Hydroponics for the First Time

You might say I’ve always had an enthusiastic interest in growing things, unfortunately, my abilities have been a little lacking. In fact instead of a green thumb, mine has been described as a little brown. Even as a little kid I have always been fascinated with growing plants. I remember trying to grow strawberries in our basement under a dim fluorescent light. Needless to say, it didn’t work very well. There were many other unsuccessful ventures in attempts to grow everything from vegetables to houseplants. So I gave it up for a while.

Many years later I got married and we bought our first home in Yellowknife, NWT. The yard was not landscaped, and we soon found out we had a major task on our hands. If you are familiar with the north, you may know that although the growing season is long by the day it is very short by the season. Our attempts proved futile.

Moving to southern Alberta we finally had our opportunity to design and create a yard complete with a veggie garden and flowerbeds. I found that experience to be overrated. Having small children and time limits may have had a lot to do with it. My parents contributed significantly to the project including some sound advise from my dad “You can’t eat grass”. So needless to say we had a huge garden space. Every garden veggie possible was seeded, including what we thought were cucumbers. We found out when we started the harvest that zucchini grows a lot faster and produces huge crops!! Potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower and most other veggies were part of our garden and we got to enjoy it tremendously. Over the next 10 years we actually got decent results from our garden. Many thanks to my wife, Lee for the hours of weeding and assistance in planting and harvesting.

After some of the novelty wore off, and a realization that fresh veggies were available to buy at a fraction of the price of shopping in Yellowknife, we slowly started to reduce our garden size. That and the addition of a large garage meant rethinking our garden area, which we were definitely ready for. Although we have down sized a lot from the early days, we still love those fresh peas, carrots, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers.

I have always been fascinated with the hydroponics idea, although I must confess I figured the availability was restricted to larger greenhouse operations. I truly value the taste of a locally grown hydroponics tomato, rather than a piece of cardboard brought up from California. If we cannot access the hydroponics type we suffer for most of the winter complaining at every meal. Maybe the complaining enhances the taste of a fresh tomato.

I first noticed hydroponics for the hobbyist at a local trade show. Although I did not follow-up, the idea was stuck with me, and I made a mental note to do some investigating. After the second time I was exposed to the local Waterworks marketing campaign I decide to act upon my curiosity. I visited the local store in Lethbridge, Alberta and was impressed with the availability, variety and methods available to the local hobbyist.

The first few trips to the shop I felt quite out of place, but the local owners Jim & Karen made me feel completely at ease. They answered all of my questions, insisting that none were dumb (although looking back some were dumb) and ensuring me that I was secure in my decision making before purchasing anything.

The next few dozen trips into the store I didn’t purchase a thing, instead trying to learn and educate myself in the hydroponics world. Jim & Karen showed tremendous patience in educating me in areas that before hydroponics were totally foreign. PH, EC and other water conditions as well as soft, cool and hot light decisions were all part of my learning process.

I eventually made my decisions and bought an ebb and flow system that I thought would suit us the best. (Once I convinced Lee of course)

The first two weeks were filled with panic, excitement and doubt. I had no difficulty at all in the set up, or the initial preparation. Then came the “what do I try to seed” question? Well as you might expect I seeded a little of this a little of that and despite the advise from Jim at the Waterworks store I was eager to plant lots. I spent time researching herbs, houseplants, and all sorts of new plants that I hadn’t tried to grow before.

To my astonishment the plants started to grow!! I was ecstatic, the panic was for not, because I had followed the instructions from Jim & Karen, and look it actually happened.

Oh oh now what, my project had become such a success, I was going overboard. I had plants all over. I had no more room. I couldn’t grow them all. Jim had warned me. I ended giving a lot away, to windowsill herb gardens and transplanting a lot of houseplants to pots with different growing mediums.

My next challenge was the realization that when you bring in externally grown plants you risk the chance of pesky bug infestations. I had bugs before I knew how to treat them, so I ended up cutting back and actually destroying some of my plants. This was one area I hadn’t properly prepared myself for. So for a while I fought the bug battle, and eventually good advice and perseverance won out.

After these growing and learning pains, I started to become more curious about the technical areas and found myself checking PH and EC levels with monitors I bought subsequent to my original purchase. I feel a lot more in control, and understand now more fully the advice I still receive from the Waterworks staff.

I feel confident in the hydroponics way and in particular with my system. I am now being selective and doing a much better job in the planning stages, to avoid over planting and recognizing different plants, that may be best suited. I have introduced a preventative bug prevention plan that is working. I am currently growing green peppers, cactus, lavender, oregano, summer savoury, grapefruit herb, blooming marigolds, geraniums started for May out door planting and a host of others.

Dan & Lee Brooks
Lethbridge, AB

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