Hydroponic gardens are a great way to help your kids develop an appreciation for fresh food. Because hydroponics aren't susceptible to the limitations of traditional gardens, such as change of seasons, climate and pests, they are a great way to introduce the youngest gardeners to the wonders of truly fresh produce. Children will need adult help and supervision, especially when dealing with nutrient solution, but there are many hydroponic gardening tasks that they can do independently. The key is to start simple and keep the process fun.
Set Up Your Hydroponic Garden
Mix a water and vinegar or lemon juice solution to soak the rockwool cubes. Test the solution using your pH meter. The solution must have an acidity level of 4.5 to 5.0. You will need enough acidic water to completely soak the rockwool cubes. Because vinegar or lemon juice are nontoxic acids, even very young children can help adjust the acidity of the water.
Place the rockwool growing cubes in the acidic water solution. Be sure to place the container in an area where it can sit undisturbed for 24 hours.
While your rockwool cubes soak, set up your hydroponics system according to the manufacturer's instructions. Let your child read the directions and help assemble the hydroponics system.
Fill the nutrient reservoir with water and nutrient solution. Check the label for the correct ratio of nutrient solution to water.
Use your meter to check the pH level of your nutrient solution. It should be between 6.0 and 6.5. If the solution is too acidic (pH is too low), add one to three drops of vinegar or lemon juice. If the solution is too basic (pH is too high) add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Mix well and let the nutrient solution rest for five minutes, then retest and continue to adjust as needed. This is a great time to involve older kids, who will enjoy testing and tweaking the pH of the solution.
Start Your Seeds
After the rockwool cubes have soaked for 24 hours, remove them to the plant-tray portion of your hydroponic system.
Place two to three seeds in each rockwool cube. This is a great task for preschoolers, who can practice counting while they help.
Water the cubes with nutrient solution, keeping them moist at all times.
When the seedlings are four to six inches tall, transfer the cubes to your hydroponics system.
Monitor and Maintain Your Garden
Show the kids how to use the pH meter and TDS meter to monitor nutrient levels and pH. Let them create a chart of their readings over a week or a month, along with their observations of plant growth.
Encourage the kids to document their garden project through descriptions, drawings and photographs. Help them share the project with their class, grandparents and others.
When the plants begin to bear fruit, let the kids pick their homegrown produce and prepare it for a family meal -- you'll be surprised how willing they are to eat their vegetables when they helped to grow them!
About this Author
Tricia Ballad has written professionally since 2004. She has authored three books, as well as numerous articles on parenting and website content involving green living. Her work has appeared in Natural Family Online and Budget Artists. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing specialization from Bradley University.