Hip Hydroponics

I think there’s something really rejuvenating about sinking my hands into soil, but dirt’s definitely not a prerequisite for happy plants. Last weekend, I checked out a presentation by Windowfarms, a company that designs hydroponic growing systems designed to help landless urban farmers harvest produce.

Here’s how it works: aspiring growers build (or buy) a contraption rigged up with recycled plastic bottles, plastic tubing, and an air pump. Water travels throughout the tubes and deposits liquid nutrient solutions to the plants, which are nestled in mesh containers surrounded by clay pellets. A pre-fab setup will run you back about $100. 

Think that hydroponics is only synonymous with pot? It’s actually at the forefront of the “farm-to-fork” movement, which champions locavore eating habits. Just pluck a basil leaf from your window and wrap it in some fresh mozz. The Times published a piece about trendy soil-less methods last summer.

Windowfarms might be a great option for cramped urban dwellers, but are they better than planting in a container or a bed? Yields for small crops like herbs are pretty comparable to other growing methods, but—at best—you can coax some dinky squash and tomatoes: anything else is too heavy for the frame. 

Have you tried hydroponic growing techniques? What did you think? Any converts?



Lit Crush

I devoured Novella Carpenter's memoir Farm City, in which the journalist-turned-pig-wrangler chronicles the verdant farm she cultivated on a desiccated lot near Oakland, CA. Carpenter, daughter of back-to-the-farm hippies, started out growing veggies, but soon added bees, bunnies, chickens, geese, and two squirmy piglets to the mix. Far from just detailing horticulture hijinks, Carpenter considers how farming connects us to our past, nourishes our present, and sustains our future. Readers will definitely work up an appetite for more, which is great—Carpenter’s second course, a how-to guide called The Essential Urban Farmer, hits shelves in December.