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Hydroponics: Ancient technique catching on again

Grow plants without dirt anywhere you have

April 12, 2011
By Evan Bevins ( , The Marietta Times

Hydroponics may be growing in popularity locally but it's hardly a new technique.

"It's been around for 3,000 years or longer," Dream Garden Hydroponics owner Don Landers said, pointing to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as an example of "soil-less" planting.

Landers' experience with hydroponics only goes back about five years. With two gardens at home, he was running out of space.

"I got interested in this when my wife wouldn't let me till up any more (ground)," he said. "You can do this virtually anywhere you have space."

In 2009, Landers opened Dream Garden on Ohio 7 in Reno. Over the years, he said, more and more people have gotten curious and come in to see what he has to offer.

Students in the plant science class at Waterford High School work with hydroponics in the first semester. They grow plants like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers and are responsible for caring for the plants on weekends.

Matt Hartline, agriculture science instructor at Waterford High School, said the program started about a decade ago, prior to his arrival at the school. Still, he said there is more interest today in the process among the general public.

"People are more concerned about where their food's coming from than they used to be," he said.

Landers said hydroponic gardening does not require harsh pesticides since it's done indoors. There's also no end to the growing season since the sun's rays are simulated with lights.

"I have flowers blooming year-round - daisies, geraniums, violets," he said. "We're not subject to drought, erosion, bad weather - unless the electric goes out."

Other appealing aspects include a simple setup and no need for heavy equipment, Landers said.

In hydroponics, plants' roots grow in conditions that allow more control over the nutrients they receive. Often, that's in water to which precise amounts of nutrients have been added. Landers also has plants growing in a substance that resembles soil but is actually a mixture of ground-up coconut husks, sphagnum peat moss and perlite. There's no nutritional value in those materials so Landers still determines how much nutrients the plants get.

"You're going to have control over your plants, meaning your plant is going to get what it needs when it needs it, which also means it's going to be more nutritious," he said.

It doesn't make sense for every plant to grow using hydroponics, Landers said. He's got pepper and tomato plants in his shop right now and said he could grow some fine corn, but not much in a confined area.

"Plants that bear multiple fruits ... are really more economical," he said.

Landers sells kits to get people started in hydroponics, but he also noted people can make many items themselves.

Eric Barrett, agriculture educator with the Ohio State University Extension office in Washington County, said the office can help people find information about hydroponics, including providing budgeting estimates.



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