Hydroponics 101

The term alone sounds intimidating, but don’t let it fool you.  Growing plants hydroponically is delightfully easy and fun. Here are the basics to get you well on your way to growing a bounty of ultra-local plants and food!
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a process of growing flowers, plants and food without soil.  Instead, the roots are fed with nutrient-rich water. In some methods, the roots are suspended directly into the water. Others use a medium to support the roots, such as pebbles, rockwool or gravel. Hydroponic plants still need the same nutrients as soil-based plants to survive – air, water, food and light – it’s up to you to provide those conditions. Hydroponics is actually the Latin word for “working water”.
What are the benefits of hydroponic growing?
For starters, it allows you to grow plants throughout the winter indoors regardless of your climate.  For avid gardeners in New England, this is a huge plus. It also yields larger, more vibrant plants. And hydroponic plants generally grow much faster than their soil-based counterparts.  Also, and this is a biggie, no weeding required!
What sorts of plants can I grow?
Just about anything…fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and plants of all sizes.
What do I need to get started?
There are a variety of hydroponic methods on the market, ranging from the simple to the very complex.  At the heart of each system are some basic components: a tray or structure to hold the plants, a reservoir to hold the water, fresh water, a kit to test your water’s pH balance, a pump or fan to create air flow, supplemental lighting, a porous growing medium, nutrients and seeds.  The size of your equipment will largely be determined by what types of plants you want to grow. Herbs, for example, will take up far less room than lettuce.
What products do you recommend for a beginner?
If you want a ready-to-go kit complete with all of the tools needed, we recommend  (and carry) the Root Farm Hydroponic Garden System, paired with the Root Farm Seed Starting Kit.  These are designed to get a novice up and running, and can grow up to four plants simultaneously.  If you want to create your own DIY system, we carry a large supply of equipment, lights, mediums, nutrients, bases and filters from the highly acclaimed Roots Organics line and the Fox Farm line. Our team at Agway is always on hand to answer questions and help you gather everything you need for success!
What sort of work is required?
Once your system is set up, you’ll need to monitor it to ensure that optimum growing conditions are met.  You’ll want to make sure the water doesn’t evaporate to the point where it’s not touching the roots; that the pH and nutrient solution levels are being met; that your plants look healthy and disease free; and that any equipment, like pumps or reservoirs, are working and clean. For most, this is a wonderful labor of love.  It’s also a great way to teach children about the fundamentals of plant growing.