Now, I know, in the past, I have always had some pearls of wisdom to share from my gardening escapades (check out all the delicious treats you can get right from the earth during the spring, summer, and fall!), but, sadly, winter is upon us and I don’t live in a tropical paradise! I live in Ohio…cold, snowy, Ohio, and not a whole lot grows in these parts during the winter. While you may be able to squeak out some vitamin C and K-rich produce, like beets, cabbage, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, and squash…who actually wants to dig around in the frozen ground in search of a left-over rutabaga?!
Never fear, ingenuity has opened up new doors for fresh produce in the winter—hydroponics! For more information, I turned to Chris Hostetter (affectionately known as Hoss), entrepreneur and owner of the Happy Dog Produce Initiative.
Check out what information he has to share about hydroponics…and how you can still have local strawberries in the winter!
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without the use of traditional soil. Nutrients are mixed in to containers of pH balanced water and then dispensed over the roots of the plants, which will be growing through some sort of media, often clay pebbles or crushed stone. The water can then be re-routed back to the original tank to be reused, resulting in virtually no water loss. The methods of hydroponic gardening are endless, which, in turn, allow you to grow just about anything, anywhere, anytime!
What is aquaponics?
Aquaponics is identical to hydroponics, but is considered “all natural,” as there are no nutrients added to the water. Instead, the farmer uses large tanks filled with different types of fish. These fish fertilize the water. This fertilizer (aka fish poop) is digested by bacteria, turning it into usable nutrients. This water is then dispensed over the roots, just like hydroponics.
How does the produce get its nutrients if there is no soil?
You must think of soil as a medium, just a substance in which roots grow. Roots extract nutrients from the medium (traditionally, soil) and the feeding begins. Hydroponics (and aquaponics) uses a medium that has no nutrients. This medium, like clay pebbles or crushed stone, allows water to flow through it with ease, but is also strong enough to keep the plants standing. The farmer will add nutrients to the water and the nutrient-rich water will be dispensed over the roots. This allows us to tweak which nutrients are delivered, when they are delivered, and how much of a specific nutrient each plant gets.
Can you grow produce in the winter with these methods?
Yes, with advances in LED grow lighting and greenhouse designs, some farmers have done away with the notion of growing seasons. I, personally, have an aquaponic “farm” that produces the most amazing strawberries year-round! The home gardener can use a simple, small goldfish tank and grow herbs, lettuce, and small fruit or vegetable plants year-round without ever needing to add nutrients…just pick and eat. These systems can be small enough for an apartment or large enough to produce 100,000s of plants a year!
Can we find hydroponic or aquaponic produce in any stores?
Yes, almost all large farmers’ markets will have one or two stands that get some of their produce from a hydroponic farm. In large retail stores during the winter, you will see the “living vegetable” section explode with hydroponically grown produce. Most of these still have the root ball attached, but with no dirt on them! Large food processing companies even have contracts with hydroponic farms to receive produce during the off-season and circumvent the traditional loss of production.
There you have it, folks! Fresh, local strawberries year-round…who could ask for more?! For more information or details on how you can set up an at-home hydroponic “farm,” leave a comment for Hoss in the Comments section below!
At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Don’t give up. Love yourself. And #eatthechocolate.