Hydroponics gardening piques the curiosity of horticulture

Monday, December 13, 2021

Media contact: Gail Ellis | Communication specialist, copywriter | 620-515-2498 | gail.ellis@okstate.edu

During the past year, Oklahoma State University expansion has been inundated with inquiries related to Hydroponics Plant production.

Expansion specialists saidthe non-traditional gardening method is workable but also requires more complicated growing techniques. Its surge in popularity is based on several factors.

“We saw interest in gardening in general with the onset of COVID-19 when everyone was home,” said Josh Campbell, educator at Oklahoma County Extension. “They wanted to connect with nature and the food supply by learning more about food sources and safety.”

What makes hydroponics attractive? Plants can grow in a liquid nutrient solution without the presence of soil and it is a viable means of production for tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, as well as ornamental plants.

“Hydroponics is an option in urban areas where there is no access to land bases or productive soil,” said Campbell. “Scientists and those interested in technology from an agricultural point of view see this as the future of production in a small space.”

Bruce Dunn, an OSU professor of horticulture and landscape architecture, said another major driver of curiosity about hydroponics is the efficiency and cost savings of local food production.

“Most of our produce comes from California, and when we see $ 4 a gallon of gasoline and labor and transportation problems, those things depend on our vegetables getting here in Oklahoma,” he said. “Local food movements want to reduce the carbon footprint and eliminate food deserts. We get calls every month from people saying they are getting into local food production. “

For the home gardener considering small-scale hydroponics in a garage or greenhouse, the method can be an economically viable option.

“The advantage of hydroponics in a greenhouse is that you can schedule the harvest of fresh produce,” said Dunn. “If you divide the greenhouse into quarters and stagger the germination times, you have something to harvest every week.”

However, both Dunn and Campbell recognize that hydroponic gardening is more capital-intensive and not as forgiving as traditional gardening. Stages of production that occur in natural eco gardens are difficult to replicate in a hydroponic setting.

“Hydroponics growers have to ask a premium to make money, and that often requires farm-to-table restaurants or suppliers paying that higher price,” said Dunn.

“I have seen very few growers who have expanded their operations to a commercial level and are still making a profit,” said Campbell. “You have to be a great gardener and a seasoned businessman to overcome the logistical challenges of growing food in a controlled indoor environment. If you don’t provide the right nutrients, water or light, things can quickly get out of hand. ”

The saturation of Oklahoma’s cannabis industry is also responsible for many of the hydroponics inquiries. As marijuana growers begin to close their businesses, they are turning to the specialists at OSU Extension and looking for alternative ways to use their large, empty greenhouses.

“I’ll get inquiries from people who say vaguely, ‘I’m growing this plant …’ and I know exactly what they’re growing,” Dunn said with a laugh. “Oklahoma has more cannabis growers than California, and that may not be sustainable.”

“It is an opportunity for Extension to help vegetable producers identify their barriers and solve problems,” said Campbell.

In addition to the OSU Extension’s collection of hydroponics fact sheets, Dunn and Campbell are available to answer questions about hydroponics gardening or to make site visits to assist with vegetable production. Dunn also leads a team of PhD students in the OSU’s Horticulture and Landscape Architecture department who research fertilizer application, algae control, and production methods of hydroponic peppers, leafy greens, and other fast-growing vegetables.

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