Indoor Gardening: Basic Hydroponic Tools and Equipment

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Indoor hydroponic gardening
Indoor hydroponic gardening

It is no secret that commercial growers have been using hydroponic tools and equipment for indoor gardening for years. Like other businesses, these farmers need to generate revenue and provide a product to customers year-round. What if you want to become more self-sufficient during the COVID-19 lock-down? What about the average person that wants to do it on a smaller scale? The good news is that you can. Let’s look at what you need to get started.

Light for Photosynthesis

Dictionary.com defines photosynthesis thus, “the complex process by which carbon dioxide, water, and certain inorganic salts are converted into carbohydrates by green plants, algae, and certain bacteria, using energy from the sun and chlorophyll.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah; what you really need to know is that your plants need light to grow. Of course, sunlight is optimal; it provides the full spectrum of visible and non-visible light. It’s offered to us for free and is the best way to provide light for hydroponics. Many vegetable plants and herbs like mint and basil do best on at least six hours of direct light each day. Southern-facing windows and greenhouses have the potential to provide this amount of sunlight.

But what if that’s not in the cards? You’ll be best investing in grow lights. Look for ones from 4,000 to 6,000 kelvin to insure that they deliver both cool (blue) and warm (red) light.

Substitute Substrate for Soil

This is where the hydro part comes in. The water and nutrients circulate through the substrate which is a material such as pea gravel, sand, coconut fiber, peat moss, expanded clay pellets, etc.

Water

Clean water is critical. The water of choice is treated by reverse osmosis (RO). This purification process results in water that is 98% to 99% pure and your plants will thank you for it. You will also have to keep an eye on the water pH (a measure of alkalinity or acidity. For example, if you are growing tomatoes, they prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 on a scale where 7.0 is considered neutral. Mint plants prefer 6.5 to 7.5. Growing beets? Shoot for 6.0 to 6.8. Knowing these numbers is important as you consider companion plants for your garden.

As far as fertilizer goes, you’ll want to buy a hydroponic premix because it will contain all the nutrients needed. I suppose you could cobble together your own but the expense/work ratio doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to add foliar feeding every couple of weeks.

Types of Hydroponic Systems

As you might suspect, there is a range of systems to choose from.

  • Water culture. Uses a non-submersible air pump, air hose, floating platform, rope wicks, and grow tray.
  • Nutrient film. Uses non-submersible air pump, air hose, submersible pump, air stone, overflow tube, and grow tray.
  • Wick system. Uses non-submersible pump, air stone, air hose, rope wicks, and grow tray.
  • Ebb and flow. Submersible air pump, air hose, timer, overflow tube, and grow tray.
  • Aeroponic. Subersible pump, mist nozzles, air hose, and short-cycle timer.
  • Drip system. Non-submersible air pump, submersible pump, air hose, timer, drip lines, overflow tube, drip manifold, grow tray.

There are your basic hydroponic tools and equipment for indoor gardening. Whether you approach it as a hobby, as a serious farmer who is going off the grid, there are numerous benefits. The produce will be fresh, as organic as you make it, and available year-round.



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Foliar Feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food

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Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food Plus and a pump-up sprayer.
Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food Plus and a pump-up sprayer

If you have any kind of garden — vegetables with their recommended companion plants, ornamental, or fruit trees, you know that fertilizing is key to healthy plants and a good yield. But did you know that in addition to ground fertilizer (not those little stakes), foliar feeding is important. Dictionary.com defines foliar as, “of, relating to, or having the nature of a leaf or leaves.” I do my foliar feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Liquid Plant Food.

Make-Up of Medina Hasta Gro

Fertilizers may use any number of ingredients but what you want to look for is the N-P-K ratio. For this product I use 6-12-6.

  • N = nitrogen. This is responsible for leaf growth and development. Its role relates to the plant’s coloring and chlorophyll. Nitrogen depletion may present as leaf yellowing in typically green plants often indicates a lack of nitrogen. In the case of Medina it is is derived from clean urea sources and has humic acid added into the mix.
  • P = phosphorus. This component targets root growth and flower and fruit development.
  • K = potassium. Potassium also plays a part in root growth as well as in stem development.

Foliar Fertilizer Application

This fertilizer is remarkably inexpensive. The jug in the photo at the top of the page contains one gallon of concentrate. It’s mixed at the ratio of 1/2 liquid ounce (about one tablespoon) per gallon of water. That is enough to do my small vegetable garden, my herbs (mint, rosemary, parsley, basil, etc.), two fig trees, one orange tree, and a sapling Don Juan Avocado tree.

To apply, just mix the concentrate and water in the sprayer, pump it up, and spray the leaves. Try to apply it on both the tops and bottoms of the leaves. How much? Enough so that you can see it dripping off. The best time of day for application is early morning or evening when it’s not too hot. Don’t wash the spray off the foliage. If you have any left over in your sprayer, don’t hesitate to spray your lawn or mulch. Waste not; want not.

I’ve had great results with Foliar Feeding with Medina Hasta Gro Plant Food on my garden this year. Applying it every couple of weeks works very well. I’ve seen better results at a better price than when I’ve used compost tea. Give it a try and happy gardening!



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Types and Benefits of Mulch

Soil Improvement and Water Conservation in Garden and Landscaping

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Cypress "Nofloat" mulch
Cypress “Nofloat” mulch

Mulch is an integral part of ornamental and vegetable gardens and landscaping beds. If you think about it, in most cases nature abhors bare soil, and as gardeners so should we. While mulch provides aesthetic qualities, the “under-the-hood” benefits are numerous. During the Coronavirus pandemic everyone has time to improve their garden.

  • It conserves water.
  • It reduces weeds.
  • It keeps the soil surface cooler and that benefits earthworms, microorganisms, and plant roots. Earthworms are essential for many reasons but particularly because they keep your soil aerated when they tunnel, allowing water and fertilizers to enter. Unfortunately, when homeowners put pesticides on their lawn they kill the earthworms. The two things that should go on your lawn are organic fertilizer and beneficial nematodes.

Types of Mulch

  • Cypress: When mulch breaks down it feeds your soil. Cypress does not break down well but when shredded properly it will not float off in the rain.
  • Recycled plant material: This includes organic material from your own property — leaves, twigs, dead plants, spent buds, bark, flowers, and other plant debris. I’ve even used spent grains from my beer-brewing days!
  • Shredded hardwood bark: A very good choice. It breaks down well to feed your soil, looks good, and is readily available. My favorite for mint and basil plants.
  • Pine needles: This is often an easy resource if you or a neighbor have pine trees. You will notice that needles make a fine bed in the forest? Same thing for your yard.
  • Any kind of dyed mulch: Let me be clear–NO, NO, NO. Yes, your landscaper may be a pusher for this stuff, you might be trying to complement the color of your siding, or your homeowner association might want you to “conform”, but NO. Do you know what chemicals are in the dye? Nope, me neither. Whatever it is they don’t list it on the bag; you do not want it in the veggies you put on the table. Or, getting down into the water table.
  • Pine bark: This may be one of the most popular mulches on the market but it is far from the best. It looks great but it tends to float away in heavy rain and turns to mush as it dries. Yuck.
  • Shredded rubber: I shouldn’t have to say this but NO, NO, NO! This is for the local high school track, not for your garden.

Other Mulching Gardening Considerations

  • Do not use plastic sheets or weed blocking materials. They may take a bit of the workload off you, but they stop the biologic process and cook the roots of your target plants.
  • Even if you don’t use cedar as a mulch, shred some on your table saw or with some other tool and add it into your mulch; it will keep many insects at bay in an organic way.
  • When you mulch a tree, make a “volcano” not a “plateau”. No need to introduce root rot when trying to help the tree, right?

Knowing the types and benefits of mulch can make it or break it in your gardening plan. It may seem like a minor issue but like other things in life, the devil is in the details. Happy gardening as we have time to do it in pandemic times.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Companion Planting Guide for Your Veggie Garden

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Swiss Chard Garden
Swiss Chard Garden

This article was updated on 03/01/20.

Many people put in their vegetable gardens every year and do their best to do the proper fertilization, watering, and weeding. Yet, no bounty for the table. It might be that the neighboring plants are the wrong types.

Some vegetable plants will benefit their neighbors; others will hinder their growth and yield. The answer is to plant correctly paired species. Sometimes even certain flowers will provide great benefits. This applies to both traditional and raised bed gardens.

First, Plan Your Garden

To take advantage of companion agriculture in order to get more bang for your buck, you first need to choose which vegetables and then mate them up with something else you want to bring to the table.

Personally, I choose the things that I love to eat but are either hard to find or expensive. For example, so far this year I’ve put in tomatoes, basil, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, rosemary, and chocolate mint (goes great in my espresso grounds).

As a side note, it never hurts to have fruit trees. When they are blossoming, that means more bees which will also pollinate your vegetables. My “mini-orchard” contains two fig trees, a plum tree, a Republic of Texas orange, a mandarin orange, a Sam Houston peach, a mulberry tree, and an improved Meyer lemon. All organic.

Recommended Companion Plants

There are a lot of popular plants that have plant friends. Let’s look at some of the most popular.

Asparagus. Good with basil, tomatoes, and parsley. Asparagus in the home garden is a good investment, it is low-maintenance, less expensive than at the store, and a bed will produce for years.

Basil. Good for most garden crops except rue. It improves the growth and flavor of many vegetables, especially tomatoes and lettuce.

Beets. Plant with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage bush beans, onions, cauliflower, chard, and kohlrabi.

Bush Beans. They like cauliflower, cucumbers, corn, beets, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, catnip, marigolds, and savory. Why catnip if you don’t own a cat? It repels flea beetles.

Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli. Good friends of thyme, mint, chamomile, dill, hyssop, beets, buckwheat, onions, rosemary, sage, wormwood, marigolds, nasturtiums, calendula, carrots. But not strawberries.

Cantaloupe. Likes sunflowers and corn, but not potatoes.

Carrots. Plant near cabbage, chives, early potatoes, leeks, salsify, wormwood, peas, radishes, rosemary, lettuce, onions, and sage.

Corn. Compatible with early potatoes, melons, beans, cucumbers, soybeans, squash, peas, and pumpkins .

Cucumbers. Plant near cabbage, corn, radishes, sunflowers, early potatoes, and beans. Not compatible with late potatoes.

Eggplant. Pair up with beans and marigold. Avoid potatoes as companions.

Onions. They like the companionship of beets, carrots, strawberries, tomatoes, summer savory, and cabbage. Avoid beans and English peas.

Parsley. Great with asparagus and tomatoes.

Soybeans. The ideal plant. They work with and help anything.

Squash. Good with corn, radishes, marigolds, and nasturtium. Not friendly with Irish potatoes.

Tomatoes. Works well with onions, marigold, asparagus, cucumbers, basil, carrots, and parsley.

Use marigold flowers for pest control
Use marigold flowers for pest control and beneficial companionship

More gardening tips

There are many other things to tip a generous harvest in your favor. This spring I took up rainwater harvesting for garden and tree watering. There are two main reasons that this is a good idea in my humble opinion. First, rainwater is free. Secondly, plants prefer the Ph in rainwater as compared to tap water.

Another good tip is to apply beneficial nematodes to your lawn and garden during the spring. On your lawn they will eliminate fleas without using pesticides. In your garden they will organically control sod webworms, cutworms, maggots, various types of ants, and many more. Pesticides are a bad idea; they kill beneficial ladybugs. They will also kill the earthworms that keep your garden soil aerated. Also, pesticides are taken up by the plant roots and kill the microscopic microbes that keep the roots healthy. Eventually, those toxins will make their way to your dining room table.

Did this post on companion planting for your garden help you? If so, feel free to share the link with your friends and your social media contacts.


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.


About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.