Hydroponics began when
scientists isolated and studied the six requirements for plant growth:
temperature, light, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and mineral nutrients. Their
goal was to determine the optimum amounts of each of these factors for a
specific plant -- an impossibility in soil outdoors. The surprise came
when the scientists got all the growth requirements just right. Gardeners who
witnessed the astounding growth under these conditions were early converts to
hydroponic gardening. Other advantages include no heavy soil to dig, no weeds
to pull, and no soil pests and diseases to overcome.
Supplies for Hydroponic
2 pans (such as plastic
wash basins) that fit into each other (the bottom of the upper pan should clear
the bottom of the lower pan by at least 2 inches when the two are fitted
Six 6-inch strips of cloth
about 1-inch wide (use polyester; it won't rot)
water-soluble houseplant fertilizer (such as Peter's House Plant Special
Vermiculite or any other
sterile growing medium
Several sturdy herb
plants, such as parsley, chives, rosemary, sage, and thyme
Creating Your Hydroponic
Drill six 1/2-inch
drainage holes in the bottom of the smaller (upper) pan.
Draw the lengths of fabric
through the holes, leaving them half in and half out, to act as wicks for
carrying the nutrient-growing solution to your herbs.
Fill the same pan with a
sterile growing medium such as vermiculite, sand, pebbles, gravel, or sphagnum
moss. Cover the all-important wicks with the growing medium.
Mix 2 quarts of the
houseplant fertilizer according to instructions on the label.
Nest the filled, upper pan
in the lower one, and pour the solution through the growing medium. The liquid
will drip through the holes into the bottom pan. Be sure that only the wicks
hang in the liquid, not the bottom of the upper pan. You've now created
the life-support system that will carry food to the roots of the herbs.
Wash all soil from your herb
plant roots by gently tapping each root ball and soaking it. This step is
important. It is best to wash the roots in a bucket so as not to clog your
household drains. (Pour the muddy water onto your nearest drought-stricken
shrub.) As soon as your growing medium is thoroughly dampened, gently tuck the
herbs into the upper basin. Because of the intensive feeding process, the herbs
can be crowded together to grow twice the number of plants usually possible in
the same amount of space.
All you need to do for your
easy-care water garden is to pour fresh fertilizer solution (always mixed with
tepid tap water) through the growing medium every week, or as often as needed
to keep an inch or two in the bottom pan. The fertilizer provides the oxygen
essential to plants that are accustomed to life in soil. The wicks keep a
supply of oxygen flowing to your herbs, causing them to grow at an amazing
Herbs thrive in a cool,
energy-wise home, but if your home is hot and dry, humidity will need to be
provided. Because misting helps a lot, keep a filled mister handy to supply
moisture daily, but be careful, some herbs don't like to get their leaves wet.
Also, frequently check the water level in the bottom pan. I also advise
scratching the surface of the medium occasionally to allow air to reach the
roots and to discourage fertilizer salt buildup. In fact, you might even poke a
dowel through the drainage holes to supply more oxygen to the roots.
Place your hydroponic garden on
your sunniest (southern) windowsill. Or you can assure their success in the
most unlikely locations by growing them under lights. Use fluorescent
horticultural lights, or insert a grow-light bulb in any regular lamp fixture.
The light source should be less than a foot above the plants. You may
eventually want to put the lights on an automatic timer so that the unit turns
on in the morning and off at night, 12 hours later. The cost of the electricity
is negligible, and the rewards justify the expense. A great place for a water
garden is right under your kitchen cabinets. Highly decorative, the lights will
brighten your darkest space, while growing fragrant, flavorful bouquet garnis
for the cook's delight. Under hydroculture, the herbs will grow fast, so keep
them trimmed and enjoy your handy harvest!
Harvest herbs regularly as soon
as they have enough leaves that their growth won't be set back by picking.
Pinch off any flowers that form on mint or basil to keep the plants vegetative.
Prune back any woody stems that develop, especially on basil.
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