Hydroponics Update

Back in March I endeavored on my first counter-top hydroponics projects. I sprouted alfalfa and mung beans in jars. They were a success, as you can see the final results HERE.

I also started arugula and lettuce seeds, first in trays and then I transferred them to pots suspended in water containing a growing medium. You can see the beginning of that project HERE.

Arugula (front row) and leaf lettuce (rear row) started in rockwool cubes.

Once those little sprouts were around a week old, I transferred them to individual growing jars. Here are the materials I used.

Growing nutrients, distilled water, net cups, mason jar.

I separated each of the rockwell squares and “planted” / supported them in clay balls – one cube per net pot. I purchased all these ingredients off Amazon.

Clay balls in the net pot support the rockwell cube (not shown) in which the seed is sprouted. Curiously, clay balls are not solid, but seem to be clay covered hollow balls. That makes them far less heavy, and I think more gentle for tender root growth.

What I learned was that I didn’t press the seeds deeply enough in the growing cubes (or their early growth wasn’t properly supported in some other way) because the plant wasn’t able to support the weight of its growth. Below is a leaf lettuce plant. The stem that is directly coming out of the rockwell cube is super spindly. Then, once I put the cube in the net pots, the stem developed more girth, which was too heavy for the thin stem to support. Perhaps, there weren’t sufficient nutrients during the germination / sprouting phase.

While the arugula and lettuce plants were developing, I decided to grow a couple of herbs. For those plants, I pressed the seeds father into the cube. I also did not sprout them in the rockwell cubes in the tray of water (seen in the photo at the top of this page.) Rather, I separated the cubes, pressed in the seed, suspended it in the clay balls, and put the net pot directly into the mason jars. I used the lowest level of nutrients listed for the sprouting phase, as well. Here’s how the Basil is doing:

Sweet Basil. It seems to be doing great! Look closely and you can see the thin, white roots in the water below the pot.

Below are images of the Arugula. It has the same issue as the spindly lettuce, but not as severe. However, the leaves are doing great, and I’m thinking it is time for a little salad!

Arugula grown in hydroponic growing nutrients.

One final piece of info that I picked up as I was experimenting with hydroponics – if you grow the plants in a glass jar (these are large mouth, 64 oz size), you must protect the roots from algae growth by preventing light from reaching them. I used a black plastic tub which houses nine jars. You can also wrap the jars in paper or foil. I have been using a grow light that is positioned directly above the plants. It doesn’t seem to have been able to penetrate into the jars to grow algae.

This has been a fun project. For a few weeks I was busy with other things and barely did more than turn on the grow light. Some days, I didn’t even get around to do that, but I have the tub near an east facing window so there’s some morning light. The work was very minimal (no pulling weeds, worrying about rabbits consuming the plants, no concern about how cold it was outdoors etc…) One day I looked across the room and realized, “Gosh, those plants are getting big! It’s probably time to give them a taste!” I have read that I can remove the largest leaves (outer most) and leave the smaller ones to continue to grow. That’s a repeat as desired process until, supposedly, the third or forth “harvest” can become too bitter. I remember, as a child, we did the same with lettuce and spinach we grew in a traditional garden. But, those plants would eventually go to seed in July because of the extreme heat. That is preventable indoors, but I suspect the plant has its own “timer” regardless of whether we can tolerate bitter greens! Time to start a new crop!

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