Leaf lettuce growing in a floating hydroponic system. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
Christmas is just around the corner and what better gift could you give other than the gift that keeps on giving…a hydroponic bucket garden! Floating hydroponic gardens are easy to build with supplies found at just about any home and garden center. A simple garden can be constructed with a 5-Gallon bucket, polystyrene foam board insulation, and “net pots” or other suitable containers to support the plants. Leaf lettuce and herbs are suitable plants for growing in a floating garden and will grow well indoors as long as there is plenty of natural light available.
- 5-Gallon Bucket
- Polystyrene Foam (1½ inch or thicker)
- Water-Soluble Fertilizer (10-10-10, 20-20-20, 24-8-16, or similar grade)
- Epson Salts (magnesium sulfate)
- Suitable Plants (leafy lettuce, greens, or most herbs – NOT rosemary)
- “Net Pots”, Polystyrene Cups with punctures, or other suitable containers
- Jigsaw, Drywall Saw, or Sharp Knife
- Hole Saw
- Cut, with a jigsaw, a 1½ inch board of polystyrene foam board insulation into 1-by-1-foot squares.
- Place the bottom of the bucket on a 1-by-1 foot square of foam and trace the shape of the bucket on the foam. Cut out the circle.
- Use a hole saw to cut evenly spaced holes out of the foam. (Typically 3 to 4 depending on “net pot”/plant container size.) The hole size should allow the bottom of the plant container to be level with the underside of the foam.
FERTILIZATION & PLANT CARE
Fill the bucket with approximately 2.5 gallons of water. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of water-soluble fertilizer for each gallon of water to be used in the bucket (approximately 5 to 9 teaspoons for 4.5 gallons of water). Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of Epson Salts for each gallon of water to be used in the bucket (approximately 2.5 to 4.5 teaspoons for 4.5 gallons of water). Mix the fertilizer and Epsom Salts with the water in the bucket. Continue to fill the bucket with water to within 1½ inches of the rim of the bucket. Set “net pots” or plant containers in the hole cutouts in the foam circle. Lay the foam circle, with inserted containers, on the surface of the water/fertilizer mixture in the bucket. Place the young starter plants in the containers. Do not remove the potting mix from the plant roots. The most critical aspect is the depth of the transplant’s root ball in the solution. The bottom of the root ball should be flush with the surface of the water. As the water/fertilizer mixture is taken up by the plants and evaporated, the water level in the bucket will decline.
A bucket garden may just be the beginning of your hydroponic ventures. For additional publications on growing hydroponic vegetables please visit the University of Florida/IFAS EDIS website hydroponic production page. If you want to start your own hydroponic farm then you may also be interested in attending the “Starting a Successful Hydroponic Business” training at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center in Live Oak in March.
Cilantro ready for harvest. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a short-lived annual herb with bright green, feathery, flat leaves that look very similar to flat-leaved parsley. Leaves can be harvested at will after they grow to a mature size and then continuously as needed. The flavor of cilantro compliments many Latin American, Indian and Asian dishes and is a great addition to salads. The ripe seeds are known as coriander and used as a spice.
Maybe some of you have grown cilantro, harvested a time or two and then watched in horror as it quickly flowered, went to seed and died. Me, too. This scenario most likely happened in the warm summer months. Hot weather and long days stimulate this annual herb to quickly complete its life cycle. When temperatures increase, it causes plants to bolt which is a sudden switch to producing flowers and seeds, often on tall stalks. After cilantro bolts, the leaves become smaller and less palatable.
Cilantro bolting and blooming. Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org
The solution is to grow cilantro in the fall and winter. The cooler weather encourages more leafy growth, so you can harvest the leaves for a longer period of time. The warmer weather in the spring will bring flowers, and then seeds to start next autumn’s planting. Collect the seeds and store for planting the following season.
Start cilantro in your garden from seed or transplants. A benefit of growing from seed is that a few seeds can be sown every two weeks to extend your harvest season. Like most herbs, cilantro likes rich, well-drained soils, regular moisture and full or part sun. If the weather is getting warmer, full sun in the morning with some afternoon shade will help keep the herb cooler and less likely to bolt.
For more information:
Herbs in the Florida Garden
Seeding the Garden
Many bees and beneficial wasps will be attracted to African blue basil. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Basil is a favorite plant in the summer herb garden and an absolute must for those who enjoy fresh leaves for a sandwich or delicious homemade pesto. While we grow basils as a food enhancer, an added benefit is that those basil selections that form flowers are very attractive to pollinators. If you would rather not let your favorite basil form flowers, consider adding a specific species that is grown more for its attractiveness to pollinators than its culinary uses.
African blue basil is a hybrid of two basils that has inherited a camphor flavor from one of its parents. Although edible, the flavor may not be appealing to those who are familiar with more traditional basil flavors. Plants produce abundant flowers that are pink with a dark purple base, although flowers are sterile so no seeds will be formed. If you want more African blue basil, you must purchase transplants or start your own from cuttings off the main plants.
African blue basil enhances gardens and landscapes. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Flowers of African blue basil are also showy in the garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Like other basils, African blue basil does like soils amended with composts that are well-drained. Plants thrive in full sun and will form rounded mounds that will be much larger than more culinary basils, up to five feet in some gardens. Plants do form woody stems and although frost tender, some plants may return in the spring in more protected areas.
Although some edible gardeners may not want to allow space for a basil that they will not use in the kitchen, the amount of pollinator activity on this selection makes it a benefit to any edible garden for all the frost-free months.
Chocolate mint has fragrant, dark green foliage and works well as a groundcover. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
Mint is very easy to grow in the right place, sometimes a little bit too easily. It’s reputation for being aggressive is well deserved. As with any other plant you use in your landscape, you need to be sure you have the right plant for the right place and there just might be such a spot in your garden for mint!
Garden areas with part sun/part shade and moist soil are perfect environments for mint. Like most herbs, it does not require much fertilizer and there are very few insects that bother it. Because mint forms runners where it touches the ground it is an ideal plant to use in areas that need soil stabilization as the dense growth habit will prevent erosion and sediment runoff.
Mint grows rapidly in the right conditions and can spread further than a gardener might want. However, it is not difficult to manage with a little maintenance. Because the plant is herbaceous rather than woody, it can be pulled or trimmed with little effort. Another method to keep it in bounds is to chemically edge using an herbicide on the portions that are growing beyond the bed border. Just keep in mind that if you plan to use your mint in food or drink you should only use chemical products labeled for edible crops and follow all label instructions closely.
Mint flowers are attractive to pollinators. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
There are many different mints available such as chocolate mint, spearmint, and peppermint. Each has a slightly distinct flavor and may have different sized leaves or coloration. Mints are prolific bloomers and are attractive to pollinators such as bees and beneficial wasps.
To read more about mints please see http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/mint.html
Banana pepper in container. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Interested in having a garden, but have limited space? Maybe you live in an apartment, have poor soil quality, or you just don’t have many areas that get enough sunlight. Maybe you’ve tried gardening, but given up, labeling yourself as one of those who “just doesn’t have a green thumb.” Well, I’m here to tell you, don’t give up! Try container gardening. Growing your own vegetables in containers is easy and can be a very rewarding experience. Container gardens also tend to have fewer weed, pest, and disease problems then regular in-ground gardens. Following just a few guidelines, you can have a bountiful harvest of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs right by your front (or back) door-step!
Grow vegetables easily in a large planter. Photo by Molly Jameson.
So, what are these guidelines, you ask? Well, you first want to choose the right container. This could be a large flowerpot, window box, planter, 5-gallon bucket, half-barrel, recycled material…the list can be endless. Just as long as your container is big enough and has proper drainage. Generally, the container should be at least 10 inches wide and 10 inches deep. The bigger the better, as it will give the roots more space to grow, and the soil will not dry out as fast. Tomatoes, for instance, do best in larger pots, preferably the size of a five-gallon bucket. For many herbs, you can get away with planting two or three different types in the same container. It is also important that your container has drainage holes, so water can escape and air can circulate. Use a one-fourth inch drill bit to create holes in the bottom or along the sides near the bottom of the container if it does not have holes.
Most of us know plants need both sunlight and soil. But just how much sunlight and what type of soil? If you are growing vegetables, it is best to have full sun – which means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. An advantage of growing in containers is that you can easily place a container in an area of your yard or on a balcony that receives adequate sunlight, when it would be much more difficult to build a garden in these same areas.
Buy potting soil in bulk to cut down on costs. Photo by Molly Jameson.
So what about soil? When growing in containers, you want to make sure you get potting soil that is made for containers. These mixes will contain materials such as peat, perlite, and vermiculite for both good drainage and moisture-holding capacity, and materials such as compost and nutrient amendments that will keep your plants healthy. You can simply ask your nursery specialist for a mix formulated to grow vegetables in large outdoor containers. If you are growing a lot of vegetables, you can cut down on costs by making your own mix. Just make sure you have a good balance of the aforementioned materials, and mix in a slow-release vegetable fertilizer, following directions on the label.
Now that you have your container, your soil, and a sunny location, it is time to get the plants. Some plants are best bought as transplants or grown from seed started indoors. Vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and strawberries fall into this category. Other plants, such as root crops, arugula, lettuce, spinach, mustards, beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, okra, cilantro, and basil can be started from seed directly into containers.
For some vegetables, buy transplants from your local nursery. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Okay, so you have all the materials. Now what? If you are growing from transplants, first thoroughly moisten the potting mix and the plant’s soil. “Transplant shock” is reduced when there is proper moisture. Set plants at about the same level they were growing in their original pot. For tomatoes, remove lower leaves and plant deeper in the container. If you are growing from seed, simply plant the seeds according to their label. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed to a depth of about two to three times the seed’s diameter. If you are worried about your seeds not germinating, go ahead and plant more seeds than you need. But remember to thin to appropriate spacing if they do, indeed, all come up. Spacing will be specific to the type of vegetable.
After planting, water gently but thoroughly. Monitor your container garden, making sure the potting mix does not dry out. You can reduce evaporation by mulching with leaf litter, straw, or a similar material. Plants that grow tall or produce vines, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, will need support. A wire cage or pole, inserted into the container at planting time, will support the plant as it grows.
Last step is to call over all your friends and family and show off your beautiful vegetable plants! They will surely be impressed by your “green thumb” and will be eager to learn your gardening secrets.