I still love hydro and there is still a place for it, however, organics just seems so wholesome.
I was a hydroponic enthusiast… well it was more of an obsession to be honest, I had hydroponic systems all over the balcony and in the garage, if there was some free space. I even hosted a few hydroponic workshops, for the average person the idea of hydroponics seems space age and something that one pictures in a high tech laboratory with people in white coats and serious faces tapping pens on a note board.
Unless you are extremely dedicated or passionate about it then hydroponics just won’t work. I had the opportunity to worth with someone who had the opposite obsession, obsession might in fact be putting it lightly, this guys lived and breathed organics and he always seemed to have soil stained fingers. Not going to use his real name but lets call him Matt
During this time, Cape Town was experiencing it’s most sever edrought in over 100 years, it was close to becoming the first western city to run out of water. I couldn't fill up my hydroponic reservoirs anymore as we had severe restrictions, my wife and I ended up using river water to get by, it was times of extreme stress.
So with the drought I couldn’t run hydroponics anymore and had to find an alternative to growing, I bought some soil from the local nursery which was complete shit, sandy and full of stones, the plants weren’t too happy, I was even using hydroponic nutrients to supplement the soil which is not a good idea.
I approached Matt for help as I was clearly struggling and didn’t know where to do as there is just too much information out there and loads of people with contrasting opinions leading to confusion.
A year and a half later
The plants are looking great, so great in fact that I can’t believe that they are mine, it’s been a tough journey with ups and downs and many mistakes. I didn’t know that growing in living soil could be so rewarding, the way the plants interact with bacteria and fungi that live in the soil, and that it’s all one hell of a complicated ecosystem.
One of the trickiest things still for me is keeping a consistent moisture level in the soil, not too wet on the top or bottom and not dry either, this can be made easier by using mulch (I find rabbit food works well) this will avoid the top layer of soil from getting too dry too quickly in the harsh African sun. If your soil dries out, the beneficial microbes will struggle to live and may die, this will lead to the quality of your soil to deteriorate, and thus resulting in weaker plants.
Fungi especially mycorrhizal fungi just blows my mind, the fact the all the trees in a forest share a network of fungi beneath the surface of the soil. These fungi break down organic material in the soil turning it into nutrients that the plants feed off from, but this doesn’t come for free. The fungi attach themselves to the root of a plants and feed of what the plant excretes from the root which is mainly sugars, so it’s a give and take relationship, a true symbiotic one.
When it comes to feeding plants, the best way to think of it is feeding the soil and not the plant, if you have a happy soil environment, your plant will flourish.
The one thing that use to drive me nutts was mixing all the nutrient bottles together to make up a hydroponic solution, you would have to make sure the PH is perfect. With organic growing I know the PH coming out the tap is pretty stable at 6.5 even if the PH is slightly off the benefiacial bacteria in the soil will fix it. The soil could have a PH of 8, but just around the root zone the PH will be corrected by the microbial bacteria which is pretty dam cool.
I do use organic bottled nutrients every now and then but maybe once a month. I’ve recently started to make my own organic nutrients using the FPJ (fermented plant juice) technique, which involves stuffing a jar with quick growing weeds and adding sugar, leaving it for a week to ferment, then you left with this dark almost crude like liquid that is full of goodness. There are may tutorials on YouTube should you want to try this yourself.
So I still love hydro and I always have at least one plant in a small system, but for now I’m really enjoying organic living soil and all that it brings. Life just seems easier when using organic soil.