Plant Lovers’ Almanac hydroponics gardening in January

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Heather Neikirk
| Especially for the Akron Beacon Journal

Happy 2021! As we face a new year of ongoing challenges, I am thinking about how I can do differently in 2021. Some of my thoughts are inspired by a friend and colleague who chooses a word every year to focus on her life and experiences. That one word gives her a common goal to tackle challenges and gain new experiences.

I decided to take my friend’s call to find my only word. For 2021 my only word is “flexible” – be flexible, practice flexibility, accept what it means – bend, but don’t break.

My appeal to each of you: consider applying this practice to your interest in gardening and expanding your horticultural knowledge and experience in 2021. I will try to give you some ideas in my columns this year. (PS: You can also focus on one word each month if that is easier to achieve.)

My garden word for January is “hydroponics”. My goal is to learn and share as much as possible about hydroponics in January. Hydroponic systems grow plants without soil. They can be used indoors or outdoors and are a great option when you have very little or no space to grow food. This water-based growing medium allows you to grow all year round and is an excellent way to practice water conservation during production.

Getting started with a basic hydroponic system at home (or in the classroom) is relatively easy and affordable. The simplest hydroponic systems for private households belong to the category “Deep Water Culture” (DWC) for hydroponics. In this setup, plants are hung over a container full of water. The roots of the plants hang in the container where they can absorb water and nutrients. Here is a short list of the things you will need to get your system up and running: a container, water, a way to anchor the plants, plants, nutrients (food), and a light source. You can also purchase pre-built and ready-to-use DWC hydroponic systems if you want to get started right away, before you can collect your supplies.

Matching the type of plant to your hydroponic system is a very important factor in a successful harvest. When choosing the plants for your indoor system, you need to consider how much light and heat are needed and available. Plants that traditionally perform well indoors all year round in hydroponic systems include most salads, herbs, mustard, kale, and leafy vegetables (amaranth and chard). Summer outdoor hydroponic waxing is less restricted and apparently can be done with almost anything. However, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers are the most popular choices. Be sure to look for seeds (variety) and seed companies that do well in a hydroponic system.

Check out these additional expansion resources to learn more about small-scale hydroponics.

University of Minnesota Expansion – A Quick Start Guide to Small Scale Hydroponics: https://extension.umn.edu/how/small-scale-hydroponics.

University of Florida Extension Hydroponic Systems: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/broward/docs/pdfs/urban-hort/Hydroponic-Systems.pdf.

University of Tennessee Expansion – An Introduction to Small-Scale Soilless and Hydroponic Vegetable Production: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W844-A.pdf.

Purdue University Extension: https://www.purdue.edu/dffs/production-2/hydroponics/.

University of Florida – Hydroponic Systems for Urban Food Production: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/broward/urban-horticulture/hydroponic-solutions-for-urban-food-production/.

Heather Neikirk is an educator for Stark County Expansion in Agriculture and Natural Resources for Ohio State University (OSU) Expansion. OSU Extension is the outreach branch of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) with offices in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm-to-school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food horticulture, contact them at 234-348-6145 or neikirk.2@osu.edu

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