Easy Fall Greens via Hydroponics
Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers. Doesn't that look scrumptious? A crisp, shiny rosette of tsa tsoi, a tangy Chinese green that makes excellent stir fry material.
The best part is that I'm getting these delicious winter greens with almost no work, and I won't be composting them or digging out the planters to refill them with dirt for a second crop. I also don't have to worry about scrubbing dirt out of my sink; a post-harvest rinse and I'm done. How can all this be? I'm growing them hydroponically!
A colorful head of forenschluss speckled lettuce, plus more tsa tsoi; I'd better start my next batch of seedlings, and harvest these beauties soon.
About a month ago I had an 'aha!' moment while cleaning up in the back yard. In an untidy pile were a bunch of 3-foot long self-watering planters, the long window-box type, sitting empty. They're very shallow, so they're only good for things with shallow roots. Another item that needed putting away for winter was a giant 2 cubic yard bag of perlite. It was purchased by accident when I wrote "perlite" instead of "vermiculite" on a shopping list for someone else. Wups. Perlite, though, is one of the better mediums for hydroponics. I knew that I still had a good-sized container of dry mix for hydroponics solution in my garden storage bench. A plan was born!
My favorite red mustard seedlings, about 2 weeks along, with assorted lettuces and some ruby chard. The brown is harmless algae-- my fault for watering the seedlings directly from the top once. Note the handy little water level gauge built into this planter.
Now why did I have hydroponic fertilizer mix around? Some long-time readers may recall that when I lived in San Jose in 2003 and 2004, I had very little usable yard space for gardening-- our rental's sunny space was white pebble landscaping. Undaunted, and because I'd always been meaning to learn this stuff, I went out and got some hydroponic units and grew marvelous cucumbers, tomatoes, squashes, and peppers hydroponically. I'd started out buying gallon jugs of nutrient solution to dilute, but soon realized I was paying a lot for what was mostly water, and that buying dry mix would be better. A tiny bit goes a LONG way, so I still had plenty left over.
My San Jose hydroponic garden in late April 2004. Imagine everything tripled in size about 6 weeks later!
The main cloud around this hydroponics silver lining is that I don't like using artificial nutrient mix. I want to try doing hydroponics on filtered compost tea-- it should work just as well as the mix, as long as I dust some greensand into the perlite for extra minerals. I'll try that in the spring, or next fall, now that I have a baseline to work from and compare.
Self-watering planters are a really excellent choice for lettuce and greens, as so much of the plant is dependent on abundant water to grow crisp and strong. Even if you don't try hydroponics, it's worth putting some lettuce or stir-fry greens into a self-watering planter and letting them party on. You'll usually see a noticeable improvment in growth vs typical ground soil conditions.