Hydroponics System in Place

Better Farm's newly installed hydroponics kit.
A neighbor last year donated a gently used hydroponic kit to Better Farm for us to grow fresh produce in year-round. This, in addition to our existing aquaponics setup, allows students visiting the farm to learn about small-scale indoor agricultural production: a perfect application for those living in homes without outdoor garden space, or for anyone who wants fresh produce year-round. The hydroponics system is an alternative method to aquaponics, which required fish to make the plants grow.

We waited until this winter to install the hydroponics kit, as we had our hands full all spring, summer, and fall with outdoor agricultural adventures. Now with this additional growing space, we've dedicated the aquaponics tank to grow tomatoes through the winter and tasked the hydroponics tank with lettuce and other salad greens. Because the hydroponics tank runs without the use of fish, we have to artificially add organic fertilizers and growth boosters in order to nourish the plant life.

The setup:
A FluoroWing Hydrofarm compact fluorescent system:

A two-tier grow bed, "Ebb and Flow" Hydrofarm system (water tank in bottom with pump to bring water to top growing layer; another filter to bring water back down into lower tub):

 Pea gravel:

Nutritents (we are using FloraDuo from General Hydroponics):

How the system works:
Our hydroponic "garden" is based out of a 22"x22"x10" tub. The Ebb & Flow System pumps nutrient solution up from a reservoir to a controlled water-level tray. All plants are watered uniformly. To determine how much nutrient to put in the water, we referred to the easy-to-follow instructions on the FloraDuo packaging. Nutrients need to be replenished every one to two weeks, and we'd encourage regular water tests to make sure you've got the right pH and nitrogen levels to make your plants fluorish.

While we're pretty well-versed in aquaponics at this point, hydroponics is a new adventure for Better Farm. With that in mind, this first go-round will include only buttercrunch lettuce for its adaptability and hardiness. We've got our grow light set on a 12-hour cycle, and should have sprouts in the next few days. We'll post our results in a future blog.

If you or a group would be interested in attending a small workshop on how to make aquaponics or hydroponics work for you, please contact us at info@betterfarm.org or (315) 482-2536.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.