Easy Hydroponic Fertilizer and Easy Plants

by Jerry Morse
(Vicksburg, MS)

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: Dear Jerry,
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!

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(10 week update below)

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Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 24 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people...

Epic Nutrient Change

I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as possible....and in the last 24 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!

As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol)...

Homemade Cloner

And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-Sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.

Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 24 years and I have only just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole year! If you can master the technique, I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients...

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The ultimate solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants! Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system--->


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This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 24 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.

Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!

The Same System/ 10 Weeks Later!

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