Since I’ve started on the homesteading path, I’ve always been a student of the soil. Building soil, understanding its components, learning what it needs to support healthy plants – all of this has been at the forefront of my approach when it comes to maximizing my growing capabilities.
So I never paid much attention to hydroponics. It seemed too complex with too many inputs and too frequent monitoring needed to maintain a system. I figured it required a large up front investment and considerable space.
Well, I was wrong and I’m happy to report that simple hydroponics, also known as the Kratky system, has become a staple of my growing style.
In its simplest form, this method relies on just a few things: lights, a growing medium like peat pellets or clay balls, a container with a lid, a nutrient mix, net pots or something similar to hold your growing medium and seeds.
I have a shelf in my study that’s about 3×6 that’s holding six five gallon tubs. Two tubs are planted with basil, two with dill and two that is a blend of both. The sixth tub is growing out some tomato and pepper plants for a neighbor.
I won’t go into a full instructable style approach here as the web is full of decent descriptions. The general idea is that you suspend your little peat plug that’s holding seed in the nutrient mix and as the plant grows, the water level drops and some roots (hair roots is usually the term) remain above the water line to provide oxygen to the plant. Set a timer for the lights and you have a system that only requires cursory inspection after set up and until time to harvest.
This is a good method for lettuce, herbs like basil and dill and can be used effectively to start tomatoes, peppers and other plants that require a long growing season. The herbs as well can be harvested as is but I’m also going to keep some of the plants intact for planting outside. That’ll free up the tub for another round of growing and in this way I can have a perpetual supply. Because the shelf is indoors, pests and temperature extremes are not a problem.
It’s well suited to succession planting for leafy greens and can easily be scaled up to a family’s needs and even produce extra for selling or trading. I imagine a small business could make a decent living selling to restaurants, foodies and others appreciative of ultra-fresh greens and herbs. It’s the perfect example of accessible, appropriate technology.
So while I’ve learned a decent amount about the basics of hydroponics, I’ve also learned something more valuable: that I need to be careful of accepting preconceived notions with no real basis in fact. Because I was willing to reconsider, I’m going to be making pesto months before I usually do for just a fraction of the cost of buying a few ounces of herbs.