Hydroponics: Creating An Intimate Relationship With Your Plants

Photo by Andy Towle. |

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More than 28 people came to the Community Garden class to learn about getting intimate with their plants. The hydroponics primer could easily have been titled, “Tools to Deepen your Relationship,” and put on by a relationship coach.

Paul Hicken has done hydroponic gardening for 10 years. He loves the control of knowing the pH of the water and parts per million of the food he gives his plants.

The hydroponic garden growing on his deck has a Jurassic Park jungle look, with jack-and-the-beanstalk-tall tomato plants and primordial zucchini plants.

“You’ll need a ladder to pick the fruit,” said Hicken of the impressive results.

Hicken also loves not pulling weeds.

“We put a weed barrier down on all the pots,” he said.

Geez, I’d love to have a relationship that clean and controlled!

From Hicken’s glowing description and pictures, hydroponic gardening does not disappoint, but it does require lots of pruning and training.

Take the tomato plant. Hicken said he has planted up to four tomato plants in his specially designed bucket, but he pinches off wayward suckers and bushy growth to force the plant up and get the best yield.

His special buckets look like old percolator coffee pots from the ’60s, with a top shaped like an angel food cake pan and a tube running through the middle.

That top piece fits into a five-gallon bucket that has a drain attached.

Hicken does not use soil. Instead, he grows his plants in coconut husks, which offer plants a medium that stays moist. However, the coconut husks lack the nutrients plants need. So the hydroponics approach bathes the plant roots in perfectly pH-balanced liquid nutrients.

Hicken measures out the organic plant food to a certain parts per million (PPM). He also keeps the pH at optimal levels for the plant’s root system to uptake the nutrients. If the pH gets too far out of the 6.0 range, the plants can’t suck up the nutrients.

The solution he uses gives plants micronutrients, like human vitamin pills, with just enough iron, boron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, copper, cobalt, chlorine, selenium and silicon.

Hicken can get the newbie hydroponics grower at the Community Garden up and running with one of his bucket contraptions for a mere $10. Now, that’s a cheap first date. The $10 includes water, coconut husks, hydroponic gear and organic food. Hicken will even monitor the pH and water on a regular basis, but he said he’s looking for a co-assistant advisor for hydroponics.

The Community Garden has set up a corner for hydroponic gardeners. For an extra $5, Hicken will sell a take-home bottom bucket for the gardener to use and drain themselves.

Either way, hydroponic gardening requires intimate knowledge and an acceptance of their needs. But with just the right pH, a dose of micronutrients and a little sensitivity to their coconut husks — you’re at the start of a beautiful relationship.

The Payson Community Garden is located on Tyler Parkway.

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