Basic Home Hydroponics: A workshop for DIY enthusiasts

On Jan. 2, 2021, the Basic Home Hydroponics workshop will teach participants everything they need to know to begin hydroponics at home.

Blueberry transplants in a hydroponic system
Experimental blueberry transplants being grown in a do-it-yourself hydroponic system. Photo by Christopher Imler, MSU Extension.

What is hydroponics? A perfunctory search of the internet produces all manner of explanations, from historical accounts of a Roman emperor’s cucumbers to futuristic images of modern theme park gardens. Less considered is the actual science that underpins why growing plants without soil is even possible, which is precisely what hydroponics does.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, plants do not need soil to grow. The basic requirements for plant life are light, an adequately warm environment, water, carbon dioxide, oxygen and mineral nutrients. In his early 1600s experiments, Jan Baptist van Helmont revealed that plants do not consume soil to grow and increase in weight. Rather, soil simply acts as a reservoir for some of what plants need, primarily water and nutrients. In 1929, the University of California scientist William Gericke would coin the term hydroponics, which means “water working” in Latin. Gericke’s experiments demonstrated that vegetables grown in such a manner could compete economically with field grown commercial crops. For more information, check out Gericke’s book, “The Complete Guide to Soilless Gardening.”

Although much has been improved upon in the 90 years since Gericke’s seminal publication, the core principles remain unchanged. By delivering a continuously aerated nutrient solution directly to the plant roots, great increases in growth can be achieved. What has changed is that hydroponics as a cultural practice has moved from the laboratories of universities into the hands of home enthusiasts. The same reason that makes hydroponics an attractive business venture often makes it an exciting proposition for the amateur horticulturalist: the promise of a more bountiful harvest. So exciting is this prospect that an entire industry has evolved to support this new pastime.

But what resources does the budding hydroponic gardener have to discern reputable, useful products and information? How are these gardens built and maintained? How does one do hydroponics? As with most hobbyist pursuits, there is an overabundance of educational content available online. So much so that it can be difficult to distinguish between good and bad sources of information.

On Jan. 2, 2021, the Michigan State University Extension workshop “Basic Home Hydroponics” will present participants with everything they need to know to begin hydroponics at home. This science-based seminar explains in plain terms what makes hydroponics work, how simple systems can be built using low-cost materials, and the best practices for producing big, tasty vegetables and herbs at home with minimal fuss.

Visit the Basic Home Hydroponics registration page for more details on this workshop and registration information, or contact the course instructor, Christopher Imler, at imlerchr@msu.edu. Registration ends Dec. 29, 2020.

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