In hydroponics, money doesn't necessarily buy happiness. Money might buy bragging rights, and if that's what you're looking for, well, I won't say anything. My happiness comes from using the least expensive, lowest-technology stuff I can use to obtain above-average yields. In other words, my aim is to grow stuff in the smallest area, with the least cost and effort, quickly, anytime of the year, and eat well. I tell people I am cheap and lazy. My wife smiles, puts her hand on my shoulder, looks at the person I am conversing with, and says, “Jim is bottom-line and efficient.”
Being a hoarder and a recycler also played into my experiments. As a total beginner, I remember settling on a passive “wick” system. My research came across others who had pretty good results but I felt something was missing. Most of them seemed to have relatively complicated and expensive -but seemingly inefficient- setups. My brain was telling me that the pot o'gold was at the end of Cheap n' Lazy Lane. If I could grow my plants while sitting in a Barcalounger and eating Peanut M&M's, I would certainly do so!
You are, at this point, thinking, where in the heck did using a cotton gym sock as a substrate container become my “aha” moment? The sock was the very core of my fledgling ideas about how to grow stuff in water. It became such a central theme to my experiments that I took to calling it the “ Hydro Sock .” In fact, I did a little keyword research on the internet about how people are finding me, and “ HydroSock ” was and still is a major player!
My using a (doesn't have to be white) cotton sock was because of one act of laziness and one of genuine thought. The lazy part was because I didn't have any cotton twine or rope in the house and I didn't feel like wasting a few gallons of gas going to WalletSweep Mart. At that time, just about all discussion about passive systems seemed to be focused on a thin little cotton wick. I was a total dunderhead when it came to hydroponics. I was looking at the significantly more expensive and complicated active, recirculating systems with substrates like perlite, clay pellets, rock wool cubes, and coco fiber and thinking, what is readily available in my house (already in my sock drawer), cheap, and which could hold lots of perlite, or rock wool, or clay, or coco fiber? And, dang it, while I was thinking about it, what would make a suitable reservoir? I didn't have any big plastic buckets or anything laying around the house. I was getting ticked that I would have to get off my duff and drive to town. I was ready to start this thing NOW!
My wife will never ever have fragile bones. She drinks milk. LOTS of milk. If she was a super hero, she would be called 'Calcium Girl!' I looked in the recycling bin and saw three one-gallon milk jugs. Reservoirs! Cheap, as in free. A gallon of nutrient solution should be plenty for a tomato plant, right? I had already bought the perlite, a packet of Jet Star hybrid tomato seeds, cheapo fluorescent grow lights, and one quart each of General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Flora Micro, and Flora Bloom. Man, I was itching to go! After midnight, my kitchen became a mad-scientist lab. I was going to have big, juicy, flavorful, non-pesticide tomatoes! Clang! Clang! Full speed ahead! Ahooga! Dive! Dive! Little spheres to the wall, flat-out, trembling, new-toy happy!
The darn thing actually worked! I made a bunch more to be sure it wasn't a fluke. I can't ever claim my experiments are really scientific but reproducibility is important in both experiments and hydroponics. Making up a bunch of jugs led to another problem to solve: where to put them? That started another strange flow-of-thought that eventually became the easy-to-build, relatively inexpensive pvc pipe greenhouse. I will talk about the greenhouses in future blogs.
Cost? A packet of seed, $1.25. Potentially one hundred tomato plants. Milk jugs, $3.50 a gallon. Or water jugs, around $2 a gallon. Socks? Free. Or go buy cheap ones for about $5 for six. Perlite, about $4 a bag; good for around ten to twelve plants. General Hydroponics three-part Flora series currently will cost around $45. I grew HUNDREDS of tomatoes, beans and peppers with the first batch. Other miscellaneous costs ran to dollars, not hundreds of dollars!
Watch my twenty-five videos on You Tube. See how simple and cheap this is! That's where my handle, Plain 2 Grow Jim, and Plain 2 Grow Systems came from. Plain growing is how we'll eat.