To identify practices that may simplify the use of small-scale hydroponic systems for indoor gardening, we compared two nutrient solution management treatments for basil (Ocimum basilicum) production. Experiments were conducted for 8 weeks to evaluate the effect of biweekly replacement of the nutrient solution (W) vs. biweekly fertilizer addition without nutrient solution replacement (W/O) on growth and nutrient uptake of basil ‘Genovese Compact’ grown in either a greenhouse or an indoor environment. Greenhouse day/night temperature was 29/24 ± 4 °C, relative humidity (RH) was 65 ± 4%, and daily light integral (DLI) was 26.1 mol·m‒2·d‒1. The indoor environment had a constant ambient temperature of 21 °C, RH of 65%, and DLI of 9 mol·m‒2·d‒1 provided by broadband white lamps. Four plants were grown in 7.6-L replicate hydroponic systems, with 178 mg·L‒1 N from a complete nutrient solution in two experimental runs. Shoot fresh and dry mass, leaf number, and leaf area showed an increasing quadratic trend over time when plants were grown in the greenhouse. In contrast, growth over time was linear for plants grown indoors. Within each environment, solution management treatment did not affect growth, indicating that the simpler W/O strategy was adequate under these conditions. Plants grown in the greenhouse required more frequent refill water applications compared with indoors, which resulted in three to four times more refill water applied. Because indoor-grown plants had a decreased growth rate, nutrient uptake rate, and volume of water applied compared with plants grown in the greenhouse, electrical conductivity (EC) for the W/O treatment increased over time. Final nutrient solution concentration was highest for indoor-grown plants under the W/O treatment, and final tissue nutrient concentration was higher for plants grown indoors compared with the greenhouse. Final nutrient uptake (dry mass × nutrient concentration) was higher for plants grown in the greenhouse rather than indoors. Considering that EC increased in the solution of indoor-grown plants under W/O, an appropriate strategy using this treatment would require reducing fertilizer input indoors. To refine simple and robust fertilizer management strategies for indoor gardeners, further research is needed to test variables such as different plant species, cultivars, and water qualities.
Elisa Solis-Toapanta, Paul Fisher, and Celina Gómez
Elisa Solis-Toapanta and Celina Gómez
In the quest to identify minimum daily light integrals (DLIs) that can sustain indoor gardening, we evaluated DLIs less than the recommended ranges for commercial production of basil (Ocimum basilicum). Experiments were conducted for 8 weeks to evaluate the effect of providing a constant vs. an increasing DLI over time (DLIInc) on growth and photosynthetic capacity of green (‘Genovese Compact’) and purple (‘Red Rubin’) basil grown hydroponically under a constant ambient temperature of 21 °C. Plants were grown under a 14 h·d–1 photoperiod and were subjected to the following DLI treatments: 4 (DLI4), 6 (DLI6), 8 (DLI8), or 10 (DLI10) mol·m–2·d‒1 (80, 119, 159, and 197 µmol·m‒2·s‒1, respectively); DLIInc was used as a fifth treatment and was achieved by transitioning hydroponic systems systematically to treatments with greater DLIs every 2 weeks. In general, regardless of cultivar, leaf area, leaf number, and overall growth [shoot fresh weight (SFW) and shoot dry weight (SDW)] were similar for plants grown under DLIInc to DLI4 and DLI6 during weeks 2, 4, and 6. However, plants grown under DLIInc produced the same leaf area as those grown under DLI10 at week 8. Nonetheless, across weeks, growth was significantly less under DLIInc compared with DLI10, but similar to that produced by DLI8 at week 8. Photosynthetic responses were significant only at week 8, for which leaves of plants grown under DLI8, DLI10, and DLIInc had 15% to 25% greater maximum gross carbon dioxide (CO2) assimilation (A max) than plants grown under DLI4. The light saturation point of photosynthesis was unaffected by DLI, but showed a general increasing trend with greater DLIs. Overall, our results suggest that providing a constantly high DLI results in greater growth and yield than increasing the DLI over time. In addition, we found that changes in A max and the light saturation point are not good indicators of the capacity of whole plants to make use of the available light for photosynthesis and growth. Instead, morphological and developmental traits regulated by DLI during the initial stages of production are most likely responsible for the growth responses measured in our study.
Elisa Solis-Toapanta, Andrei Kirilenko, and Celina Gómez
Social media platforms such as Reddit, centered on user-generated, anonymous discussions, can facilitate the exchange of information and resources across niche online communities known as “subreddits.” Using data mining tools and content analysis methods, our objectives were to identify recurring questions and characterize comment (“response”) accuracy from four subreddits focused on hydroponic indoor gardening (r/hydro, r/Hydroponics, r/UrbanFarming, and r/Aerogarden). A total of 1617 original posts (OPs) were classified into one of ten topics and 4891 primary responses were analyzed for accuracy. The three topics with the most OPs (production systems, plant lighting, and root-zone environment), which accounted for 50% of the total OPs, were subcategorized and inductively analyzed. Most posts in the analyzed subreddits related to confusion regarding the design and implementation of appropriate hydroponic production systems. In addition, misinformation about plant lighting is a major part of discussions about growing plants indoors. There are also knowledge gaps regarding nutrient solution management, particularly about fertilizer formulation, pH balance, and on the impact that solution temperature has on plant growth and development. In general, there were no differences among response accuracy for all topics included in our analysis. However, regardless of topic, responses for most OPs had less than 50% accuracy, which demonstrates that misinformation can be disseminated in social media platforms such as Reddit. As suggested by the results of this study, targeted, open access research and outreach efforts offer an opportunity to address knowledge gaps among consumers interested in indoor gardening.
Elisa Solis-Toapanta, Paul R. Fisher, and Celina Gómez
Interest in hydroponic home gardening has increased in recent years. However, research is lacking on minimum inputs required to consistently produce fresh produce using small-scale hydroponic systems for noncommercial purposes. Our objectives were to 1) evaluate the effect of biweekly nutrient solution replacements (W) vs. biweekly fertilizer addition without a nutrient solution replacement (W/O) on final growth, yield, and nutrient uptake of hydroponic tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants grown in a greenhouse, and 2) characterize growth over time in a greenhouse or an indoor environment using W. For each environment, ‘Bush Goliath’ tomato plants were grown for 12 weeks in 6.5-gal hydroponic systems. The experiment was replicated twice over time. In the greenhouse, plants were exposed to the following day/night temperature, relative humidity (RH), and daily light integral (DLI) in 2018 (mean ± SD): 31 ± 6/22 ± 2 °C, 67% ± 8%, and 32.4 ± 7 mol·m‒2·d‒1; and in 2019: 28 ± 6/22 ± 3 °C, 68% ± 5%, and 27.7 ± 6 mol·m‒2·d‒1. For both experimental runs indoors, the day/night temperature, RH, and DLI were 21 ± 2 °C, 60% ± 4%, and 20 ± 2 mol·m‒2·d‒1 provided by broadband white light-emitting diode lamps. The W/O treatment resulted in a higher-than-desired electrical conductivity (EC) and total nutrient concentration by the end of the experiment. In addition, compared with the W treatment, W/O resulted in less leaf area, more shoot growth, less water uptake, and similar fruit number—but increased blossom-end-rot incidence, delayed fruit ripening, and lower fruit fresh weight. Nonetheless, the final concentration of all nutrients was almost completely depleted at week 12 under W, suggesting that the applied fertilizer concentration could be increased as fruiting occurs. Surprisingly, shoot biomass, leaf area, and leaf number followed a linear trend over time in both environments. Nonetheless, given the higher DLI and temperature, greenhouse-grown plants produced 4 to 5 kg more of fruit than those grown indoors, but fruit from plants grown indoors were unaffected by blossom-end-rot. Our findings indicate that recommendations for nutrient solution management strategies should consider specific crop needs, growing environments, and production goals by home gardeners.