It’s that time of year again – to get your hands dirty and plant the yummy array of veggies you’ve picked for your garden. Traditionally, we plant our gardens in the ground, but last year my boyfriend and I investigated the topic of hydroponic gardening and were fascinated by the idea! He and I both being handy people plus his science major helped set us up for success with this new endeavor.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be super handy and/or have a science major to have hydroponic gardening work for you. When doing our research on how to get this project started, we found multiple pre-made kits you can buy online. Here is the exact system from which we based our personal set up, sold by Home Depot: the Hydroponic Black Bucket Deep Water System (8-Pack) – find it at homedepot.com/p/Viagrow-Hydro¬¬ponic-Black-Bucket-Deep-Water-System-8-Pack-V8DWC/203124375.

The cool part about this specific product is that it comes with a list of all the pieces you need to build your own set-up!

We went on down to our local grow center – more info at facebook.com/milfordgrowcenter – and they had everything we needed to build this project… the nutrients, the clay rocks, the buckets, the baskets, the air tubes, the air stones, the compressor, the PH solution and so much more! The hardest part of setting this whole project up was cutting the tube and setting up the lines for the water and air to flow properly. My advice to you is to stay as organized with your list as you can to avoid having to go back to the store for missing supplies.

There are a couple of things to note if you want to try this project for your garden, which I will explain… roots cannot get direct sunlight indoors, therefore if you have five-gallon buckets laying around that you want to use, be sure the sun cannot penetrate through the plastic. When you hold the bucket up to the sun and can see through the plastic, similar to when you shine a flashlight on your fingertips at night, you need to spray paint them with a of couple coats until the sun can’t get through. Also, when it comes to nutrients and PH levels, be sure to do specific research on what your veggies will want.

There are a lot of great resources online to help you figure out what you will need. From what I found on Google when doing my research is that the PH level is imperative to a happy crop, so be sure to get your PH solution and test the PH levels – you won’t regret it!

Also, we were concerned with rainwater getting into the system and messing things up since the water needs to sit about halfway, submerging the roots without drowning them, and we built our system outside. There was also the concern that the rainwater would mess with the chemical balance of our solution. I don’t know the science behind it, but it didn’t affect it at all; my theory is it had something to do with the clay rocks.

Now that you have a solid base as to what goes into setting this system up, let’s move on to the fun part the experiment!

The soil at our house isn’t the best, as is New England soil, plus we rent and can’t just rip up the lawn. To avoid this dilemma in the past, we do a bucket garden… yes it’s exactly what it sounds like: tomatoes, peppers and lettuce crops each in their own five-gallon bucket. Strange, I know, but it works.

That said, we did our normal bucket garden alongside the hydroponic garden, all planted the same day to see how they would compare. We weren’t sure what to expect considering we weren’t even sure if our setup was proper. Let me tell you, there was a significant difference between the two.

The hydroponic garden was thriving I’m not even exaggerating when I say this you would go out to water the bucket garden one day and the next morning go to do the same, and the hydro garden crops grew an inch or two. You can literally see them growing before your eyes!

To put it into perspective, we got one or two peppers from the buckets total and about three or four a week from the hydro garden. Some tomatoes, too, but when compared to the hydro plants, some sad-looking ones didn’t produce nearly as fast or healthy. The cucumbers are a whole other story – I couldn’t even keep up with them!

I will say, the lettuce didn’t thrive in the hydro set up. My thought is the roots weren’t getting the water they needed. I think if they were in their own setup, they would be fine since roots are so much shallower than the other crops. To get the water level where it needed to be, it would drown the rest of the plants in the system.

So, is hydroponics worth it? My opinion: if you love gardening and want to try something new, hydroponics is for you! It is so fun to watch the difference in the crops and see how well and quickly they produce. It’s a 10 out of 10 for me this year – we converted the whole garden to hydro minus the lettuce… those are staying in the dirt for now. It’s only been about two weeks and I already see a huge change in veggies since planting them.

I hope I’ve sparked some interest in how you can switch up how you normally would go about planting your garden.