Hydroponic Gardening with Organic Fertilizers

A look at the growth patterns of hydroponically grown plants given organic fertilizers.

| May/June 1976


The author's attempt to combine aquaculture with hydroponics was not 100% successful. Effluent-grownbeans, which at first rose inches above beans raised in either manure tea or commercial nutrient solution, later became stunted and pale.


In earlier issues of MOTHER, I described in detail a few of the many advantages hydroponic greenhouse gardening has over more conventional methods of raising fruits and vegetables . . . and in response, a reader wrote to MOTHER expressing the following concern:

James DeKorne's information on hydroponics is quite interesting, but one aspect of the method sticks in my craw: The process seems so dead. It'd be fascinating to discover if plants grown hydroponically differ in manifest energy --on some level apart from "nutrients" alone—as compared to those grown in soil . . . .  

I've found that this is a common reaction to hydroponic gardening, even though anyone who has had any experience with the concept will tell you immediately that there's nothing at all "dead" about it. On the contrary: The plants I grow in my hydroponic greenhouse seem more alive than their peers out in the garden mostly because of their more rapid growth and prolific production of fruit.

Laboratory tests have shown that there are no nutritional differences between normal vegetables grown hydroponically and those grown in gardens (organic or otherwise). Neither are there any differences in flavor: Last summer my wife took two tomatoes --one from our garden and one from a hydroponic tank in the greenhouse --and arranged them in slices on two separate plates. Only she knew which was which. After every member of the family tasted pieces from each plate, it turned out that no one could detect any differences in flavor . . . none of us could tell which tomato was "organic" and which "hydroponic".

Even so, it is true that the hydroponically grown tomatoes you buy in the supermarket often taste bland and pulpy. One explanation for this --aside from the fact that supermarket produce is of dubious freshness --is that tomatoes produced in commercial hydroponic greenhouses are special hybrids which have been bred for color, uniformity of size, and ability to ripen all at the same time. And these, of course, are qualities which have nothing to do with flavor, but everything to do with the convenience and profit of the agribusinessman who raises the fruit.

No special hybrids for me, though . . . the tomatoes we raise in our tanks are the same varieties we grow in the garden (Burpee Big Boy being our particular favorite).

widodo sukardi
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1/27/2010 10:19:32 AM

110% disagree with this author's hypothesis, "namely, that vegetables do not thrive in aquaculture effluent because the liquid contains growth inhibitors." First of all, I have a hydroponic and aquaponic garden. I have grown many vegetables without any problem in aquponic. I am also raising variety of aquarium fish with live aquatic plants. I haven't observed any significant retardation of aquatic or terresterial plant growth or inhibition. By the way, being a chemistry major, I am also using organic and in-organic (chemicals) fertilizers in my hydroponic.

1/31/2009 11:25:39 AM

I may have committed a taboo with my last post, I did not intend to advertise a commercial product. My apologies if I did wrong, my intentions were only to provide an answer to a problem.I find these articles and comments to be as valuable as anything on the net and would not like to do anything to break the rules of using them.

1/31/2009 11:05:52 AM

There is a commercial product called Planters II that is all natural and has been used successfully to augment fish waste water in aquaculture. It provides bio-active forms of the micro-nutrients Calcium, Sulfur, Magnesium, Cobalt, Iron, Molybdenum, and Boron that, from what I remember reading, were all that were needed as supplements for most heavy feeders like tomatoes.I really think that,as the author stated, a compost tea supplement to the waste water would work as well, just check the nutrients and add whatever is needed in an organic form. The Planters II is made by U.S. Soil,Inc. and has an interesting website that tells the history of this natural mineral deposit product and how it was formed.It is used in soil gardening as well.

11/18/2007 8:13:32 PM

The idea that fish may produce growth inhibitors that can affect plant via the water is very interesting. Perhaps you could try tadpoles instead of fish. They grow even if there are lots in a tank, they'll eat small sinking fish pellets as well as mozzie larvae, and as as I know and have noticed, they don't have growth inhibitors. If there are too many into one one system they'll just eat each other. So feed them well. Also, here's a thought- does the use of commercial fish food negate the 'organic' status of the resulting veggies if the water is used in your hydro system?

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