7 tips to growing healthier produce in living soil or hydroponically at home, without pesticides.
1. Before planting
Decide on your growing priorities. Despite the best of intentions, you’re not going to do it all.
2. Growing space and experience
How much space is available? Whether you grow hydroponic lettuce from a container on a windowsill, or transform your backyard into a food forest, there are options for everyone – if you’ve never grown before or have experienced green-fingers.
3. Hydroponics or Living Soil?
If you decide to grow in hydroponics, or living soil, the best option is whichever method gets you growing healthy plants and produce, without pesticides.
Growing in living soil will usually give you the tastiest, most nutrient-rich produce, fuelled by a healthy soil community – the powerhouse of any healthy garden.
Living soil is simply the name for soil that is alive – it’s home to a diverse community of tiny microbes (including bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, anthropods, earthworms, and countless more), that deliver nutrition and hydration to plants. It’s essential to feed your soil community a range of all-natural ingredients. This supports as many microbes as possible. And, healthy microbes subsequently deliver more nutrition and hydration to your plants for healthy growth, produce, and immunity. In most cases, living soil will also provide greater resilience to pests and disease than plants grown in hydroponics, or soil deficient of life. Best of all, you can grow plants in living soil outside or inside, in pots, a greenhouse, or whatever suits your situation.
Alternatively, hydroponics is a great option if you want a big yield, no weeding, low maintenance, and have restricted space.
Quality synthetic nutrients will give you healthy produce in hydroponics, using much less water than conventional growing in soil. They also make vertical growing/farming much easier and are less susceptible to weather extremes such as drought. Hydroponic plants can be more susceptible to diseases and pests without the protection of soil microbes. But, you can manage the hydroponic growing environment to overcome pests and diseases with all-natural pest control. Check out our all-natural biological pest control Herbi ZYMES and our range of hydroponic nutrients Hydro Nutes.
4. Growing with hydroponics
DIY home hydroponics can be as simple and cheap as you’d like:
Use a small plastic container on a window sill to grow your greens (lettuce, kale, mesclun etc), or use a 200 litre drum or barrel to grow hydroponic tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis, outside on a deck.
DIY hydroponic tower: utilise horizontal space with vertical growing – American grower Mike Vanduzee recommends Herbi’s hydroponic nutrients Hydro Nutes. Here’s a simple, cheap example on his YouTube Channel: Keep on Growing.
5. Growing in living soil
Living Soil mimics nature and supports natural management systems. It’s a diverse underground ecosystem of different microbes, fungi, beneficial bacteria and enzymes, without any synthetic additives.
Use living soil in a pot, outside or inside in a sunny spot: perfect for tomatoes, strawberries or capsicums. We use Herbi SOIL – Living Soil Growing Mix. You simply fill a pot with it then plant a seed, or seedling, water and wait – easy.
No-dig cardboard garden: we converted our kids’ sandpit by using this method, also known as a lasagna garden. We also used living soil to kick-start a healthy soil ecosystem and transform it into a 2 x 2m veggie patch. Despite its small size, our former sandpit was an epic producer of veggies, and it would work on any patch of lawn, or neglected garden. Here’s what we did:
Cover cardboard over the area, without digging or removing grass/weeds. Next water well (chlorine-free water is best), or start before it’s forecast to rain. Add organic material like leaves, compost, bark and hay – you don’t need it all, just whatever you’ve got, but avoid too much animal manure as it can make the soil too hot, killing plants.
We used a layer of Herbi SOIL – Living Soil Growing Mix – to quickly build a healthy soil foodweb. Top dress regularly with Herbi’s All Natural Fertiliser 4-4-4 to feed soil microbes. Our sandpit garden provides carrots, kohlrabi, garlic and a few cabbage.
Convert lawn into a food forest: cut back on mowing and transform your backyard into a food forest, providing nutrient-rich produce free of pesticides. We’re using the no-dig, lasagna garden method to begin our food forest.
Indoor grow tent: grow produce inside with living soil, regardless of the weather. This option costs more, with the purchase of a grow tent, but guarantees produce year-round and protects from extreme weather.
Greenhouse – another more expensive option, but it’ll give you’ll likely get more produce in a more protected environment, and helping combat weather extremes.
6. Avoid pesticides
Growing without pesticides is probably the best step you can take towards healthier produce and a healthier planet. If you’re growing in soil, we believe you’ll get the best results by supporting nature and natural management systems, rather than weakening or destroying soil ecosystems with chemicals and pesticides.
7. Is your soil healthy?
Find out if efforts to improve soil health are effective with a portable home-test-kit that sends results to a smartphone within 30 minutes, faster and cheaper than a lab test.
The microBIOMETER® measures the total microbial biomass of soil, compost, and compost teas/extracts. It calculates total microbes, breaking it down into the fungi-to-bacteria ratio, helping track soil health over time, and evaluating different inputs.
HERBI.NZ is the NZ distributor of the microBIOMETER test kit, which was developed by scientists and engineers in the USA.