We’ve made another step towards becoming self-sufficient. Yesterday we bought everything we need to set up a 4 foot square hydroponic garden in our crawl space. This came after much discussion and research – we decided that the sizable upfront cost ($800+) will be a good investment that will pay for itself many times over. We spend about $60 – $70/week on fresh produce, plus about $100/month on frozen produce at Costco. The majority of our diet is veggies and fruit, and everything we buy is organic. We do have a garden that has cut down dramatically on what we spend on swiss chard, kale, and spinach. But we live in a pretty harsh climate for gardens. October – April it’s too cold to grow anything outdoors. Then from May – October we’re able to have a garden, but it requires a ton of water and gets baked in the sun. We’ve had a total of 3 inches of precipitation this year, and every day now it’s just hot (near 100) and dry. Plants have a tough go of it.
We want to grow our own food for lots of reasons. We know exactly what went into it, we minimize the ecological impact by eliminating transportation issues, and the food is as fresh as can be. But our yard is very small, and the area where we live is categorized as “high desert” – gardens struggle. Perfect scenario for hydroponics. (my sprouts are hydroponic, and they do fantastically in our kitchen cupboard, with a new supply ready to go every few days)
Our crawl space is huge. It’s under half of our house, and more than four feet tall (if they had just dug a little more, we could have had a basement, dang it!). We’ve been using it for storage, and there’s tons of unused space under there. So now a bit more of it is being used. Our hydroponic system includes two water reservoirs and two trays for plants (each one is two feet by four feet) so that we can have leafy greens in one and fruiting plants in the other (they each require different levels of nutrients in the water and different pH levels). For now, we have one full-spectrum grow light, although we may add a couple more that are specifically designed for certain types of plants. We’re on a mission to find seeds this afternoon, although it’s August and the pickins are slim. I think we’ll end up ordering most of our seed online. One of the major advantages of hydroponics is how fast things grow and how much they produce. Plants grow 4 – 5 times faster, and by adjusting the light you can make fruiting plants (like tomatoes) produce more tomatoes and less plant. In the store where we bought the equipment, they had a tomato plant that was a seed in May and is now covered in red tomatoes. My tomato plants were seedlings in May, and are now about 18 inches high, with no tomatoes in sight yet.
So we’re very excited about this project. Obviously we can’t grow apple and avocado trees in our crawl space (we did have an indoor avocado tree for a few years, but alas, no avocados). Things that grow on bushes and trees will still have to be purchased. But we should be able to cut our produce bill by about half. 16 square feet of hydroponic garden will produce a lot of veggies – way more than you would get from the same space if you’re growing in soil. If we can save $30/week, that’s $1500/year – which means we break even in less than a year, even if we have to go buy some more lights or equipment (the lights are the most expensive part). And we’ll know that our produce is garden fresh, year round (there’s no such thing as “not in season” when it’s growing under lights in your crawl space) and hasn’t been transported from half way around the world to get to our kitchen. We’re very excited about this project. I’ll keep you posted.