A garden without soil sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. But hydroponics allows gardeners to grow everything from vegetables to orchids in a sterile, efficient aqua environment. Keith Roberto, author of How-to Hydroponics and owner of Future Garden in North Lindenhurst, dished the dirt.
Long Island Pulse: What is hydroponic gardening?
Keith Roberto: Hydroponics literally means “water working” from the root (hydro=water and ponos=labor). In conventional agriculture, plants receive water and nutrients from the soil. In hydroponics, these nutrients are dissolved in the water the plants are irrigated with, which allows the plant to expend its energy growing above the soil line instead of growing a large root system at the expense of its frame, foliage and fruit development.
Pulse: Why would someone start a hydroponic garden?
KR: Hydroponics is the most efficient method of feeding plants through the introduction of pure nutrient salts into the water. When you cut soil out of the equation, you bypass soil-born diseases and the plant’s roots no longer have to search through the soil for nutrients. I like to say you can grow twice as much in half the space. There’s also zero run-off, which means fertilizers don’t wind up leaching through the soil and harming natural water sheds. And everyday garden pests are less likely to take up residence and require the application of costly and sometimes toxic pesticides. Typically, you see a two-to-one ratio of growth over conventional soil.
Pulse: What can be grown this way?
KR: You can grow everything from lettuce, tomatoes and herbs to melons and zucchini this way. As far as exotic plants go, orchids are a staple. I’ve also seen saffron grown this way, as well as wasabi, all sorts of medicinal herbs and cut flowers from tulips to calla lilies.
Pulse: What is the first thing to consider when getting started?
KR: First you have to decide if you want to have your garden indoors or outdoors. With indoor gardens, you have to replace the sun with a high-intensity grow light or an LED. LEDs use about 25 percent of the power of a normal grow light, but because the light has a purplish hue, it’s less visually appealing for indoor use. If your garden is going outside, you just need the space and direct access to sunlight, typically on the south side of the house.
Pro Tip #42
Short on space? Hydroponic gardens can grow on a patio, in the corner of a kitchen or in a window box.
words: justine lorelle lomonaco | photo: kenny janosick