I’m not your “normal” micro homesteader, I mean I do all the normal stuff like grow food in my garden, preserve it, DIYs, reduce debt and all that jazz. But on top of all that I have a passion for growing food indoors hydroponically as well. If I could just encourage a handful more micro homesteaders to start growing food indoors I would be a happy lady. I am honestly surprised more people don’t do it as it allows me to grow food year-round and cut whole sections out of my grocery bill!
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So below is my list of 18 things you can permanently cross off your grocery list by investing in a hydroponic system. There are a lot of great options out there, the two big ones being AeroGarden and Rise Gardens. I have both and I love them for different reasons, but that is a post for another day. They are a bit pricey, but if you stick with it then you easily recoup all the money back AND keep extra money in your pocket. There is also the option of building a DIY hydroponic system if you are the crafty type. I plan to build two this winter and will share instructions on each as soon as they are done.
But until then let’s take a look at what made my list, and if you are a hydroponic newb and are looking for some hint and tips on getting started you may want to check out this post as well. If you want to save $50 off one of the Family Rise Garden you can click the image below.
This is by far the easiest thing you can grow hydroponically. When you think about it a lettuce costs about $3, or at least it does in my neck of the woods. That’s the run of the mill lettuce, not the organic or living lettuce. If you then have just one lettuce a week that’s $150 bucks you could save a year by growing it at home hydroponically! Plus if you harvest it correctly you can have lettuce for a very long time from a single plant.
It’s not just about saving $150 dollars a year. I honestly find that lettuce grows far better and has less pest damage when grown hydroponically. One caveat is that you MUST have an oscillating fan on it to make sure it grows healthy! I talk about the fan and more in my video on AeroGarden tips for beginners.
While growing the humble lettuce at home could save you $150 a year, herbs could save you a pant load more. A single teeny tiny package of save basil easily costs $3, only for you to most likely use a bit of it and forget the rest of it in the fridge (it can’t be just me). Not to mention it has most likely been grown far away, travelled thousands of miles and had lord knows what sprayed onto it. That is hardly the definition of fresh and flavourful. Luckily, herbs grow amazingly well in a hydroponic environment. I am planning to plant the entire lower level of my Family Rise Garden with Genoese basil and then harvest it all and have a pesto making bonanza!
The list of herbs you can grow in a hydroponic system is large. A few ideas, most of which I have grown myself are below. Just think how much money you could save and how much fresher and more flavourful your cooking would be with herbs harvested less than a minute before you use them! Plus knowing what went into growing them!
- Genoese basil
- That basil
- Holy basil
3. Bok Choy
Bok choy is another plant that I find thrives hydroponically. Honestly, I have found that ANY leafy greens do amazing in a hydroponic environment. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that they are typically 90-94% water! Bok choy is no exception to this. The don’t give you the longevity of harvest that lettuce does. But that has more to do with how we use them than anything else. You don’t harvest just a few bok choy leaves to cook with. You typically take a whole one chop it up and make a delicious stir fry!
Celery is another vegetable with a high water content, it comes in at a whopping 95% water! It grow fantastic in a hydroponic environment. Additionally, I find that most recipes only require 1-2 stalks and then you’re left with the rest of the celery which you will most likely find in the crisper in a month. Fun fact, if you wrap it in aluminum foil it stays crisp for waaaay longer.
Even better than that is growing it hydroponically. That way you can harvest the 1 or 2 outer stalks that you need for your recipe and leave the plant to continue growing. Which makes it available even in the dead of winter, which for me is when I actually use more celery. I love making Pinch of Yum’s Life changing Instant Pot stew. Which, for the record, uses 2 stalks of celery.
I’ll come clean and admit that chard is not a veggie I love personally. Though I am trying to learn to love it as it is full of antioxidants, fibre, magnesium, iron, potassium and vitamins A, C and K. It is also gorgeous to look at if you grow some of the rainbow chard varieties. This is great to help you eat more of a rainbow.
This is about the point in the list where the controversy may start. There are some people that feel that things like tomatoes grown in a hydroponic environment are missing a lot of their flavour. I think a lot of this has to do with the nutrients you provide them while growing. That said I DO prefer a tomato grown outdoors, in the soil under the sun. But those aren’t happening in December in Canada. Making hydroponic tomatoes a great alternative in the dead of winter. Using some Cal-Mag can be very beneficial when growing tomatoes, so if yours have been tasting watery you may want to give that a try.
It is also important to make sure that you are using the right kind of tomato for the system you are growing in. I have grown bountiful tomatoes in my AeroGarden Sprout but I made sure they were a micro variety. In my AeroGarden Farm Plus I have grown “regular” determinate tomatoes with no issues other than some rigorous pruning. If you’re not sure what I mean by determinate tomatoes, be sure to check out my post on the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.
I feel very strongly that growing peppers year-round hydroponically is a must. They are one of the dirty dozen and have been reported to have the most pesticides out of the entire list of 12! That said they are expensive and there are so many better types you can grow at home. Something that a lot of us probably don’t realize is that while we typically grow peppers as annuals in certain areas of the world they are actually perennials. left to their own devices they turn into “trees”! By growing them indoors hydroponically or even just inside in a pot with a grow light you can continue to get produce for the long term. I have a beautiful paprika pepper in my Family Rise Gardens that has been growing for 114 days (as of Nov 2021) and shows no indications of slowing down! I recently made my own paprika powder from the peppers I grew in my no dig front garden. You can check out that whole process here if you’re interested.
Peppers are self-pollinating so they will give you food without much intervention from you. If however you give them a bit more attention, a gentle shake every day or so, you will get even more food!
8. Green Onions
Green onions are something that I have only recently played around with in the Rise Garden. They grew but I did found that they were smaller than when grown outside, but I have only done one round of them so I still need to play with them. I multisowed them and found the the Rise Gardens seedless pods were perfect for this. They are wider than the Aerogarden pods and they have a wider and shallower spot to place the seeds. Next time I will sown the seeds a bit thinner (I did 8 per pod) but the significantly wider Rise Gardens pod makes green onions worthwhile. The Aerogarden seed pods are just so narrow that I don’t see them being able to support more than 1 or 2 green onions, which wouldn’t make it worthwhile to give up a spot you could grow a plant like a tomato that would yield so much more food! That said, even though they were a bit spindly they still saved me more than one trip to the grocery store on taco night!
9. Mustard Greens
I am relatively new to mustard greens, full disclosure, I only even started growing them as I got a few as free seeds from my (multiple) Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds orders. As these fall into the category of leafy greens they are perfectly suited to growing hydroponically. They can get quite big and tend to spread out horizontally so make sure you are plotting them enough room.
Peas are another great option to grow hydroponically as they are self-pollinating which makes your life easier. That said I feel very strongly that success is based on choosing the RIGHT variety to grow indoors. The first time I grew peas hydroponically I planted them, set up a trellis and stood back and admired my work. Well… They very soon became the ONLY thing I could see in my Aerogarden, it was INSANE! I even found some tendrils trying to grow behind the dryer! So after that fiasco I am switching to a dwarf variety to reduce the chance of them taking over the house.
Another leafy green on the list! I planted spinach out in the garden in the spring and I quickly lost it to some voracious leaf miners that destroyed my whole crop. This is another great reason to grow indoors hydroponically as the pest pressures are greatly reduced. Please notice that I saw reduced and not eliminated! Nothing is a silver bullet. I am planning to plant the entire lower deck of my Rise Gardens with spinach so that I can harvest a huge crop at once and freeze it so that I don’t have to buy frozen spinach. I am planning to do the same (after the spinach of course) with basil so that I can make a huge batch of pesto that I can save as well.
Beetroot for me is one step behind green onions in terms of growing hydroponically. What do I mean? Well you 100% CAN grow beets hydroponically, BUT you are giving up a spot that could grow a plant that provide lost of food (pepper/tomato) to grow one that gives you a single piece of food. Full disclosure I also don’t love beets, so that may be playing into my bias. If beets are the basis of your existence then by all means go forward and grow beets hydroponically.
Beans can thrive in a hydroponic environment and they are self-sufficient but much like the peas they come with a cautionary tale. You need to make sure that you are choosing a BUSH variety and not a pole variety. Pole beans will take over your hydronic system and possible your house LOL. Bush beans are much more reserved and size appropriate for a hydroponic system. Another benefit of bush beans is that much like determinate tomatoes they set all their fruit/pods at the same time. This means you can reap a nice harvest and then remove the plant to make space for something new or more beans if thats’ your plant of choice.
Much like beetroot, you CAN grow radish hydroponically but you are giving up a spot where you could grow a plant in order to grow only a few radishes. If you love radishes and want to press on with this endeavour I would suggest multisowing the radishes so that you can at least get 4-6 from a single spot instead of just 1.
Then again sometimes growing a single radish can yield some epic results! Jessica from the Aerogarden Facebook group I am in just shared this picture of this EPIC white radish she grew in her Aerogarden harvest in just 22 days! It’s a beauty! You can check her out in Instagram at @jessy.travels or click here.
Kale being a member of the leafy green club is another one that thrives in a hydroponic environment. Just remember to make sure to give enough space as a healthy and thriving kale plant can take up quite a lot of space. I like to harvest the whole plant, chop it up really fine and freeze it to use in soups, stews and smoothies.
Eggplants fall into the same category as tomatoes and peppers in that they are self-pollinating which makes them the perfect addition to your hydroponic garden. Unless you hate eggplants and then maybe don’t. I am particularly smitten with the Chinese string eggplants from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I am going to give them a space in my Rise Gardens this winter. I grew them for the first time in my new no-dig bed in my front garden (you can check out the video unmaking the bed here) but they got overtaken in the potato fiasco of 2021 (it starts in the no-dig bed video). So I thought I should give them a fighting chance inside.
I have had great success with alpine strawberries grown in my Rise Gardens. I even ended up transplanting some outside to populate my outdoor garden with them and increase the amount of permaculture I have. The thing I love about alpine strawberries is that they don’t put out runners, they grow a large plant from a central point. This makes them more suitable for a hydroponic environment. The one catch is that strawberries are not self-pollinating so you are going to have to do some pollinating leg-work if you have visions of strawberries dancing in your head.
Cucumbers are for the most part not self-pollinating as they have male and female flowers. There are however some specific varieties that are parthenocarpic. Which sounds like some horrible plant disease, but what it means is that they do not require pollination to produce cucumbers. So if you are determined to grow cucumbers indoors you would be well served to search out some of these varieties. You will also want to make sure that they are varieties that are not going to grow out of your hydroponic system like the day of the triffids! The variety that I grew was directly from Rise Gardens and I
I hope that this has inspired you to go out see what you can grow hydroponically. Push the boundaries and challenge yourself to start growing things year-round and crossing things permanently off your grocery list! It’s a great step towards more self-sufficiency and can provide such a sense of pride.