Hydroponic Gardening: No Soil Required

Written by Clayton Krebs

Can you grow a garden in the winter without soil?

Yes, it is entirely possible to grow a garden in the winter without soil. In fact, you can grow a garden in the winter without these things, using an increasingly popular technique called “hydroponics.” Hydroponics is an indoor soil-free gardening technique that has been used for thousands of years and allows the gardener to have complete and total control of their garden’s environment. With the hydroponics gardening alternative, you can grow just about any type of bountiful garden during those cold winter months right within your own home – even in your home’s kitchen.

If you’ve ever put a plant clipping into a glass of water, in hopes it will develop roots, you have practiced a form of hydroponics.

What Exactly is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is essentially a branch of agriculture where plants are grown without the use of soil. The nutrients plants typically take from the soil are simply dissolved in water (or whichever mineral rich nutrient solution you choose) and depending on the type of hydroponic system, the plants can grow as normally, if not better, than they do in regular soil.

You’ll be surprised to learn that hydroponics is actually not a new gardening concept at all. In fact, this gardening technique was commonly and frequently used by the ancient Egyptians many years ago. Hydroponics is the method and process of growing plants without using any soil. Instead, you’re growing plants with the use of mineral-nutrient solutions.

These mineral-rich nutrient solutions use mediums such as expanded clay pebbles, gravel, liquid, mineral wool, per-lite, coconut husk or gravel. In this method, plants are grown with the roots submerged within the nutrient solutions, while the stem and upper parts of the plant are held above the nutrient rich solution.

As long as a plant receives an adequate amount of the required mineral nutrients that it needs in order to grow and thrive, then soil is not needed or necessary for gardening. Hydroponics allows us to produce crops in greenhouses or multilevel buildings dedicated to agriculture. And for some gardeners, space and/or climate is an issue; with hydroponics they don’t have to worry about these issues because they are in control of their own garden and how it grows. .

Why Use A Hydroponic System?
You may be wondering why some choose hydroponic systems over traditional gardening methods. Why go through all the trouble of setting up a hydroponic system instead of easily planting some plants in your yard? After all, people have been growing food just fine for millions of years in good ole fashioned dirt.

First and foremost, hydroponics offers people the ability to grow food in places where traditional agriculture isn’t possible, like New Mexico or the Middle East. It is helpful for population dense cities, like Toyko, where farmland is few and far between. Hydroponics helps people in places like Alaska or Russia, where warmth and sunlight aren’t around long, receive locally grown produce with the aid of a greenhouse.

It is also important to note how hydroponics can help the environment. These systems require around only 10 percent of the water that soil based agriculture requires. On top of that, hydroponic systems allow recycling of water and nutrient solutions, so no materials are wasted. This type of agriculture requires little or no pesticides, so no chemicals are being released into the air.

Though this method of agriculture can require a hefty up-front cost, it is ultimately much cheaper than soil farming over time and better for the environment.

Types of Hydroponic Systems
• Ebb and Flow Systems
• Nutrient Film Technique
• Drip Systems
• Aeroponics
• Wick Systems

You Should Consider a Hydroponic Garden Because:
• It’s an indoor garden that you can start any time of the year, even in the dead of winter.
• It can be started with many simple nutrient enriched sources, including just water.
• You can obtain equipment and advice for a hydroponic gardening system easily from many of your local stores.
• Hydroponic gardening systems come in many different types and also fit many different budgets. You can spend as little as a few dollars or you can spend thousands on your system, but the amount of money will not make a difference in the success of your garden. It will be successful regardless of the money that you put into it, as long as you do it right.
• A hydroponic garden is considered to be a “space saver” garden, because you’re able to yield a bountiful garden in just a third of the space required of an outdoor garden.
• Hydroponic grown plants grow more vigorously and not only that, but they grow 30-50% faster than soil plants.
• If you’re a DIY kind of person, you can build your own hydroponics system easily at home.

How to Make Your Own Hydroponics Garden
Making a hydroponics garden is actually pretty easy, but you’ll want to learn everything that you can in regards to the actual nutrient solution you choose to use for your garden before moving forward. So, if you’d like to try a DIY project and make your own hydroponics garden, then you’ll need to pick up these supplies in order to get started:

• A plant light or a hanging shop light and a stand.
• Any 10-gallon Rubbermaid™-type of container. Many people use empty cat litter containers.
• 3-1/2 inch mesh pots
• Wicks – T-shirt material or store bought
• An aquarium pump, complete with the bubbler and tubing
• Hydroponics nutrients
• Clay aggregate pebbles or another medium

Now that you’ve gathered your supplies for your hydroponics garden, you’ll want to follow these simple steps to getting it started:
1. Make holes in the lid of your container; you should make these using a hole saw that will fit the 3-1/2 inch mesh pots.

2. Create an entry hole with a drill for the aquarium tubing. This hole should be large enough for the tubing to fit and should be about 2 inches from the top of the container.

3. Thread the tubing through the hole that you just drilled and now add an air bubbler to the end inside of the container. Then connect the other end of the tubing to an aquarium pump outside of your container. This tubing system will help to keep the nutrient solution that you’re using aerated.

4. Mix up your hydroponics ingredients according to their instructions. The amount that you use will vary and depend upon your containers size.

5. Replace the lid on your container and then add the mesh pots with the wicks reaching down to dip into the nutrient solution of your choice.


Photos courtesy of trebuchet03

6. Place your hydroponic unit under a light and use a timer to allow 10-to-12 hours of light for your plants per day.

The Importance of Knowing How to Grow a Garden without Soil
Not only is growing a hydroponic garden just plain fun for gardening enthusiasts everywhere, but it is also an important and valuable skill to learn for survivalists around the world. Everyone should know how to grow a garden in harsh conditions in the event of a crisis.

Hopefully, that will never happen, but you really never know, which is why this is an important and invaluable skill to learn. Plus, it’s a great and rewarding hobby. You can start out with playing with different herbs and veggies, or even your favorite flowers, until you master this gardening technique and then really expand your hydroponic garden.

To learn more about different methods of gardening, you can also check out this Vertical Gardening report.

Updated October 2, 2013

11 Comments

  1. Lucia wrote:

    The Tower Garden system is great and lots of fun. I have one going in my yard. When we have a light freeze, I wrap mine up in a blanket then when the sun comes out, I take the blanket off. It gets enough sun to keep going all winter. In colder climates, the winter growing would need to be done inside. Here in the South, I love looking out my window and watching my swiss chard, kale, and herbs produce for months. It is a great system and was designed for urban settings where access to soil was limited.

    October 3rd, 2013 at 7:22 am
  2. Name suzi wrote:

    Do you use seeds or starters?

    October 3rd, 2013 at 10:32 am
  3. Lynn wrote:

    Started with Johnny Jump-Up’s and petunia’s last June. Works GREAT! Have my son, nephew, and their lady friends growing their own salads. Learned that it is important to know what nutrients plants need, group them together and make a system for each. We have found that tomatoes and some types of lettuce grow way better in different nutrient mixes. Also, root crops don’t care for the clay pebbles. They grow, but the plants look funny & the clay breaks sometimes. We started using coconut husks for carrots, onions and radishes with great success.

    The money output mentioned is true too. Depending on how much you need, a couple can stay in salads forever on less than $100. Just buy what you need at garage sales and you could do it even cheaper!

    October 3rd, 2013 at 5:48 pm
  4. Tre wrote:

    Yes…the Tower Garden system is neat…and cost $500. Better to spend less than $25 – $35 for the system above which will work just as well, plus you have the knowledge that you built it yourself.

    October 3rd, 2013 at 5:50 pm
  5. Dianne A wrote:

    Clay aggregate pebbles or other medium: Do these go in the bottom of the container. I didn’t see anything in the instructions to address these, but they were in the supply list. Also any suggestions on when to use each. Thanks.

    November 9th, 2013 at 12:12 pm
  6. Tracyt42 wrote:

    Great systems. I’d like to see all abandoned factories converted into hydroponic farms to feed people locally with fresh produce.

    May 15th, 2014 at 5:16 am
  7. KT wrote:

    It would have been helpful to include instructions on how to maintain this system in the event of grid-down. Pumps, lights, bubblers all depend on a power source. Without it, in a crisis, the nutrients in the water turn to peasoup. And not what you want to use growing food plants! Store-bought nutrients may not be accessible in a crisis….so then what? How will the system’s water requirements in a crisis need to be considered when storing family water supply? These questions might make for a great Part II to this article.

    May 15th, 2014 at 5:59 am
  8. addie wrote:

    would like more information on this.
    also how about the table in the photo of this article?
    Did you make it?? If not where did you acquire it??

    May 15th, 2014 at 6:53 am
  9. night_fury_77 wrote:

    @KT an off the grid hydroponics garden would consist of fish also. Its a system where the fish poo are the nutrients for the plants and in turn the plants keep the water fresh for the fish so you don’t really have to clean like a typical fish tank. You should get a book on it because its more complicated than what I can explain. Hope it helps.

    May 15th, 2014 at 10:00 pm
  10. Ms. M. wrote:

    Is this similar to VEGETABLE SPROUTING?

    I cannot DIGEST SPROUTED VEGETABLES because of High CHOLESTEROL problems.

    May 16th, 2014 at 3:35 am
  11. June wrote:

    To KT, just as with any emergency stores, this is something you will want to try when the weather is good and your garden is growing. If you wait till you are in crisis, you are not going to be able to do much as it is a crisis time for everything and everyone. Try it this summer and carry it on into fall and winter. Encompass it in your daily lives and it will seem perfectly normal when it needs to be used.

    May 21st, 2014 at 10:32 am

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