I’ve gardened in dirt for many, many years in a variety of climates (Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, California) so when I discovered hydroponics 7 years ago I thought it was amazing. Imagine, no dirt, no weeds, fast growth, never needing to worry about when to water and when to fertilize. Best part was because the grow beds are portable I could “garden” where ever I wanted. But there was always that nagging issue of the nutrients. Most nutrients in hydroponics are based on mineral salts, which could be ecologically harvested and purified, but I’m afraid the vast majority just aren’t. It always felt a little like I was feeding my plants with a chemical soup; something out of the George Jetson era where you put a seed into a mystery box, press a button, then, voila! – a plant.

And these nutrients need to be regularly monitored with something called an EC meter. “EC” stands for electrical conductivity. Salts conduct electricity. The meter measures the level of salts in your nutrient solution. Certain plan types grow best with certain levels of EC. Lettuce and greens – low EC. Tomatoes and peppers – start out with low EC, then move to high EC as they fruit. You need a meter, you need time, and you need knowledge.

Because of the buildup of these chemicals hydro gardeners are instructed to replace the nutrient bath every 2 – 4 weeks. I had a real ‘dilemma’ as to where to pump these nutrients. Dirt veg garden (now entirely covered by landscape fabric, but that is a different post)? – nope, might destroy the organic nature of the soil. Grass? Nope, unless evenly distributed I worried that this might cause a nitrogen overdose in spots. I ended up pumping it out to the driveway. A lot of money ran down that driveway.

Compare that with the aquaponics setup I now have in my greenhouse.

aquaponics nutrientsI have linked to a video so you can get a better sense. I have no worries about the aquaponics nutrients solution. If I ever did need to pump it out – which I hope I never do – I’d be happy to put it on my gardens. The only monitoring I ever do (now that the system is fully cycled) is keep an eye on the pH (I honestly only get to it about once a month) and the water temperature. The only “maintenance” of the nutrient solution is feeding the fish – which, I might add, is a significantly more joyous experience than measuring out and mixing chemical nutrients.

Can you tell I”m hooked?