Are your leafy greens in the garden already? If not, you’re in luck. Lettuce hydroponics is a different way to grow that just might change how you think about gardening.
If you’re new to this method, lettuce hydroponics is a great place to start. Most types of lettuce do especially well under these conditions, allowing you to plant a garden in almost any locale, climate and season.
Complete Guide to Lettuce Hydroponics and What to Buy
Choose your greens
While almost any lettuce works well in hydroponic gardening, there are a few varieties that do better than others.
The top three options are:
- Tom Thumb: Best for small spaces
- Romaine: A slow grower but worth the wait
- Bibb: One of the simplest kinds to grow
Depending on your space requirements and time-frame, any of these lettuces are an ideal choice. You may even choose to plant all of them for a lettuce hydroponics trifecta.
Choose your lettuce hydroponics system
Because your lettuce won’t come into contact with soil, it’s important to ensure adequate water intake.
To this end, there are a few models of watering systems you can build or buy that help your plants get the nourishment they need. The two most popular ones are NFT and Flood and Drain, also known as Ebb and Flow.
Standing for Nutrient Film Technique, the NFT system uses a pump to move water along the base of the plants’ roots.
There will be a reservoir on the bottom, connected to fill tubes and water flow tubes. These will move the water to a top chamber that holds the plants, which is usually comprised of some form of piping.
The plants’ roots will hang down into holes in the piping, receiving a “film” of water as the pump moves it across and back down into the reservoir.
Flood and Drain System
This type of system is also known as the Ebb and Flow system. One of the newer, yet most popular watering systems, this solution also uses a reservoir, pump, and growing chamber.
The main difference? Instead of the pump moving the water continuously across the root tips, it moves it in larger amounts upward to the chamber.
There, it sits until it’s adequately absorbed (the “flooding” phase). Then the remaining water is drained back into the reservoir (the “draining” phase).
Pick your soil alternative
Just because lettuce hydroponics doesn’t use soil doesn’t mean the root environment is completely barren. In addition to your watering system, it’s equally important to select a growing medium that will act like soil, only better.
A few commonly used growth mediums include:
- Rockwool or Stonewool
- Perlite or Vermiculite
- Clay pellets
- Coco fiber
- Pine bark shavings
A common theme of all these growth mediums: You can pick up a handful of any of these mediums, and they will slip right through your fingers because their density is low.
A cornerstone of hydroponic gardening is to allow plants to absorb oxygen, which they need to survive and thrive.
While Rockwool or Stonewool are two of the most popular choices, keep in mind that when these materials become wet, they can lose their porous nature. Too much water could cause root rot — the very issue you’re trying to avoid with lettuce hydroponics!
Purchase the basics
When preparing your equipment, almost any watering system you choose will make use of a reservoir and plant holders, also known as net pots. The good news is you may already have something on hand that will work for both of these.
Take a look around your home. Do you have an extra plastic storage container? What about an old fish tank? Either of these would make excellent reservoirs for your lettuce hydroponics system.
Next, you’ll need to figure out how to get your plants to sit on top of the reservoir without totally submerging them. To do so, you’ll need to create a simple platform.
If you opted to use a storage container, you can drill holes in the lid for your net pots. Otherwise, styrofoam is a great alternative that’s easily cut into and adjustable.
Net pots are the small containers your lettuce will actually sit inside, with its roots hanging down and out of holes on all sides.
Once you know the size and amount of lettuce you’d like to grow, then you can cut the holes in your platform to match these requirements.
Next, you’ll need to figure out how to get the water moving. An aquarium pump works great for this task, as it’s designed to provide the aeration your plants need to grow. This will allow plenty of room for them to expand without fear of suffocation.
It’s important to research the nutrient requirements of your specific types of plants and lettuces to make sure yours can handle what you’re mixing in. For instance, some types of lettuces don’t respond well to high levels of nitrogen so you’ll want to be aware of that beforehand.
To make sure your water is as rich as possible, you can buy supplemental hydroponic nutrients to add to it. These mixtures are readily available online or at gardening centers and usually contain a substantial dose of magnesium and phosphorous, as well as calcium — all great for helping your lettuce produce.
Once you’ve got all your equipment, it’s time to start planting your lettuce. You’ll want to give your leafy babies a little bit of time to establish their roots before you put them into the watering system.
- With lettuce hydroponics, it’s best to germinate your seeds in an egg carton or similar environment, filling the spaces with the growing medium you prefer.
- Make sure to put your container in a place that gets a good amount of sunlight.
- Water your seeds a few times per week.
- Once they reach a few inches in height and have between 3-5 leaves, they’re ready for you to transplant them to your net pots and into your hydroponic reservoir.
In about two months, you’ll have full-sized lettuce heads, ready to enjoy. To make sure your lettuces keep producing, remember to pick from the outer edges.
Interested in sustainable living?
Living a more natural, sustainable way of life is very rewarding. The homesteading community is ripe with resources to help you live more abundantly off the land. For more information, check out our tips on rural living and more, and reach out to us with any questions. Let’s grow together!