So, we have covered some baking, essential oils, kefir, and solar portions of our farm; we have not discussed our hydroponic garden. We do grow some produce traditionally in the dirt, but one of our biggest features on the farm is actually the hydroponic deck we have installed.
For those of you new to hydroponics, the plants and produce are grown dirt free. The plants are grown in baskets filled with clay pebbles (the photo above is of zucchini, by the way). The roots are exposed to running water underneath the baskets. Many of our planting sites are inside a raised deck we installed. These plant sites often contain various tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. We have done broccoli, cauliflower, and different melons in the past.
Other sites, like our green beans, are in smaller baskets. Instead of being in the actual deck, they are in vinyl fence posts.
Growing our produce hydroponically is how we got into being aware of where our food came from, around 8 years ago. My husband and I were in our first place, a duplex, and our son was only a few months old. We grew a few plants in a very small space hydroponically. We had various drip systems that started off looking very unorganized. Our set up has evolved quite nicely as we increased our space. We learned quite a bit from trial and error.
We have a reservoir that holds around 400 gallons of water, nutrients, and pump. Nutrients are checked often and adjustments are made as needed. Our reservoir is actually underground. We learned in the past that hot water can kill plants. At one place we lived, before moving out to the country, we had such a hot summer that our plants began to fail. We actually had to buy a water cooler for the reservoir. So, our reservoir is now underground to help regulate water temperature. It works and saves a lot of space.
The water that goes through the system is recycled and reused.
But now to the fun part… what we’re actually growing in our system.
These are some of our tomatoes. The netting you see is for cucumbers. It is very gorgeous once the plants start climbing it.
The left is spearmint and the right is lemon balm (with peppermint being squished in between). We use these very frequently in our still to make hydrosols and essential oils because they grow back quickly and smell amazing.
This is our lavender. It’s the first we’ve grown successfully, I would like to add. It’s flourishing and smells amazing. We have a favorite buttermilk and lavender bread we use the leaves for (flowers too, if available). It also makes a calming tea.
More tomatoes. Because tomatoes are great. We use tomatoes frequently raw, in cooking, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa. We produced over 300 pounds of tomatoes a few years. That’s a lot of canning. The process is not my most favorite thing in the world, but I love food and the taste is worth the effort. We also try not to waste as much as possible. Canning helps in this task.
We have been growing tomatoes for years and seeing the first fruit is just as exciting as the first time. We have this tradition/ritual, where we harvest the first ripened tomatoes of the season and feast upon tomato salads and sandwiches for dinner. I like to use mine on homemade dark rye bread.
It’s no secret that my family and I adore salad. My seven and five-year old children love it. We all particularly like homemade Italian and ginger dressings. We have a large variety here. Our favorites are romaine, chard, spinach, kale, and arugula. We eat salad on a nearly nightly basis. I bring some into work and often use our own chicken eggs as my protein source (I have nothing against eating meat; I had a difficult time eating meat during my second pregnancy and I never fully recovered).
Cucumbers are another favorite. Last year we did 52 quarts of pickles on top of the cucumbers we ate and shared with our animals.
At the end of the season, when we clean our hydroponics up, we often drop seeds into the ground and we get nice little surprises like these under the deck (tomato and lettuce). One year, we fed tomatillos to our chickens. Well, we use their waste as fertilizer. We had a random tomatillo plant growing in our yard. Up front I even have some random lettuce growing from birds dropping seeds.
Does anyone else grow their produce hydroponically? We would love to hear your opinions and experiences!