“No water, no life. No blue, no green.” – Sylvia Earle
As we move into the outdoor growing season, many of us are waiting impatiently to plant our annual flowers and vegetables. Although the days are warming up, it is important to be mindful of the time frame for the last frost in your location, so as not to plant too early. Growing plants from seed to harvest is a great activity for children to not only grow delicious food, but also examine life cycles and natural systems while relieving stress, anxiety, and boredom, promoting an overall sense of well-being. Our living space, as well as other factors, may prohibit us from having a traditional garden, but there are many creative alternatives to engage children in raising plants from seeds. One of these options is hydroponics, the cultivation of plants in water, without soil.
My first attempt at soil-less gardening was the addition of a hydroponics growing system to a therapeutic gardening program I developed and taught to incarcerated youth. Most of the youth enrolled in my program had little to no gardening knowledge or experience, including basic information about natural ecosystems, nutrient cycling, or plants. Hydroponics provided the opportunity to see plant growth quickly, fully, and without complications. These systems are so easy to use that no green thumb is required and success is almost guaranteed. It was a great way for my students to cultivate feelings of pride and success early on in the course, before we were able to plant outdoors. There are a variety of grow units on the market and they range in size and price. Currently, I have two table top units on my kitchen counter growing dill, parsley, mint, zinnias, marigolds, two types of heirloom lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and jalapeño peppers. My units are the six-pod unit from AeroGarden and are $100 on Amazon. Although somewhat of an investment, they are complete and simple units to set up and maintain and produce a considerable amount of food all year round.
The learning and seed to table opportunities are endless. Children, even small children, can examine seeds, observe plant growth, name plant parts, and engage in the sensory experience of plants through smell, taste, and touch. Growing the same variety of plants in soil and in water creates a hands-on, experiential opportunity for older children to examine and compare plants and plant growth with more depth, encouraging them to pose questions, participate in research, observe purposefully, and collect and analyze specific data. Moreover, gardening promotes a sense of pride and purpose. Tending to plants tends our soul. Hydroponics can provide all the positive benefits of plants to those interested in gardening, but not ready or able to grow a traditional garden.
Here are some of the benefits to growing plants hydroponically:
- Larger plant yield and faster plant growth
- Low maintenance
- Low threat of pests and insects
- Conserves water as water is filtered and re-used
- Controlled environment
- 100% organic; needs no pesticides or herbicides
- Space saving
- Mental health benefits and stress relief all year round
- Easy and straightforward – no green thumb needed!
A variety of hydroponic growing systems available and depending on the unit, a multitude of fruits, vegetables, herbs and houseplants can be grown. The following is a shortlist of plants that seem to have the most success:
- Cherry tomato
- Jalapeno pepper
- Gerbera daisy