Indoor Hydroponic Vegetable & Herb Gardening
There's a new technology being developed over the Internet that will delight apartment plant lovers and locavores alike. It can double your plant space and allow you to grow food indoors. And it can bring a solid dose of nature into your home with all its attendant benefits: Clean air, a sense of aliveness, silent companionship, the fresh color of green. If you like plants, new technologies, and have limited growing space, hydroponic window gardening may be for you.
Hydroponic gardening is the practice of growing plants, especially food crops, without the use of soil. Instead, plants are set in sand or another kind of non-nutritious medium to hold the roots in place, or just planted through small holes in a container with space inside for roots. They are fed with water laced with worm castings or another kind of fertilizer or, in some systems, by pond water in which fish are being raised, called aquaponics.
Aquaponics is an outdoor system used by the Aztecs in ancient times, where they planted crops on straw mats covered with a thin layer of soil and floated them on Lake Titicaca to grow in the nutritious lake water. The nutrition in the water came from fish and other organisms living in it.
More recently, NASA has been experimenting with hydroponics to figure out how to grow crops in space ships, space stations, and on other planets, like Mars. For those who have little or no outdoors, hydroponics is a great way to grow veggies and herbs indoors.
"Hydroponic" means making water do the work (hydro=of water, ponic=labor). Because water can be transported easily through tubes, the indoor hydroponic way of growing usually involves the use of pumps to send water through tubes to a number of plants in pots. Plants grow more easily this way than in soil, because nutrients are already dissolved, hence more readily available to plant roots. As long as they have enough light, crops you plant this way grow faster and have bigger yields than they do in soil.
In deference to the desire to minimize the use of electricity, many growers have been experimenting with using the power of gravity to transport water by locating plants on top of each other. That way they can pump water to the top plant and let it drip down from pot to pot naturally. Excess water from the bottom plant/s is direct through the feeding system and up to the top plant again. This also minimizes space, making it a great way to grow plants in an apartment or condo.
One of the most comprehensive and easy to read books on aquaponics, this book is published by Mother Earth News. Aquaponics is a great setup for someone with a pond in their backyard.
Indoor Window Garden
It was a short step from horizontal outdoor hydroponics to bringing the system indoors, and installing it or something like it in a window with lots of light. Crops could be grown indoors with such a system (as in a greenhouse), as could herbs and flowers. With the system set up vertically, it didn't take up much room, yet gave each plant enough light to grow well.
Windowfarms is one entrepreneurial company that developed from adapting the technology to urban living. They set up a system using inverted plastic bottles, tubing, and an air pump that could be installed in a well-lit window of a city apartment. Then they experimented with different types of crops to find out what would grow best. After doing the best they could on their own, they asked for help from anyone in the world who wanted to.
Hydroponic Garden Product Development Strategy
Windowfarms recognized that they had a unique product that could easily be captured, patented, and manufactured by a corporation intending to market at the highest price possible. In order to prevent that from happening, they created a Facebook page and posted the project with an open request for help.
This "commons development" strategy is spreading fast across the Internet, with sites of many different types (movies, music, politics) inviting anyone, who has the skills and interest, to work together online to create something new.
New Technologies - Hydroponics
Do you like playing around with new, emerging technologies, especially evolving ones? Does the possibility of aiding in product development excite you - sharing your own experiments with other people from other countries online? Do you like the idea of being in community with plant lovers worldwide?
You might want to set up your own hydroponics system for this reason alone, irrespective of the health and other benefits it could bring, which are addressed below. If so, here is a link to Windowfarms' Facebook page:
The main benefit to setting up a window hydroponics system is the great food you can grow indoors.
Access to Healthy Food - Organic Gardening
The main benefit to setting up a window hydroponics system is the good food you can grow indoors. This is especially true of low income communities in cities who do not have access to healthy, nutritious food. Supermarkets have disappeared, moving out to the suburbs to serve wealthier residents, and local stores are mostly convenience stores charging high prices and selling canned or frozen, rather than local fresh food. In Chicago, for example, 9% of the city's neighborhoods are "food deserts" (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning).
Buying Local Vegetables vs. Growing Your Own
Assuming your area does have access to healthy food, where does this food come from? Does it matter to you that it might be shipped from South America during the winter and grown with pesticides? Or from California or Florida the rest of the year?
If you are a proponent of reducing carbon emissions and/or use of oil and gas, then check your local supplier to find out where they get their produce. Can you buy locally grown food in your neighborhood, so it doesn't have to be shipped from afar? If not or if you just like growing healthy food, you might decide to grow your own.
Indoor or Outdoor Organic Garden?
How much room do you have in and around your home? If you live in a house in the city or suburbs, you likely have garden space outside. If you live in an apartment or condo, you likely don't - at least, not that you can utilize.
If you do have a yard, you may or may not want to use it to grow food. The work involved with setting up and growing outside vs. inside are key factors, as is your physical condition. And finally, there may be certain foods you can grow outside in your location and others you cannot.
Outside you will have the weather to contend with. You will also have pests and hungry critters who like to eat what you like. Inside, you may or may not have thought you had enough light or space before, but with this system there is a good chance you've already identified a place - maybe a window that needs decorating anyway.
Assuming that all of your answers so far are leading toward "Yes, let's do it," and you know this article will end by telling you where to find the right equipment, the next thing to do is look at the types of plants you can grow inside with this system.
Hydroponic Vegetables, Herbs, or Decorative Plants?
The kinds of plants you can grow under the hydroponic system are many. Your choice will depend on your needs. If you have easy access to local organic food, you might prefer growing herbs or decorative tropical plants, with some cherry tomatoes thrown in. Here are examples of plants already tried and tested with hydroponics:
Food - Leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bush beans, peas, broccoli, radishes, celery, micro-greens. (Bigger foods like squash will grow too, but you don't want them to take up all the space.)
Herbs - Basil, all the mints, oregano, cilantro, spring onions, chives, garlic, and (if it's legal where you live) marijuana. Most herbs can be grown hydroponically, both culinary and medicinal.
Decorative plants - Coleus, most of the ferns (they love the humid air too), pothos, orchids, African violets, spiderplants, lilies, marigolds, petunias are some good examples.
Indoor Hydroponic Gardening Supplies
Whether you build a system yourself or buy a kit, these are the parts you will need, along with maintenance and food supplies.
Hydroponic equipment and parts:
- A reservoir for the liquid (water/nutrient) medium
- An aquarium-type air pump for water circulation
- Plastic tubing to carry liquid to and from containers
- LED grow-lights, unless you have a very sunny window
- Some kind of structure for hanging the pots
- Opaque containers for plants (needs to be dark inside to prevent algae growth)
Plant equipment and supplies:
- Plants of your choice
- A liquid fertilizer like fish, worm castings, seaweed, or bat guano
- A small fan or something to provide light air flow from a distance
- Simple water test kit to make sure you keep the right pH level
- Plant-loving music to encourage growth
- Lemon, apple cider vinegar, or sea salt to further condition the water, if necessary
A good system to get you started, if you don't want to build one yourself. According to reviews, this one is low maintenance and modular, i.e. expandable.
Ready to Grow a Garden Indoors?
As you can tell from the parts listed above, this system is fairly easy to set up. Windowfarms and other entrepreneurs have made it even easier by developing hydroponics kits for sale. Some of them you can find for sale online. Some YouTube videos show how to build hydroponic gardens as well, so take courage and your adventure spirit in hand and go for it!