One of my favourite things about hydroponics is the ability to grow plants out of season. There's nothing as delicious as a perfect red strawberry in the middle of the cold and mucky gray of winter. When I only had an outdoor garden, fall would mark the end of my growing season, the last of my tasty home-grown vegetables and yummy organic berries. As the sun waned, it was time to can what I had left and hang up my gardening gloves. Now, however, I have a delightful little garden tucked away in the corner of my office that isn't ruled by the dictates of the seasons. Instead it relies on the steady tick of a clock and I can putter with it any time I like. It's a lot less effort too. Watering is a steady trickle from a pump, climate is automatically controlled, and the lighting system is set to a timer. All that is required are regular checks of the nutrients, water levels, and the pH of the reservoir. Plus, no weeds! No slugs, no pests! My kind of garden. The possibilities are limitless. It's like having a miniature greenhouse indoors. It's incredibly economical too. Because they're so efficient, they take only half the water of a regular garden, and generally take care of themselves.
I set mine up in the corner of my office, but any space in your home can become your own personal greenhouse - even up to an entire room. One friend of mine uses part of their garage to grow roses. And if you decided you don't like where you put it, they're clean and portable enough that the entire system can be taken down and moved whenever or wherever you want. Home hydroponics systems range in size, from windowsill planters to set-ups which could fill your entire basement. Size, though, doesn't matter in the same way it does in a regular outdoor garden. The efficient use of water and nutrients in hydroponics allow greater numbers of plants to be grown in a smaller area. This advantage gives you the option to garden in the space available, whether it be a 2-foot space or a 9 by 9-foot area. Your hydroponic garden size really depends on the number of plants you want to grow. Smaller systems are suitable for kitchen herbs or strawberries, (my favourite), while larger units can accommodate a complete full-sized vegetable garden complete with broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce or carrots or a collection of specimen plants such as orchids.
There are several options as to what kind of hydroponics system are available, too. There are different options for automatic watering, as well as different kinds of growing medium. You can select from a drip watering system, a nutrient film technique, an ebb and flow, or a wick system, all using rockwool or geolite growing media. Rockwool, first used by vegetables and cut flower production, is a superheated volcanic rock spun into fiber, kind of like cotton candy. The fibers are formed into cubes, broad, flat, thick pieces or used in loose bales. Geolite growing medium is a kiln-fired, ceramic shell aggregate. Both these media are lightweight, sterile, and have a balanced amount of air space and high moisture holding capacity.
I recommend that you research what would work best for you. Detailing the merits of the various lights and medium will take another entire article, but in the meantime, remember that deciding can be tricky, but with a clear plan of action, it gets a lot easier. Fresh fruit, vegetables, cooking herbs, and flowers are all lovely things to have in the house. First decide how much space you want to set aside, then go from there. And imagine the satisfaction contained in one simple strawberry, smooth and round and red, sweet and juicy, even in the middle of December.