This is my recipe for growing hydroponic plants using the Kratky method. I want to emphasize that this recipe is NOT an experiment. It is simply a procedure to show you how to grow plants without soil. Depending on your child’s experimental setup, you may not even use this section if they’re only growing plants in soil.
MATERIALS – get these ahead of time. I include Amazon links, and once you buy the initial setup, it will last you a long time. My explanations are in italics.
- Peat pellets ($23/100) – I use these pellets to start my seedlings because you can then easily pop them into net pots once they’ve germinated.
- Seeds – I highly suggest getting fresh seeds, because older seeds either won’t grow, or they take forever to germinate (I know from experience). Kratky method is best for leafy herbs and salads to start (my basil looks AMAZING), although there are folks who grow tomatoes, strawberries, etc. (you have to adjust the fertilizer content and get bigger containers if you do). My instructions here are for herbs and salads. If you’re not looking to grow a harvest, beans and lentils will work for the next few weeks. BTW – you can also use rooted plant cuttings – I do this a lot with my mints.
- Shallow trays or plastic shoebox containers – I save plastic trays that I get from restaurant takeout or Costco packaging. These are great for starting your seeds.
- Hydroponic fertilizer set ($35) – You put this liquid fertilizer in the water to make a nutrient solution for your plants. Store these bottles out of the light. A little bit will go a long way!
- Net pots ($13/25) – These are pots with holes in them so that the roots can grow out to reach the water. You can drill lots of holes in ordinary pots to get the same effect, but it’s time consuming. These are reusable.
- Clay pebbles ($15) – These are added to you pots to keep the plants from moving around. These are reusable.
- Wide mouth mason jars ($12/6) – I include the Walmart link because they are ridiculously expensive on Amazon. These are just your ordinary canning jars.
- Foil or paper, rubber bands or tape – This covers the jar to prevent algae from growing in your nutrient solution.
- Water – You need really good water to make your nutrient solution. If you have hard tap water or use a water softener, it will affect the quality of your nutrient solution, and your plants may not grow well. Either filter the water, or buy 2 gallons (or more) of distilled water. Of course, this could also be a great experiment! Your child can compare nutrient solution made from tap water vs. nutrient solution made from filtered water to see if one is better than the other.
- 1-5 gallon bucket or container – For mixing your water with fertilizer to make the nutrient solution.
- Optional: LED grow light ($75) – I’ve run experiments with different grow lights and have found that Root Farm’s light works best for my indoor garden. One light can grow approximately 12-15 plants in mason jars.
Start Your Seeds
Make Your Nutrient Solution
Set Up Your Net Pots
Set Up Your Mason Jars
Refilling the Jars
- Check the level of your plant solution at least once per week. As the level of the water goes down, the roots should follow.
- Refill when the solution is almost used up. Fill about half way, leaving some of the roots exposed to air.
VERY IMPORTANT: Always keep a pocket of air between the roots and solution. DO NOT cover all the roots with solution. Your plant roots need this air to grow. Otherwise, the plant will suffocate and die.