Left: 6 year old Poinsetti. I’m keeping it for Marty.
Right: A Dracena. It’s outgrown it’s enclosure, so I have to strap it down 😉
I looked up in the night sky when I was a kid. Sometimes, I’d spin until I got dizzy, then I’d see two sets of stars. As I grew up, the stars still mirrored the ones in my head. I’ve always been interested in what those little bits of light are made of, both inside, and up there.
One of the interesting questions in space exploration is “What do we eat?” Right now, we bring everything with us when we go into space. You’ve probably seen those shelf safe meals that don’t have to be refrigerated. Those products are the result of research into feeding astronauts. I ate them for almost a week, just to see, and all I can say is that it would take some getting used to. That’s all you need if you’re going up for a fortnight, but what about going to Mars? What about living on the Moon? We need a way to grow food that’s sustainable, compact, energy efficient, and durable. It’s not efficient to use soil in space. It’s too heavy. Instead, we borrow an idea that’s as old as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We pump nutrients directly to the roots of the plant. Since the plant can easily get nutrients through its roots, it invests more effort into growing foliage and fruit. Instead of soil, we use an artificial medium. It can be almost anything. The key ingredients are that the medium absorb and hold water, and allow for the circulation of air. After that, I’ve made working hydro rigs out of old t-shirts and a bowl of water. Essentially, Hydroponics provides the plant with all its nutrients. The medium is inert. The solution either submerges the roots on a schedule, or sprays onto them continuously. Spraying bare roots continuously is called Aeroponics.
In the simplest form of hydroponics, the roots are always partially submerged in a very weak solution. The plant relies on the dry part of the root system to get its oxygen.
It’s easy to set up. Get a multi day pet waterer and a pot that fits into the drinking area. Drill plenty of holes into the bottom of the pot. Now, medium. Use your imagination. Fill the pot with kitchen sponges… not the anti microbial kind, though. Cover the top with stones to avoid evaporation and funny stares. I use clay balls that are available through any of the retailers on the googling page.
Cut a generous plug out of your medium. Insert your seedling starter. I use peat disk seed starters. You can even get away with using your normal seed starting methods and then transplanting the seedling into your medium. After the plant establishes itself into the medium, it is a good idea to remove the seed starter. Leaving it provides pests with a starting point.
Insert a stake now rather than try to thread it through fledgling roots later. I prefer bamboo stakes with garden Velcro ties.
Fill the bottle with tap water. Use something other than a regular plant food if you can. Those foods are designed for a soil environment, not hydroponics. Those concentrations will likely burn the roots. If you can’t find a hydroponic food or there’s a cop car in front of the hydro store, use liquid plant food sparingly.
Place your contraption in sunlight, and wait.