I work part time at Fifth Season Carrboro (one year this month!). When I first started working at the store, there were several young guys who were enthusiastic about hydro and took care of that part of the business. They were dialed in, and it was all a mystery to me. My husband was more enthusiastic than I was.
But as I watched the plants cycling in and out of the hydroponics displays, I wanted to know about these systems and how they produce beautiful produce all year long. I was given the opportunity to set up one of our systems on my own and grow something, while being mentored by store managers. With just a brief tutorial on setting up the system and adding the nutrients, I was out there in the land of hydro, growing a plant without soil, in water….
I chose to set up an AeroFlo system. It’s very straightforward and simple to understand. One person can set it up easily — I did. It’s easy to clean, easy to monitor, and best of all, in one month’s time, I harvested 18 heads of lettuce!
Here’s what I did:
First, I was smart and picked the easiest thing there is to grow in a hydroponic system, LETTUCE! Why set yourself up for failure on your very first try, am I right?! I chose the Tom Thumb variety because of its smaller size.
After deciding on the plant to grow, I started my seeds in seed plugs that we sell at Fifth Season. I like seed plugs because they are super easy to use. I germinated the seeds under fluorescent lights for a couple of weeks, then moved the seedlings into net cups lined with hydroton (clay pebbles used for hydroponics). The seed plugs sit nicely in the net cup, and the hydroton helps support and hydrate the seed plug.
Here is a seed plug at harvest time. You can see how beautiful and healthy the roots are!
I gave the seedlings a healthy start by adding to the water reservoir:
- Verde by Humbolt, to build the stem and root structure
- Armor SI, by General Organics- Silica strengthens the stems, aids in widening the leaves so that they may photosynthesize efficiently, and aids in the prevention of pests.
- Bush Doctor Kelp Me Kelp You, by Foxfarm, contains many growth promoting substances to accelerate the uptake of plant nutrients into roots, increase plant growth, and slow the progression of disease.
I learned that this ‘nutrient cocktail’ gives those tiny seedlings the best start, supporting the development of the roots and stems, helping prevent pests, and encouraging nutrient uptake, thus increasing the odds for strong plants.
We sell a lot of different varieties of nutrients at Fifth Season and all have their special place. After much reading and discussion, we all decided on using Canna products for my lettuce-feeding program. Canna is easy to understand, their website gives you straightforward calculations and they claim that their nutrients self-regulate the pH of the water for you. I found this to be true in my case. My pH stayed spot on throughout the process. I used the Aqua Vega part A and B, and it was simple to use.
I grew the lettuces under T5 fluorescent bulbs. I use T5 lights at home for my violets and seed starting already, and I really like them. They are efficient, do not put out a lot of heat, and plants love them. They do need to be close to the plants to be effective, but they are cool, so they don’t burn the plants.
I introduced my seedlings to the hydro tanks on October 6th, and on October 31st, I harvested 18 beautiful small heads of Tom Thumb lettuce, made an incredible Blue Cheese dressing, toasted walnuts in a mixture of butter, pure cane sugar, curry powder and smoked paprika, added some sliced red organic grapes and treated my coworkers and customers to a delicious hydroponic salad, grown only in water and nutrients!
I started arugula seeds just after the lettuce went in the hydro system. The day I harvested the lettuces, I cleaned the entire system with hydrogen peroxide, put the arugula seed plugs in the net cups, added some nutrients and in just a few more weeks, we will have an arugula salad! My hope is to bring one of these systems into my home as an addition to an outdoor garden and have greens growing all year long without the worry of pesky rabbits, worms, bugs, deer, you know…. all those things that want to eat what they think you are growing just for them!
We have a lot of great, informative technical information on this blog. But my hope is that with this simplified version of my experience, it will encourage others to think about having a hydro system in their home as well. The possibilities for growing fruits and vegetables indoors are endless! It’s FUN and its not that complicated.