Grow outside of soil? Experts say it's possible

2013-03-18T09:08:00Z 2013-03-19T16:48:41Z Grow outside of soil? Experts say it's possibleDOLLY A. BUTZ Sioux City Journal

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, serves as one of the earliest examples of hydroponics, a method of growing plants in water with added nutrients.

Disney World has adopted the soil-less growing practice to produce annuals and perennials for floral displays, as well as vegetables for the theme park's restaurant.

Laurie Taylor, Woodbury County Extension master gardener coordinator, said a hydroponic greenhouse has been established in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area, but the practice is just beginning to catch on in Siouxland.

She said her office has fielded a few requests for information about hydroponics. The topic, she said, could possibly be on the agenda for next year's Siouxland Garden Show.

"In the future, I think it will become more popular. It does have the advantages of not having to worry about your soil," she said. "You'd have more control over the nutrients and type of fertilizers that are used."

Edibles and plants that can be grown in a greenhouse are suitable for water-growing, according to Taylor.

Getting a hydroponic system up and running, she said, can be costly and "very labor intensive." However, the benefits reaped could be worth it in the long-run.

Taylor said you will need less space than you would for a traditional garden. Weeds won't be a problem; and you won't have to worry about hoeing, tilling and crop rotation since the plant's roots are suspended in nutrient-rich, oxygenated water.

"A lot of the work is reduced," Taylor said. "Just the ability to grow vegetables year-round is a major advantage of hydroponics, too."

Growing in water will also eliminate soil-born diseases. If your soil is unsuitable for growing crops in the ground, hydroponics will allow you to produce vegetables that you otherwise wouldn't be able to.

"You'd have a little bit healthier plants potentially, or not have to do as many chemicals as you would in a traditional garden," Taylor said.

You can buy your own hydroponics kit or make your own. Essentials that you will need include a grow tray or tube, a reservoir to hold the nutrients underneath the grow tray, air pumps and pumps to move the nutrients up into the grow tray, as well as an airstone to provide aeration.

Taylor said a small-scale hydroponic system could fit in an spare room in your house. The plants, she said, should grow well at average room temperature.

"Humidity might be an issue depending on floor coverings, or what type of wall coverings your have," she said. "You wouldn't want to put it somewhere where those things could get damaged."

For more information on hydroponics contact the Iowa State University Hortline at 515-294-3108 or

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