Hydroponic Seed Buying Guide (7 Vegetables For A Soilless Garden)
More and more growers are ditching in-field rows and raised beds for soilless gardens.
It might come as a surprise, but virtually any plant typically grown in soil can also be grown in water, with the same or even better results.
Now that you’ve perfected your outdoor vegetable garden, you’re ready to tackle the art of growing food in a soilless system. Keep reading for a brief primer on hydroponics and the best vegetable seeds to start your tank farm with!
What is hydroponic gardening?
If you’re not aware of the newest gardening trend, hydroponics is the practice of growing crops in a soilless growing medium. Most hydroponic systems use a nutrient-rich water solution to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow faster and produce more than traditionally grown crops.
There are a few different types of hydroponic setups, but the most popular are deep water culture and ebb and flow. Ebb and flow systems involve alternately flooding and draining a separate grow tray with water. Deepwater cultures are more simply built, using one large container and a floating raft to suspend plants, allowing their roots to be fully submerged in the water.
Hydroponics isn’t for commercial operations anymore–you can easily build your own hydroponic system at home! Both deep water culture and ebb and flow systems are fairly easy to build and maintain using simple materials like PVC pipes, buckets, aquariums, and mesh baskets.
Advantages of hydroponics
For many growers, hydroponic systems have a slight edge over traditionally-grown crops.
The biggest advantage to hydroponic gardening is that the grower can control all external factors, unlike outdoor-grown crops. You can control everything from lighting, temperature, nutrients, and of course, water–creating the ideal growing environment for a variety of crops.
Hydroponically grown plants tend to have fewer pests and diseases than traditionally grown plants, and when pests and diseases do appear, they can be more easily controlled. Even seasonal crops can be grown year-round with hydroponic systems, and these gardens can be moved outside when the weather allows.
Most hydroponic systems, even homemade structures, tend to take up less space and use less water than outdoor gardens–making the equipment a worthwhile investment for many people, especially those with limited growing space and resources.
Best of all, hydroponic gardens never have weeds! Unless you intentionally planted weed seeds, of course.
How to start seeds for hydroponic systems
Leafy greens and herbs are the perfect first choice for growers just getting started with aquaculture, but more experienced gardeners can grow heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers indoors and without soil!
Just make sure to give heat-loving, fruiting crops the light they need to flower and produce fruit. Tomatoes and peppers need between six and eight hours of direct light per day. Cucumbers need at least six hours of light, and leafy greens can get by with less.
While growing crops from cuttings is a popular hydroponic technique, starting vegetables from quality seeds always results in the healthiest plants.
Starting hydroponic crops from seed is no different than starting seeds for the outdoor garden. Sow seeds in a seed tray filled with potting soil, and cover with a lid until the seeds begin to sprout. Use a heat mat to boost the time to germination. Just be sure to rinse the seedling roots of all dirt once the seedlings are ready to transplant.
You can also start seeds in soilless growing mediums like rockwool or coco coir, making transplanting even easier.
7 vegetables for hydroponic gardening
Hydroponic seeds aren’t really any different from regular seeds–you can grow any variety you want in a soilless garden! There are a few plants and varieties that do better in compact spaces, and we’ve rounded up our favorite hydroponic-friendly vegetable seeds for your budding tank farm.
Prizehead is our favorite variety for eating and growing! This loose-leaf lettuce doesn’t actually form heads, but its gorgeous green and crimson-edged leaves are crisp and sweet, just perfect for salads and sandwiches. This heirloom variety matures in as little as 50 days.
Space Hybrid is one variety of spinach tolerant of hot temperatures, like those found in a greenhouse! This prolific variety matures in 40 days, and its improved genetics give the variety high disease resistance without skimping on flavor.
Lisboa is our preferred cucumber for hydroponic gardening! This container-friendly variety of cucumber matures early and doesn’t require pollination to produce flavorful, symmetrical fruits. A productive and space-efficient variety, Lisboa thrives in a hydroponic garden and bears fruit in 49 days.
Think you can’t grow tomatoes in a hydroponic system? Think again! Determinate and compact tomatoes are the go-to for most aquaculture farmers, as they are significantly more manageable than their indeterminate cousins, but full-size tomatoes can and do thrive in hydroponic setups.
Sugary Hybrid, is one semi-determinate cherry tomato whose compact size is perfect for an indoor hydroponic setup. Sugary Hybrid is an All-America Selections Winner for its juicy, sweet, grape-shaped fruits that are harvestable in as few as 60 days.
While it may seem odd, bush beans are a great candidate for hydroponic gardens! Slenderette is a highly productive plant that produces long, green stringless pods in about 53 days. A self-pollinating variety with superb disease resistance, Slenderette is the perfect green bean for indoor grow rooms.
Santo is our most prolific cilantro for leaf production and a versatile cultivar that thrives nearly anywhere. An upright growth habit makes this gem nearly effortless to harvest, even in a hydroponic setup. Santo matures in 52 days but is slow to bolt, a helpful feature in a hydroponic grow room that might see warmer temperatures.
Basil demands a lot of light and heat, but in the right conditions, basil will thrive in a soilless setting. Everleaf Emerald Towers is our favorite variety for hydroponics–this prolific variety will stretch upwards of three feet while growing no wider than twelve inches. Everleaf Emerald Towers produces easy-to-harvest, aromatic leaves 40 days from transplanting.
Don’t be intimidated by hydroponics. Starting a soilless garden isn’t as hard as you think–and could save you space, water, and time in the long run. You can grow all of your favorite plants in a hydroponic setup, but we know that these seven vegetables and herbs are sure to set you up for success from the very beginning. Happy growing!