in small little pots with soil which I actually did before I found the starter cubes then I had both going at once! The cubes can be found at Grogg’s or Amazon. I’d say they cost about $7 for 50 of them.

Seeds: You pick the kind of seeds you want! What do you want to grow? Now keep in mind a watermelon would be quite a challenge on the little area you have to work with! I chose some different varieties of lettuce and some basil just for starters.

So the first real step is to plant some seeds in starter cubes and water them. That's it! Put a couple of seeds into the hole in the starter cube and moisten the cubes. See? I told you...YOU can do this!

Step 2: And Now More Supplies

Here are the remaining supplies and explanations:

10 Gallon Storage Tote: I got one at Target. You know what I’m talking about right? Like a box to hold things, but it’s not a box, it’s a plastic tub with a lid so it will hold water. A cardboard box would be a big problem so don’t do that! Also, make sure your tub is a color and not clear since the roots don’t like light. I bought a grey one (not that it matters).

Faucet and connector: Did I mention you’ll need to change the water out? I went to Lowe’s to buy this. I’m sure this isn’t a necessary step, but it will make changing the water so much easier. But if you’d rather skip this, you can just pour the water out of the tub when it’s time to change it. Keep in mind it would be a little heavy though to do it that way.

Small aquarium air pump: I bought one at Walmart. I can’t remember how much I paid for it. $6.88? I really don’t know. I knew I needed it and it wasn’t expensive – less than $10 and anything at Walmart ends in .88 right? Unless they rolled it back to 6.77! Whatever it was, I’ve got to be close.

Bubble Stone: I bought mine at Walmart for less than $3 in the aquarium section.

Grow light: The grow light I found on Amazon. It is a 12 watt LED grow light for indoor gardening by Lemontec.

Growing baskets: I bought 6 at Grogg’s Green Barn in Tulsa when I bought my starter cubes but they can be found on Amazon too. 6 was the perfect number for the size of my hydroponic garden. They are 3″ round plastic net cups. They are about $7 on Amazon for 20 of them.

Nutrients: Again I bought mine from Grogg’s Green Barn. I’m trying Botanicare Pure Blend Pro Grow. It was the most expensive item I purchased. I paid around $22 for it but it is available on Amazon also. Also, there are many other choices in products available.

Clay Rocks: These are little pebbles and are actually called clay aggregate available at Grogg’s or Amazon. The price depends on how much you purchase.

Step 3: Assemble the Hydroponic Container

Now the fun part - assembling the hydroponic container. It’s nothing cute to look at, but it will function! I was hoping it would be a cool looking thing, like a conversation piece. You know how pretty aquariums can be right? Well not this. It’s because it needs to be a solid container so the light doesn’t get through to the roots. I know that’s no fun but that’s how it must be for now. Unless you come up with a better design! If you do please share! I've thought of a shelf type system with lights at each level, but wanted to start small at first.

First, take the lid off the container. Then turn the growing basket upside down and traced around the plastic basket onto the lid. Now cut them out, but cut them a little smaller than the traced circle so the baskets can hang down inside as you can see in the picture. I did 6 but you can do as many or few as you would like.

Next, fill the baskets with the starter seedlings – the cube and all, with the little clay pebbles then set them aside – that’s all you need for the lid of the container.

Now, begin assembling the faucet: You can see the faucet connection from the inside view from the tub above. Cut a small hole and insert the connection: I used silicone gasket sealant to help it seal to keep from leaking (oops I forgot to put that on the list of supplies but I realized I needed it later!). Now connect the faucet and tighten it up.

For the pump and bubble stone: Poke a small hole in the top for the hose to come through. Next hook the hose to the bubble stone and the pump. Now add water to the container but leave about 4 inches from the top. Remember to add the nutrients. Since I'm not sure what brand you ended up purchasing, I'll just say to follow the instructions on your nutrients to determine how much to add. Note: There should be a little room between the water and the bottom of the baskets. The roots need to grow, to come through the rocks and touch the water. Next turn on the pump and voila…it works! YAY! The hydroponic garden is complete!

Step 4: Light It Up and Watch It Grow!

Here's what it looks like under the grow light (after they've been growing a few weeks).

Step 5: Roots!

Once you place your plants in the hydroponic container, the roots will naturally start growing toward the water. It will only take a few days and they'll start to look like this.

You will need to drain the water and refill it (remember to add nutrients) about once a week. If you don't, algae will start to form on your roots.

Step 6: Harvest

And now you can enjoy your fresh basil, lettuce, or whatever you choose to grow!