Final Thoughts of Hydroponics

By October it is all over on Pig Row, the winter and spring vegetables are often ticking away but the summer harvest for us would have ended back in late August. This is the downside of our raised elevation, we're 1330ft above sea level and this means we share a lot of similar weather patterns as Scotland, Northumbria and Cumbria even though we are a hundred miles or so south of them. This is something that many gardeners never take into account, for some gardeners, summer is summer and they grow away oblivious of why everything seems to be tipping into autumn so early or why the nights get colder quicker compared to a friend five miles away and several hundred feet lower. Altitude has a massive impact on growing and can shrink the season from twelve weeks to a mere eight in our neck of the woods. We grow our food fast and hard but with the wonderful summer we've just had we decided to see whether there was another way to grow our own undercover (for us this is one of the ways we combat autumn rolling in early; this year it has come early thanks to that hot summer and the trees and hedges are turning over faster than a sports car).


Back in May we started recording our trial with the autopot system, we produced some short films on growing chillies, followed how all the plants were growing under trying conditions and shared our views on one of the harvests. First, let's address the idea of hydroponics as 'Frankenstein', a comment that was thrown away on Gardeners' World last year by that nation's leading gardener, Monty. As we have said before this trial was never attack on that comment or the lovely Monty but Monty got us thinking (thanks Monty), are autopots the Prometheus of the gardening world? Or, more importantly are they are way forward for people with less and less space who want to or need to grow? We often forget the latter and we often ignore the fact that much of our commercial growing of salads now embraces hydroponics as a way to save space and water. You can read more about the waste of water in traditional growing here and you'll be stunned at how much we lose to run off. Though we embraced autopots we chose to use the system with a mix of coir and Dalefoot Compost, this was a conscious decision to bring across our organic growing mix. We regularly use coir and sheep's wool compost, they are sustainable and more importantly have been used by us for several years. This means we can compare like for like growing from previous years and from this year. The results were quite startling as we were bringing in harvests on tomatoes from July until three hours ago, that's three months of food production. Each time we harvested around 500g - 1200g of tomatoes, food we would eat there and then. Over twelve weeks we brought in 15-20 kg of tomatoes from one bed of eight pots, we have harvested around five large baskets of chillies, processing them into jams and stringing up the rest. The cucumbers didn't do well though and the courgettes failed but this was due to late planting, and the massive fluctuation in temperatures between day and night, something we noted in the leaves of the tomatoes which turned brown and crisped up. So, should we all move to hydroponics? If you have the space or have the windowsill, you should have a go, the act of filling up a tank to feed the crop means less lugging around of the watering can, and as a disabled gardener this helped this summer as we moved into the hosepipe ban. There is something that has come out through this trial that this is the next step for many home gardeners suffering with a lack of space, and that it has nothing to do with a Frankenstein view of growing food. For hydroponics is firmly rooted is Meso-American food production going back thousands of years and it may just feed us all in the future, time for us to steal fire from the Gods again and grow with it rather than be afraid of it.

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