The farming industry has evolved two ways in the last 50 years, one being the massive increase in equipment, and the grandiose upper level companies who basically own the farmer down to his land. The second being the (backwards) evolution of relying on the same old propagation/harvesting techniques while furthering destruction of the earth, leaving the ground tired, and taking up far too much land to support our heavy-consumer-out-of-the-box tendencies.
Clearly, subdivided small communities using permaculture and hydroponic farming would solve this, each village would support itself and the weight of production could be dialed in to custom serve its populous. Special items and skill sets such as mushroom cultivation or mead brewing could be a bartering tool for supplies not locally sourced or non-supported due to climate or country.
However, this is not about saving the world nor is it a call to change. We all know how and what needs to change but we also know it will not, the world is in decline and has been since it was. This article is to serve as a cultivation weapon for yourself and your tribe. Using recirculate water systems not only are you able to grow in more abundance, in less space; you can simultaneously mend the earth and doctor it into fruition. We will just touch two systems to build and utilize, there are many ways to go about hydroponics but the methods we will cover are best.
SEED STARTING / INITIAL SETUP
To reduce shock with introducing plants to hydroponics, starting them in coconut fiber (coir) or rockwool is the preferred method. Dampen a paper towel, fold over seeds, store in a ziplock bag in a drawer or cabinet. Once a taproot has sprouted, carefully transfer into rockwool block, or coir cube. Root facing downwards, make sure opening where seed was planted is covered back up. You can keep these floating in a container with very little water or spray mist each day until root structure matures. CFL or T5 lighting is most cost effective as well as burn proof for sensitive young plants, as little heat emits from these bulbs. Take care to have these just a few inches from seedlings, otherwise plants will stretch too far and become top heavy and will bend or break.
If you are harvesting and fruiting indoors, more hefty lighting is needed especially for anything that produces fruits. Lettuce, sprouts, greens, etc preform decently with CFL/T5, things like tomatoes, berries, peppers, etc do well with HPS or LEC. High Pressure Sodium bulbs have a powerful spectrum and are the best for fruiting but Light Emitting Ceramic bulbs can do just as well and put out way less heat. Cooling a grow room can prove very expensive so cooler lights can save a lot of money, time, and supplies.
Once roots have penetrated bottom of growth medium, they can be put into a growing system. Initially, the water levels of said system, will have to be higher in order for root tips to be submerged. You never want roots completely covered in water, as roots need air space to breath.
Nutrients need to be added slowly when plants are this young, beginning at 50% suggested amount and work up every week or two. PH of these systems are very important, a meter will need to be purchased and is the most expensive part of a build. Always cut off water flow to system, add nutrients, and adjust PH in reservoir, then allow water to flow again.
If you are growing outside, reservoir and additional parts need to be cleaned each week, if indoors clean every 2 weeks. Shut off pump, drain system, wipe out and dry reservoir, clean slime from netpots/pipe using a rag or tooth brush, reassemble, add water/nutrients to reservoir, adjust PH then turn pump back on. Depending on where you are located, reservoir might have to be cooled if directly in the sun. Simply add ice.
One of the most beneficial functions of hydroponics is that you can manage perpetual harvesting. A ‘mother’ can grow in a DWC bucket, produce cuttings, then clone into growth medium, and as you harvest say 8 plants, 8 with be a few weeks behind those, and another 8 in your starter area. After time (mainly using an indoor setup where you control lighting) you can harvest each month when system is dialed in. The mother is harvested after 2 cloning procedures to keep plant genetics strong. Another mother can be chosen from strong seedlings to continue the process. After initial cloning cuts are made, allow her to recover and develop new growth. Information on how to clone and when are plant specific and can be found online.
We will start with off with an NFT system (nutrient film layer). This method is the cheapest and can be utilized as a vertical or flat growth setup. Nutrient rich water is pumped through a 3-6″ PVC pipe in which atop are netpots that dangle roots into the shallow water flow, allowing for maximum oxygen space for roots to thrive in. Water is left pumping 24/7; no need for timer. Growth tray or pipe does not need to be mounted on an angle, raising your return spout to proper overflow level will allow water to drain correctly and at proper height in relation to roots.
The Deep Water Culture method is best for larger plants that need more spacing, and can always be added on to if expanding. Five gallon buckets with large netpot lids are used instead of a single PVC pipe with holes for netpots. Each bucket has a separate air stone, and water flow continues to the next bucket in line and back to reservoir. This allows an aggressive water flow between each bucket (massive oxygen levels). Setting buckets on wood boards or bricks allows all water to drain when cleaning, or maintaining system. Be prepared for giant root structures, in some cases the entire bucket will be covered in root webbing.
Hydroponics is the future of farming, and can be built right in your backyard or garage. The recirculate nature of these designs allows for maximum use of water, thus extending our use of precious resources we have been gifted. Start out with one small system, perfect it, expand it, and experiment with the knowledge you gain. Most of the produce you purchase can be grown right at home, and the quality is unlike any other. Starting a monthly boxed produce co-op from your own hydroponic garden is highly encouraged.
Harvest, consume, share and teach.