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Hydroponic gardening can be tricky. One of the areas often overlooked by new hydroponic gardeners is the pH levels in their water. An improper pH level will hinder your plant’s ability to absorb the nutrients in the water. In this article, we’re covering how to…
If you’re new to hydroponics, the grow systems and entire process can be rather intimidating. However, hydroponics can be a really good way to start growing your food at home. One of the first questions most growers have when starting hydroponic gardening is: what do you feed hydroponic plants?
We’re covering this question, and the pro’s of hydroponic growing today!
If you’re looking for our full collection of resources for hydroponic growing, check out our hydroponic section for more info!
What Do You Feed Your Hydroponic Plants?
In short, hydroponic plants need a fertilizer solution to thrive in their grow systems. Think about it – hydroponics means you’re growing in water, and water by itself has essentially no nutrients present.
This means you’ll need to add a fertilizer solution for your plants to thrive. Hydroponic fertilizers are pretty easy to use and affordable, and adding those extra nutrients will help boost your plant’s growth and flowering.
Top Overall Pick: General Hydroponics Flora Grow Set
If you’re looking to do a deep dive on hydroponic fertilizers and which one might be best for you, check out our post on the best hydroponic fertilizers. However, if you’re looking to make a quick decision, our top overall pick is the General Hydroponics Flora Grow set.
This set of fertilizers comes with three different options, with each one intended for a specific growth cycle for the plant. This allows you to customize your fertilizing to exactly what your plant needs. For a fertilizing schedule, you can refer to General Hydroponics website for a full guide.
Types of Fertilizer – Liquid Vs. Powder
When selecting your fertilizer you’ll notice there are two main types of hydroponic fertilizer – liquid and powder.
For beginners just getting started with hydroponic growing, we recommend starting with a liquid solution. This is simply because it takes out an additional step of mixing and dissolving the powder prior to putting the fertilizer in your grow system. With liquid fertilizer, you simply pour the correct amount (noted on the instructions that comes with the fertilizer) into the system.
Pro’s of Hydroponic Growing
There are many perks to hydroponic growing, and there’s a reason why its a trending niche in the gardening industry!
Year Round Grow Cycles
First, with hydroponic growing, you’re not subject to the typical weather cycles or outside conditions that you are with traditional growing. This means you can grow fruits and vegetables year round instead of just a few months out of the year.
Second perk – you can start hydroponic growing in a relatively small area – most home systems can fit on a countertop or tabletop within your home! Many hydroponic grow systems are made specifically to fit into small areas, so they’re perfect for small spaces.
More resource efficient
The third perk we’re going to cover in this post – did you know hydroponic growing is actually more efficient with water than traditional soil growing? This might feel counter-intuitive since you’re solely using water to grow your plants.
With hydroponic growing there’s zero waste of water, and everything is continuously cycled through the system. This means you don’t lose any water sitting at the bottom of a pot (or into the ground) like you might with normal soil gardening.
You’ve got your hydroponic grow system picked out – what next? Aside from your seeds and grow medium, you’ll probably also need some hydroponic fertilizer. Today we’re covering our top picks for hydroponic fertilizer (especially ones that are beginner friendly!), how to use them, and…
Today, we’re covering how to use rockwool in hydroponics. Rockwool is a growing medium that you “plant” your seeds in. Its different than a traditional soil, and is used in hydroponic growing systems very frequently to support the seeds growth and prevent it from falling…
One of the biggest negatives to hydroponic gardening is the upfront cost to purchase a system and your seeds or pods. This begs the question – is a hydroponic garden cost effective? How long will it take for you to get a return on your initial investment?
Today, we’re covering a cost analysis of hydroponic gardening, and if it can save you money in the long run.
Our Cost Assumptions
For this exercise, we’re making a few assumptions that you might need to tweak or change based on your personal situation. We’ve tried to use a standard price for each item, or what could be considered “average” in each category. However, with hydroponic systems, there’s a wide range of costs that you can pay.
You can easily take a cheaper or more expensive route than we have in these scenarios. If you feel discouraged by the initial price – know that you have plenty of options to tweak as needed. For more options on different grow systems available – check out our guide on The Best Hydroponic Grow Systems for Beginners.
Don’t worry though we’ll include links for each item should you want to purchase or reference these items for your own cost analysis!
Assumption 1 – The Aerogarden Indoor Hydroponic Grow System
We selected the Aerogarden Indoor System for this analysis because this unit is a mid-range system in terms of price. You can purchase this unit for right around $260 on Amazon (as of 1/4/2020).
This is by no means the cheapest system out there, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t afford it. However high quality hydroponic grow systems can range from $100 to upwards of $500, it all depends on what features and sizes you want. For our purposes, we wanted something mid-range to estimate as fairly as possible.
Assumption 2 – Aerogarden Salsa Garden Seed Pods
Keeping with the Aerogarden theme, for estimating costs for seed pods we’re using an Aerogarden Salsa kit. This pod is priced at $17.95 currently and comes with a mix of tomatoes and peppers.
For this exercise we’re estimating that in a year the average user will go through 3 pod packs per year (meaning you’ll re-plant every 4 months). Many reviewers of hydroponic systems report much longer grow seasons so this estimate is probably above what you’ll actually need.
We’re breaking it down into two separate scenarios, so you can see how quickly you’ll break even from your initial investment (i.e. buying the hydroponic grow system and your 3 packs of seed pods).
Scenario 1 – You Use Produce Weekly
In scenario 1 – we’re assuming that you use a packet of herbs and a carton of tomatoes weekly.
As mentioned earlier, we’re assuming you’re purchasing a $260 Aerogarden unit and 3 seed pod packs per year. This makes your total investment for 1 year $313.85.
|Pods – 1 pack at $17.95||$ 53.85|
|Total Spent||$ 313.85|
Produce money saved for 1 year:
We’re using a rough estimate of $3.99 for a pack of fresh herbs (thinking basil, thyme, etc., whatever you use most of!). We’re also assuming $4.99 for a carton of tomatoes. Obviously there’s some room for variance here, you can sub out the numbers for whatever your local supermarket offers.
Assuming a pack of herbs and a carton of tomatoes is NOT bought, because you’re growing them from your Aerogarden, you’ll save a total of $466.96.
|Produce||Cost of Produce||Frequency||Amount|
|Herbs||$ 3.99||x 52 weeks||$ 207.48|
|Tomatoes||$ 4.99||x 52 weeks||$ 259.48|
|Total Saved||$ 466.96|
|Total Spent||$ 313.85|
|Total Saved||$ 466.96|
In scenario 1, assuming that you use 1 carton of tomatoes consistently per week and 1 packet of fresh herbs, you’ll more than cover your costs within the first year. In fact – you’ll end up saving roughly $153.11!
The Aerogarden model we’re using in this analysis has space for 9 seed pods, so you could easily grow more than just 2 types of plants. However, keep in mind some varieties (particularly vegetables) take up extra room. This means that you may not be able to fill all 9 pods with tomato plants.
This scenario is great for those that eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, if you know you wont need that much fresh produce and herbs, check out scenario 2!
Scenario 2 – You Use Produce Bi-weekly
In scenario 2 our upfront costs are the same as scenario 1. You’re initial investment is $260 for the unit and $53.85 for the seed pods.
|Pods – 1 pack at $17.95||$ 53.85|
|Total Spent||$ 313.85|
Produce Money Saved from 1 Year:
For this scenario, we’re assuming that you’ll consume produce and herbs at half the rate as scenario 1. This means that every other week you’ll be purchasing a pack of herbs and tomatoes. This is noted in the frequency column at 26 weeks per year to calculate the total savings.
In Scenario 2 our produce savings comes out to $233.48.
|Produce||Cost of Produce||Frequency||Amount|
|Herbs||3.99||x 26 weeks||$ 103.74|
|Tomatoes||4.99||x 26 weeks||$ 129.74|
|Total Saved||$ 233.48|
|Total Spent||$ 313.85|
|Total Saved||$ 233.48|
As you can see, in this scenario you do not break even from your initial investment. By the end of the year you’d still be down $80.37 compared to what you had to invest.
That being said, you still have the unit at the end of year 1 and can of course keep utilizing it the following year, where you’d break even very quickly.
So, is a Hydroponic Garden cost effective?
So – tying it back to our original question – is a hydroponic garden cost effective? It depends on how much produce and fresh herbs you’ll use, and how quickly you need a return on your initial investment.
As we mentioned, there’s definitely multiple ways to this differently. Our goal of this exercise was just to show a couple of scenarios that allow you to assess if a hydroponic grow system could be a good investment for you.
For more information on hydroponic grow systems, check out our Buyer’s guide to hydroponic grow systems for beginners! Or, check out our latest article on how a hydroponic system works.
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Want to learn how to grow produce year round from your apartment counter top? Hydroponic systems are creating a lot of buzz in the gardening industry, and there’s a ton of options for those looking to get started.
Today, we’re covering some of the basics of hydroponics, and the best systems for newbies who are just starting to try out hydroponics (without investing a ton).
What is hydroponics?
The shortest explanation is a hydroponic system is a method of growing that does not require soil. Instead, nutrients are delivered via water (there are several methods of doing so for this).
Hydroponics can be something done on a very large scale (think full farms of hydroponic plants), or can be done in a very small system indoors. These small systems are ideal for small spaces and for people looking to grow plants year round without worrying about weather variation.
Benefits of Hydroponics
Hydroponics has several huge benefits that are creating some buzz throughout the gardening industry. Growing this way allows for a quicker harvest time, is more efficient and produces crops using less water than traditional methods, and can be grown indoors (with proper lighting).
If using hydroponic methods, you can have indoor gardens that produce fruits and vegetables year round! Interested in getting started? Keep reading to determine which hydroponic grow system is the best for you!
Interested in a more detailed explanation on hydroponics? Check out our latest post on How Does a Hydroponic System Work.
Top Picks for Hydroponic Grow Systems
Lets jump right into our top picks for hydroponic grow systems.
Best Option for Complete Beginners: Aerogarden Harvest
For complete beginners, you can’t go wrong with an Aerogarden model. Aerogarden makes it super easy for beginners by providing easy to use seed pods. All you have to do is purchase a pack of pods and pop them into your grow system. Aerogarden also has a plethora of resources on their website and customer support to help with any questions, or issues that you run into while growing.
The Aerogarden Harvest’s major benefit is its a reputable brand at a lower price tag than other grow systems. This one is right around $100 on Amazon, making it a great option for beginners to start with, without a huge investment right upfront.
This system also comes with grow lights built in, making it convenient for rooms without large amounts of natural light.
The biggest con with this system is its on the smaller side. This means that this system can grow herbs and small plants adequately, but there isn’t enough room to grow larger plants like tomatoes or other vegetables.
Best Premium Option: Aerogarden Hydroponic Bounty Basic
Aerogarden is known in the hydroponic industry for a reason. As we covered in our first beginner pick, they’re pro’s at making the process super easy for beginners, and providing high quality hydroponic systems that consistently yield good results.
We love the Bounty Basic model from Aerogarden as a premium hydroponic option for a number of reasons. They of course come with built in grow lights, which is great for spaces with limited natural light.
This model in particular comes with “vacation mode”, meaning you can set the system to take care of your plants even when you’re away for extended periods of time. A new touch screen is also part of this model, which is a nice feature that makes it easy to navigate these new settings.
This model of the Aerogarden hydroponic systems can accomodate 9 plants, and each can grow up to 24 inches tall. This is a bit more than other options making it great for someone looking to have a plethora of herbs and vegetables year round.
This kit also comes with a complete herb garden set so you can get started with your hydroponic garden right out of the box!
The biggest con with the Bounty Basic model from Aerogarden is that its a little steeper in price than the other models. Right now, the model in black will run you $300 from Amazon, with other colors running a bit higher.
Aerogarden does offer a number of smaller units as well for a more affordable price, but you’ll be trading off space for plants and several features for the money savings.
Best Option for Experienced Gardeners: Ivation Herb Indoor Garden
The Ivation hydroponic system is our top overall pick for a system that is balanced between features, functionality, and price. While this does not have all the flashy bells and whistles like the aerogarden models, it does offer a solid system for growing hydroponic plants for the affordable price of $129.99.
The Ivation hydroponic system comes with grow lights as part of the system, making it great for low light spaces. This system also has 11 pod spaces, meaning you can grow 11 different plants at one time. The system is also large enough to grow both herbs and fruits and vegetables.
The largest pro is that you can get this system for $129.99, which is less than half of the equivalent options from more prevalent brands like Aerogarden.
Ivation’s hydroponic system is an affordable option that really packs a punch in terms of space for plants and the ability to grow vegetables. However, by giving up the higher price tag you’re losing some of the bells and whistles like a touch screen or connecting the system to an app for easy monitoring.
The reason we’re recommending this option for experienced gardeners is that it lacks the customer support that some other options do. Companies like Aerogrow make it super easy for beginners and have a ton of resources on how to work with their grow systems to yield the best results.
This system is certainly still usable, even for beginners if you like the appeal of the lower price tag. Just be aware that it will take more leg work on your part to research the hydroponic methods for this particular system that will work best for you.
Best Budget Option: Klarstein GrowIt Flex Hydroponic System
If you’re just dipping your toe into hydroponics, or are only interested in a hydroponic herb garden, the Klarstein hydroponic system could be a good option for you! This is our top pick for those on a budget, with the 15 slot system coming in at $74.99 on Amazon.
The largest pro is this is one of the best budget systems available. It comes with built in grow lights, making it great for those with limited natural light options. It also has 15 slots for plants, meaning you can have a variety of plants growing at one time.
And of course, as our top pick for those on a budget, the price is lower than other similar models so you’re saving some money with this model.
The biggest con with this hydroponic system is that due to the size of the system, it only allows for growing herbs in the system. Additionally, by saving some money on this system you’re giving up some of the bells and whistles like a touch screen or Bluetooth connection that you get on higher priced options.
Most Versatile Option: Miracle Grow Indoor Grow Side Table
One hydroponic system that we had to include on our list is the Miracle Grow Side Table hydroponic system. This system is particularly good for small spaces (or spaces with limited counter space) because it doubles as a side table.
The fact that this system doubles as a side table is the most unique benefit. Aside from that, this system also includes grow lights, making it good for limited natural light spaces. This system also connects to bluetooth, and you can control the settings on the system and monitor from your phone using the Miracle Gro app (although some users have reported bugs with the app).
The main con with this hydroponic option is that it only has 4 plant pod slots, which means you’ll most likely have to pick between your favorite plants. Additionally, given the size of this system, you’ll most likely only be able to grow herbs, flowers, and leafy greens. So if you plan on growing larger plants you’ll want to go with a different system.
The Miracle Gro indoor grow side table is available on Amazon right now for $199, making it a mid-range option in terms of price.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Hydroponics Beginner Friendly?
It can be! Those diving into hydroponics have likely done some “typical” gardening (meaning with soil) prior to trying hydroponics. However, if you have not, that doesnt mean you cant start with hydroponics!
If you are brand new to all types of gardening, its worth considering buying a system from a well known brand like Aerogrow, which offers the Aerogarden systems. They specialize in making it super approachable for beginners and have a good customer support team to answer a lot of questions for newbies.
Do You Need to Buy a Hydroponic System?
Short answer – no. A hydroponic system is something that you can make yourself – stay tuned for blogposts on how! However, for beginners, we do recommend buying a hydroponic system to help eliminate some of the guess work.
Hydroponics can be a process of trial and error in the early learning stages, so by buying a system that is already set up you eliminate some of the questions of “if I set this up correctly”. This allows you to focus on the growing and how to tweak the processes for each plant you’re trying to grow successfully.
Have you tried hydroponics? What are some of your top tips? Let us know in the comments below!