Friday 16 June 2017

Hydroponics - A New Project

I'm currently in the preparation and exploration phase of a new project. This one's been in the back of my mind for a while now, however a trip to Ikea last week finally got me off the ground.

The principle is simple...home-grown strawberries. In theory this should be simple...I have a garden, and a degree (of sorts) in Biology. The downside is that I'm terrible at gardening (especially the dull, weeding and maintainence stuff), our garden is not great for growing stuff, and I haven't used my degree for a couple of decades! Most strawberries you buy are not actually grown in the ground, instead using the funky sounding, but really rather simple concept of hydroponics.

Hydroponics - growing stuff without soil. The plant instead grows in an inorganic medium, and is supplied with a nutriet mixture (i.e fertiliser and water). The sterile growing medium stops issues with disease and slugs, and in theory it's all rather low maintainence. Ikea seem to think it's for everyone, and have started marketing a simple, indoor hydroponics kit for general use.

I've bought a couple of these sets, and while the final goal is a rotating crop of strawberry plants, I'm starting with something a little simpler to check the gear, and also see how good I am at killing stuff. At one week in, it's looking OK.

The kit I have is composed of;
1) A nursery - this is where seeds are initially placed, onto stone wool plugs which are then suspended in a reservoir of tap water. No fertiliser is needed initially, as seeds contain everything the plant initially needs

2) Cultivation units - I have 2 of these, with 8 spaces in each. once the seedlings are ~6 days old, with a couple of leaves showing, they are transferred here, still in the stone wool plug, and embedded in ground pumice, which is the long term growing medium. The pumice is again suspended in a water reservoir, however now fertiliser is added to support the plants as they grow.

3) Grow Lights - these are LED full spectrum lights that replace the sun for the plants. This means that they can be grown anywhere indoors, and can also be provided with light 24 hours a day, speeding up growth. These lights are bright...very bright. I have them in my office, and I've constructed some light baffles around them on a shelf, giving them plenty of space, but not lighting up the house at night.

Ikea provide good notes and documents, as well as all the extras you need (fertiliser, growing mediums, suitable seeds), and for the initial run-through I'm following their notes closely. I currently have 8 White cabbage plants and 8 Pak Choi sitting in the cultivators, about 1 week into their life. It's all been reasonably painless, and apart from pumice going everywhere it's been a clean process. I have no doubt strawberries will provide different challenges, however I have some time before that second phase kicks off, as plants will not normally be available for sale until autumn or winter.