Is hydroponics right for you? That is a question many farmers new to this method of growing plants and vegetables may ask. Between the time and commitment, it takes to get a hydroponic garden up and running, to knowing the ins and outs of the equipment, it can be a challenging time. So, starting simple, with something like the Kratky Method, may be the best way to test the waters and see if hydroponic gardening fits your lifestyle.
As the simplest form of hydroponic growing, the Kratky method is similar to the Deep-Water Culture system of hydroponics, except it does not require the water to circulate. In fact, growers looking for a more hands-off approach do not even have to change the reservoir or add nutrients.
WHAT IS THE KRATKY METHOD?
Because hydroponic growing does not require soil, there are typically a lot of pieces to setting up the garden. You know that plants need air, water, light, and soil for the growth. Because, hydroponic gardening uses no soil, you must provide all the nutrients your plant would have taken from the ground in which it was growing. Not only do you need pumps, airstones and valves, you also need the electricity to keep the system functioning properly. That is why many newcomers to the field of hydroponic growing will consider the Kratky Method.
Bernard A Kratky, a horticulturist at the University of Hawaii, introduced the world to his technique for growing plants in 2009. In his article, released in the scientific journal Acta Horticulturae, Kratky describes using floating pallets to produce food commercially. In his example, Kratky explains that the plants would be placed in net pots on boards that float in a reservoir. As the water levels decreased, it would create an air gap to allow the plants to take in oxygen. By the time the nutrient solution runs out, the plants should be ready to harvest.
The simplicity of this system made it popular among home gardeners, who discovered Kratky’s theory could easily be set up on a much smaller scale using containers such as buckets, and even glass jars.
BUILDING YOUR OWN SYSTEM WITH THE KRATKY METHOD
In addition to being one of the simplest systems for hydroponic growing, it is also inexpensive and will not take long to get set up.
Here are the materials you will need to get started:
- Plants/Seeds – You can begin your hydroponic growing system with young plants or seeds. The types of plants you choose to grow in your garden will determine the size containers you will need for reservoirs.
- Container/Reservoir with Lid – Depending on how large the plants you expect to grow, and the size of your hydroponic garden, you will need to choose a container. For smaller plants, such as leafy green vegetables, a smaller container, such as a milk jar, will work. If you plan to grow more fruit-bearing plants, such as tomatoes or peppers, you may want to start with a 5-gallon bucket. Your container will also need a lid to hold the net pots, as well as protect the plants from pests and diseases.
- Net Pots – Net pots will hold your plants above the growing solution as they grow. Choose the size of your net post based on the size of the plants you intend to grow.
- Growing Medium – A variety of materials exist that can be used as a growing medium in hydroponic gardens. One example is pebbles, which help to support young roots that are carrying nutrients throughout your plant for its development.
- Nutrient Solution – In nature, plants absorb nutrients and elements they need to survive through the soil. Hydroponically, these nutrients are provided through a solution you can customize for their growth. Look for solutions that are good for the type of plants you choose to grow.
- pH Tools & Control Kit – Monitoring the pH levels in your system is an important step in keeping your plants healthy and thriving. The kit will include a meter to help keep an eye on levels. Ideally, the pH of your solution should be between 5.5 and 6.5. If the pH is off, you can use the kit to correct it.
Because the Kratky Method of growing hydroponically is so simple, assembly of it can be done in very few steps.
- Prepare your container and place it in the location of your garden.
- Drill a hole in the lid that is large enough for your net pot. If you plan to grow multiple plants in one container, you will need a hole for each container.
- Fill your container with water and add the nutrient solution.
- Check the pH of your solution to make sure it falls within the appropriate level for growth.
- Add your growing medium to the net pot.
- Place a seed, or seeds, into each net pot.
It is that simple. Once all these steps are complete, you will just need to keep an eye on your plants to ensure they are not compromised by pests or diseases.
BENEFITS & CHALLENGES OF THE KRATKY METHOD
Like any new venture, you are likely to have ups and downs with your hydroponic gardening system. Being prepared is the key to your success. The Kratky Method’s has been popular among professional and amateur gardeners because of its simplicity and low cost. It is also very adaptable, and can be set up in almost in location. However, the Kratky method does not come without its own set of challenges.
- Plant Size – The Kratky Method is best for smaller plants, especially leafy greens like lettuce or spinach. Without some modifications, it is not efficient for fruit-bearing plants and other plants that require a large space.
- Small Scale Gardening – If you are providing produce for your family, and maybe some friends with the fruits of your labor, the Kratky Method may be a good fit for you. However, larger growing operations are more efficiently run on more advanced systems that recirculate water.
- Pest Problems – Because the Kratky Method is a passive system and runs quietly, it can attract pests like mosquitoes or spiders. While they might not cause major problems for plants, you need to be prepared for the possibility of seeing them.
- Keep it Covered – The container you choose to set up your Kratky Method system in will protect it from outside elements. So, be sure the lid seals properly to keep out pests. If your garden is outdoors, ensure that no rainwater can enter the reservoir to prevent drowning your plants.
Though not all plants can be grown using this method, the Kratky Method is a great way for new gardeners to get started with hydroponics. It will allow you to learn the basics of indoor gardening, while requiring less of an investment of your time and money.