Your Guide to Hydroponics for Kids
If you are looking for an exciting activity to do with your children, hydroponic farming is a good option for you. It is a healthy activity and through it, you can teach the children new skills, especially about nature and food growing.
There is a wide range of activities to involve the children within a hydroponic farm. However, for you to grasp the activities, I will give you some background information about what hydroponic farming is.
What is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponic farming entails growing plants without soil. Instead, you substitute the soil with an aqueous solution of minerals and plant nutrients such as nitrogen while ensuring the plants are supplied with enough oxygen. In other terms, hydroponics farming is referred to as nutriculture, tank farming, and soilless culture.
Note that you can cultivate different crops using the hydroponic system, including strawberries, kales, spinach, and other vegetables. Besides, you have separate ways you can practice the soilless culture of cultivation with your kids, as explained below.
Hydroponics Farming for Kids
There are different ways you can use to practice hydroponics farming with children. They comprise;
To achieve hydroponic farming for kids, you must use less complex farming methods. Hence, I will walk you through each method to help you choose the best method you will use with your kids.
Nutrient Filming Technique (NFT)
This method involves using thin films placed around the plant’s roots. The thin films carry a nutrient solution over the roots while keeping them dry and free of unwanted moisture.
Moreover, the use of NFT ensures that the upper part of your plant is not entirely submerged into water, thus ensuring it acquires the right amounts of light and oxygen. To run the NFT technique effectively, you will need tubes, water pumps, a container to hold the nutrient solution, and a submersible fountain.
If you do not intend to spend much money when teaching the children some noteworthy soilless farming techniques, this method is a green light for you. The structure is entirely portable and can be placed at any spot in the house or the backyard.
Downside: This farming approach occupies much space due to the use of pipes and fountains. In addition, the children might find it difficult to grasp how to connect the pipes.
The ebb and Flow System
In this method, you and the kids will expose the crops to controlled flooding and drainage on a grow bed that is suspended along with the ebb and flow system. Although this system is expensive, the children will learn how to plant seedlings and serve them with nutrients in flooding intervals.
Subsequently, you will help the children drain the growing platter and supply the plants with oxygen. You will need equipment and material, including testing gadgets, a reservoir, lighting, and a nutrient solution. In addition, you will need a timed growing medium to help you illustrate the need for proper timing to the children.
Although the ebb and flow method might show you many advantages, it has some questionable drawbacks, including;
- Time consumption
- The ebb and flow approach needs undivided attention, especially during flooding and draining activities. If you and the kids poorly monitor the ebb and flow system, you will witness complete failure or average quality yields with your project.
- Expensive to start-up up due to the various equipment and expertise needed.
- Plant roots tend to get entangled, thus damaging the possibility of effective growth and nutrition. This consequently lowers the quality and quantity of the yields.
Note, Interruption of the intervals due to water and power outages has a detrimental effect on the success of the ebb and flow farming approach.
Wicking is an automatic method of hydroponics and stands out especially to kids’ education since there is reduced use of machines. You can apply the wicking method if you intend to use limited amounts of water and nutrient solution.
In this approach, water and nutrient solution uptake is through capillary action – where water flows gradually and opposite gravity in a narrow space. Therefore, you and the kids only have to wick the fabric with conduits that resemble body capillaries. The conduits will help draw water and solution from the growing medium and later release it gradually on the surface of the crop, depending on the rate of uptake.
Thus, the method is suitable for kids learning activities since it is used wholesomely on a small scale. Ensure you alert the kids that the method is only applicable partially to seedlings.
However, this method is expensive and somehow complicated for kids. You can set it up and maintain it but allow the kids to follow instructions or help under strict supervision to avoid accidents and system damage.
The Deep-water Culture System
Why use this method with the children?
This method is among the easiest hydroponics culture system for beginners. It will help you educate the children on the essence of using farming technology. Abbreviated as (DWC), the method involves entirely submerging the plant in water and a nutrient solution. You require the following items to fully practice the DWC method with the children;
- A net pot
- A growing medium of your choice
- Air Tubing
- A reservoir (e.g., a can)
If you would like to know how to build a simple DWC indoor structure with the children, here is a quick guide;
How To Create a Simple DWC Hydroponic Structure.
To effectively set up and run this system, you need to make a grow bed, use a standard cover or just a container lid, make a nutrient solution. You could also use an air pump to effectively supply the grow bed with sufficient air.
You can construct the grow bed with the children using a tray-like vessel or a tub where you can empty the nutrient solution contents. I prefer this method since you can reuse household equipment such as unused buckets and waste tabs as the growing beds.
Lid or cover
You are allowed to use any standard container lid in this setup.
You will have to show the children that they need to artificially dispense nutrients to the plant since the growth medium is water. There are different nutrient combinations you can find in gardening stores that are close to you.
Note that, you will need to explain the essence of the different nutrients in the growth of the plants, and the different factors that contribute to increased yields.
Plant roots need enough air for the proper growth of the plant. Hence, you will need an air pump to help regulate the levels of oxygen in the water. The most affordable air pump you could use is the aquarium air pump, which will work perfectly with the simple DWC structure. Alternatively, you could guide the children on shaking the plant gently to ensure an even spread of air. For small crops, it is advisable to manually bubble the air using a straw at least once a day.
How to set up the DWC structure with the children: A Step by Step Guide
For this procedure, you can use spinach seeds, kale, herbs, and other vegetables to get you started. They thrive well under the DWC hydroponic method and are easy to cultivate for beginners.
- Seed Germination
There are two methods you could use for seed germination. You can use net-pots or germination trays. Using a net pot would be advantageous since you will not need to transplant the young seedlings after they germinate.
- Prepare the grow bed
Acquire a waterproof reservoir or container, as indicated in the requirements step above. Ensure there is no leakage in the pots so that the seedlings’ roots will stay submerged in the water and nutrient solution at all times. You could test for any leakage using plain water to ensure that the reservoir is completely free of leaks.
- Prepare the Lid
Pierce a sufficient number of holes along the lid. I recommend 2-inch hole intervals so that the housing structure can hold the lid in place
- Prepare the nutrient solution.
You are not to worry about this segment since most nutrient solutions come with instructions on the nutrient to water ratio. There are different forms of solutions, depending on what you want to teach the kids to grow including the renowned NPK solution.
- Empty the nutrient solution into the reservoir
Ensure that the nutrient solution reaches the floor base of the grow bed. Also, ascertain that the distance between the net pot and the water-nutrient solutions are at per so that the roots will reach the solution and absorb it gradually.
- Transplant the fully grown seedlings to a grow container
Once the seedlings are fully grown, you can have the children transplant the sapling to a grow much bigger bed. Enjoy the growth of the saplings into healthy crops.
Why is Hydroponics for Kids Important?
Hydroponics for kids helps them learn at an early age how to care for plants and grow healthy food in their homes. They get to practice every day while learning important skills like critical thinking, self-sustenance, and problem-solving techniques. You as the parent also get to create bonding time with the kids and have a healthy outdoor relationship. Make sure to oversee all the activities especially if advanced equipment is in use and have fun while doing it.