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Grow your own in greenhouses - Boulder Daily Camera

posted Jun 29, 2010, 11:40 AM by JD Sawyer

If you've been itching to grow your own but the yard just isn't the right locale, retool your thinking by expanding into glass and water. Colorado is perfect for an alternate state of being for plants, if you have the right tools and know-how.

At the upcoming Food Production Workshop from Colorado State University Extension on July 10, you'll learn how greenhouses, hydroponics and aquaponics can become your favorite way of growing food.

"Pretty much you can grow anything in a small greenhouse," says Brooke Edmunds, Greenhouse and Nursery Regional Specialist for CSU Extension. "It's perfect for small crops through the winter, like spinach, kales, greens."

Cooking homegrown produce is fine if you're in the kitchen, but when it crisps before you get it out of the overheated greenhouse, you're left with a mess.

"Most people buy hobby greenhouses built to go into east coast yards. They're not sustainable in Colorado. We have to deal with heat from intense sun, wind, cold winters -- the greenhouse is going to blow away or if you don't have insulation, plants will cook," said Edmunds.

She'll walk participants through modifications for smaller greenhouses, and provide tips for build-your-own sources of greenhouse kits and materials for glazing the windows. Once you've mastered the glass enclosure, Edmunds will take you into the wonderful world of hydroponics, a popular method for growing without using soil.

"Colorado is the fastest growing state for hydroponic supplies; it's a result of the medical marijuana industry," says Edmunds, "home gardening gets great benefits from this for food production." Setting up and making sense of all the supplies, often labeled for marijuana production, can be challenging, but the class will cover how to sort through the material to use it for food production.

In comparison to soil-based production, hydroponics smokes the competition, turning in 20 percent greater yields per plant. This is due to plants growing faster, rolling out yields sooner and over longer time. What you grow depends upon the space you provide and the size of the system.

"We'll discuss using kits to build your own and also found materials. A simple ice chest system for hydroponic growing can be as inexpensive as $25, supporting up to four basil plants. Larger systems vary in price," she said.

But if growing plants under glass isn't giving you the challenge you crave, don't worry -- this class is super-sized with aquaponics, where fish swim lazily in waters below the plants and their water is filtered up through the roots to feed and hydrate the crop.

"We're merging fish and plant culture in an organic, complex ecosystem," says J.D. Sawyer, owner of Colorado Aquaponics and instructor in the class. Though relatively new to the United States, aquaponics is fairly mainstream in water-limited countries such as Australia, he says.

Plants and fish support one another in the system, where the aquarium water is pumped into the grow bed so roots can filter off fish waste. The clean water then drains back into the fish tank.

"You can get into this inexpensively and grow fish like perch or tilapia as a protein source, or just use pet store fish like goldfish or zebra tetras." Tilapia take approximately 28 weeks to get big enough to harvest, he said, though how you get them from the tank is up to you. Sawyer recommends netting them out, but fishing poles might add an element of excitement to the backyard.

Lids are necessary to keep predators like raccoons or squirrels out of the fish, but in general the system doesn't draw attention to itself with odors. Check out the workshop to explore new ways of expanding your crop production.

Read more: Grow your own in greenhouses - Boulder Daily Camera