How to Grow Food at Home Using Hydroponics

The best way to make sure you can put food on the table is to grow it yourself. While grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and co-ops generally run well, during something like a pandemic, things can get off schedule. One disruption to our delicately balanced supply chain system can significantly alter the availability of any number of products.

Is growing your own food worth it?

From Ikea, to Home Depot, to Wayfair, you can find hydroponic growing kits just about everywhere, but why grow your own food? Have you looked for toilet paper lately? And let’s be honest, that’s an essential item that is still being produced at the same rates. It only took one tweak in the supply chain, an increase in demand, to make it impossible to find.

When it comes to our produce, most are either imported or rely on migrant workers for harvest. Large portions of those harvests go to restaurants, resorts, and cruise ships. Both ends of the supply chain are ripe for disruption. If farmers can’t find healthy workers or can’t sell their product, they lose the capital needed to plant again. No seeds in the ground means no bountiful harvest next season.

Gardening yourself eliminates a majority of the supply chain. In a hydroponic growing system, you really only need seeds and fertilizers to get by and eventually, you can have your own supply of seeds. Even if you’ve never grown anything since that bean plant in kindergarten, hydroponics offers an easy way to create a system for supplementing your trips to the farmer’s market with something fresh, right in your own backyard. This has tremendous advantages, as your produce is:

  • Clean – If you want it to be, your produce can be free of all pesticides, waxes, or other preservatives you may find on grocery store produce.
  • Cost-Effective – After setup, the maintenance costs on a good hydroponic system can be rather low. Fertilizer would be your biggest expense, but after that, you only need some electricity for a pump, some fresh water and possibly a light source.
  • Available – Your food is yours, and yours alone. You don’t depend on anyone else to pick it, clean it, deliver it to a store, display it, and sell it. You walk out back and cut it off the vine when you’re ready to eat it.
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Value of Fresh Vegetables

Mom always told you to eat your vegetables, they’re full of vitamins and nutrients that will keep you healthy, and she was right. Even if you’re not a huge fan of vegetables, when your health is at stake, what goes into your body should be a primary concern. While social distancing may do a good job of keeping the virus away from you, creating a healthy immune system will help protect you, should you come into contact with it. Plus, social distancing won’t last forever, eventually, you’ll need that immune system, even if it’s just to thwart off the common cold.

Choose My Plate, a US Government initiative reviews the most critical vitamins and nutrients in a variety of foods. Some of the best vegetables for your immune system are easily grown hydroponically. Some of the best hydroponic vegetables are dark leafy greens, bell peppers, and broccoli. Even in less chaotic times, having fresh vegetables on your plate is important, but now that your immune system is your warrior, it’s time to feed it right.

Did you know that fresh vegetables are the most healthy, provide the most vitamins, and often taste the best? When you’re equipping that immune system, get the most bang for your buck by eating the freshest things you can find. Most produce loses 30% in just 3 days after harvest. The University of California showed that spinach can lose up to 90% of its vitamin C in just 24 hours. By eliminating the harvesting, washing, transporting and selling of what you put into your body, you’ll only help yourself.

grow food hydroponically
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Why grow food hydroponically?

We’ve established that vegetables are important to your immune system and that how quickly you eat them after harvest is important, but why grow hydroponically? Hydroponics offers versatility, ease of use, flexibility and is environmentally friendly.

Versatile – Because hydroponic vegetables don’t require soil and use less water, they can be set up just about anywhere. You don’t need 800 sq ft of garden space to feed your family. A few towers can be set up in a small apartment, near a sunny window. A larger system can be set up in an empty bedroom or shed. You can even set up outside, in a space too small or rocky for an in-ground garden. You don’t need acres of land or complex setups. You need some time to get started and a good plan.

Easy to Use – Once you set up your hydroponic system, it can be tweaked without much effort. Adding water cycles, nutrients, or increasing light periods are quick adjustments to be made. There are various online communities and resources available to help you succeed.

Flexible – With hydroponics, you can grow either indoors or outdoors. With some pre-fab systems, you can even move your system from inside to outside. If you choose to grow in an indoor or controlled environment (like a greenhouse), you can grow crops no matter the season. So if you love fresh butter lettuce, you can have it, even in the middle of winter.

Environmentally friendly – Hydroponics use less water, fertilizers, and pesticides than conventional farming. The only increase you may see is in the electricity needed for your lights or pump.

Oh and hydroponically grown plants grow faster and have a higher harvest yield. They are also more flavorful and have more nutrients.

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So how do you get started growing hydroponically?

The simplest, though not the most economical way, is to order a setup from an online retailer. These products can be shipped to your door with little human interaction. If you are up for a trip to your local hardware store, there are several, far cheaper options that you can build.

Evaluate your space: Are you growing indoors? Do you have room for many plant holders, or only a few? Do you need to maximize your space through a stackable system or do you want something on a single level, that perhaps children can reach in order to participate? If you’re growing outdoors, do you have adequate sun?

Evaluate your skill level: If you are handy with tools and know how to work with water systems, then try the DIY route. If you find yourself beyond frustrated trying to put that Ikea bookshelf together, maybe stick with a pre-fab system.

Do your research: The hydroponics community is an amazing one. There are so many resources to help you succeed. Everything from ultimate guides on getting started, to DIY tips, to forums where you can get direct help from others just like you.

The great thing about hydroponic systems is that most of the work is at the beginning. Getting started, building your system, and setting it up to run properly are where most efforts are devoted. Once the system is set up, it takes very little daily maintenance to keep a good system going.

One day, when this pandemic has run its course, we’ll return to some form of a normal routine. When work and social lives become regular occurrences again, you’ll have the labor-intensive tasks complete and can continue to enjoy fresh produce.

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Choosing what to grow and how much

Choosing what to grow and how much can be a challenge. Take some time to think about it before rushing off to plant. The absolute first thing you must think of is what you will actually enjoy eating. Planting 10 chard seeds, because they are hardy and continually produce is of no value if you absolutely hate chard. A majority of your plants should be things you eat regularly. If you have plenty of room, then grow a few plants to expand your palate, but don’t go overboard.

Next, look at what will grow best in the space provided. If you’re growing in perlite, it might be best to avoid root vegetables. If you’re growing outside in summer, maybe steer away from lettuce. The best plants to grow using hydroponics inside your home include lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, and bok choy.

As for how much to grow, here is where hydroponics really shine. In order to feed a family of 4, it’s recommended to allot 800 sq. ft. of space. That may be a hefty chunk of your land. Having a prefab tower system consolidates 25 – 30 plants into just 10 sq. ft. of space. If your goal is to grow between 50-60 plants per member of your household, you may only need 80 sq. ft., plus room to breathe, to feed that same family of 4. That is far more easily accomplished, whether it be indoors, in the suburbs, or even in the city on a porch or patio.

You also need to consider how much food you want to grow, in terms of the percentage of your diet. If you are vegan and willing to only eat what you grow, you’ll probably want to go a bit heavier on the plant total and focus on beans and other plant-based proteins. If you’re just looking to supplement weekly trips to the produce section, then you’ll not need as much. It’s better to overplant, to plan for potential losses, and then have extra to share at the end of the day.

Throughout our history, Americans have turned to gardening during times of crisis. Not only is growing your own food healthier and more economical, but it can also provide a sense of accomplishment and an escape from the stress of surviving a pandemic.

While we aren’t growing the ‘Victory Gardens’ of our grandparents in WW2, we are still providing for ourselves in a healthy, economical, and self-sufficient manner. While our battle may not be with another nation, there is still a fight today. The best way you can defend yourself might just be putting healthy, nutritious food into your body. What better way to do that than through your own hydroponic garden?