Hydroponics is simply a technique which uses minerals (food) and water to grow plants without the need for soil.
The plants can be grown either with their roots hanging freely in the water and mineral mix or by placing those roots in something like gravel (which is completely unreactive) and allowing the water to flow over it.
The minerals are found in fish waste, duck manure and, of course, commercial plant food.
Because you don’t need any soil, hydroponics can easily be used in your apartment.
We can think of 7 good reasons to use hydroponics:
You can grow inside. With no soil needed, you can set up a hydroponic garden anywhere, even in an apartment.
You can grow more. Oddly, the yield from hydroponic plants is often 25% greater than the yield from the same plants grown in soil. It’s not quite clear why this is, but it is.
You can grow faster. Not only do you get more crops, but they tend to grow about 20% faster in hydroponic setups too when compared to soil.
You use less space. When plants sit in soil, they spread their roots out to try and draw water into the plant, they have to compete with other plants for this space and it limits how many plants you can grow. When every plant’s roots are in water, there’s no competition and you can grow a lot more plants in the same area.
You use less water. When you water a garden, some of it evaporates, some it is used by weeds, etc. in a hydroponic setup, the water is retained permanently and each plant only uses what it needs. That means hydroponic gardening can use up to 90% less water than traditional growing.
You don’t need to weed. Hydroponic gardens are not subject to seed contamination in the way that a “real” garden is. So, you never have to pull up weeds.
You eliminate a number of pests. A lot of plant pests are dependent on soil to spread, no soil means those pests don’t hurt your plants. That doesn’t mean all pests are eliminated but a lot are.
What To Think About Before You Invest In Hydroponics
OK, before you rush out excitedly to buy some hydroponics gear – you probably want to mull over a few things.
This will help you better tailor your apartment hydroponics system to your needs and prevent any, potentially expensive, mistakes.
What Do You Want To Grow?
There are a number of different potential hydroponics setups and this means that some plants are better suited to one kind of setup than another.
You either buy a setup and then tailor the plants you grow to that, or you pick the plants first and then buy the best setup.
Your Budget For Apartment Hydroponics
You will need to buy certain equipment to run a hydroponic garden (though as you will see in our beginner’s setup below – you don’t need to spend much to get started).
You will also need to spend a little to maintain the garden once it’s in place, that means it’s best to work out these costs and be sure that they are sustainable before you buy a hydroponic garden.
How Much Space Do You Have?
You won’t need as much space as you do for our urban kitchen garden but you will need to think not just about how much space you have to garden in, but also how much space you have to store tools and equipment in.
You should also think about the amount of space you have available to maintain parts of the system when they need it, even refilling your reservoir requires space to add water, etc.
How Much Time Do You Have?
You need to monitor a hydroponic garden.
Sure, there’s no weeding but there is pH control, temperature checks, etc.
We’d estimate you’d need a few hours a week to successfully manage a small apartment garden using hydroponics.
If you don’t have time, your garden is unlikely to thrive.
Getting Started With Apartment Hydroponics Building A Deep Water Culture System
The simplest form of hydroponics is known as a deep water culture system (DWC).
It works by simply having a container (“reservoir”) and filling it with water and minerals to provide a nutrient system.
Then you pop your plants into the system (suspended in some form, so that they don’t drown) and then pump air through the water, which is essential to prevent your plants from dying of oxygen deprivation.
Building Your Own Apartment Hydroponics Building A Deep Water Culture System
You do not need to spend a fortune on buying a hydroponics system to get started.
This setup shouldn’t cost more than $50 and, in fact, with a little clever shopping, you might get change from $20.
Nor do you need any technical skills for this, it’s easy and will take less than an hour.
You will need:
A 5 Gallon Bucket
¼” Air Line
A Small AIr Pump
An Air Stone
A Net Cup (for keeping the seedling in)
Some nutrients (buy these online)
And that’s it.
Fill the bucket to about 80% full with water (see the sections below for notes on this) and then connect the air pump with the air line to the air stone.
Place the air stone at the bottom of the bucket.
Then float the net cup with the sedling in it on the top.
Well, that’s it.
Congratulations, you just built your very first hydroponics system.
However, there are a couple of other things that you need to consider.
Getting Some Light
Your plant needs light and, ideally, it needs sunlight.
Now, with our small DWC system, this shouldn’t be a problem, place the bucket in direct sunlight and let the plants grow.
However, if you have bigger hydroponics systems, you will need to buy specialist lighting that provides the right UV wavelength of light to any plants that cannot see direct sunlight.
Without light, the plant(s) cannot photosynthesize (eat) and it(they) will die.
Preventing Your Hydroponics System From Killing Your Plants
The water that you use for hydroponics ideally wants to have been put through reverse osmosis (RO).
This cleans the water and ensures it won’t kill the plants.
You will also need to test the pH of your water, as most plants you will grow in an apartment need a pH of around 5.5-6.3 to thrive.
That’s OK, you can add “pH Up” or “pH Down” products to change the pH of the water, to make it viable for your plants.
You can get these products online or from any garden center or nursery.
Where Do You Go Next With Hydroponics?
In addition to deep water culture there are more advanced systems of hydroponics such as
Ebb and Flow (sometimes called “Flood and Drain”)
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
And you can combine all 6 techniques in various fashions if you want to, to create even more complex ecosystems and to boost yields.
If you want to pursue your love of hydroponics then your next step is to learn these techniques and incorporate them.
We would note that hydroponics is hydroponics, that is plants growing in water with minerals in it, all these techniques vary in, is how they supply the nutrients, water and air to the plants in the system.
Final Thoughts On Apartment Hydroponics
With nearly 20% of us living in apartments and nearly all of us wanting healthier lives, apartment gardenings makes sense.
Fortunately, hydroponics makes it easy for us to grow plants in even the smallest of spaces and that means we can all have fresh tasty vegetables and herbs at home that we grow ourselves.
Why not start today and make your DWC garden right away? It won’t be long before your first harvest arrives.
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