Sally McGinty may currently live in a tiny NYC efficiency apartment, but she keenly remembers her childhood, growing up an a farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania. “We grew our own food,” McGinty said, wistfully, “and it was just so delicious. When I moved here, I had almost given up on ever being able to do that. To get a NYC apartment with enough green space to plant a food garden, you need to be making close to seven figures.” One of McGinty’s friends from her college years, however, is a science teacher, and he turned her on to the notion of trying hydroponics. “One year for my birthday, he bought me my grow box,” McGinty said, referring to a file cabinet sized item sitting in her coat closet. “I’ve been growing all my own spices ever since.”
A grow box is essentially a controlled environment for hydroponic plant growth. They are generally totally enclosed, with a light and a fan system to help to replicate ideal outdoor weather patterns for growth. They are particularly useful in hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a mineral rich solution, rather than soil. Growing in a solution has been theoretically possible since the 1700s, when researchers discovered that plants ionically absorb crucial nutrients through water as well as soil. In recent years, it has become far more affordable and portable, with a myriad of options available as hydroponic mediums, including clay pebbles, small gravel, perlite and even lava rock. As such, hydroponics is becoming a standard technique in teaching, biological research and, in McGinty’s case, as a means of restocking the spice cupboard.
Brian Summers, a stay at home father who home schools his three sons and a few of the neighborhood children, invested in hydroponic growing cabinets to help him teach his students. “Each child has his own grow cabinet,” said Summers. “By growing indoors, we eliminate the risks from pests and plant diseases. As such, they can test different growing conditions.” Summers has each child grow one shared plant, currently a tomato plant, and then two other plants of their own choosing. “It is almost like a competition with the shared plant,” he said. “The all want to have the best tomato so that their box will be awarded the prize for the best grow cabinet.”
Whether you are interested in hydroponics for personal use like McGinty, or for teaching purposes like Summers, there are a multitude of different options when it comes to hydroponics systems for sale. For those seeking an unobtrusive system, there are stealth grow boxes that can be neatly tucked into a corner or even a closet. For those who think themselves handy, it is even possible to order grow cabinet plans, which you can then use to build your own grow box. Either way, venturing into the world of hydroponics offers new ways to live and teach organically in places where such things used to be impossible.