SANFORD -- The Aztecs and Incas amazed the Spanish conquistadors with theirfloating gardens, and now 500 years later you can impress your friends andneighbors with yours.
A University of Florida extension agent has developed a floating gardenwith 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 Floridagardens," said Richard Tyson, Seminole County extension agent with UF'sInstitute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"There are no nematodes, weeds or major root diseases. You also have aconstant 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. "Anyplant that likes moist conditions seems to do well," Tyson said.
"Basil goes crazy. Impatiens and marigolds love hydroponic conditions, butperiwinkles, which prefer dry land, usually decline."
Yields are high. For example, Tyson can grow 32 heads of lettuce every 40to 60 days.
And quality is high. Five of seven varieties of lettuce that Tyson grewwere 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 theframe 4 feet, 1-inch wide by 8 feet, 1-inch long, but you may vary the sizeto 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-inchfurring strips.
5. Create a floating platform from a 4-by-8-foot panel of 2-inch foaminsulation.
6. Cut holes in the insulation to hold plants in 3-ounce plastic bathroomcups or 8-ounce foam coffee cups. The holes should be sized so that thebottom of the cups extend no more than a quarter inch below the insulationand into the water. Create 2-inch holes for bathroom cups and 2 1/2-inchholes for coffee cups. The holes should be 6 inches from the sides and afoot apart, forming 32 holes for planting.
7. Add fertilizer. Tyson recommends a general purpose water solublefertilizer with micronutrients. He mixes 2 teaspoons of the fertilizer andone 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 upwater like a sponge.
10. Transplant starter plants into the perlite.
"Having the cups only a quarter inch in the water is very important," Tysonsaid. "It's also crucial that you have the slits along the sides of thecups 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 forevaporation. Also add fertilizer at half the original rate as growth slowsor the foliage becomes lighter green.
Tyson believes that truck farmers could implement his system as a low-costalternative to the more complex hydroponic systems that are used forFlorida's expanding hydroponics gardening industry.
"Hydroponic gardening can make a big impact in Florida," Tyson said.
Materials provided by University Of Florida -- Institute Of Food And Agricultural Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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