Frequently Asked Questions

We no longer manufacture Urban Farms, but we're leaving this page up because there is some worthwhile information here. Even though our Urban Farms were (and remain) stellar hydroponic systems, we couldn't make them at a price point that allowed profitability. But our fertilizers have taken off. So we are a fertilizer company now.

Why automation?:
Our timer control package bathes your plants' rootzone in an ideal nutrient solution
6-8 times/day. This accomplishes several things: (Click pictures to enlarge→)

-ideal N-P-K and micro-nutrient ratios are maintained. See our
    Urban Farm Fertilizers Liquid Nutrient.
-flushing prevents salt buildup.
-your plants never struggle to find water.
-and oxygen is replenished.

This is the essence of commercial hydroponics and the reason for such explosive growth, and it is brought to the home market by the simplicity of The Urban Farm.

Can The Urban Farm be used on the ground?: Absolutely! Replace your garden
area with water efficient and more productive automation. Just make sure the planters
are level. Go away for a week. Forget about it.!

Do I have to have a greenhouse? Not at all. We use greenhouses so we can carry on research year 'round. But The Urban Farm is designed for porches, patios, decks, balconies, rooftops, and garden replacement, while also being an excellent choice for atriums and greenhouses.

Can I grow heirloom vegetables? Especially when it comes to tomatoes we recommend mostly heirloom tomatoes for the flavor, but some modern hybrids are acceptable, especially for short-season growers. As we do, you will be able to grow the most outstanding examples of whatever varieties you choose. See the varieties we like.

What do I have to do? Not much. Optimized hydroponics is a powerful medium.
To keep your nutrient "dialed in" you will check your nutrient concentration and ph
every 1-3 days. It takes 5 minutes. We provide the pocket meter for your ppms and 100 ph strips to test your ph. You will add some nutrient and some ph up or down,
which we also provide. You don't have to understand hydroponics. You only have to keep your ppms and ph in certain ranges for best results. Occasionally you will change your nutrient tank, which is easy.

Do you offer post-purchase support? Absolutely! We know our customers will not be instantly familiar with this medium. It is our philosophy that we can only be successful if our customers are successful. After all, we aren't selling infomercial toys. So we are always available by email or phone, and a vegetable growing forum is on the way. This is what we love to do!

How far does a gallon of nutrient go? Urban Farm Fertilizers are super-concentrated. One gallon makes 200 gallons of working solution. A reservoir is 34 gallons of diluted nutrient (or 55 gallons in the UF-20). Early in the season a reservoir will go 5-6 weeks before the first change. As plants get larger the interval between changes reduces to 3 weeks. During peak fruiting in a larger system like the UF-10 the interval falls to 14 days for optimum performance. For smaller 3 and 5 pot systems the time between changes is longer.

Why is the nutrient reservoir larger than the planters? The size of the reservoir partially determines how long between nutrient changes: a smaller tank is less obtrusive, but the nutrient will be depleted sooner. Our 34 gallon reservoir is large enough to cover a 10-pot system, meaning a 3-pot system can go a long time on it.

What is rockwool?
Rockwool is the commercial medium we use for growing plants in The Urban Farm.
Pick your subject: there is alot of misinformation on the internet. Simply put.....rockwool is dirt.....natural, organic dirt before it has been subjected to erosion.

Specifically, rockwool is superheated basalt rock that is spun like cotton candy. In this form it has the amazing ability to hold large amounts of both air and water at the same time. As long as it can drain it virtually cannot be over-watered. We have tried everything over the years, and as much as we like the idea of coconut coir, nothing compares to rockwool. It is the best, and that is why it is the gold standard in the professional vegetable greenhouse industry. It can be re-used 2-3 times if you clean it, and in the end you can dispose of it by tilling it into your flower beds, lawn, tree plantings, etc. Eventually it breaks down and goes back from whence it came.....the ground.

Why would I want to grow plants in water?
You don't. That is the first misunderstanding about hydroponics. Most simply, hydroponics is advanced container-gardening!! But instead of using potting soil (don't) we use the highest quality substrates (growing medium) available. Examples are: perlite, coconut coir, peat moss, pea gravel, pine bark, gro-rocks, rockwool, and others. All of them must both drain well and hold lots of water at the same time. Rockwool does this the best by far. Then, a nutrient solution (fertilizer) is delivered to the container as if you were hand-watering it. The sophistication comes in with design, automation, the quality of nutrient, and nutrient monitoring. So, you're not growing in water. You're maximizing container-gardening.

What exactly is hydroponics?
Once-in-a-while someone comes along who is squeamish about hydroponics, often because they read someone's uninformed comment on the internet. Here it is simply: hydroponics is advanced container gardening that gives plants everything they want in the most optimized manner. From huge 80 acre commercial greenhouse farms to The Urban Farm 3 on your porch, the details vary but the foundation is the same.

Quick Chemistry: Plants, like humans, require nutrition to be healthy. For vegetables this means an abundant supply of nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, boron, and the correct ratios and growing environment. These elements are often referred to as mineral salts. It doesn't matter whether these mineral salts come from soil, potting soil, or an inert growing medium such as rockwool. A nitrogen molecule is still the same nitrogen molecule and that doesn't change. What hydroponics does is take the very same molecules that plants require and concentrate them in a purer form so they are immediately available in the rootzone. Plants don't have to search out or struggle to find their food. They are free from stress and able to maximize their full potential. This is why hydroponic vegetables are larger, more flavorful, and more abundant: the research indicates clearly that a high-metabolizing hydroponically-grown tomato plant produces more sugars, vitamins, and other beneficial compounds than soil-grown. Heresy? No, just the facts.

Urban Farm Fertilizers provide complete, balanced nutrition for your vegetables. Urban Farm Fertilizers provide high levels of calcium, potassium, and sulfur, along with all the other major and minor elements. Urban Farm Fertilizers formulas utilize enzymes, bat guano, worm castings, sea kelp, and humic acid to enhance greenhouse nutrition technology, but only after many years of trials have established the optimum ratios and percentages.

It is easy to get fertilizer wrong! It takes years of experience to get it right!

Read about "blending" Urban Farm Fertilizers here.

What kind of yields can I expect?
Astounding!* If you have no exceptional water quality issues and you follow our directions you will be stunned at your yields. Honestly, you'll never go back to ground. The record so far is 50lbs of Supersonic tomatoes from one pot: admittedly done in the long Texas growing season. And it was set by a novice. You will see lots of cucumbers and squash growing rapidly. Peppers of all varieties are slower but the yields will be heavy. Peas love it. Eggplant is almost effortless to grow, with constant heavy yields.

Vegetative growth and fruit set are so heavy in the Urban Farm that vertical support is highly recommended. Texas Tomato Cages.....for the best tomato cages.

What about bugs and disease?
Much of this depends on which part of the world you live in and whether you grow in a greenhouse or outside. Soil-bourne diseases cannot easily get into the system, unless you're using contaminated water. Aphids and caterpillars can be intermittant problems. In greenhouses aphids and white flies can be horrible once they get started. Early prevention is the best solution along with regular bug bombs of natural pyrethrins. Dry climates don't tend to see as much disease as humid climates. The biggest problem we've found is mold.....all varieties of it. Where humidity is a problem we strongly urge you to practice preventative warfare. Every 10-14 days apply Daconil spray or an equivalent (chloranthanil) whether you see a problem or not. This is a terrific fungicide with a PHI (days to harvest after application) of 1 day. So it's really tame but effective against all sorts of fungi. Use it or lose your crop in humid climates. Some committed organic types might object, and that's your choice, but when that choice is between a huge harvest of the best veggies imaginable and failure.....we take the Daconil. (we are experimenting with Neem Oil mixtures for mold and pest prevention)

When to plant?
Start from seed or seedlings and get an early start indoors, especially in cooler climates. You want to get a jump on the season to get those heavy yields. Peppers are very slow growing so start them 4 weeks ahead of anything else. Then get your tomatoes going. Lastly, start your squash and cucumbers. These grow and produce so rapidly that they will overrun all others if started at the same time. Then transplant all of them outside in The Urban Farm.

If you are in a warm climate or have protection you can grow all year. You might want to switch to a crop of greens like lettuce, chard, chinese cabbage, or anything requiring higher nitrogen. Start these in late summer/fall.

Can it overflow?
Patent-pending overflow failsafe technology makes it extremely unlikely, but when water is involved anything is possible. The reservoir delivery pump is controlled by the overflow sensor. Once the nutrient reaches a certain level in the planters the pump is shut down no matter if the timer cycle is still on. So a failed timer still won't overflow the system. A failed overflow circuit could cause an overflow, but the odds of this are miniscule. The anti-syphon valve breaks any syphon that could set up so that also is unlikely.

Caution: the planters must be level with each other, and they must be filled with rockwool before operating.

The importance of flushing: The #1 enemy of any rootzone is a buildup of excess fertilizer, or mineral salts. This leads to excessive levels and nutrient imbalances. This is prevented by good watering and fertilizer management. In commercial greenhouses this is usually accomplished by overwatering by 10-20% on each irrgation. That is wasteful but it does the job of maintaining a perfect balance of nutrient in the rootzone. Recirculation technology saves both water and nutrient by flooding the rootzone and then draining it. The nutrient is returned to the reservoir. Over time plants will deplete a nutrient solution, just as soil gets stripped by overuse. At the very least a depleted nutrient slows plant growth and yield. In worse cases nutrient deficiencies appear. So to keep them humming we change the nutrient before that happens.

How often do I have to change the nutrient?
Anywhere from every 7 days to 2 months. It depends on the type of vegetables you are growing, the stage of growth, the size of your system, and the time of year. Low demand plants like lettuce and herbs will go a long time. In the larger Urban Farms, high demand plants like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers require a nutrient change every 3 weeks when medium-sized, and every 10-14 days when mature and fruiting in the summer. Changing is easy.

How do I change the nutrient reservoir?
Smart Valving™ design allows for easy, user-friendly nutrient changes. You will change the position on three valves and then manually turn on your reservoir pump (follow the directions). The old nutrient will flow out the drain hose (garden hose: not supplied) to wherever you direct it. You can reuse it on flowers, trees, other landscape areas, or send it down the sink or toilet.

How do varieties affect space and yield?
Greatly. For instance, if vertically caged, indeterminate tomato plants can reach 16', so you have to think about the varieties you choose ahead of time. The Urban Farm produces such extraordinary results that you can become overwhelmed. For balconies and other limited spaces bush varieties help. The real answer is pruning and training, since our experience is that the best tasting tomatoes come from indeterminate (vineing type) varieties. Once you become brave enough to start nipping here and there you can grow even the large ones and control them.

*Yields can be astounding, but HydroSystems makes no guarantees of your results. There are too many factors beyond our control once our systems leave our facilities.