Congratulations! You’ve constructed your first hydroponic system and now you’re ready to start growing! But now the big question comes up: What should I grow in my hydroponic garden?
Chances are, you have big dreams of providing for your family at every meal from your bountiful set-up. That can happen, but we advise you to take it slow at first! If you go all out right away and run into complications, you may get frustrated and drop the whole project. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so it's important to run through a few test crops first. Once you get a handle on the system, you will be ready to expand and diversify your hydroponic garden.
Top 5 Plants for New Hydroponic Gardens
The five best plants to grow in a hydroponic system are:
- Bell Peppers
Growers have found that these plants take to hydroponics like a duck to water. They’re durable, fast growing and don’t take a lot of work to get started – all great features that give a new grower a little wiggle room!
Now let’s look at each of these a little closer:
Lettuce in Hydroponics
Lettuce (and most other leafy greens) should be your first plant to try with a hydroponic system. These plants have a shallow root system that matches their short above-ground height. That means there’s no need to tie stakes or set guides for the plant. Instead, you just let them grow while regularly changing their nutrient solution. Eventually, they will look good enough to eat, and you can!
- Grow time: About 30 days
- Best pH: 6.0 to 7.0
- Tip: Stagger plantings so you have a continuous supply of lunchtime lettuce!
- Variety options: Romaine, Boston, Iceberg, Buttercrunch, Bibb
Spinach in Hydroponics
Spinach grows quickly in a hydroponic system, particularly when using the Nutrient Film Technique or other methods that keep the nutrient solution highly oxygenated. You’ll also use far less water than an in-the-ground garden. It’s easy to start these plants from seed and a week after sprouting, move them into your system.
- Grow time: About 40 days
- Best pH: 6.0 to 7.5
- Tip: For sweeter spinach, keep your grow temperatures between 65 degrees F and 72 degrees F. The lower temperatures may slow grow time, though.
- Variety options: Savoy, Bloomsdale, Smooth Leafed, Regiment, Catalina, Tyee, Red Cardinal
Strawberries in Hydroponics
The worst thing about strawberries is how seasonal they are. If you don’t get them locally when the crop is ready, you’re relying on trucked-in berries that begin deteriorating as soon as they’re picked. With hydroponics, you can have a ready-to-eat crop of strawberries all year long. Harvesting is super-convenient as well – no bending over! Strawberries seem to do best with an ebb and flow system, but deep water culture or nutrient film technique can do for a small crop.
- Grow time: About 60 days
- Best pH: 5.5 to 6.2
- Tip: Don’t buy strawberry seeds, which won’t be berry-ready for years. Instead, you want to buy cold-stored runners that are already at that stage.
- Variety options: Brighton, Chandler, Douglass, Red Gauntlet, Tioga
Bell Peppers in Hydroponics
Bell peppers are a slightly more advanced hydroponic plant. Don’t let them grow to their full height, instead, prune and pinch plants at about 8 inches to spur pepper growth. Deep water culture or ebb and flow systems are best for peppers.
- Grow time: About 90 days
- Best pH: 6.0 to 6.5
- Tip: Plan to provide up to 18 hours of light for these plants each day, and raise your light rack as the plants grow, keeping plants about 6 inches from the lights.
- Variety options: Ace, California Wonder, Vidi, Yolo Wonder
Herbs in Hydroponics
There are a wide variety of herbs that work wonderfully in hydroponic gardening. Studies have shown that hydroponic herbs are more flavorful and aromatic than those grown in the field. What herb do you want to grow? Basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and watercress are all great options. Herb production is another great way to test out your new hydroponic system, and nearly every system style is suitable for a round of herbs as you learn the ropes!
- Grow time: Varies by plant
- Best pH: Varies by plant
- Tip: Flush your growing medium about once a week to get rid of any extra nutrients that your plants haven’t (or won’t) absorb.
- Variety options: Name your favorite, and you’ll find instructions for growing it!
How Are You Using Your Hydroponic System?
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