If you visit the Errol McKoy Greenhouse on the Midway during the State Fair of Texas, you may notice something interesting tucked away under the majesty of larger growing systems. Located inside, to the right of the front door, is an area we call “homeowner alley.” It is an area that has several different types of hydroponic systems that anyone could go home and easily set up. With an ever-growing interest in using hydroponic systems to grow food at home, we decided to showcase a few of the smaller systems in the greenhouse during the Fair as an example of just how easy they are to set up, even if you don’t have much space at home to work with.
Each system has unique qualities and various needs for setup and maintenance. Here is a list of each system type, details on how they are made, and what to grow in them:
Deep Water Buckets
For this system, you will need one 5-gallon bucket (or as many as you want to set up), net pots to hold the seedlings, an aquarium air pump, air line tubing, an air stone, and some hydroponic fertilizer.
(Small and large net pot and an air stone and aquarium air pump, respectively.)
Deep water buckets can be used to grow almost anything and are super easy to set up. We use a 5-gallon paint bucket with a lid. You will need to make two holes in the lid. One hole needs to be large enough to hold a net pot, which is what holds the seedlings. The other hole allows you to put in an air stone. For this type of system, we recommend getting an air pump, airline tubing, and an air stone from any local aquarium shop. This will oxygenate the water. Letting the air stone bubble the water 24 hours a day is just fine. Use a hydroponic fertilizer to add to the water according to the directions on the label of whatever fertilizer you decide to use. Deep Water Buckets can be used to grow just about anything – we grow herbs, tomatoes, and even lemon trees! Taller plants and vines may need stacking or a trellis.
Deep Water Snap Lid Container
For this system, you will need a snap-lid container of any size you like or as many as you want to set up, net pots to hold the seedlings, an air pump, air line tubing, air stones, and the hydroponic fertilizer of your choosing.
Yes, you can actually start growing crops in a snap-lid container! This is a great and simple setup to grow food in. Start with whatever size of snap-lid container you want to use or have room for. Then, drill evenly spaced-holes to provide space for each plant to grow. We recommend spacing the holes at least a foot apart. Then, drill one smaller hole to accommodate the air line for the air stone. Just like in the deep water bucket system, this system will use an aquarium air pump and air stone to provide oxygen to the water. If you are using a large snap-lid container, you may want to add two stones. It is best to let the air stones run 24 hours a day. Again, you will need to add a hydroponic fertilizer to the water according to the directions of the brand you use. Our system holds six plants, and I think we could easily add two more. We have three heads of lettuce, one kale plant, one chives plant, and some thyme. These systems allow you to grow a diversity of plants in a small area and are best for greens and herbs.
For this system, all you will need to do is order one, or as many tower gardens as you would like, from websites like this one.
These white, upright structures look like poles with plants sprouting from them! These systems are a little different in that they are not DIY, so you don’t have to construct any of the parts. They come in a box with everything you need to get growing; all you have to do is assemble it. The tower gardens also come with their own fertilizer and directions for how to do everything. There are two different types of grow lighting kits available to buy, as well as other accessories. Tower gardens are not inexpensive, but they do make getting into hydroponic growing about as easy as it can get. The units don’t take up much space either, so they will fit in even the smallest of spaces and can be used inside or on a patio. You can grow almost anything on them, but we have done best with leafy greens, herbs, and green beans. Edible flowers also grow well on them. Feel free to mix and match with these and plant several types of plants on an individual tower. These also make an excellent gift for a gardener!
Lighting is Important
When growing anything inside, lighting is an important factor. If you are growing in an area of the house that has large windows or can receive a good amount of natural light, you may not need additional lighting to grow produce indoors. However, if you are like most of us and your lighting isn’t great, then you may need to consider adding grow lights above your system. Grow lights produce the right spectrum of light for your plants to grow. We recommend using LED grow lights because they are more energy-efficient and cheaper to run. Most of them are some combination of blue and red diodes or are a white full spectrum light. Either option should work fine for most crops at home. I like the grow lights made by Barrina, but many options are available online. Tower gardens have their own light systems you can buy. If you do add grow lights to your system, I recommend starting by running them for 12 hours at a time and then making adjustments as needed. If the plants are looking long and leggy, they may need more light. If they look very compact and the leaf edges are burning, they are getting too much light. Experiment with how much light you give and monitor the changes for the best results.
Hydroponics are for Everyone
Hydroponics are a really fun and efficient way of growing indoors and sometimes outdoors! With the systems and supplies we talked about in this blog, anyone can do it. If you are curious about hydroponics, there is no better time to try than now. So get busy and get after it! You will be glad you did. Until next time, happy gardening!