Hydroponic Wick System, continued

One of the benefits of wick systems, is that many different types of plants can grown in this system.  And in the photo above, the see-through nutrient containers make it easy to see when a plant needs more nutrient solution.  Image courtesy of Small Scale Gardener.

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Which Crops Work In A Hydroponic Wick System?

We mentioned previously that the wicking system is best suited for small plants which don’t take nutrient solution too quickly, and which don’t have large irrigation needs.  These limits are in place because the wick system cannot deliver nutrient solution fast enough for larger plants, and/or those who have heavier irrigation needs.  Plants which do well with wicking systems include small leafy green crops, such as mesclun, leaf lettuces (head lettuces may get too big), leafy herbs which do not mature into large woody plants, such as thyme, oregano, parsley, chives, etc, and plants which are harvested very early in their development, such as baby greens of larger plants. 

Some surprising crops may work out to be decent candidates for wicking systems.  For instance, strawberries may work, despite being a fruiting crop, because the plants themselves are not particularly big.  Asparagus may work decently, if their root structure is given enough room.  Moisture-loving, slow-growing or small plants such as cress can work well in a wick system.  Other shallow rooted crops may work out OK with some wicking systems, if the container can not only draw in enough moisture but can hold that moisture in the container.  This category would include plants such as celery, and the onion/garlic/leek family.  They may work out under this scenario, particularly in cool, moderately humid conditions where transpiration rates are low.  If the containers are deep enough, root crops such as carrots, radishes, even slow-maturing crops like turnips or rutabagas may work out if the containers can be kept moist enough.  In this context, the growth rate may be slower than standard, as the nutrient solution will take time to get to the plant, but growth will still occur.  In between plants such as mints, brassicas, spinach, horseradish and potatoes may or may not work out depending on the details of the system.  Once again, experimentation will help determine whether any given crop, with any given combination of wick, growing media, container size/shape, etc, will provide suitable results.

Peas, beans and other lentils are borderline.  While they are both vining and fruiting crops, which would seem to preclude a wick system, each individual plant is much smaller in overall mass than, say, a tomato plant.  Their fruits are not as water-heavy as tomatoes or squash, and grow more slowly.  They appreciate moist conditions but do not draw down water levels quite as quickly as tomatoes.  If lentils are on a grower’s list for a wicking system, they are worth experimenting with and may work out OK with some wick systems.

Which Crops Don't Work In A Hydroponic Wick System?

We can pretty safely rule out some plants.  Tomatoes are a classic no-go for wick systems, for several reasons.  They grow too quickly (and thus draw nutrients too fast), they grow too large (again, requiring too much nutrient per unit time), they transpire moisture at rapid rates through their leaves, and they have heavy, watery fruits which demand heavy rates of feeding for proper development. Other vining crops such as cucumbers and squash all have the same characteristics, and are poor choices for wick systems for all the same reasons.  Finally, large, fast-growing leafy greens such as kale, mustards, chard, collards, rhubarb and basil need nutrients faster than a wick system can deliver them.  

Large, perennial, drought-tolerant woody herbs such as rosemary, sage and tarragon are borderline.  While their mature size would otherwise rule out a wicking system, they do not like moist conditions, and thus may be able to tolerate slower nutrient transfer rates.  Additionally, heavy pruning may keep the overall plant size small enough, that a wick system could possibly keep up with the plants’ nutrient demands. Their growth rate may be slowed as a result, but the plants may be tolerant of a wick system over time.

Larger garden plants such as cane fruits, bush fruits like blueberries, corn, grapes, large-fruit vines like melons and pumpkins, and any crop which is characterized as a heavy feeder would probably be poor choices.  That being said, many of these plants have dwarf or short-season varieties, some of which might work in a wick system.  As already stated, experimentation might be worthwhile for dwarf, drought-hardy, early-season varieties.

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