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Hydroponics is a Sustainable, Dynamic Gardening Method for New Growers

Hydroponics, a type of soilless gardening that can be carried out both indoors and outdoors, is a salient option for those who are interested in taking up gardening but have little to no space. It is also a good way to grow herbs and vegetables during the colder, winter months. According to the University of Minnesota Extension website, found at extension.umn.edu, hydroponic gardening is “space-efficient and takes less water than gardening in soil.” It also means “no weeds.”

Joe Parelhoff, of Falls Church Hydroponics — located in the Westend Shopping Center in Falls Church at 1075 W Broad St — recently spoke to the News-Press and detailed a few tips perfect for beginners venturing into the world of hydroponic gardening.

Parelhoff explains that getting a “prefab kit with instructions, like a tower,” is a good way to start. Learning “how to check the Ph balance of water” — the measure of the level of acidity or basicity in water, with the range going from 0 — 14, with 7 being neutral — as well as “the electrical conductivity” of a hydroponic setup are crucial building blocks. He adds that, in terms of prefab setups like bucket systems, it is “better to build one yourself” as it is “a lot cheaper.” However a first-time gardener does it, Parelhoff says that investing “in cheaper equipment at first” is the way to go. Then, after a while, “try better equipment…if you decide you like it.”

For homeowners interested in hydroponics, Perelhoff recommends the basement as the most ideal location. “You have to maintain a pretty regulated environment” for this kind of growing, he explains. Places “like…the top floor,” where heat tends to rise, leads to almost “constant fluctuation” and “variation in temperature and humidity.” One of the major benefits of hydroponic gardening is “it doesn’t matter what time of year it is,” as “the indoor environment allows you to surpass unpredictable weather conditions.”

“Replicating the perfect conditions” for desired plants allows for precisely the kind of growing the plant needs, without having to worry “what time of year it is.”

Parelhoff does, however, specify that fruiting plants require “a lot of energy” and work, such as “changing out the water” in a system with more frequency, as opposed to growing “less challenging” plants, like “lettuces and herbs.” With a tower, he adds, “you don’t want something that fruits.”

With plants like tomatoes — which contain seeds — a “deep water culture” setup, consisting of “a bucket, a pump and an air stone” (a piece of aquarium furniture that gradually diffuses air into the desired space), would provide a good, sustainable environment for growth.

In addition to towers and bucket systems, Parelhoff suggests growing tents as a good place “for a beginner” to start as they come in a variety of sizes and pricing options. As hydroponic gardening — both in terms of methodology and the technical aspects of it — can seem challenging and complicated at first, Parelhoff explains, for the purpose of streamlining the process, “I tell people to take 75 percent of their budget” and put it towards “their light” (especially since the growing procedure takes place inside). Parelhoff also highlights simplicity, suggesting that beginners use “a simple, no more than three-bottle nutrient line,” so the “plants get the nutrition that they need.”

“Once you get dialed in,” he says, hydroponics not only yields the “exact same thing every single time,” with the benefit of “knowing where [one’s food] is coming from,” but it is also a joyful experience and “a great hobby.” Falls Church Hydroponics provides a local place for Falls Church residents to consult and get more information about hydroponic gardening. Hydroponics, which operates using a closed-loop system and recycles the water needed to grow desired crops, is a more sustainable option than traditional, soil-based growing and is becoming a more popular, in-demand option for both commercial growers and first-time gardeners.

To learn more about Falls Church Hydroponics, visit fallschurchhydro.com. A number of hydroponic gardening stores can also be found outside the City in the greater DC area, such as Good Hope Hydroponics (goodhopehydroponics.com) and Capital City Organics (capcityhydro.com).