Friday, April 30, 2010

Hydroponics in the Home for Seniors

Imagine being retired. No daily grind of the 9 to 5. Now imagine being in a retirement home. Do you have images of a regimented, somewhat institutional environment? Now imagine being in that type setting growing strawberries or roses or fresh herbs? Seems impossible or contradictory? It is entirely possible with Hydroponic Gardening.

Thinking of Elder Care and the quality of life in those years which we common refer to as the Golden Years, you cannot overlook the importance of the value of continued self reliance. These are people, just like you, who for the vast majority of their lives have made decisions regarding day to day activities placed in an environment where this capacity is limited.

Hydroponic gardening allows for personal choice and decision making. As studies have shown, it can be a tool to assist the improvement of the quality of life as well as the immediate environment. The Eden Care program is a great example of this. For the maintaining of self reliance and mental functioning, this method of gardening cannot be dismissed. Being able to pour over seed and equipment catalogues and dreaming of the results is not just limited to the younger mind.

Imagine being able to grow fresh food for your enjoyment, flowers for your pleasure and the tinkering involved with the minimal maintenance and the planning for the improvement of hydroponic systems. Starting small with container growing – such as herbs in a window and then more complex systems as the understanding of what is possible happens. As hydroponic systems do not require bare earth, but can be set up and maintained in just about any extra space- with or without natural light, it seems a perfect match of form and function to re-involve those inhabiting institutions with the natural world.

The capabilities of the style of gardening can be tailored to any scale or environment- from something as small as a cup to as large a scale as a greenhouse making decidedly urban environments where space it at a premium a non-issue. The placement can be adjusted to the height and range of movement capabilities of anyone. Hydroponic gardening is also not limited by seasonal requirements- you can grow all year round. These hydroponic systems can be made from recycled material or purchased from reputable suppliers all depending on the complexity and scale of what hydroponic system you choose to develop. The choice is yours.

There is an almost infinite combination of styles and methodologies regarding hydroponic systems that can be used in such institutional settings. In our opinion, the benefits of such practices are beyond measure. Many universities and horticultural organizations have in depth and detailed information available for you. These sources of information are available online or from your local libraries. Explore, discover and learn – after all - retirement living is all about living first.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hydroponic Systems - No Soil? No Problem!

What makes hydroponic systems different from traditional in-ground gardening is a soil-less growing medium. No dirt! All plants require support, to be held up. This basic requirement is dealt with by soil-less growing mediums which are inert, mostly non-organic materials. Non- organic refers to the medium not being derived from living organisms (unlike soil- which is). There is a perplexing jumble of growing mediums available. Generally speaking, these mediums are porous, light, and coarse, allowing oxygen and nutrients easy access to the plants roots. Some of the most common are:

Coconut coir

This is produced from the husk that surrounds the coconut shell. Made up of millions of tiny micro-sponges, it can absorb and hold up to eight times its weight in water. It lasting three times as long as peat moss so is fairly sturdy. It is also called palm peat, coco, or just coir. Some of the advantages are better water retention and aeration. The disadvantages of coconut coir are its breakdown after several uses and some drainage issues. It is often mixed with other media to improve drainage in hydroponic systems.

L.E.C.A / Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate

This is clay which has been heated under high temperatures until it puffs up. It makes a very coarse medium as the clay balls are about 1/4" across. Superb drainage, holds moisture, stays put and is reusable after sterilization are just some of the advantages of this medium. On the downside it doesn’t hold moisture as well as mediums like coconut coir and can be more costly.


Glass flakes (Silica) are heated until it expands producing what we know as perlite. These tiny nodules hold water well and provide drainage. A common medium due to its low density (have you ever picked up a large bag of Perlite – it weighs almost nothing) and somewhat low cost. Its advantages are its reusability and low cost, not to mentioning it’s lightweight. That being said it cannot be used alone for ebb & flow hydroponic systems, it will float away or move during flooding cycles.


Fibers spun from melted Basaltic rock. A binder is added to the fibers and they are compressed and cured into large slabs. The density of this growing medium can be adjusted by changes in the amount of pressure during production. Large slabs are cut into smaller slabs and propagation blocks for easy handling. Advantages of this medium are the ease of handling, convenience, better control over nutrition, being able to plant seeds in it and allow the plants to be very stable. The drawbacks are that all rockwool is not the same. Some are produced from slag left over from smelting operations and as such have a high proportion of metals which can be somewhat reactive with your nutrient solutions. Rockwool can also have mineral oils present and may contain wetting agents used to counteract this that will wash out over time.

Much more information regarding these mediums is available from other sources, this basic summary of common growing mediums used by hydroponic systems touches lightly on the subject. Vive la difference!

Check out more information about hydroponics systems or in home gardens at my website. It's a site dedicated to hydroponics