Working as a Radiation Therapist at the Princess Margaret, I spend my days in the basement, so I always look forward to stepping outside to catch some natural light.  This is why I love the spring!  With the warmer weather comes gardening season.

I always liked the idea of growing organic vegetables to eat, however I’ve never been able to totally avoid the pest problems that typical soil-based gardens have.  Last year, slugs decimated my kale and lettuce despite going out at dusk with my mini bayonet and spearing all the slimy critters I could see.  I avoid using pesticides because I don’t like the idea of ingesting harmful residues. Along with killing pests, pesticides can also kill beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies.

A few months ago, I thought about trying to grow plants hydroponically after walking past a hydroponics supply store in Kensington Market.  Hydroponics is a method to grow plants without soil. Without soil, it’s much less likely pests will make it to your plants.  You still need to supply the plant with everything else that they would normally get from soil, like a medium to support the stem and roots, water, and nutrients.  The hydroponics store had everything I needed but the equipment was definitely not cheap.  For the cost of a small setup, I could buy at least a few years worth of organic greens.

I was disappointed but not discouraged, and did some research online for cheap and easy methods to implement a hydroponic system.  What I found was something called the “Kratky Method” invented by B.A. Kratky from the University of Hawaii.  Essentially, it allows you to grow plants hydroponically without the complicated tubing, pumps and electricity associated with typical setups.  All I needed was some hydroponic nutrients (relatively cheap),  water, 1.5″ rock wool cubes, 2″ net-pot and a container to hold enough nutrient solution for the life of the plant (i.e. lettuce).  In the YouTube videos I was watching, people were using containers that once held things like coffee and baby food.  At the same time I noticed that in the Radiation Therapy department we use up a lot of Virox wipes and then recycle the empty containers.  I think recycling is great but I believe reusing is better.

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Week 1

3 weeks later, my plants seem to be doing well.  It should be another 3-4 weeks until they are ready to harvest.  The great things is, no pesticides are needed because there are no bugs! I’ve listed instructions so that anyone can try this at home.

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Week 3

General instructions:

  • Rinse out Virox container with warm water.  (The main ingredient in Virox is hydrogen peroxide which we know breaks down into water and oxygen after disinfecting surfaces upon contact.)
  • Cut a 2″ diameter opening in the lid with a sharp knife and insert a 2″ net pot
  • Drop a rockwool cube with a sprouted plant or a seed into the net pot.
  • Dilute the nutrient concentrate according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Fill the container with nutrient solution so that about half of the rockwool cube is in the solution.
  • Put the plant under a source of light like a window-sill or grow lights.
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Cut hole in the lid to insert the netpot

Here are some useful links to some of the items I bought from a local store:

Rockwool cubes

Detailed instructions for how to use the growcubes

Net pot

Hydroponic Nutrient

You can modify this to many types of containers. Look around at what you have and get growing!