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Small-scale hydroponics

A quick guide to hydroponics

  • Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil.
  • You can grow hydroponically all year long.
  • Hydroponics uses less water than traditional soil-based systems.
  • Hydroponic growing allows for faster growth and higher yields than traditional soil-based growing systems.
  • To grow hydroponically, you need plants, a container, water, a way to anchor the plants, nutrients and a light source.
  • It is possible to grow vegetables hydroponically both outdoors and indoors. If growing indoors, artificial lighting will help faster growth.

Grow greens, herbs, vegetables and fruit all year long

A wide variety of plants growing out of PVC tubes attached to a wooden A-frame at various heights. The frame is set up inside of a greenhouse.
A space-efficient hydroponic A-Frame using PVC tubes and a vertical frame

Hydroponics is a type of soilless gardening that can be done either indoors or outdoors. It’s a great option for people with little or no gardening space, or who want to grow herbs and vegetables through the winter. 

Hydroponic gardening is space-efficient and takes less water than gardening in soil. Growing in water also means no weeds. With artificial lighting, you can grow hydroponically all year long, even in Minnesota. 

Although almost anything can be grown hydroponically, short-season crops or crops that do not produce fruit such as herbs and leafy greens are great choices for indoor production in the winter.

In the summer, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are all great choices. It’s becoming more common for commercial growers of these crops to grow hydroponically instead of in soil. 

Basic components of hydroponic systems

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Planting

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Maintenance

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Harvesting

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Maintaining a small-scale NFT system

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system easily scales from small to large production, depending on space constraints. Regular monitoring and maintenance of the system will help you grow healthy and marketable crops

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Authors: Natalie Hoidal, Extension horticulture educator; Amanda Reardon, Leah Worth and Mary Rogers, Department of Horticultural Science

Reviewed in 2022

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