Hydro-what? Hydroponics, of course! This science of growing plants in nutrient-rich water instead of soil has been around at least since the Aztecs created their floating gardens, but it’s come a long way since then! And thanks to some huge improvements in technology and materials, this unique way of growing plants has moved from the science lab into intrigued gardeners’ homes. What’s more, it’s easy and makes a tasty hobby (especially in the cold winter months), and it’s a terrific science experiment to do with the kids.

AeroGarden setup

It took me just 10 minutes to get my kit set up, and then my garden was off and growing!

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

5 day AeroGarden

By Day 5, I took off the bio-dome covers so the seedlings had room to grow.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Week 1 AeroGarden

By Week 1, the healthy seedlings were growing their first set of leaves and roots.

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Week 2 AeroGarden

By Week 2, the new plants established good roots and their leaves were filling out nicely

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

Week 3 AeroGarden

In just three weeks, my plants grew lush and green and were almost ready for harvest!

Photo Credit: Mary Moore

There’s no shortage of ways to try out this science. You can build your own garden or purchase a prefabricated kit to launch you into the world of hydroponics. There are just a few things you need to know before you begin growing plants without soil:

  • Water: The water must be aerated, the water flow must be consistent, and the water must be constant so the plants don’t dry out.
  • Plants: The plants need to be started in a growing medium suspended above the water so the plants won’t rot.
  • Nutrients: The nutrients must be added to the water on a regular basis so the plants don’t starve.
  • Light: There must be sufficient light to ensure healthy growth.

While this all might sound tricky for the inexperienced plant grower, there are several quick-to-assemble units on the market with clearly spelled out nutrient and light instructions that make growing hydroponically easy!

When selecting the right kit for you, keep any eye out for some of these features:

  • A water tank with a motor to aerate the water.
  • A warning light or sound to let you know when the water level is too low.
  • A light fixture. (This is particularly important if you’re using the unit indoors.)
  • A growing surface to hold the growing medium (like perlite or rock wool) above the water but that still allows the roots to grow into the water.
  • A way to purchase additional nutrients and growing medium.
  • The option to use your own seeds.

For my own adventure in hydroponics, I decided to purchase a self-contained unit called the AeroGarden® Pro100. (It seems to provide an almost goof-proof hydroponics experience.) Although the appliance requires me to buy AeroGarden kits instead of less expensive generic hydroponic materials, my natural klutziness overcame my tendency to stretch pennies.

My AeroGarden unit arrived unassembled in four pieces with an herb seed kit, two grow bulbs and very clear instructions. I was able to assemble the unit in less than 10 minutes. (Who knew it’d be so easy to start a whole new way to garden?!)

After filling the unit with tap water, I added the seedpods. (I had purchased several of the seed kits and chose to plant the Salad Greens kit first.) The kit contained seven preplanted pods, seven bio-domes and enough organic nutrient tablets to last 14 weeks. I placed each of the seven pods in a hole on the grow surface, then I covered each pod with a bio-dome to protect the seedling while sprouting. Finally, I added two nutrient tablets to the water, plugged the unit in and selected the “Salad Greens” setting. That’s all there was to it!

Within 24 hours, my first seeds started sprouting. Per the instructions, I kept the domes on until the seedlings emerged – and did they ever make progress over the next few weeks!

Two weeks after I started the seeds, the “Add Nutrient” and “Water Level Low” lights start blinking as a reminder for me to add more nutrient pills and check the water level (which is a real help if you tend to forget things). Another useful feature of this particular unit is that you can raise the light fixture to accommodate the plants as they grow taller.

By week four, I started harvesting my greens! I took less than 1/3 of the leaves from each plant each time to encourage the lettuce to grow new leaves. (The kit had provided enough nutrient tablets for me to keep the plants growing for more than 3 months – provided they remain healthy.)

My hydroponics kit is so easy to use, and I’ve been recommending it to my friends ever since the first seedlings sprouted! I’m looking forward to trying the company’s Master Gardener Deluxe Kit, which will allow me to use my own seeds. But my next step will be to use the company’s Garden Starter Tray to start my seedlings for my summer garden. Starting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants from seed can be challenging without a grow light and cabinets, so doing it with my new garden appliance should be a huge improvement.

If you thought hydroponics was way beyond your scope of capability, think again! Whether you try one of the new small hydroponics units available or build your very own contraption, you’ll be able to enjoy delicious salads, herbs or annuals any time of the year – no matter what your skill level.