As it is National Allotments Week, I thought I would share the progress we’re making with our hydroponic indoor ‘allotment’.

Three weeks ago, Ryan and I went on a road trip to Ikea Exeter, the closest store with the Växer cultivation inserts we needed for the Hydroponicum. (If you’re waiting for them to be in stock in your local store, the website suggests the new stock will arrive in late September/early October).

We’d been gleefully watching the seedlings burst into life in the seedling trays, which we had under the lights. It was an excellent germination test. I got zero germination from Hong’s watercress, cinnamon basil, lemon basil and stevia, and have thrown away those seeds. It was also illuminating to watch the different seeds grow at different rates. Contrary to its name, the rocket wasn’t the fastest. It was well and truly beaten by the lettuce, mizuna, pak choi and kale.

Every morning, the first thing we did was check on the seedlings, and see what progress they had made. We were, usually, astonished.

Hydroponicum seedlings
Hydroponicum Seedlings

If there’s one thing I struggle to grow in the garden, it’s salad. It’s not that the plants are particularly challenging to grow. They generally germinate and grow quickly, under the right conditions. They are a magnet for slugs, snails, aphids and any other pest that wanders into the garden, though. It’s also difficult to arrange a succession so that there’s a steady supply of salad leaves ready to harvest, and they take up considerable space in the garden.

So it seems like a reasonable idea to use the garden for the larger plants that need soil and space, and transfer the salad leaves and leafy herbs to the Hydroponicum. It is also the perfect place to try growing some of the more unusual crops that might be tricky in the garden, or for which there’s just no space.

The upshot of all this pleasant pondering was that – since we were making a special trip – we bought a second two-tier Växer unit while we were there. The expanded Hydropnicum has space for four trays, whether they’re for seedlings or larger plants.

Hydroponicum 1
Hydroponicum 1: Day 1

For the first run, I selected plants from the seedling trays that were doing particularly well, and which we really wanted to eat.

Tray 1: 5 x Lettuce Salad bowl (green) and 3 x Pak Choi Tricolour Mix

Tray 2: 2 x Pak Choi Tricolour Mix, 4 x Kale: KX-1 and 2 x Spinach red veined F1

Tray 3: 4 x Mizuna and 4 x Rocket (arugula)

Tray 4: 4 x Wild rocket Dragon’s tongue, 2 x Russian tarragon and 2 x Chop suey greens (shungiku)

Hydroponicum harvest
Hydroponicum 1: Day 15

Three weeks later and we’ve been picking (and not keeping up with) the lettuce, kale and mizuna for salads. I am now starting to cut the spinach, rocket and wild rocket, and the pak choi is ready when we want to stir-fry. The AeroGarden is providing occasional handfuls of dill and basil; space parsley is still too small to snip.

It’s still early days for our hydroponic allotment, but one unexpected bonus is that it means I can keep gardening despite the weather. The heat and humidity have been getting me down this summer (and the heat did last summer), to the point where I rarely head outside. As it is, I only pop out occasionally to pick a handful of beans, and tut at the courgettes (they’re resolutely refusing to fruit). I feel a little bit like an astronaut, trapped inside a space station and relying on fans to continually move the air around. It was cooler yesterday, and if it hadn’t been raining buckets, I would have gone out to harvest some more potatoes. At least I don’t have to water the garden, and I don’t need to nip outside for salad 🙂

Hydroponic 1: Day 21
Salad jungle
Hydroponicum 1: Day 21

Hydroponicum upsides:

  • Great at germinating seeds
  • Rapid and clean growth of salads and herbs
  • Frees up space in the garden
  • Makes us happy
  • A good place for experiments
  • All-weather gardening!