Hydroponics: features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

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Supermarkets offer a wide range of fruits and vegetables at any time of the year, but these products, especially in winter, are not of good quality. In this article, we’ll look at how to grow vegetables, herbs and strawberries on your own using the hydroponic method..

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

Hydroponics is the general name for various methods of growing plants without soil using artificial substrates of various origins. All the necessary minerals in this case, crops are obtained from specially prepared nutrient solutions, which are fed to the roots in one way or another. We talked in more detail about the main methods of hydroponics and about the possibility of using various modern materials as substrates in the article “Hydroponics: Basic Methods and Methods for Growing Garden Crops at Home”.

Hydroponics, in comparison with soil cultivation, has a number of undeniable advantages. This method of cultivation allows the plant not to waste energy searching for nutrients that are supplied directly to the roots, and this significantly accelerates growth and increases yields. Using hydroponics, it is possible to avoid problems with the occurrence of dangerous diseases and the appearance of parasites, which, as a rule, live and reproduce in the soil. Hydroponics is ideal for growing a variety of plants at home. Given the lack of land, it is easy to maintain cleanliness in the rooms where your beds are located..

Soilless growing methods are suitable for cultivating almost any crop, except perhaps root crops. Hydroponics is most often used to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, various greens, as well as strawberries and home flowers. Moreover, the main agrotechnical methods practically do not differ from those that are commonly used in conventional soil cultivation..

A special place in hydroponics is given to a nutrient solution, the correct composition of which determines the normal development of crops and obtaining an optimal yield. Let’s take a closer look at its main indicators..

The main indicators of the nutrient solution

There are a few key points to keep in mind when making a recipe for a nutrient solution. First, it should contain all the necessary elements that are consumed by the plant, both in small and large quantities. It should be noted that some substances do not directly affect the yield and vital activity of crops, however, their lack in vegetables and herbs can cause various human diseases. These elements, for example, include iodine and cobalt, which are added to nutrient solutions to improve the quality of the crop..

Secondly, the necessary elements must be contained in the solution in certain ratios and quantities, which will guarantee optimal growth, development and maximum yield..

Another important point is the quality and chemical composition of the water used to prepare nutrient solutions. As a rule, river, lake, artesian and tap water contains natural salts, the amount and composition of which must be taken into account.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

The main indicators of any nutrient solution are its acidity and electrical conductivity. Acidity is usually determined by pH, which will differ for different crops. You can measure acidity using specialized instruments or ordinary litmus paper.

Conductivity or, more simply, the concentration of the nutrient solution (EC) is expressed in millimhos (mMhos) or milliSiemens (mS). Depending on the amount of each element, the EC of the solution can fluctuate in the range of 1.5–3.0 mS. The concentration when growing plants must be controlled every day. It will fall as the plants consume nutrients. When the EC level drops below the permissible level, it is necessary to add the missing amount of elements to the solution, and it is best to completely replace it. Ideally, it is recommended to change the solution every three to four weeks..

As you can see, the preparation of a nutrient solution is, to put it mildly, not a simple matter, it requires some experience and knowledge. Not everyone will have the time and energy for such constant control. If you decide to organize a small hydroponic bed in your apartment, it is not at all necessary to do this – you can buy a ready-made composition in specialized stores, or you can prepare a nutrient solution yourself using high-quality well-ripened compost. We talked about this in more detail in the article “Hydroponics: Household Installations for Growing Flowers, Greens and Vegetables”.

Features of growing vegetables

Tomatoes and cucumbers are most often grown using the hydroponic method, and the whole process begins with the preparation of seedlings.

Seeds are pre-germinated in a humid environment (you can use moistened thick paper or cotton napkins) for 2-3 days. After that, they are sown in boxes or pots filled with calcareous peat (necessarily high), steamed sawdust or other substrate of a fine fraction. The thickness of the substrate in the containers should be 6–7 cm. The seeds are sprinkled on top with a layer of 0.6–0.7 cm, slightly compacted and watered with a nutrient solution. The boxes and pots are taken to a warm place, covered with plastic wrap. After the emergence of seedlings, polyethylene is removed and the young plants are provided with an optimal supplementary lighting regime..

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

On the 4-5th day after the emergence of cucumber shoots and on the 14-15th day – the tomato, the seedlings dive into separate pots filled with rubble. Trays with seedlings are placed in the seedling compartment if you are using a hydroponic plant, or simply in any convenient place where it is possible to provide the plants with an ideal microclimate and the desired lighting regime. The rules for caring for seedlings of cucumber and tomato and for adult plants in this case are no different from the rules for growing these crops by the usual soil method. We talked in more detail about growing vegetables in an apartment in the article “A vegetable garden on the windowsill: we grow cucumbers, tomatoes and various varieties of peppers”.

When growing seedlings, containers with a substrate are moistened with a nutrient solution two to three times a day, while the temperature of the solution should be 26-28 degrees, and the substrate – 20-22. It should be noted that, due to optimal root nutrition, hydroponically grown cucumber and tomato seedlings grow and develop much faster than with soil cultivation. Cucumber seedlings, as a rule, are ready for transplantation to a permanent place in 25–30 days, tomato seedlings – 40–45 days after the first shoots appear. In addition, hydroponically grown seedlings form a well-developed yet compact root system with short thickened roots, which favorably affects the further development of the plant..

Features of growing tomatoes

When growing this crop, providing the roots with a sufficient volume of substrate is an important success factor. To obtain an optimal yield, each individual plant must be provided with at least 10 liters of volume. In addition, it is necessary to select the correct shape of the container – a cone or cylinder will be the most suitable for growing tomatoes. If you use rectangular or square pots, then the roots of the plant will not be able to completely occupy the entire space of the vessel, which can negatively affect its further development..

For growing tomatoes in hydroponics, any high-quality substrate and universal nutrient solution are suitable, where the acidity indicator should be in the range of 6.0-6.3.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

Speaking about growing tomatoes in a soilless way, one cannot fail to note another feature regarding the preparation of seedlings. Containers with seedlings should be placed on their side 7–8 days after germination. Once in this position, the seedlings bend upward, which ensures the formation of additional roots at the base of the stem. And this increases the survival rate of young plants, tomato seedlings are strong with a powerful root system.

Features of growing cucumber

It is also important for the cucumber to provide the required volume – each individual plant needs at least 5-6 liters of substrate. For the cultivation of cucumbers, it is recommended to use a loose material that allows water and air to pass through, since the root system of this crop requires active gas exchange.

The cucumber grows and develops quite quickly, it enters the fruiting period early, so this plant requires a higher content of nutrients, compared, for example, with tomato. Cucumber is generally considered the most demanding crop for the composition, acidity and concentration of the nutrient solution. In large quantities, a cucumber needs: N, P, K, Ca, the absence of which has an extremely negative effect on its well-being.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

Nutrient intake from solution differs depending on the developmental phase. After planting seedlings, when the root system is not yet developed enough, the cucumber consumes 10 percent of the nutrients and requires a weak concentration of the solution. At the time of flowering and the formation of ovaries, the plant needs 20% of the nutrition, at the time of fruiting – 70%. Therefore, the concentration of the nutrient solution should be increased as the culture develops. In addition, it is necessary to strictly control the acidity level – the optimal pH for a cucumber is 5.5-6.2.

It is important to note that for growing vegetables in hydroponics, as well as for cultivation by soil in closed rooms, it is recommended to use early ripening varieties, it is important for a cucumber that they are self-pollinated, and for a tomato – undersized.

Growing greens

Hydroponics is most often used to grow green onions, various types of lettuce, as well as parsley, dill, mustard, sorrel, basil, coriander and other herbs..

The simplest hydroponic cultivation method is green onion cultivation. For this, even a substrate is not needed. You can just put the onion in a jar of water and after a while it will delight you with fresh healthy feathers..

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

For growing onions for greens, it is most effective to use a simple hydroponic installation “Chudorost”, which we described in detail in the previous article. With the help of this elementary construction, the onion crop can be grown much faster – a feather 30 cm long is obtained in literally two weeks.

For growing greenery from seeds, you can use plastic pots with a height and a diameter of 5 centimeters, with fairly large holes in the bottom. In each such container, filled with any available substrate, seeds are sown: lettuce – 4 pieces; dill, parsley or coriander – 25-30 pieces; lemon balm, sorrel, basil, mustard – 15–20 pieces. The pots are watered with warm water, covered with polyethylene and placed in a warm place for germination.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

After sprouting, the film is removed and an optimal lighting regime is provided. Water such seedlings with a universal nutrient solution several times a day, as the substrate dries up. When the seedlings grow up (for lettuce it is 7-10 days, for parsley, dill and other herbs – 15-20 days), the pots are placed in the existing hydroponic plant, where they are grown until fully ripe.

It should be noted that for normal growth and full return of the harvest, greens must receive adequate nutrition. The optimum acidity level of the nutrient solution in this case is 2.8-4.0, and the concentration is 0.5-2.5 mS / cm.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

For hydroponic cultivation, it is best to use early maturing green crops. As for the temperature and light conditions, they practically do not differ from those recommended for growing greens in the soil. We talked about this in more detail in the article “A vegetable garden on the windowsill: we grow greens, leafy vegetables and herbs”.

Growing strawberries

This delicious and incredibly healthy berry can be grown using a variety of hydroponic methods, but drip irrigation is considered the most suitable..

The plants are planted in the existing substrate, and the nutrient solution is fed to the root zone using a dropper system. Experts in this case recommend using mineral wool, coconut fiber or various peat mixtures as a substrate..

The substrate is placed in bags made of opaque polyethylene and placed on a tray that serves to collect the emerging nutrient solution. For normal life, one adult plant must provide a volume of at least three liters, it is best to leave a distance of 20-30 centimeters between the bushes.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

The nutrient solution is fed into the drip system under pressure, for which you can use pumps, or you can use gravity, placing containers with solution above the level of the beds. For growing strawberries, you can use a nutrient solution of a universal composition with a concentration in the range of 1.8-2.2.

Strawberries are not a moisture-loving plant, therefore it is not recommended to use the water culture method for growing them. In this case, it will be difficult to control the nutrient content, and problems may arise with the normal development of the root system..

To grow strawberries hydroponically, it is necessary to take remontant varieties, that is, those that can bear fruit all year round. As seedlings, you can use ready-made seedlings purchased from specialized nurseries, or grown on your personal plot.

Strawberry bushes can also be obtained from seeds. To do this, a well-moistened substrate (preferably sand or fine perlite) is poured into plastic containers with a layer of 12–14 cm high and seeds are sown without burying them. The crops are covered with polyethylene and placed in a dark place until shoots appear. The room temperature should be at the level of 21-23 degrees, it is also necessary to carefully monitor the moisture content of the substrate, which, if necessary, is carefully moistened with a syringe.

When seedlings appear, the plastic film is removed and the pots with seedlings are placed in a place where it is possible to observe the optimal temperature and light conditions. These indicators do not differ from those recommended for soil cultivation of strawberries indoors. Details can be found in the article “How to grow strawberries on the windowsill”.

Hydroponics. Features of growing vegetables, herbs, strawberries

When the seedlings produce 2-3 true leaves, they are transplanted in a larger container (diameter 14-16 cm) – you can have two plants in each. And after the appearance of 6-7 true leaves, the seedlings are placed in a permanent place and provide the conditions necessary for normal growth and development.

As you can see, using various hydroponic methods at home, you can grow almost any plant. Having carefully studied the basic rules used for soilless cultivation, you can easily organize vegetable or strawberry beds even in an apartment. Moreover, this does not require much space at all. You can buy a ready-made hydroponic installation in specialized stores or make it yourself – we described how to do this in the article “Hydroponics: Household Installations for Growing Flowers, Greens and Vegetables”.

Having mastered the cultivation of various crops in small areas, you can turn this useful activity into an additional way of earning money, or you can organize a highly profitable business, because the demand for high-quality vegetable products never disappears..

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