Hydroponic vegetable gardening has fascinated me ever since I saw a YouTube video of a New Yorker growing lettuce in two-liter soda bottles strung vertically along the living room window of his tiny apartment. When I was in the market for a professional-strength grow light for my indoor greenhouse last year, the supply shop had all sorts of tubes and paraphernalia for hydroponic growing. I couldn’t get my head wrapped around it all and decided it was not yet time for me to delve into the mystery of growing plants indoors, in water with no soil.
As I brought my single grow-light purchase to the shop owner, he pointed over my shoulder to a small-sized box and suggested I take a look. Wow! It was a self-cleaning fish tank that promised to also grow food.
It was an “Aqua Farm” with everything needed to dip one’s toe into the hydroponic growing world. Not only that, but it was also a fish tank! Since my son and husband were with me, we agreed that this was the answer not only to my desire to hydroponically grow lettuce, but to also finally replace the fish that had sadly died a few months back when our old fish tank, well tanked. So we purchased the kit and took it home. Here is a link to the website that tells more about the Aqua Farm: https://www.backtotheroots.com/shop/aquafarm
Not only did the kit include everything needed, including seeds, it even came with a coupon for a free fish at one of the chain retailer pet stores. Well, that was a year ago. The kit sat for a few weeks in the living room, then migrated to the hall, then it — and my plans to delve into hydroponics — ended when the kit landed somewhere in our upstairs storage. We had been so consumed with setting up the indoor greenhouse and purchasing the multiple types of grow lights, little greenhouse-ettes, seedling heating pads and such that we never seemed to get the mental bandwidth going to set up the Aqua Farm last growing season.
So a few weeks ago, I came across the kit and got inspired to get the job done. I pulled out the wrinkled free fish coupon only to find it had expired. No matter, we went to our local independently owned and operated fish store to pick out a beautiful Betta fish.
After we selected our new family member — who is also conveniently a nitrogen producer — we walked around the shop, looking at the multi-colored tropical fish and saying hello to the erstwhile desert tortoise who lives in the shop throughout the winter until it can live a leisurely life eating grasses in its owners backyard once the warm weather returns. Since, at the time, we were in between snow storms, that warm weather was a long way off, and you could tell the giant tortoise was growing impatient by the worn edges of the wooden enclosure, worn smooth by many slow motion escape attempts. We walked past slumbering cats and intermingled with two small dogs darting in and out of the gaps between aquariums, much like the clown fish above us were doing as they swam in and out of the tentacles of their sea anemone home. Then we came to the counter to buy our Betta, pick up a little ornament bridge to dress up the tank and choose some fish food. The owner counseled us to ignore the package’s liberal feeding instructions, as it was just a ploy to get unsuspecting fish owners to buy more food. The store owner insisted, instead, that we use the much less generous portions of 2-3 pellets a day, thus also avoiding mucking up of the water in the tank. We left the store happy and content, having done business with a local honest business owner.
Then we got home and set up the tank. Okay. I didn’t exactly do anything. I watched. My husband (sherpa, as he labels himself) and son did all the heavy lifting. But I did select two varieties of lettuce to plant in addition to the basil and wheat grass seeds that came with the kit. Now our betta, who my son affectionately named, “Madame Bubliea” given her billowing, colorful and elegant tail, was introduced to her new digs. We were all excited to see what hydroponic growing would produce.
Now fast forward to four weeks later, and thankfully Madame Bubliea is still alive. The wheat grass is doing magnificently, albeit a bit flattened thanks to Hagrid the cat, who has developed quite the knack for jumping on the tank and pulling out the newly sprouted grass strands with his teeth.
The basil and lettuce are barely sprouting but coming along, still safely out of reach of Hagrid’s pruning teeth.
So the hydroponic experiment is going well. Who knows, if the tank can produce some usable lettuce and basil, maybe next season I’ll expand the operation. Maybe.