Easy Hydroponic Fertilizer and Easy Plants
by Jerry Morse
I really want to learn to grow food primarily. Flowers will do too as a distant second. I have a good fluorescent light (3- each 4 foot shop lights) and I also have a combination 600w HPS and 400w MH. The HPS & MH are in an enclosed, glass faced enclosure. It has the diagonal 6" vent holes and I have a pretty good exhaust fan hooked up to the output.
All I really want is a list- the very easiest foods and flowering plants to learn how to use your system, which I am prepared to build.
I have been pre-sprouting Tomato and bell pepper seed for my vegetable patch, which consists of 5 ea 4'x 5' x 12' long raised beds. Thanks, Jerry Morse Answer:
I rarely get questions that push the limits of my knowledge and experience the way this question has. Bringing a garden indoors has its challenges when you plan to garden two or three crops together that share similar light requirements, fertilizer requirements, and growth habits (such as tomatoes and peppers). Gardening a larger variety of food items together can become incredibly challenging.
First, let me say a couple of things on crop lighting.....a combination 600 W HPS 400 W MH will obviously supply 1000 watts. 1000 watts is sufficient to cover an area of 4'x 8', however, it will require a 3' light mover to do it well. Ideally, you should try to keep the light within this perimeter with reflective material, and any plant outside this perimeter will not be getting enough light to grow properly. If you intend to grow in a larger area, you will need more lights.
Success in the garden will depend on grouping together plants with similar light requirements and fertilizer requirements. All types of lettuce, spinach, and herbs will grow well under the fluorescent lights (they do not require as much light). All of these plants produce edible parts under 18-24 hours of light (they do not require a dark period to produce). These plants will all do well using a vegetative stage fertilizer (high in Nitrogen) at 1/2 strength (600-700 ppm). By far, these would be the easiest plants to start with to get to know the system.
All other vegetables will require much stronger light (but fewer hours of it). These crops require a 12 hour un-interrupted dark period at the same time each night in order to fruit. All kinds of tomatoes and all kinds of peppers can be grown together, but different strains will require a different number of days to finish. They will do well under the 1000 watt combination light, and they should do well with a flowering stage fertilizer (high in Phosphorus) at about 1000 ppm.
Peas and beans like lots of Phosphorus and not too much Nitrogen. I do not have any experience growing these indoors, personally, but I think they would do well growing with the tomatoes and peppers (same light requirements I believe).
Vine plants, like cucumbers, would probably be too unmanageable indoors....as would squash, pumpkin, and zucchini. However, they would probably do quite well if you were to grow them in a hydroponic system outdoors in the summer. Corn is another plant I would not bother trying to grow indoors.
Strawberries are a popular hydroponic crop, very abundant. they require bright light, 18-24 hours, and high Phosphorus fertilizer. This is one of the crops NASA chose to grow in space (as well as lettuce).
I do not have any experience growing root crops, but potatoes, garlic, onions, and carrots would all be grown in a similar fashion. I have read articles on hydroponic potato production....they use bags filled with perilite and a drip system. These crops all like bright light, they all prefer high Phosphorus fertilizer, and would need a dark period to fruit (after several weeks of being grown vegetatively.
As a side note, all of the vegetables that require a dark period to fruit would require you to grow them for several weeks vegetatively (under 18-24 hours of light and high Nitrogen fertilizer) before they would be ready to fruit.
As you can see, there is no simple answer here, and I am afraid your question exceeds my personal experience. I have thought about gardening all of my own food hydroponically before, and in order to put together an efficient production setup I have come up with a few ideas....a search on the internet for hydroponics in Antarctica may give you some excellent ideas regarding crop selection, grouping, and lighting....I know the scientists there have to grow a lot of the stuff they eat. Same thing goes for NASA....one of the top hydroponic nutrient companies (General Hydroponics) actually got started producing plant food for the space program. A search online for NASA hydroponics may prove useful to you.
One final suggestion...the Territorial Seed Catalog has hundreds of varieties of every different kind of crop you could want to grow. The selection may make it easier to choose different crops that finish in similar amounts of time, or that have similar growth habits, plus they have a lot of heirloom varieties. Well Jerry, I wish you the best of luck on your project!