Growing My Own Food

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.


Growing My Own Food

Growing up in Ohio, our family always had a garden where we grew our own vegetables. We ate what was in season and my mother canned or froze what we didn’t eat for the winter.

I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I don’t have fond memories of all the work associated with growing your own food, especially weeding the garden or adding cow manure to the soil once a year. Talk about mind numbing boredom for a kid (the weeding) and extreme odor (the cow crap)! :)

In high school, after we moved to Florida, I remember once trying to grow something (can’t remember what) in a little patch on the side of our house. Weeds, pests and my short attention span (I abandoned the project as I recall) resulted in a failed attempt at gardening.

Hydroponics: The First Attempt

A few years ago, after the kids had outgrown their little playhouse which had become termite infested, I decided to rip it down (since they no longer used it) and replace it with a greenhouse. I found a 30′ X 15′ kit which I purchased on-line and went to work constructing the floor and then assembling the greenhouse on top. Here are a few pictures of the construction:

Completed Floor & Beginning The Frame:

gh-floorCompleted Frame:

gh-frameConnecting Water Supply:

Here I am connecting into my irrigation system which is fed by our well.

gh-water-hookupElectric, Water, & Beginning Walls:

gh-walls-1Completed Walls:

gh-walls-4Beginning The Roof:

gh-roof-4-roatatedCompleted Greenhouse:

gh-completedHomemade Flood & Drain System:

Now that I had the greenhouse completed, I build my own hydroponic system. I chose to do a “flood and drain” technique. The system uses a pump submerged in the nutrient tank (blue container) which circulates the nutrients to the roots of the plants in pots sitting in the black trays above. The pump is on a timer that kicks on for 20 minutes or so four to five times per day. Every seven to ten days, the old nutrients are removed from the tank and fresh water and nutrients are added.

hp-flood-drainNotice each of the grow trays (black tubs on top) have a white PVC pipe going into the bottom and a black tube coming out of the bottom and back to the blue nutrient tank. The pump in the bottom of the tank pushed the liquid nutrient into the black tubs where it floods the pots (and therefore the plant roots).  When the feeding is over after 20 minutes or so, the tubs drain back into the nutrient tank to be used again at the next feeding.

Starting Plants From Seed:

I start my plants in little blocks of rock wool.

hp-starting-in-rockwoolOnce they a couple of inches tall, the baby plants, still in the rock wool blocks, are placed in pots filled with the grow medium, which consists of little pebbles consisting of expanded clay aggregate. This stuff allows the roots to grow and supports the root structure. Here are young tomato plants in the pots situated in the grow area of the flood and drain system.

hp-tomato-plantsIn the beginning, it all seemed to work pretty well. Here are young squash plants starting to blossom:

hp-squash-blossomHere are some baby tomatoes:

hp-young-tomatoGreens, like lettuce, kale and herbs did very well!


Soon the crops took over the greenhouse. The squash blossomed beautifully:

hp-cropsThe tomatoes plants literally grew out through the roof of the greenhouse:

hp-huge-tomatosThe first crop of tomatoes were fantastic and tasted unbelievable:

hp-ripe-tomatoBut, I began to have problems. I started getting blossom end rot on the tomatoes and squash. Then in the summer, despite having three fans running, the greenhouse was just too hot! The experts told me not to try growing in the summer. So I tried a new batch in the fall after temps cooled and got infested with white flies which ruined the crops. This winter I tried growing in soil and have had little luck as the plants seem to have contracted a fungus and are dying from the bottom up.

On top of all of this, I kept having to buy very expensive nutrients and was really not getting very much of a crop for the expense. I decided there had to be a better way!

Hydroponics: The Second Attempt

A few years ago a friend told me about her very successful hydroponic system in her back yard. She mentioned the nutrients were quite inexpensive with fantastic production. Once my soil experiment failed, I decided to go to the place where she got started and attend their hydroponic gardening workshop.

The place hosting the workshop is called Hydro Harvest Farms–check out their web site and the pictures of their hydroponic “farm,” it is absolutely amazing! After sitting through the workshop and looking around I became intrigued to say the least. I went back the next day and purchased a four tower system. I’ve documented building the hydro towers and the progress so far.

Building the Hydro Towers:

Here are the parts I bought on March 22, 2015 including the posts, bases, pots, nutrient barrel, feeding lines, ground cloth, quarter cinder blocks, grow material (vermiculite and perlite), nutrients, and automatic timing system.

ht-hydro-towers-partsNext I picked the spot for the system behind the existing greenhouse.

ht-spotThen I mapped out the site:

ht-mapping-spotNext I started putting in blocks making a retaining wall:

ht-start-wallHere is base level of the wall completed, the ground cloth and blocks positioned:

ht-finish-wallNext I pounded the pole bases into the ground:

ht-setting-pole-basesNow the blocks are positioned around the pole bases:

ht-block-poleNow I add the bases and poles:

ht-adding-bases-and-postsHere are the bases and poles set:

ht-bases-polesNow I pour the two bags of grow material into the nutrient barrel to mix them together:

ht-mixing-nutrientsNow roll the barrel all over the yard to mix:

ht-mixingNext I add the pots onto the poles. The far tower on the left are for tomatoes, the middle two are for leafy greens like lettuce and kale, and the right tower will have various pepper and cucumbers. The bases will have zucchini, yellow swash, eggplant, and spaghetti squash.

ht-pots-addedBut before I can plant the seeds, I had to fill the pots and the bases with the grow material consisting of vermiculite and perlite and then immediately wet it down so it won’t blow away.

ht-pots-filledNext the feeding tubes are added to the top of the towers. Here you can see the liquid nutrients coming out of the tube and into the top pot of the tower. The liquid filters down through the tower of pots and down to the base, feeding the plants.

ht-feed-tubesThe nutrient barrel on the right holds 50 gallons of nutrient. A pump in the bottom is activated by an electronic timer three times a day to feed the plants. The pump runs for six minutes at each feeding and pumps a quart of nutrient liquid into each tower. The feeding times are 10am, noon, and 3pm. The barrel holds enough nutrient for two weeks.

ht-finished-systemThe nutrients are simple! There are two packets, a white one and a blue one:

ht-packetsAll I have to do is add the white packet to a gallon jug of water and the blue packet to another jug of water. To reload the system, just fill the barrel up with water (50 gallons) and then put one ounce of white per gallon water and one ounce of blue per gallon of water (so 25 oz. of each) into the barrel. The last step is to add two tablespoons of Bio Nutrient into the barrel as well. That’s it!

ht-nutrientsI planted the first seeds on March 27, 2015. Here is what the hydro garden looks like on April 23, 2015:

ht-plants-2015-04-23Pretty cool! I’ll be providing updates as my plants mature–let’s hope the bugs and critters leave my crops alone. :) As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!