Grow hydroponic vegetables with the “catch-all” crop

I recently had the opportunity to join our volunteer Master Gardeners in Stark County on a tour of the student greenhouses on the Wooster Campus at Ohio State University.

Our guide, Dr Uttara Samarakoon, Assistant Professor Specializing in Hydroponics and Floriculture, is also the Associate Program Coordinator of the Applied Diploma in Greenhouse and Nursery Management at OSU Agricultural Technical Institute.

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While our visit highlighted the production of poinsettia by students as well as the different areas of research of Samarakoon, his work on the development of a sustainable agricultural production technology for hydroponic vegetables using environment-controlled agriculture m really touched. One study focuses on what she calls “catch-all culture.” In this study, edible vegetables (mainly leafy greens such as spinach, chard, lettuce) are grown in a hydroponic system using a plastic “tote” with a lid and monitored for. pre and post EC (electrical conductivity) and pre and post pH.

Each tank is filled with a mixture of water and liquid fertilizer. The tote cover has six to eight openings that hold a hydroponic growth cup. Vegetable seeds are started in a traditional tank filled with a soil-less substrate and are transplanted once established; or the seeds are started directly in a fibrous cube medium inside the hydroponic growth cup.

Leaf lettuce plants grow in the lid of a plastic bag.  Note the extensive network of roots.

The roots grow through the bottom and sides of the growth cup to reach the water / fertilizer solution. In the study, the tubs are placed on a grow table in one of the greenhouses. Soon after, leafy greens emerge, converting carbon dioxide into food for the plant, which in turn produces a delicious, green, healthy treat.

This economical and convenient option is a great way for the home gardener or teacher and students to learn and experience simple hydroponic food production. If you want to try out ‘catch-all’ cultivation this winter, collect the following supplies (listed below) and give it a try!

Supply List

• Plastic bag (Commander XL-17 gallon (16.4 liters) – black with yellow cover: size for small vegetables

• Liquid fertilizer for hydroponic systems

• pH buffer for hydroponic systems

• Hydroponic growing cups (2 to 3 inch cups depending on the diameter of the hole cut in the lid)

• Seeds: select the types and varieties that grow well in hydroponic environments

• Simple pH meter or test strips

• Ruler to monitor the water level

• Above-ground medium and starting plate of seeds or fiber-based culture cubes (rock wool or rock wool)

• The water

• Light source

A leaf lettuce plant shows its successful growth in a hydroponic system.  The roots of the plant enter the mixture of water and fertilizer in the bag where they take the nutrients that the plant needs.

For additional resources on growing vegetables using simple hydroponic systems, check out the following resources:

Small-scale hydroponics extension of the University of Minnesota https://extension.umn.edu/how/small-scale-hydroponics#growing-systems-2644460

University of Tennessee Extension – Introduction to Small-Scale Soil-less Vegetable and Hydroponics https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W844-A.pdf

Ohio State University Extension-Hydroponic Nutrient Solution for Optimized Greenhouse Tomato production https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1437

To learn more about OSU ATI’s Greenhouse and Nursery Management Program or to join Samarakoon, visit the following links:

OSU ATI Greenhouse and Nursery Management Program https://ati.osu.edu/greenhouse-nursery-management

Dr Uttara Samarakoon

https://ati.osu.edu/uttara-samarakoon-phd

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences with an office in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. If you have any questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 234-348-6145 or neikirk. [email protected]

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