Niche for hydroponic vegetables, herbs discussed at meeting

Johnny Morgan  |  6/4/2018 7:14:30 PM

(06/04/18) BATON ROUGE, La. — Growers interested in hydroponic gardening have another source for the information they may need.

LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Lee Rouse is conducting research on the practice, by which crops are grown without using soil. He and others from the AgCenter hosted a Hydroponic Education Day at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on May 31.

“Growing vegetables in soilless media may seem like a new idea, but it’s actually one that has been around for many years,” Rouse said. “Even the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are thought to have been hydroponic.”

The idea for hydroponic gardening dates to the Incan civilization during the 1500s, Rouse said. The U.S. military used the process to feed soldiers during World War II.

“It may not be the wave of the future, but I do believe it has its place,” he said. “I like to call it the oldest new discovery.”

The basics of the system are getting water and nutrients to the plants’ roots in a medium besides soil.

An elaborate hydroponics system can be large and cost thousands of dollars, Rouse said. But for those who just want to grow a few herbs, a windowsill is probably enough space.

The systems are commonly set up in greenhouses because the environment is more controlled, but this has some disadvantages, such as the lack of available pollinators, Rouse said.

AgCenter plant doctor Raj Singh explained the importance of disease management in the soilless system.

“Anytime you’re trying to control insects in soilless media, it’s always good to have an integrated pest management approach,” he said.

AgCenter commercial ornamental horticulture specialist Jeb Fields explained the use of water in hydroponics and soilless media.

“In these systems, parts of the soil is used as substrata, such as sand,” he said. “But the difference between soil and dirt is that soil is a living system. Once soil is removed from that system, it’s no longer soil.”

AgCenter horticulturist Ed Bush discussed fertility management.

“When using a substrate such as soil, there is more moisture-holding capacity,” Bush said. “When you only use water, then you become a chemist because there are more variables to deal with, like acidity.”

Natalie Faust-Jones, owner of Faust Farms in Tangipahoa Parish, is using a hydroponic system to grow some of her vegetables. She said she felt the meeting would give her some additional information on using the system.

“We started as a ground-based operation, but with hydroponics, it’s something you can do year-round,” she said.

Faust is known mostly for her strawberry production, but she also grows butter lettuce hydroponically and sells it to grocery stores around the state.

The meeting concluded with a tour of Rouse’s hydroponics research project in the greenhouse at the Botanic Gardens.

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Lee Rouse shows off some of the hydroponics systems during the Hydroponic Education Day at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on May 31. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Lee Rouse discusses his hydroponic research during the Hydroponic Education Day at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on May 31. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Lee Rouse explains how he grows sweet potatoes in a soilless system during the Hydroponic Education Day at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden on May 31. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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