Indoor Gardening- How to start seeds indoors using Hydroponics

Aquaponic Seed Starting by Patti Moreno, the Garden Girl Every year I start just over a thousand seedlings for my vegetable, flower, and annual gardens. I get a basic, primal joy out of the process. It is one of the highlights of my gardening life, spending those hours gazing at books, magazines, catalogues and playing with my seed packets as the gloomy, winter weather takes hold outside. These seedlings make life more bearable for those of us battling cold climates. But the process doesn’t have to be so hit or miss. I used to grow the way you probably do. I set up a simple shelf with fluorescent bulbs balanced for daylight in the 5000 degree Kelvin color temperature. I set up elaborate watering procedures and, of course, freaked when I would come back from TV shoots and find that some of seedlings were either dead or shocked. I had to do something, anything to create an automatic system that was simple and would fit into my busy lifestyle and was husband proof. My original inspiration came from looking at my landscape ponds. They run as a closed loop circuit with water running through the plants. Those, in turn, feed on the ammonia and nitrates created by the fish and waste in the pond, cleaning the water and feeding the plants in a balanced system. Then I learned about hydroponic growing, which is again a closed loop flood and drain system, where the gardener has to add in nutrients to keep the plants healthy. So after some more research and creating a couple of prototypes, I’ve developed a simple, automatic, Aquaponic seed starting system. It is virtually maintenance free. It is about using fish, and all they produce, to grow seedlings. So how can you do it? Start with a shelf. I use a modular metal one, a fish tank with bubbling filter, two plastic trays, shop light fluorescent tube lighting, a low flow pump and pex tube plumbing. The system uses the tried and true method of trays underneath grow lights and a fish tank with a flood and drain pumping system. The fish tank is slightly overstocked with fish, those fish brought in from my ponds. (They are goldfish that have been summering in my ponds.) If you are just starting out, purchase some "feeder" gold fish from your local pet store on the rate of a fish for every gallon of water. I use fifty gallon tanks, meaning that, for this system, 50 small feeder fish should do. (Expect to thrown down about $7 at your local pet store.) I set the tank up with an inch of gravel along the bottom and a simple old school charcoal and fiber filter for the tank. The filter is important because as the plants are still sprouts they won't be able to handle the waste the fish produce until they establish a root system and ball and the fish will die without it until the plants can use the ammonia and nitrogen from the fish. Installed in the tank is a small pump, with a shut off valve installed with pex tubing connections. Pex tubing is the greatest invention in plumbing and I just love it. Everything connects together via pressure and all the components are completely modular and color coded to fit. It is available at most home supply stores and very affordable. This pump lifts the water up to the highest shelf in the system and floods the seedling tray on the top layer of the shelf first. I purchased my seedling trays at a container store and they are essentially large Tupperware style trays. To set up the trays, I used a drill to put two holes in the side of the tray. One is up high on the tray and the other is at the very bottom. I installed a pex tube connecting fitting into the bottom hole which I reinforced with a bunch of silicone goop. This keeps the seal from failing, and needs to be checked in on regularly. If it starts to leak, simply add more goop after it has dried. I use peat chips for my seedlings. I embed the seed into the peat, and place the peat into the tray nestled in with some fine gravel for support so they don't fall over. The gravel helps fill the excess space so the water can drain back out the other hole in the tray. The water then, through the power of gravity, flows down to the next tray which it floods and then back down into the fish tank. The plants grow incredibly fast as they get readily accessible nutrients from the fish tank water and the fish grow faster because they live in a ideal water environment. For the system to work, however, it requires a series of timers. The water cannot circulate continuously because the plants will drown and there won’t be enough water in the system for the fish. The seedlings should dry between watering to prevent mold and root rot. You will risk a catastrophic flood as well if one of the seals fails. I place two timers on a power strip to regulate the system. One timer is for the water pump that I set to turn on once a day and run for one hour. I use the other timer to regulate the lights. I adjust it over time but start out running it 16 hours a day. If you get algae growth, you can add a small amount of barley straw or pellets to the tank. To keep the seedlings strong, I run small fans to simulate wind conditions outdoors to help the stems grow strong and tough for when they go outside into my garden beds. I move the fans around weekly so that the stems get used to wind from a variety of directions. With the timers and fans in place, my work is done. That doesn’t mean you can leave your tank alone. Every other day, I like to check all the seals and regulate the valve to make sure that there are no clogs, overflows or failures. I like to keep the fish tank full up to three quarters of the capacity of the tank. Don’t forget, whenever mixing water with electricity, caution must be taken. I use a power strip that has a ground fault interrupting fuse in it, which will help prevent a short or electric shock. So try this unique system and enjoy a worry free, all natural, automatic seed starting system. No matter how small you start, before long, you’ll be a seedling machine. Patti Moreno is host of, where you’ll find ideas, inspiration, and information about urban sustainable living. She lives with her husband, daughter, dog, rabbits, cats, and chickens in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Video Transcription Easy Hydroponic Seed Starting Factory GARDENING BY CUISINE With Patti Moreno The Garden Girl Welcome to my science laboratory where I started all of my seedlings from my main garden, my kitchen garden and also my farm stand. In this system, I can start 700 seedlings at a time, which equals $1400.00 worth of sales on my farm stand. Let me give you just a whole overview of the system. It looks like it could be pretty daunting but everything is available at your local hardware store or garden center. I have just a basic out of the box metal shelving unit. I have got fluorescent light fixtures here. The flow tubes I have in here are balanced for daylight. Now, this is very important. If you are going to start your own seed system like this, you want to make sure that the flow tubes are balanced for daylight. I have this plastic bins that I got at the container store. Yehey me, I have a reason to go to the container store. I love that place! I have got pex tubing, clear pexs tubing and also these clamps. I also have an inch of pea gravel on the bottom of these plastic bins for drainage. And then, I have my fish tank here which is a 55 gallon fish tank. Now, in this fish tank, I have got a pump and that pump is attached to a T quick connect system and then the pex tubing comes out of that and goes all the way up to the top bin here. And let me also show you one more thing, it has a valve attached to it and this valve allows to me to control the flow of the water and whether I want it to flow or not so it got an on and off switch to it. And I have customized each of these plastic bins and drilled holes in it and I have the pex tubing going all the way across to the end of the bin. Now, I am putting it all the way across to the end of the bin because I want an even disbursement of water throughout my seedlings. If you have never tried pex tubing, let me show you what it is. It is really simple. You think you have to be a plumber to know this stuff but you really do not. It is called the quick connect for a reason. Now, this is that valve that I had just showed you and I have the pex tubing here and you want to make sure that when you cut it, it is cut flash so that there are no jagged edges and that makes it water tight and then guess what you do. That is it! That is all you do. It is very simple. You do not need any other tools and this is pretty much water tight. Now, if it does start to release water, what you want to do is you want to use some silicone clear goop. That is what it is called. It is actually called goop. Whole system I have here is completely automated and I have got the lighting on a timer and the timer comes on at 7:00 in the morning and it turns off at 7:00 at night because I want the lights to be on for 12 hours throughout the whole day. The water is also on a timer and that comes on at 7:00 AM and shuts off at 8:00 AM. I only have it running for one hour. With the 55-gallon tank, what that means is the water in the tank will circulate through the system twice in that one hour. I hear it bubbling and gurgling and doing its thing. Now, once you set up this system, yes, it is automated but you want to make sure that you are checking it periodically. You want to check it for leaks. You want to make sure that the lights, the timers are functioning, and your electrical is still functioning. And I have this here in an area that has a concrete floor. So if there are any leaks, there is no problem. This is a perfect system for a garage or a basement. somewhere where if water does get on the floor, it is okay. You do not want to put this in an area that has carpeting that you care about because it might be ruined pretty quickly. So, I have just gone giving you an overview of this awesome automated system. Now, I am going to start some seeds. The first thing I am going to start is lemon grass. Next seeds I am going to start are sweet peppers. Next seed I am going to start is Straita de Italia, which is a summer squash black Aztec corm is actually black. Do you guys out there like zucchini? It has been about a week since I started those seedlings with you and look at them. They are thriving. They have sprouted. My corn over here is doing really well and it is pretty much basically ready to go in the garden. Unfortunately, it is raining today so it is going to have to stay in here for a little bit longer. Now, as for the rest of my seedlings, they have not sprouted yet but I am going to give them a little bit more time and check back in with them later. I am Patti Moreno the Garden Girl. Thanks for watching! Copyright 2008

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I am Patti Moreno the Garden Girl. I write the Basics Column in Organic Gardening Magazine and I am a contributing editor to GROW, published by Fine Gardening and Fine Cooking Magazine.Here is my Bio:Patti Moreno, also known as the Garden Girl, was born and raised in Spanish Harlem. She started gardening 12 years ago to eat healthier and lose the weight she gained during her pregnancy. After much trial and error, Moreno transformed her Boston homes backyard into an urban garden that produces just about all the food her family eats. Her methodology can be used to grow food in backyards, roof-tops or even indoors. Moreno lives in Boston on her urban farmette with her family and two dogs, two cats, 12 rabbits, 14 squirrels, 20 chickens, 100,000 worms............