Marcia Weilenman loves to garden, but not the dirt that comes with it. So she’s moved her veggie plot inside.
She was convinced to change her gardening ways when, while clearing out an old tomato bed, a dirty stake pierced her calf, leaving a nasty infection from a soil-borne bacteria requiring months of treatment.
“After that, I decided that I didn’t want to garden in the dirt anymore,” she said.
Weilenman’s brother, who lives in Wisconsin, gardens year-round with an indoor hydroponic system — plants are grown in water, not soil — so, she thought, why not?
“In Louisiana, when you get off work and go outside to check on the garden, you deal with the mosquitoes, and you are constantly having to put the sprinkler out if it’s too dry and worry about the nutrients or pests in the soil,” she says.
In a closet, she set up a 4-by-8-foot hydroponic system and started growing lettuce, tomatoes and herbs.
“When I started trying to locate supplies, a few people said, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to grow pot,’ ” she says. “It’s a shame that hydroponics has that reputation, because it is really a wonderful option for people to grow a lot of food in a small amount of space.”
Vegetables grow about 25 percent faster and produce 30 percent more in hydroponic systems, according to the Home Hydro Systems website.
There are at least six different hydroponic systems. All deliver water (or moisture), nutrients and oxygen, but in different ways to the plants’ roots.
Weilenman says she found lots of books and information online to help her get started.
She’s tried different systems and says some can seem complicated, but getting started is inexpensive and easy.
All that’s needed is a plastic tub with a lid, a small air pump, nutrition solution, plants and water. She has been able to find most of the supplies at local nurseries, and orders the liquid nutrition online.
Plants can be grown from seed, or seedlings after the soil is washed off.
“Right now, I have 35 different holes filled with lettuce, but since they are all in different stages, it’s easy to use them as I go,” Weilenman says.
She uses lots of her herbs and greens in juices and smoothies.
“It’s much easier, and I’m much more successful at growing things. I never had any luck growing lettuce,” Weilenman says. “Now, my lettuce and herbs grow like crazy.”
Over in Lafayette, a hydroponic garden was installed at John Paul the Great Academy a year ago. Now, in addition to teaching science, math and theology, Craig Baker is also “head farmer.”
Baker and his students harvest about 500 heads of lettuce and 50 pounds of tomatoes a week from their 40-by-35-foot garden, which was donated by Helical Outposts in Lafayette.
“It’s like a part-time job,” says Baker, adding it takes about 20 to 25 hours a week to maintain and harvest the plants.
“Harvesting the produce is most of the work. It takes a lot of time,” he says. “Once we harvest the produce, we then have to replant. It’s a six-week process from seeding to planting.”
The produce is used for school lunches and by the monastery next door, donated to a local food kitchen and sold at the local farmer’s market.
Pests have been minor, Baker says, and thrips on the lettuce were eliminated with an organic solution. The garden has been a wonderful teaching tool for his students, Baker says.
“With hydroponics, they can actually see the roots growing and it grows so quickly,” he says.