Those with a green thumb who live in a condo or apartment building (or are just running low on yard space!) might want to think about growing their herbs hydroponically. Hydroponic gardening has taken off in recent years due to an influx of environmentally conscious city dwellers who are short on space but big on veggie love.
Hydroponic indoor gardening was popularized by recent NASA research, and has been touted as an alternative to soil gardening that humans might be able to utilize in space. As its name suggest, the process involves nurturing plants with nutrient-rich water, a soil-less space for rooting and a bit of sunlight. Hydroponic gardening is especially conducive to growing herbs and small vegetables, but you can grow anything from tomatoes to watermelon with the right equipment.
To begin your hydroponic journey, try constructing a window-mounted system. You’ll need:
- One wooden or metal rod, the length of your window
- Plastic water bottles (about 6-7 per rod)
- Pebbles, cork or other roofing material (you can even use tissue paper)
- 10-foot plastic tube (preferably about ¼ inch in diameter)
- Water pump, preferably equipped with a timer (you can often find these at pet or aquarium stores)
- Hydroponic nutrients (find these at any gardening or hydroponics store)
- Large water basin (a Culligan water container would work perfectly)
- Small seed dishes about the same diameter as your water bottles
- Duct tape
- Twine or thin rope
1. To begin, cut a small hole in the bottom of each water bottle (the hole should be just large enough that another water bottle’s mouth opening can fit inside).
2. Cut a circle-shaped hole in the front center of each bottle.
3. Stack the bottles on top of one another with the rim of the bottom bottle fitting into the hole on the bottom of the top bottle. The circle cut-outs in the center of the bottles should be facing you. Secure them together with duct tape so that they all firmly fit together, then adhere them to the rod for support.
4. Place seed dishes filled with water rooting material you’ve chosen inside of each water bottle via the circle-cut opening you created. Your seeds can then be placed in the center of each dish on top of the rooting material.
6. Use twine or thin rope to hang your structure from the top of your window; adjust the structure so that natural light falls on each seed dish.
7. Fill your large water basin with distilled water, and place it on the floor below the structure. Place one end of your water tube in the structure, and feed the other end through the top opening of your top water bottle (the goal here is for the tube to carry water from your basin to the top water bottle container – the water will then trickle down through each respective water bottle).
8. Place your timed water pump into the water basin, and set it to run every 5-8 minutes (this will vary based upon the time of day and your chosen seeds). Now, add your hydroponic nutrients to the water (based on specified ratios) and you’re all set!
Hydroponic gardening tips:
1. Don’t be afraid to play around to discover what works for you. The amount of sunlight streaming through your window, the temperature outside and the type of seeds you’ve chosen will all dictate the specifics of your experiment.
2. Generally, plants need more water during the hot, sunny midday hours than they do at night. To conserve energy and avoid watering your plants, adjust your timer accordingly.
3. Herbs are the best plants to start off with. If you’re new to hydroponic gardening, start with easy herbs and work your way up.
4. Change your water each week to give your plants fresh nutrients and avoid unpleasant odors.
5. Give it time – it’s likely that you’ll give this experiment a few gos before you get the process down. That’s OK – it will be worth it when you have an eco-friendly and space-saving method of growing food in your apartment!
6. Join a forum or community. There are plenty of interested gardeners looking to connect with and get advice from others. Join an online community, frequent your local urban gardening store or reach out to like-minded individuals are your local farmers market.