Any plants that will successfully root from cuttings can be placed directly into your soilless garden. Clean the leaves from the last two inches of stem, and, if possible, coat the stem with a root hormone. This procedure is not as useful with vegetables as it is with some herbs and decorative plants. Still, it is not only fun, but free, to collect a few cuttings from your friends. The possibilities are endless. For example, one good trick with tomatoes is to let a few suckers grow on a plant until they are three or four inches long, cut them off at the base and stick them deeply into your growing medium. That way, you'll have more tomato plants.
Although seeds can be placed closer together in hydroponics than they can in soil, don't forget that different plants require different amounts of room to spread their leaves and fruit. In the next chapters we will look at specific plant varieties and discuss the amount of room each requires in a hydroponic garden.
As mentioned in the seeding section of this chapter, you can use a plastic egg package. Here is an ideal way to make your own little automatic nursery so you do not have to be constantly there to water your seedlings. Warning: Eat the eggs first and then proceed. Use a paring or steak knife and put a slit in the bottom of each egg segment. Fill each segment about three quarters full with peat moss. Drop a seed on top and cover over with another quarter of an inch of peat moss. Set the seeded egg package in a pie plate or other dish with a bit of a high side to it. Then place three-eighths to one-half inch of plain water in the dish. The peat moss will drain the water rather fast, hut once it is saturated the peat will only take up what it requires. Every few days add a bit of water.
Always use plain water on your seedlings for the first two weeks or so. Don't use any nutrient. This forces the plant to develop a good strong root system in its search for nutrient. After two weeks, or if the leaves become too pale and yellow, start using a bit of nutrient. Try to rime your planting of seeds so that the seedlings can be transplanted in about four weeks. If you wait too long, the root systems will get all hound up in the small nursery segments. This is especially important when you use a hydroponic nursery to start your seeds for the backyard garden in the spring. If the roots become bound after four weeks and the plants are transplanted into soil, the roots will have difficulty developing in their search for food. If you are late because of poor timing, use a nutrient solution every two days or so to water your freshly (ransplanted seedlings. Do this for about two weeks.
Almost any plant or vegetable will grow hydroponically. The questions you have to ask yourself are: why do you want to grow it? What is your purpose for having a hydroponic garden? How large is your unit? How many units do you have?
If you are planning to use your soilless garden for a hobby or to pass the time, go ahead and have fun. Plant whatever interests you, and don't be afraid to experiment. The level ofknowledge of hydroponics today is about the same as that in mathematics two hundred years ago. We- have much to learn about the subject, and you can help. Even the experts are constantly learning and experimenting. In my opinion, the inly criterion is to have fun. Try everything.
For those who are really serious about the crops they want to harvest, my advice is to stick mostly to salad vegetables. Through hybridization, it is mainly the salad vegetables that commercial growers have altered until much of their original nutritional value and flavour have been lost. Plastic lettuce, swampy tomatoes, soggy radishes and hollow celery are only a few examples.
Of course, you will be limited by the amount of space, time and money you have to devote to the whole idea. Practical considerations should come into play here. For example, six tomato vines, each producing six pounds of tomatoes from a sixteen by twenty-four inch container is a more efficient use of space than sixteen stalks of corn.
The following instructions are given to help the home hydroponic vegetable grower. (A few fruits that can be grown hydroponically have also been included.) Information given on nutrient requirements will be helpful for those people who are making their own. There are a few general points to keep in mind. When several species of vegetables are grown in one tank and a commercial nutrient is used, care must be taken not to upset the balance. Also remember, when seeding or transplanting into your soilless garden, that the entire area can be utilized for growing and the limitation on how far apart to place your seeds is conditional upon the physical air space the plant requires to grow. For example, a pea vine climbing up a string requires far less air space than a bushy tomato vine.
Beans will grow winter or summer, indoors or out. In winter, grow bush beans indoors. In summer, grow pole beans outdoors. Pole varieties can be tied up and grown vertically. They can be planted quite close together (about six inches). As their name implies, bush beans tend to take up more room. Beans require less nitrogen than other crops but need large amounts of phosphorus, potassium and sulphur. Limas do not produce as large a crop, and they take longer to mature.
Root vegetables are best grown in vermiculite with relatively little soaking. Only a slight covering of haydite or gravel should be used to minimize algae buildup. Most varieties of beets do well. They like cool temperatures. Plant about three inches apart. Grow smaller beets, and more of them, for greater tenderness.
Several experts claim that this is a good crop. I have not grown many, because it is not a personal favourite. Transplants should be used, spaced seven inches apart. Broccoli likes cool weather (60°F, I6°C). Large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and iron can be important.
1 have grown cabbage without letting it head. As you would for leaf lettuce, pick the leaves for dinner and let it keep on growing. Plant six inches apart. Cabbage requires cool weather and high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and iron.
Gourmet carrots are better to grow than the common varieties because of the depth of the growing medium. Plant about one and a half inches apart. Potassium and phosphorus are important.
CAULIFLOWER 1 have had bad luck with cauliflower for good reasons. It is very susceptible to temperature variations. If you are growing cauliflower with other crops, it is better to grow it with plants having moderately cool requirements. Plant about eight inches apart. Nitrogen, phosphorus and iron are required in larger amounts.
This is a great salad vegetable to grow. Celery does best on the cool side, and it dislikes temperature extremes. Plant about four inches apart and use the young stalks and leaves for your salad. It is best about two months old and pencil thin. By the time it is four months old, it is useful only for soups and stews. Don't uproot an entire plant; simply cut off a few stalks at a time. Larger amounts of sodium and chlorine are usually important.
This is a good crop that can be harvested much like head lettuce. Keep removing the outer leaves for your meals. Plant four inches apart and keep cool. Chard is fantastic c(X)ked like spinach.
Corn is a possible crop, but it is not popular, because of the small harvest. Plant midget corn about six inches apart.
Along with lettuce and tomatoes, this is a popular commercial crop. If you don't wish to cross-pollinate (see Chapter 10), plant the English or seedless variety. These grow well indoors or in greenhouses, but if you grow them outdoors and insects do the pollinating, you may end up with some unusually shaped cukes. They like hot weather and direct sunlight and are sometimes susceptible to mildew.
This is a possible but not a popular crop. Eggplants are slow germinators and like warm weather. They will grow larger if you pinch some of the flowers off, allowing only a few fruit per vine. Extra amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are required, but reduce the nitrogen, if possible, after the fruit has formed.
You'll get a good crop by adding increased amounts of nitrogen and potassium and extra amounts of phosphorus.
Boston and New York are popular heading varieties, but leaf lettuce yields a larger harvest. Ifyou do grow head lettuce, remove the outer leaves for salads without waiting for it to head and you can increase your crop. Grand Rapids and Salad Bowl are great leaf lettuce, but don't forget Romaine (Romagna) for Caesar Salad.
In six weeks or less you can have an abundance of lettuce. However, caution should be exercised during the first two weeks. Lettuce will bolt (small leaves will grow on a long, stringy stem) with in-Mifhcient light or high temperatures. Varieties that don't bolt as fre-/1IIIcndy are Black-Seeded Simpson, Endive, Escarolle and Batavia. It would be a good idea to cut back on your nutrient a bit for this crop, lettuce likes it cool (50-70°F, 10-21°C) with high nitrogen levels. Plant about four inches apart, close to the edges of your planter so that the heads hang over them.
The growing techniques for melons are similar to those for cucumbers. They like to be warm both day and night. High humidity causes mildew, so keep them well ventilated. Honey Dew is a good cantaloupe, and if you want to try watermelon, get an early variety such as Sugar baby. Remember to cross-pollinate. Tie up the vines, and when growing indoors, provide plenty of light.
Spring Onions or Green Bunching are popular. They should be sown rather heavily, one-half inch apart. Requires larger amounts of potassium and nitrogen.
All varieties do well in hydroponics, but try Snow Peas with their sweet and flavourful edible pods. Use a lot of plants to get several good meals. Tie them up or let them grow up a trellis. Plant three inches apart and maintain cool temperatures.
All peppers are great to grow: Green Bell, Yellow Banana or Chili. Grow them together or separately. Peppers are fond of warm weather. Plant them six inches apart and watch for damping off. Peppers are harder to grow indoors than out because they need high light levels that are not always obtainable with indoor lighting. My experience is that peppers and tomatoes don't like each other. I haven't met anyone or read any book that makes this claim, yet when I have the two side by side indoors, the tomatoes stop growing. (A list of "friends" and "enemies" will be found under the heading Companion Planting at the end of this chapter.)
Most varieties are suitable, but as with beets, it is better to grow them in vermiculite and plant about one and one-half inches apart. Keep the vermiculite about half as moist as you normally would. Radishes bolt very easily, so make sure they have ample light and cool temperatures. Water only should be used for the first two or three weeks when radishes are being grown by themselves. Normally, radishes are grown in the worst part of a soil garden, but in hydroponics, they have the best of everything, and if you aren't careful you will get a lot of tops before the root has a chance to grow.
Spinach can be a fast crop. Plant two to three inches apart. Cool temperatures and plenty of nitrogen are needed.
SQUASH AND ZUCCHINI these are grown in basically the same way as cucumbers, but remember how much space a zucchini occupies and plant eight to nine inches apart. Pinch the plant off after six or seven sets of leaves to keep the energy closer to the root system and to ensure fruiting.
STRAWBERRIES These are good for hydroponics, but not very economical unless you are intercropping (see page 76). Try to get a self-pollinating variety like Ozark Beauty. Plant them eight inches apart and sit back for a long time. Strawberry plants, like asparagus, need two to three years to mature.
Although the tomato is really a fruit, it is commonly counted among the vegetables. This is one of the best and most satisfying hydroponic crops. Indoors you should seed bush or patio tomatoes, so that the plants will stay nicely under your lights. Outdoors you could grow staking tomatoe; hut the bush variety is still easier to work with in hydroponics, especially if the vines have not yet finished producing when you are ready to bring them in at the end of the summer.
Seed tomatoes for the early and late outdoor crop as shown here. Use a similar seeding pattern even if you use less than half of a planter. Plant the seeds for your early tomato crop in February or March indoors under lights and move them outdoors in April or May. Fan out the plants on your balcony or patio using strings or trellises as shown on
) ijjMtc 17. Seed tomatoes for the early arid Itite outdoor crops as shown on the left For your winter crop, grown tndi>ors, plant the seeds as shown on (he ng/it.
OTHER VEGETABLES There are many other vegetables you might want to plant. If you are not familiar with their growing, read one of the many books on home gardening. Herbs are covered in the next chapter.
Basically, you can grow anything outdoors, regardless of how far its vines may spread. Indoors you can only grow what you can illuminate, and you are better off sticking to bush, dwarf or patio varieties that will stay under your lights. Other types of plants will have to be pruned when they grow tall or when their vines range too far. I recommend that you concentrate indoors on such crops as lettuce, tomatoes, other salad vegetables and herbs — all items that provide nutrition at a time when it is most needed and most expensive from the supermarket.
Outdoors it makes sense to use the available hydroponic growing area to its fullest. This may be done by intercropping and outcropping. Intercropping means combining two or more different plants in space and time. That is, you can place short plants at the base of tall ones and
fast growing plants between slower types. A fast growing crop, such as radishes or leaf lettuce, will have come up and been harvested by the time the space is needed for a slower crop.
Outcropping means letting your plants spread out from the planter, up, down and sideways. The layout shown here gives you an idea of how to obtain growth and yield far greater than the available growing area seems to permit.
A few reminders are in order. Ifyou want to grow root vegetables, like carrots and radishes, there are two things to keep in mind. First, irrigate them for the first week or two after planting with plain water only, until they have established themselves as short, stocky plants. Only then add nutrient to the water. Second, you shouldn't grow anything with a root much longer than three inches because of the relatively shallow depth of the medium. This is not a problem with round radishes, only the icicle variety, and there are short, barrel-shaped carrot varieties on the seed shelf too.
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