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If you haven't given hydroponic gardening a try, now is the perfect time to start. Ideal for urban gardeners and apartment dwellers, hydroponic gardens allow you to grow vegetables indoors when you don't have access to outdoor space. "Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, and instead using water with added nutrients," explains Jeff Bednar of Profound Microfarms.
Bednar says growing vegetables hydroponically, with nutrient-rich water and artificial light, often yields better results doing so outdoors. "By controlling their environment, you can give the plants exactly what they need to thrive," he explains. "Vegetables grown in hydroponic gardens grow faster and healthier, and in some cases, can be ready to harvest a week after seeding." Not sure whether or not to start your own hydroponic garden at home? We asked Bednar to break down the benefits, and any downsides, of growing veggies this way and here's what he had to say.
Pro: You can grow vegetables year-round.
Unlike an outdoor garden, hydroponic systems allow you to grow vegetables year-round inside, including herbs, fruiting plants, and leafy greens. If you're a rookie hydroponic gardener, Bednar suggests starting with leaf vegetables, like Romaine lettuce, Bibb lettuce, arugula, chard, kale, and collards, that grow quickly and require minimal maintenance. "Microgreens are another easy way to get started because they can be ready for harvest in as little as seven days from seeding," he says.
Pro: You conserve water.
Along with getting to grow vegetables year-round in your home, hydroponic gardens help conserve natural resources, including water and soil, too. Since water and nutrients are delivered directly to the plants' root systems throughout the day, you wind up using much less water than you would in an outdoor garden. "Hydroponic systems require up to 90% less water use," Bednar says. "You also don't have to worry about remembering to water your plants."
Con: You have to make sure your plants get plenty of nutrients.
Hydroponic plants essentially subsist on water, so it's crucial to provide them with added nutrients, including carbon, phosphorous, hydrogen, nitrogen, and calcium, to ensure they thrive. "For home growers, we recommend using organic nutrients derived from a compost tea or worm casting tea," he says. "You can find plenty of recipes online to make your own or buy some at your local hydroponics retailer."
Con: Your electric bill might go up a bit.
Since most vegetables grown in a traditional garden require up to six hours of natural sunlight a day, you'll need to provide your indoor hydroponic plants with 12 to 14 hours of bright artificial light to compensate—followed by 10 hours of darkness so they can metabolize. All in all, that's a long time to leave the lights on. "Most hydroponic systems require electricity, so they typically cost more than growing plants in soil," he explains.
Pro: Affordable hydroponic supplies are easy to come by.
If you don't buy a hydroponic planter with a built-in light, Bednar says there are tons of affordable indoor grow lights that will work just as well. "Bootstrap Farmer is also a great resource for hobby growers and small farmers," he adds. And when it comes to buying growing medium? "For indoor gardens, we recommend clay pellets, river rock, or organic peat moss pellets, which are also widely available online and easy to use," he says.