Food, Sustainable Living, Urban Farming

Hydroponic Gardening with Aeroponics: A Beginner’s Tale

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Hydroponic gardening has become my latest obsession!  I have discovered a whole new world of growing food and I am excited for the ability to do this year round in WI!  This fuels my passions for healthy eating, learning about something new and sustainable living.  I’ve started journaling my story and plan to share this exciting curvy road of trial and error based on information I’ve gathered along the way.

My Story

I have been a traditional hobby gardener for at least 10 years.  My system of choice has always been square foot gardening using raised beds. This year, I have felt especially compelled to grow my own food successfully abundant and spent a great deal of time concocting the best garden soil and selecting the best organic vegetables.  I planted mostly from seed with the exception of some beautiful tomato plants from one of my favorite up north family greenhouses, Wildwood Greenhouse, in White Lake, WI.

My veggies came up beautifully. However, I wasn’t the only one excited about it.  Despite my surrounding fence, the neighborhood bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks and birds loved it too.  My father-n-law and I fought back with more fencing, loads of bird netting, smelly deterrent and even a plastic owl.  This definitely helped defeat the critters.  I, on the other hand, was left with a garden that is difficult to access and sort of, well, ugly.

During some online searches for garden inspiration, I came across a passionate local young man, Ben from Art Garden, who is growing his food hydroponically, without soil, in his own backyard.  He developed a system that maximized his limited space as a renter. His system is a vertical version of hydroponics, called aeroponics.  I became engrossed in his plethora of you tube videos.  His excitement lit me like wildfire and I couldn’t get enough information about aeroponics.  I quickly learned that this hydroponic form of gardening is an option for growing food indoors or outdoors year round, even in our cold WI climate.

The possibilities in my entrepreneurial mind became endless.  I dreamt of not only my own personal greenhouse but also a viable business offering farm to table food for local restaurants, grocery stores, schools and pantries.  After multiple library trips, searches online, and constant chatter with my husband, I decided to simply get started on a small scale in my own home.

Aeroponics:  Vertical Hydroponic Gardening

I purchased an AERO mobile garden aeroponic system and put it together on my porch.  I gathered my supplies, tested and lowered the pH of my tap water from 8.1 to 5.5 with my pH Up/Down kit, made my nutrient concentration and hooked up my Tork timer.

1st Trial with Hydroponic Gardening

1.  Select Seeds

I decided to start my first crop using Johnny’s Selected Seeds I received with my AERO mobile garden.  I planted Gourmet Lettuce Mix, Basil, Parsley and Arugula.  

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

2.  Grow Seedlings

  • Germination: I soaked the rock wool (that came with my kit) in tap water for 15 minutes.  I then planted 2 seeds in each rock wool cube.  I covered them with press-n-seal and placed them on a heat mat under a cabinet away from light.
  • Seedling Care: 1st seedling appeared above the rock wool in 3 days.  I removed the press-n-seal and placed the tray in an east facing window, as this was the sunniest place in my house. I poured water (ph 5.5) under the rock wool and misted the same water on the top daily. About 3 times per week, I placed the seedlings outside in the sun for about 10-12 hours per day.  I did this only on the days that were below 90 degrees and not too windy.
LESSON LEARNED .    18 days later…I was worried.  My seedlings looked sad and not anything like the images I repeatedly saw.  I couldn’t stop reading everything I could get my hands on.  I quickly learned that I didn’t have enough light.  I purchased a T5 grow light and stand.  I bathed my seedlings in this light for 18 hours/day.  My seedlings were much happier.  They started to grow thicker stems and stand upright.  The basil and lettuce looked the strongest.  My parsley started to peek through when the lights were added. Unfortunately, the arugula never made it.

 

Bathed in T5 Grow Lights

3.  Transplant to AERO Mobile Garden

My seedlings appeared healthy enough to transplant to my Aero tower! It was 4 weeks since I first planted them and I was getting anxious. Unfortunately, the arugula didn’t make it.

4.  Watch Them GROW

16 days of growth in the tower!  I tested the pH of the water and lowered the pH with my General Hydroponics pH control kit from 6.3 back to 5.5.  

23 days of growth in the tower. Got my 1st taste. Delicious!

5.  Harvest after 4 Weeks (29 days) in Tower

LESSONS LEARNED .    1. Seedlings need light to grow. Natural light from windowsill may not be enough. T5 grow lights make a HUGE difference. 2. Not all seeds germinate at the same rate. Consider separating them in different trays when germinating in order to place them under the grow lights only after they have sprouted. 3. Separate rock wool cubes and/or leave space around them to water around them easier. 4. Plan an easy way to shelter your young plants during a storm.

6.  EAT and SHARE your produce!

My greens are so fresh and delicious!  I absolutely loved the experience of watching these seedlings transform so quickly without nearly as much effort as traditional gardening.  It is very exciting for me to share this information and this amazing crop with friends and family.  I can’t wait to see this packaged in stores, sold in farmer’s markets, served at a restaurant and in the hands of children at our schools!  

If you are interested in my greens, PLEASE comment below.  I’d love to provide food for you and I am looking for ways to establish a business with this.

Here is a timeline version of this post. Basically, a simplified version to view. Enjoy!