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Salads and Hydroponics

How to Build a Hydroponic System at Home

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Hydroponic systems are a way of growing plants without using soil or compost. They are becoming increasingly common in the agricultural industry and are used in the growing number of urban farms, but can also be incredibly useful for growing at home.

Hydroponics and Salad

What Does a Hydroponic System Look Like?

In a hydroponic system, all the nutrients that soil would provide are given to the plant through the water. It is a system commonly used in commercial glasshouses for growing salad vegetables but is also useful in growing situations where compost or soil would be too heavy or bulky, such as roof gardens and living walls.

Sometimes the roots simply dangle in an ever-moving aerated stream of water and diluted fertiliser, and sometimes an inert growing medium, such as rock wool, is used to anchor the plants.

Hydroponics and Salad

Hydroponics at Their Simplest

Many people will have had a go at growing hydroponically without even realising it. The old childhood activity of growing cress “hair” from an eggshell “head” stuffed with damp cotton wool is essentially a form of hydroponic growing.

Hydroponics and Salad

Advantages and Disadvantages of Short-Term Crops

Advantages

Hydroponics has many benefits. There is no messy compost and, especially when used in commercial environments, the nutrient balance for the plants can be adjusted to the perfect level, depending on the maturity of the crop and even the daily weather.

Once the system is in place, it also cuts down on costs. Lush growth can be quickly achieved due to the watering and feeding system. The use of artificial light means that crops can even be grown underground, which has the potential to revolutionise urban food supplies.

Disadvantages

Disadvantages include the environmental cost of the growing media, many of which are not biodegradable, and the initial capital outlay. The average home isn’t going to be able to convert a room into a greenhouse using LED lights, heating fans, water circulation and feeding pipes just to grow a bit of salad for dinner! However, many small-scale set-ups include lighting options for gloomier kitchens. These off-the-shelf products are ideal for a windowsill or desk space and come with full instructions.

Hydroponics and Salad

Creating a DIY Hydroponic System

Have a go at creating a home system using a bit of DIY.

The plants will need a container (such as a length of guttering that is higher at one end than the other).

They will also need a substrate (rock wool, perlite or similar) for their roots.

Water and diluted fertiliser can be poured into the guttering and allowed to flow down and out. A more complex system could collect the run-off in a tank and pump it back to the top.

You can find books on the specifics of hydroponic growing to help you, or seek out further guidance online. Recommended books include “Ditch the Dirt: How to Grow Beautiful, Edible, Hydroponic Plants at Home” by Rob Laing (Dovetail March 2018). Online websites include www.ikea.com, www.seedpantry.co.uk and www.homehydrosystems.com.

Hydroponics and Salad

What to Plant

For growing some salad leaves, such as lettuce, rocket, mizuna and mibuna, hydroponic systems are a fun experiment. If there is sufficient space, they can also be used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, peppers, annual herbs and wheatgrass.

Lettuce

Greenhouse lettuce can quickly be grown in a hydroponic system, using a mineral and nutrient mixture to feed the plants. The most commonly used method is that of the nutrient film technique. This is a closed system, which means that any surplus nutrient solution is recovered after use, ready to be recycled.

Hydroponics and Salads

Rocket

This popular green salad crop is also known as arugula, and both the perennial and annual varieties are suitable for a hydroponic system. They are highly productive plants and can be harvested weekly to encourage further growth. Rocket has a lower light requirement than other salad vegetables, making it ideal for a tired hydroponic system.

Hydroponics and Salad

Mizuna

This Japanese mustard plant is often found in commercial salad leaf mixes but is incredibly easy to grow at home. Being a small, compact plant makes it suitable for those with limited space, and it will sit happily alongside other salad crops, using the same nutrient formula as that of lettuce or rocket.

Hydroponics and Salad

Mibuna

Mibuna is very similar to mizuna but has a more intense mustard flavour, and different shaped leaves. It is easy to grow and continues to thrive, even when neglected. The plant can endure extreme cold but doesn’t tolerate heat particularly well. It is ready for harvesting in as little as three weeks, and the leaves can be hand-picked or cut with scissors.

Hydroponics and Salad

Tomatoes

Although it is possible to grow tomatoes using a hydroponic system, it is more expensive than the conventional method. They require a material which is strong enough to support their roots, such as rock wool, coconut coir or perlite. The material should be soaked before adding the seeds and placed under artificial light.

Hydroponics and Salad

Cucumbers

The favourite salad vegetable, the cucumber, positively thrives when grown in a hydroponic system. They require only moisture, nutrients and warmth for a rapid growth rate, with the hybrid varieties being the most successful, as they are resistant to disease. As a vine plant, they are ideal for vertical hydroponic systems.

Hydroponics and Salad

Chillies

Hydroponics is the fastest way of growing chillies, and you can get a high yield in a relatively small space. They work well in a static solution system, where the nutrient solution is aerated by the use of pumps and is changed once per week. For a more extensive set-up, with more plants, a continuous flow system can be used.

Peppers

Green peppers typically grow the best using a hydroponics system, but you need to be careful to ensure the plants are not too close to the artificial lights, as they burn quickly. Care should also be taken with the temperature too, as extreme heat may cause the flowers to drop, thus not producing any peppers.

Which salad items do your family enjoy? Why not take this exciting opportunity to grow your own using this simple hydroponic system?

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16 thoughts on “How to Build a Hydroponic System at Home”

  1. I think that agriculture in the traditional sense is in danger. And we need to look for alternatives and the hydroponic system is one of them. This system has been used also in Singapore. As an island, the land to cultivate is limited. They had to  find another way to produce vegetables.

    I think this system is good for small scale farming.

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • Hi – I appreciate you leaving comments after reading my article. Hydroponic growing is definitely the way forward in my opinion. All the best, Diane.

      Reply
  2. Hi

    Thank you very much for that information on hydroponics, a field of gardening which I am interested in. I know for a fact that in America it is more of a thing than here in the UK.  

    The biggest problem is that homes in the UK are generally smaller and therefore do not have enough room in order to grow Veg in. The problem of the extra expense compared to buying your own Veg is another factor. Lettuce is cheap to buy compared to all the capital and running costs. 

    I personally think in the UK it is more of a commercial enterprise, rather than a  home grow. I personally believe you could get the same or more yield by using raised bed 

    I really enjoyed the article.

    Thank you

    Antonio

    Reply
    • Hi Antonio – thanks for reading and adding comments. I hope you found something of value in my article. All the best, Diane.

      Reply
  3. Having the space to grow my own salad at home would be great. I love the idea of seen things growing around, I have some ornamentals container plants at home as part of the leaving room and terrace decoration. There are some people doing this as a business (If I could get 2 plates of salad on a daily basis in a sustainable way that would be a dream come true for me).

    Lettuces and cucumber would be my favorite 2. Thanks for a great idea for my family Summer project this year!

    Reply
    • Hi – thank you for visiting my site and commenting on my article. I am pleased I have given you some ideas for a project. All the best, Diane

      Reply
  4. I love the idea of growing salads without any messy mud and the like. I didn’t realise I have already been there and done that more than once! I did the cress thing when I was a kid, and now my kids take turns in bringing home cress! Are there fewer insects when you grow vegetables with a hydroponic system? 

    Reply
    • Hi – thank you for visiting my website and reading my article. Even with a hydroponic system, you can still get some pesky insects. For example, aphids, whiteflies and spider mites. However, these are easily dealt with by using sticky traps or natural solutions. All the best, Diane

      Reply
  5. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time. The truth that I always wanted to plant especially chili. And peppers too. What excites me most about this system is that the benefits of this type of crop include more efficient use of water and fertilizers and less space, among many others.

    The hydroponic culture uses 90% less water. Hydroponic gardens conserve water, by directing dissolved nutrients directly to the roots and recycling it through a source system. I understand that an edible plant that can use up to 70 gallons of water, in a hydroponic system only uses about 3 gallons.

    And this is really very important for me to take care of our resource …

    It also looks very cool:) …
    regards
    Pablo

    Reply
    • Hi Pablo – thank you for your interesting comments. I do hope you have a go at using a hydroponic system, and as you say, it helps take care of precious resources. All the best, Diane

      Reply
  6. Many thanks to you for sharing a wonderful article with us .At present, I think farming has suffered a lot .The alternative to this is to look for something and the hydroponic system is one of them .It is currently being used in Singapore and the United States .Space is limited and it is much more conducive to growing vegetables .The yield is much higher through this system .

    I read this article a lot and this system is really great for salad vegetables .

    Reply
    • Hi – thank you for reading my article and leaving a comment. I agree that hydroponics is the way forward, and the increased yield is undoubtedly a bonus. All the best, Diane

      Reply
  7. I would love to start growing my own hydroponic plants and turned them into my lunch salad. Lettuce and bell peppers are my favorite and I’m surprised they can actually be grown indoors without soil. I live in an apartment that has a small balcony. How much minimal space do I need to start growing these two plants? Thank you for your input.

    Reply
    • Hi – thank you for visiting my site and leaving a question. You will be surprised to learn that you require very little space to grow your own lettuce and peppers, as the seeds can be sown at just one inch apart. I hope you give it a try and enjoy year-round fresh salad vegetables. All the best, Diane

      Reply
  8. Hello there, thank you for taking out your time to share this article on hydroponic system of salads. I am totally dazed at this because I have not seen this before; where plants are grown without soil. I would love to see this whole process live but I’m wondering what it’d cost to do some experiments on this. Can you enlighten me?

    Reply
    • Hi – thank you for checking out my site. I am pleased you have learned something new. The cost of setting up a full hydroponic system will actually vary, depending on what country you are in. Here in the UK, it would be around £200. All the best, Diane

      Reply

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