So if you are new to the world of growing hydroponically or just muddling your way through, hello! I’m Kiri and I love me some indoor gardening! Living in Ontario, Canada I have a relatively short growing season, so an indoor hydroponic system was the perfect solution to my need to garden year-round. Hydroponics are for growing way more than just weed!
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It’s also a great way to involve kids or even just to dip your toes into the wonderful world of growing your own food. There is something really satisfying about preparing a meal full of food that you grew yourself! But like anything that can be pitfalls that will be encountered along the way. So I wanted to share my top 6 suggestions for growing indoors with a hydroponic system. That way you will be set up for success and can tell the world about your food growing prowess! I even grew charentais melons in the basement in the middle of winter using one of my hydroponic systems (video here).
Why grow hydroponically?
Control my friends, if you have even the slightest control freak tendencies then you’ll LOVE this method of gardening! In theory, you will be able to make sure that your plants get the perfect amount of water, nutrients and light, you’re basically spoon-feeding them everything they need without them extending much effort. Which can lead to the maximum yields possible. Did I also mention hydroponic plants grow hella fast? No? Well, they do, up to 2 times faster than in soil! As if that wasn’t enough you are going to deal with virtually ZERO pests!
Now, as with anything there is rarely a silver bullet. Notice I said “In theory” and “virtually”? So while growing hydroponically can create the perfect environment for growing, especially for newbies or those who don’t have much (or any) outdoor space, things can still go wrong. As far as pests go, the chance of pests in greatly reduced, but there is still the chance of you encountering whitefly, aphids and fungus gnats. Even worse, if this happens they are in your HOUSE!
Personally, I love using indoor and outdoor growing to increase my yields and allow me to grow food year-round! Which as a micro homesteader is a HUGE bonus! Anything I can do to make myself a little more self-sufficient and reduce my trips to the grocery store is a big win in my books. So let’s take a look at some of the complete hydroponic systems you can buy and also touch on some DIY options.
Ok, so Rise Gardens is my new favourite indoor hydroponic system. I stumbled upon this new kid on the block quite recently and quickly fell head over heels in love with them. Why? Well, they put such emphasis on plant science and seem to work in a very agile methodology, with continual improvements coming out all the time! I currently have a Personal Rise Garden and plan to add one of their 3-tier Family Rise Gardens in the very near future.
Their app is top-notch and far superior to the Aerogarden one. Also, from an aesthetic perspective the systems are just so damn pretty! But before I get too gushy and girly, these systems are functional too. The fact that you can buy a small family garden and add on new levels is awesome. Their focus on water testing for plant health was also eye-opening for me. While I have been growing hydroponically for a few years it was only once I stumbled on Rise Gardens that I really learned about the importance of testing the water in your hydroponic systems. I’m seriously embarrassed saying that, but hey, I learnt something so another win, right?
So, this has to be the granddaddy of indoor hydroponic systems, I mean I would wager that most people have heard of Aerogarden, owned one at some point or know somebody that has. There are loads of models and I go into more detail on them in this post about some Aerogarden tips for beginners. Personally, I love my Aerogarden Farm Plus, but if I could go back in time I would have bought the Farm Plus XL model to take advantage of the highest grow height (3 feet).
This is the newest indoor hydroponic system (to me) that I only just found out about last week. I love the fact that the company, Just Vertical, is Canadian and comes out of my old university, U of T. It’s another pretty one to look at and I am currently doing my own research on them and the system. It’s definitely one I would think about adding to my growing collection. I don’t have a picture as I mentioned above that I don’t own it yet and I’m not about to steal pictures off the internet. So you’ll just have to Google it and see for yourself!
Another option is to build your own system. This is something I would like to do this year and house it in a small grow tent in my basement. I myself and planning on trying to build a PVC unit. I have listed three options for a DIY indoor hydroponic system below in order of difficulty (as per me). I plan on delving into all three in the future so stay tuned for more info on that! Until then, you will be able to find loads of ideas on all three on Pinterest.
- Kratky jars
- Tote system
- PVC system
So without further ado, let’s look at the 6 Tips to grow amazing hydroponic plants, even if you’re a total newb.
Tip 1 – Air circulation
Air circulation? Doesn’t the air circulate on its own? Well I mean yes it does, but the plants in a lot of these hydroponic systems can get kinda crowded (see Tip 3 below) so a fan can help to increase the air circulation and help with transpiration, CO2 uptake and even help to build stronger stems. There are loads of little fans that you can use, I’ve got my eye on this little gem.
Tip 2 – Water quality
As I mentioned above, this was something I just learned about recently. I mean I knew that you want clean water. What I didn’t know was the full importance of water testing when using an indoor hydroponic system. It was actually my Rise Garden that introduced me to this as it is built right into their app. On top of that, they have three different nutrients (compared to Aerogarden’s one) AND a pH balance as well! So I now know about the importance of EC, PPM, pH levels and temperature of the water in my systems. I picked up these great (and cost-effective) EC and pH meters, that I now use weekly! I will be doing a future blog post and YouTube video where I will go in-depth on how to test the water in your indoor hydroponic system. So stay tuned for that too.
Tip 3 – Pruning
One of the main limits in most indoor hydroponic systems is height. So this makes pruning very important to make sure that you don’t end up reducing yields (and air circulation) by letting things get too crowded. Investing in a good pair of pruners is key, I love these Fiskars pruners and yes they are a bit pricey but I think they are worth it. There is also a cheaper Aerogarden pruner, but the cut from the Fiskars one is just cleaner. How do I know? Well, I have both so I am speaking from experience. But beyond getting good pruners you need to MAKE SURE THEY ARE CLEAN. Sorry, not trying to yell or anything, but dirty pruners are a prime way to introduce or spread disease amongst your plants. And we definitely don’t want that! So make sure to clean your pruners before cutting any plants and also each time you switch to running anew plant. It is easily done by just wiping the blades with isopropyl alcohol in between plants.
Tip 4 – Plant choices
As with any growing method, it is important to choose the right plants for the given situation. If you live somewhere incredibly hot don’t choose heat sensitive plants. Conversely, if you live somewhere with a short growing season don’t grow things that need a really long season. These are general rules and there are ways to work around it but you get the point. So when it comes to indoor hydroponic systems you are going to want to focus on plants that thrive in a hydroponic growing environment.
That said I love to push boundaries in what I can grow hydroponically. But when you are first starting out it is best to stick with things that are trusted to work. I will list a few examples below and if you want to learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Check out my post on 14 Things you can grow hydroponically and 10 you can’t.
So here are four that I would recommend if you are just entering the hydroponic world.
- Dwarf tomatoes
Tip 5 – Pollination
So this won’t apply to everything you grow hydroponically. Obviously any leafy greens or herbs won’t need pollination. Which is the main reason I included them in my 4 suggestions of plants to start with, above in tip #4. As to the peppers and tomatoes I included they are self-pollinating. This is the point where people will start jumping on #teamyouneedtopollinatethem and #teamyoudontneedtopollinatethem. So let me give you my option on them, having grown both for a few years (and having neglected them at times). Pepper and tomatoes will self-pollinate without you doing anything. I stand by that statement. That said, a little action on your part can help increase your yields.
There is a little Aerogarden pollinator tool that you can buy if you want to, BUT YOU DON’T NEED IT! I just want to be clear on it. I do have it, but that’s because I bought it right at the beginning before I didn’t know they were self-pollinating. If you do want to buy the tool then you can just touch the little bristles to the stem to give everything a bit of a jostle. Alternatively, you can touch the bristles to the back of each flower. If however, you would rather save your pennies for your next indoor hydroponic system or buy more seeds. My favourite place to buy seeds is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, as I only grow heirloom seeds, if you want to know why you can check out this post. Anyway, if you are saving your pennies, then you can just give the main stem of your pepper and tomato plants a gentle shake to help things along. This is the method I currently use and I’m having great results.
Tip 6 – Proper cleaning
So while I mentioned the importance of water quality above in tip #2. I wanted to talk about cleaning as its own section even though the two are related. The difficulty involved in cleaning a hydroponic system will depend on the construction of the unit. Having owned both a Rise Garden and an Aerogarden, I can easily tell you that cleaning a Rise Garden is waaaaay easier!
Why? Well, the guts of the Rise Garden are much easier to access than those of the Arogarden. Trying to pry apart, clean and put back together the top deck of any Arogarden model is capable of reducing anyone to fits of rage or a good old ugly cry. Don’t believe me? Just check out my video below, and let’s not get all judgy on the state of my Aerogarden…I know it was disgusting! But I pinkie swear that it won’t bet getting like that again any time soon.
So there you have it, my 6 Tips to grow amazing hydroponic plants, even if you’re a total newb. Let me know down in the comments below how your growing endeavours are progressing! I love chatting with other micro homesteaders.