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Keep growing all winter with hydroponics

A blue plastic container with a polystyrene foam board on top. The board has holes cut into it, and pots are nested into the holes. Each small pot has a different type of lettuce growing out of it. The bucket system is sitting on a bench in a greenhouse.
A deep water culture hydroponics system can be as simple as a bucket with a foam board top.

As our gardens freeze over, many of us still have the gardening bug. Hydroponics, or growing plants in water, is a great way to keep growing fresh greens all winter long indoors. You can build a hydroponics set-up for less than $40, or with materials you may already have.

Our small-scale hydroponics webpage walks you through all of the things you need to build a successful hydroponic system at home. You’ll need a light source, a container to hold water and nutrients, and some sort of structure for your plants. This can be as simple as growing plants in a five-gallon bucket near a sunny window or as complex as an attractive shelving unit with grow lights. 

Some general tips for beginning hydroponics

Share materials.

It can be hard to find small-scale materials. For example, net pots (a very common type of plant pot used in hydroponics) are often sold in packs of 100, but you may only need a few. Finding a group of friends who want to share materials can help to keep costs and excess materials to a minimum.

Be realistic.

While it’s tempting to try to grow tomatoes all year, our Minnesota winters are better suited to growing plants like spinach, herbs, and other greens that can handle lower light levels. This is true even with supplemental lighting.

Start simple.

You can always scale up and develop fancier systems. The simplest and most accessible method is the Kratky method or deep water culture. This system doesn’t require any pumps or plumbing, and can be made with buckets or other containers you already have.

Learn more.

Read more about types of set-ups, lighting requirements, plant selection, and more at our full webpage about small-scale hydroponics.

Author: Natalie Hoidal, Extension educator, local foods and vegetable production

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