Nov. 30, 1998 SANFORD -- The Aztecs and Incas amazed the Spanish conquistadors with their floating gardens, and now 500 years later you can impress your friends and neighbors with yours.
A University of Florida extension agent has developed a floating garden with material available at local building supply stores that costs about $40.
The hydroponic garden's biggest advantage is that it cuts down on pests. "Without soil, you eliminate about half the problems that plague Florida gardens," said Richard Tyson, Seminole County extension agent with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"There are no nematodes, weeds or major root diseases. You also have a constant supply of water, which eliminates the need to irrigate," he said.
Tyson and area gardeners are growing lettuce, basil, mint, watercress, chives, onions, beans, peas and a few flowers with the new system. "Any plant that likes moist conditions seems to do well," Tyson said.
"Basil goes crazy. Impatiens and marigolds love hydroponic conditions, but periwinkles, which prefer dry land, usually decline."
Yields are high. For example, Tyson can grow 32 heads of lettuce every 40 to 60 days.
And quality is high. Five of seven varieties of lettuce that Tyson grew were marketable size, according to a panel of experts he had examine them.
The hydroponic contraption is simple to make. Just follow these 10 easy steps.
1. Build a frame of 2-by-6-inch treated lumber. Tyson recommends making the frame 4 feet, 1-inch wide by 8 feet, 1-inch long, but you may vary the size to fit the space you have available.
2. Line the frame with 6 mil polyethylene to form a trough.
3. Fill the trough with water to a four-inch height.
4. Secure the edges of the liner to the top of the frame with 1-by-2-inch furring strips.
5. Create a floating platform from a 4-by-8-foot panel of 2-inch foam insulation.
6. Cut holes in the insulation to hold plants in 3-ounce plastic bathroom cups or 8-ounce foam coffee cups. The holes should be sized so that the bottom of the cups extend no more than a quarter inch below the insulation and into the water. Create 2-inch holes for bathroom cups and 2 1/2-inch holes for coffee cups. The holes should be 6 inches from the sides and a foot apart, forming 32 holes for planting.
7. Add fertilizer. Tyson recommends a general purpose water soluble fertilizer with micronutrients. He mixes 2 teaspoons of the fertilizer and one teaspoon of Epsom salts for each gallon of water in the trough.
8. Cut slits in the cups so that air can get to the roots of the plants.
9. Place perlite in the cups. This product, a lightweight filler, soaks up water like a sponge.
10. Transplant starter plants into the perlite.
"Having the cups only a quarter inch in the water is very important," Tyson said. "It's also crucial that you have the slits along the sides of the cups for air to enter because roots will die if they get too much water," Tyson said.
As your hydroponic garden grows, add more water to compensate for evaporation. Also add fertilizer at half the original rate as growth slows or the foliage becomes lighter green.
Tyson believes that truck farmers could implement his system as a low-cost alternative to the more complex hydroponic systems that are used for Florida's expanding hydroponics gardening industry.
"Hydroponic gardening can make a big impact in Florida," Tyson said.
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