Beat Those Winter Blues with Hydroponics

Year-round hydroponic planting can have you thinking of sunshine on cold and dark days.

Year-round hydroponic planting can have you thinking of sunshine on cold and dark days

Picture yourself eating ripe strawberries in January, inhaling the scent of fresh herbs on a wet and chilly day or picking fresh-cut flowers all winter long. If you live in an urban area with limited space or poor soil, have dreamed of growing veggies year-round, live in a cold zone or are simply looking for a way to beat the winter blues, hydroponics might just be what you are looking for.

Crash course

Simply put, hydroponics is the growth of plants without soil. Plants grow in a soil-less medium such as shale rock, sawdust, sand or clay pebbles. The medium is then filled with a nutrient solution made up of water and fertilizer. Instead of using soil as its lifeline, all the plants’ nutritional needs are found in the solution. The job of the medium is to anchor the plants and provide a surface to which the roots can attach themselves. With the correct amount of light, the ideal temperature and just the right nutrients it is possible to have a successful hydroponics garden.

There is more to hydroponics than just tomatoes

Almost everything you grow outside in your garden you can grow inside using the hydroponics method. Herbs, houseplants and flowers all thrive in controlled soil-less environments – thirsty plants like roses are especially suited for hydroponics gardening. Though all have different needs, give daisies, orchids, bonsai trees and cacti a try as well. From lettuce to cucumbers and peppers to snow peas, hydroponics has proven to be the garden of the future. But there is more to hydroponics than you might think.

Ditch the dirt

Once you realize the advantages of hydroponics gardening you may want to introduce all your plants to the world of soil-free living. Though it may seem a bit scary at first, transplanting a houseplant to a soil-less medium is not as difficult as you might think. Whether it is an African violet, a fern or a begonia the process is the same. The first step is to carefully remove the plant from its pot without damaging the roots. Next, wash the roots thoroughly – all remnants of its past life in the dirt must be gone. Again, be careful not to tear the roots. The plant and its squeaky-clean roots should be placed in a culture pot (the one that contains the plant’s roots) and supported by clay pebbles. Place the culture pot in a decorative container and add water. To check the depth, insert a wooden-spoon handle to see how high up the moisture goes on the handle. There should be at least 5 cm (2 in.) of water. Wait two weeks before adding nutrients to the water. Be prepared to give your houseplants a little extra TLC as they adjust to their new environment. It is important to look into the water requirements of your specific plant. Some plants prefer more water than others and too much water for any plant can cause suffocation. Check with a hydroponics professional, borrow a book from the library or hit one of the many websites dedicated to soil-less gardening to get more information. When transplanting, think space over species. Virtually any type of houseplant can be grown through hydroponics, but you may not have the space to accommodate. Make sure you anticipate your plants’ fast growth and avoid the canopy effect.

Think spring in winter

Before you plant your outdoor spring garden, consider getting a head start on your seedlings. With a hydroponic setup and an indoor lighting system you can plant your seeds a month early. Watch your seeds grow and wait until after the last projected frost date to transplant as usual, and enjoy an extra month of gardening. The first thing to do is insert your seed into a peat puck or rockwool cube that has been soaked in a nutrient solution. A standard nursery tray and a humidity dome provide a perfect environment for seedlings to grow. Supplement growth with a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as liquid seaweed to maximize results. Once the roots begin to poke through the bottom of the cube your seedlings will be ready to transplant into their permanent home. Not only will you be enjoying an extended gardening season outdoors, but starting with hydroponics will ensure your plants are healthy and strong. The light that a seedling receives with hydroponics promotes sturdy stems and overall growth throughout the plant’s life. A healthy and stress-free start also increases a plant’s ability to fight off predation and disease.

Add flavour to your life

Stimulate your senses and add a touch of green to your kitchen with a hydroponics herb garden full of basil, rosemary and mint. With a simple tank and pump system you can grow your favourite fresh herb no matter what the season. This method of hydroponics uses a pump to rush the nutrient solution to the root system. Locate your garden near the stove for easy access when adding zest to your winter soups and chilis. Expect your herbs to grow 40 to 50 per cent faster than those grown in soil.

Fastest-growing gardening trend

Think about it: no mess, no weeds, no pests, no fertilizers and no repotting of plants as they grow. Hydroponics does more than benefit the gardener; it benefits the plant as well. With soil-less gardening, your plants will be greener, grow faster, develop stronger roots and avoid the effects of disease and insects. Don’t forget that a hydroponics garden can be automated. This means less time is spent maintaining plant growth requirements and it provides flexibility to the gardener who may be gone for long periods of time. Cleaning your hydroponics system is easy, too. Every six months you will want to remove the plant from its culture pot and rinse the clay pebbles with lukewarm water. Once the pebbles have been flushed, simply place them back in the container and add fresh nutritional solution. Hydroponics is becoming the fastest-growing gardening trend – and it’s easy to see why. So, think spring this winter – and beat those winter blues. Laura Kloet is a freelance writer living in Tsawwassen. She has just moved into her first home and looks forward to gardening indoors and out.