If you live in an apartment or in a city but love to garden, a hydroponic system will let you grow vegetables, fruits and herbs without taking up a lot of space. Best of all, you don’t even need to have a green thumb.
Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil. The planting medium can be vermiculite, perlite, coconut coir or other natural materials. Typically, the best hydroponic system for indoor gardening will utilize LED lights, which are not only highly efficient, but don’t emit as much heat (or use as much energy) as traditional light bulbs.
Another perk? No dirt. Or insects. Or fungal infestations that can arise from growing plants in soil. Hydroponics is an ideal solution for those without easy access to an outdoor gardening plot.
What’s Nice About Hydroponics
Unlike traditional outdoor gardening, you don’t have to rely on the weather with hydroponics. Indoor hydroponic plants can grow year-round. In fact, hydroponic plants typically grow 20% faster than those in soil — and with higher yields. With fewer barriers between the plants’ roots and the water, nutrients and oxygen, plants flourish faster.
Hydroponic gardening even requires less water than conventional gardening!
Experts recommend starting with greens like lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard and kale. Easy-to-grow herbs include basil, mint, oregano, parsley and cilantro. Hot peppers, strawberries and tomatoes are also easy wins for hydroponics rookies.
The Best Hydroponic System
Hydroponic systems for beginners grow plants in one of three ways: wick, water culture, and ebb and flow. Advanced systems might also include a nutrient film technique and an aeroponic system.
When you’re looking for the best hydroponic system, choose one with smart technology. This will require little effort once the plants are initially set up. Some systems automatically pump the water and nutrients and adapt the light and oxygen levels. And some do even more than that!
We suggest considering semi-permanent fixtures, such as ones that can be moved once started, so think about how much space you’ll need at first in your kitchen or spare bedroom. When you’re first starting out, opt for a smaller garden. Some systems are expandable, so keep an eye out for that feature if you want to take advantage of it.
Beginner hydroponic growers will like the wick system — no moving parts or electrical components are required — and you can even make them yourself. Microgreens, herbs and peppers thrive in these types of systems. Word to the wise: Don’t try to grow water-hungry plants like tomatoes or lettuce in wick systems. They might suck up the nutrient solution faster than the wicks can move it.
To begin, set up a water reservoir that will sit beneath the tray that holds your plants. Then, connect the wicks to the growing tray through holes in the bottom of the tray. (Use a drill or screwdriver to create the holes if they aren’t there already.) The wicks will soak up the water from below, drawing it to the growing medium in the tray above. Place seedlings and your growing medium of choice in the growing tray like perlite, soilless mix or vermiculite. Lastly, place your system in a window sill or set up a light fixture. For incandescent bulbs, set the light 24 inches from the plants. LED lights can be six inches from plants while fluorescent lights work well about 12 inches away.
While the initial investment on a good hydroponic system won’t be cheap, it can really pay off once your garden is in full bloom.