Getting started in indoor hydroponics
Despite what you might think, getting started with indoor hydroponics is quite easy! Below, I've put together a very high-level overview of what needs to happen before you have an indoor hydroponic system setup capable of growing delicious vegetables for you.
The quickest way to get your hands (not so) dirty with indoor hydroponics is to set up a deep water culture system with artificial lights to grow something easy like lettuce.
You can dedicate as much or as little as you like to growing your plants hydroponically. For maximum efficiency, a shelf will allow you to achieve vertical farming in a very compact area. To begin, you might want to convert or purchase a 2 ft x 1 ft or 4 ft x 1 ft shelf, and convert one of the shelves for hydroponic growing. 4 sq ft is quite sufficient for growing vegetables for an entire family. For example, with this amount of space, you could get 15 - 25 heads of lettuce (at various stages of growth) going at the same time.
Your growing space must not be carpeted! No matter how clean and careful you think you will be, you will eventually spill some nutrient solution or accumulate dead leaves, and you will be left with a very nasty carpet with mold/mildew and/or a big cleaning bill. A kitchen area or basement would be great locations as they are naturally designed to deal with excess water being splashed around.
You will also want to have reasonably close access to a faucet so that you can mix nutrient solution into your water source with ease. You do not want to have to lug multiple gallons of water across your house or up/down stairs as this will get tiring real fast, and you also risk additional spillage. Don't forget that you will need to dump any excess / used nutrient solution as well.
Finally, be sure that your location gets sufficient ventilation. Plants will transpire a significant amount of moisture into the air, and without enough ventilation, humidity levels will increase rapidly, creating sub-optimal growing conditions, or mold/mildew problems in your home. Be aware of this issue and add additional fans / vents where necessary, if you are growing in locations such as a basement that naturally get little airflow.
Deep water culture
Deep water culture is a method of growing plants hydroponically that does not require any pumps or complex equipment. The plants are simply suspended over a nutrient-rich solution where the roots are submerged. This method works well for a wide variety of plants such as lettuce, kale, mustard greens, green peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, basil, and many more. Some species do not do well with submerged roots due to the lack of oxygen, but this issue tends to be exaggerated.
Since we are growing indoors, significant water spillage and leaks can be extremely costly and problematic. Therefore, deep water culture is the best suited for indoor hydroponics because it doesn't involve any pumps or water being transferred anywhere. Besides, it's one of the easiest (and popular) setups for hydroponic growing.
Besides a bucket to contain your nutrient solution, you will also need to procure net cups and rockwool. This will give your plants a medium to grow in as well as provide structural stability and mechanism for it to stand upright while allowing its roots to grow and reach downwards into the nutrient solution.
See our guide for making your own deep water culture buckets [coming soon]
You will need to procure nutrients sold in powder/pellet form (dry) or concentrate (liquid) that you will mix in appropriate ratios to achieve the target balance of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (known as N-P-K balance) as well as trace minerals. You will then need to dilute this to the appropriate level needed for the plant.
In theory, all you need is a rudimentary bucket for mixing water and solution, but to be more exact, a weight scale, EC meter and pH meter/gauge would be nice additions to ensure that your nutrient solution is what at the concentration you think it is.
See our guide for best and optimal nutrient solutions for different plants [coming soon]
Artificial lighting for plants is a very complex topic. At the most basic level, you will need to ensure that the plants receive the right type of light (wavelengths) and the right amount.
The right type of light is the topic of debate for many grow light manufacturers and users. Some believe that light similar to sunlight (white) is best suited for plants, while others believe that blue and red are useful for photosynthesis and that green is useless - after all, they say, the color green that we see is actually green wavelengths reflecting off, and not absorbed by the chlorophyll pigments in the leaf.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is that you have the correct amount of light. You can buy a fancy light meter, or an app, but the general rule of thumb here is to provide as much light as it would receive in natural daylight. This applies both to intensity as well as duration.
See our guide for how to choose and set up a grow light [coming soon]
Putting it all together
With all of the equipment and space now ready, it's time to put everything together. Once your seedlings have emerged, place them in a net cup in the deep water culture setup, and ensure that the light fixtures are secure and are providing enough light. Sit back and watch it grow!
You may also want to prepare yourself mentally for what to expect when you get into hydroponics.
For more information on things to look for when growing indoor hydroponics, see this article.