Custom Fertilizers for Hydroponics, Houseplants and Outdoor Gardens (Part 1) – The Story

This article is split into three parts.

  • Part 1 – The Story
  • Part 2 – Science
  • Part 3 – Let’s do it!


Some time back my home was full of furniture, couches and wall art but was missing something … living plants. There were a few “plants”, but only if you would count plastic shrubbery has plants. There was the plastic tree, plastic plant, and plastic flowers. You could tell that someone (me) spent some time at “Michaels Arts and Crafts”.

After realizing that my plastic plants were covered in dust and I didn’t feel like cleaning every last plastic leaf, I decided it was time to try my hand at something alive. Living. Green.

Having living plants was a beautiful addition and very easy to maintain or shall we say “just barely keep alive”. They were alive, just not thriving. After some time I came to the realization that the soil was depleted of all nutrients. Like everyone else, I went though the various phases … chemical fertilizer (Miracle gro) and a whole plethora of organic plant food.

This eventually extended an outdoor container garden. I had little choice but to grow in containers. My home is on a rocky hill in San Francisco with rather poor conditions. We had tomatoes one year then broccoli the next year. After a while, the same thing happened. The plants were alive, but they could be much much better.

I came to the realization that just adding a scoop of fertilizer here or there was part of the problem. It was too anecdotal. I didn’t know what the plant needed or what was actually going into the soil. 

After several late nights, I found research papers by UC Davis (go Aggies!) about exactly the right nutrients and elements that a plant needs. A lot of this research was focused on hydroponic growers. When growing hydroponically, your medium is not only depleted— it never had any nutrients to begin with. That’s a very similar problem to what I had with my container garden. The medium was void of what the plant needed.

I could have just purchased commercially available liquid hydroponic nutrients and been happy with that. In fact, I did start there but they were extremely expensive if there’s one thing I don’t like paying for – that’s bottled water.

The next obvious question is … how do we make hydroponic liquid nutrients?

This will be continued in Part 2. Stay tuned!

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