Hydroponics 101

Fresh Indoor Tomatoes

Fresh Indoor Tomatoes

It is exciting to see the fruits of labor!

The students at Lakewood High School have been busy learning indoor hydroponics gardening. Both of these varieties of tomatoes are being grown in Ebb & Flow hydroponics systems by Botanicare.



HID Lighting (High Intensity Discharge)

Metal Halide Light System In Action

High intensity discharge (HID) lights are the most commonly used grow light since they give off a greater amount of lumens (visible light power) per watt of incoming electricity to the light. HID lights are commonly preferred over fluorescent and incandescent lamps because their power will is displayed in their lumen output more than their heat output. An HID light can put out as much as five (5) times the lumens per watt as an incandescent lamp can produce.

There are two types of HID grow light bulbs used by indoor gardeners. There is the metal halide lamps and the high pressure sodium lamps.

Metal Halide (MH)

Metal halide lights are powerful and efficient light sources for growing. They emit more of a blue spectrum which is ideal for the vegetative stage of growing. The metal halide lights are designed to produce the same kind of blue and indigo light spectra that your plants would get from the sun in the spring time when most plants are beginning to sprout. This type of blue light will produce more compact stems, tighter internode spacing and a faster growth rate. The MH lights are best for the early stages of plant growth, when the stem production and leaf production are so important to the overall quality of plant you produce. Metal Halide lamps also produce enough red and yellow light spectra to produce decent flowering or fruiting, however, for maximum flowering production you will want to switch to an HPS light.

High Pressure Sodium (HPS)

High pressure sodium lights, as a ‘flowering’ and ‘fruiting’ light is in a class of its own and can only be out performed by the sun. HPS lights produce strong red and yellow light spectra. This end of the light spectrum generates longer stems, bigger blooms and more bountiful crop. The high pressure sodium lights produce brighter and more efficient lumens per watt than a metal halide. The greater your efficiency and production of lumens per watt can affect the size and quality of the yield of your plants.

Because of the fact that metal halide lamps require metal halide ballasts and high pressure sodium lamps require high pressure sodium ballasts, many growers prefer to use a digital ballast which has the ability to run either type of bulb.

Incandescent Grow Lights

Don’t be fooled by Incandescent lights.
Incandescent grow lights will typically produce the red-yellowish end of the light spectrum with an approximate color temperature of around 2700 K. Though they are many times labeled as growing lights, they are not good growing lights. The are much less efficient than fluorescent lights or typical HID grow lights. Their average life span is only around 700+ hours, and they are better at converting the electricity they consume into heat instead of into light.

Confessions of A New Indoor Gardener

In my hands I felt the heft of the large box of hydroponic gardening equipment I had recently purchased. “Microgarden?” I thought, “This thing weighs at least 30 pounds.”

I set down the box on the carpet of my living room. Leaning over with hands on knees, as a long time soil gardener, I didn’t know what to expect from something so reliant upon science and way too much of what I didn’t know and understand.

As I cut through the tape holding the contents of the box, images of chemicals and glass beakers and a rather Frankenstein-ish approach to growing vegetables held firm in my mind.

The single page of directions was enough to intimidate me—Plug this in, fill that up, add this nutrient, adjust that. What in the heck was hydroponics and why? I stopped everything I was doing and met with a gardener friend the following day that had several years of indoor gardening experience.


The Big Tomato on ‘The Balancing Act’ on Lifetime Television

balancing act

The producers of The Balancing Act approached The Big Tomato about the practice of indoor hydroponic gardening. They discussed the frequent questions and requests they get on a consistent basis by their primarily female audience. The questions they get asked frequently are things like, ‘What is Hydroponics?’, ‘How do we start an indoor garden?’, ‘Are fruits and vegetables that are grown hydroponically really healthier?’, ‘What types of grow lights should be used?’, and ‘What types of things can we grow hydroponically?’. As a result of this growing interest in self-sustenance and healthier eating, The Balancing Act producers welcomed the owners of The Big Tomato, Jeremy Stout & Josh Field, to offer guidance and resources for getting your questions answered and the items you need to get started. It all starts here at TheBigTomato.com


What Is Hydroponic Gardening?

If you break down the word “hydroponics” in the Greek, (which I’m sure most people don’t do before asking the definition of a word), you will find that it comes from the root words “hydro” which means “water”, and “ponos” which means “labor”. People have the choice to plant their gardens in soil, or they can plant their gardens in water. Those that do decide to grow in water are practicing the art of hydroponic gardening. Hydroponics is also commonly taught in University Biology centers for research and study.


Types of Hydroponic Systems

There are many variations of hydroponic systems that indoor gardeners or “hydro-farmers” can use. Every systems is developed and based upon similar foundational concepts, but still unique in their own ways. This article will provide the most basic breakdown of each type of hydroponic system, and we will also seek to provide a basic understanding of which hydroponic system various plants respond to better.