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Gardening indoors in early spring: get a head start on harvest with tips from horticulturist Stephanie Hass.

Outdoor gardening is indispensable; indoor gardening is a treat. The comfort of your home is a haven for your favorite plants year round. With the use of indoor lighting, you can give new life to your plants in the cold of winter and extend the season for your normal outdoor growing with an early start on spring planting. Indoor gardening options also include hydroponics, which allows you to maximize the genetic potential of the plants you grow. Hydroponic gardening boasts increased yields in fruit and flower production while conserving space, water, and fertilizer input. Plants flourish indoors!

Start with a light, but not just any light. Lights designed to emit a complete spectrum specific to plant growth (referred to as High Intensity Discharge--H.I.D.--and horticultural fluorescents) are key in not only keeping your plants alive indoors, but growing plants indoors, especially in winter.

Before you plant your spring garden, consider getting a head start on your seedlings. Plant your seeds a month early with an indoor grow light, wait until after the last projected frost date to transplant as usual, and enjoy an extra month of production. Full spectrum fluorescent lights emit so little heat you can place the lights directly above the seedlings as they grow. This results in increased light distribution and intensity to the developing leaves and prevents stretching. In turn, the light promotes stronger, healthier stems and overall growth with lasting effects throughout the plant's life. A plant's ability to defend itself against predation and disease is increased with reduced stress and increased health early in life. An indoor beginning lends to a healthier and more productive end. Season extending adds a new dimension to the already enriching world of gardening.

What else do you need to start seeds early indoors? Supplement growth with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as liquid seaweed to maximize results. When choosing your indoor environment, make it a point to select a space with average to above average air circulation. An oscillating fan works well in spaces with stagnant air.

Now, consider a year-round kitchen herb garden. You can use full spectrum lights indoors to set up a soil container garden that adds a fresh touch to the delicacies of your desire or you can grow a hydroponic garden.

What is hydroponics? Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil. Instead, you use inert medium such as rockwool, expanded clay, silicate rock, and coir (coco fiber) for plant support and moisture/ nutrient retention in the root zone. In some cases, you can use no media at all! The plants are supported by lids and the roots develop bare in an oxygen and nutrient rich environment.

How is a hydroponic garden different from a soil container garden? With hydroponics, a nutrient solution is delivered directly to the plant roots and recycled. In soil, nutrients are bound and released more slowly over time. Hydroponic plants are afforded the luxury of growing stronger and more prolifically because they don't have to work or wait for the nutrients they need. The plant can then invest more of its energy in leaf and/or flower and fruit production. This lends to a more bountiful, and often more beautiful, harvest.

Compared to soil gardens, a fraction of the fertilizer input and one-tenth the water are used in hydro gardens as the solution circulates and re-circulates. Spacing is different as well. In soil gardens, as your plant grows, you transplant into larger containers that hold more soil and more nutrients to support more growth. Since nutrients are readily available in hydroponic systems, there is no need to increase the pot size to encourage your plants to grow. The numbers of plants you can grow in the same space as a soil garden can be exponential, depending on the size of the soil containers you use for comparison.

Can you grow organic hydroponic crops? Yes. There is an organic certification for hydroponic nutrients called OMRI that ensures a nutrient is 100 percent organic. Hydroponics can be a holistic alternative to container gardening indoors.

No matter how you grow, inviting the outside in is a heartening endeavor that positively affects your daily life. Whether it enhances your outdoor harvest in the summer, keeps your plants thriving through winter, or offers year round culinary and floral brilliance, you won't regret it.

Stephanie Hass graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Horticulture. She currently works for Atlantis Hydroponics in Atlanta, GA and can be reached at 678-510-0032.
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Title Annotation:digging in
Author:Hass, Stephanie
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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