Michael set up an Aerogarden first (to start plants from seeds). Then he set up buckets and bags filled with pebbles that would support the plant and hooked them all up to a tank of water with nutrients and a pump that would cycle the medium several times a day (it's on a timer). He strung up line to which the plant can take support from as it grows. We are already harvesting cucumbers and squash and soon tomatoes and okra, maybe even eggplant. Obviously, we can't grow root vegetables in this system but having our garden on the porch keeps it safe from the critters.
This system takes quite a bit of babysitting--the pH (acidity) has to be adjusted and now that it's hot, we have to add about 5 gallons of water daily to the tank due to evaporation. Every 2-3 weeks the medium has to be drained because the nutrients get used up. The expense has been about the same for this as building the fence/raised beds for the garden in the backyard. But playing with hydroponics has been a lot more fun and we think we can tweak the system to produce year round. We'll probably set up something indoors for the winter.
We have another bucket system that's quick and dirty for the lettuce. Basically, you start the lettuce in the Aerogarden, then transfer it to a mesh cup that fits in the lid of the bucket. You prepare the medium, balance the pH, and let it be. The roots keep growing down as the water evaporates and you just cut the tops of the lettuce as you need them. You can set up a bucket every week for continuous leafy greens.
Just like the kombucha brewing has become automatic that we no longer have to take notes, we hope our hydroponic gardening will become more automated. The only danger is that if the electricity fails, our plants could die--it's a risk we take with high-tech gardening. I love that Michael is willing to spend the time experimenting. I love all the fruits of his labor! On our walk the other day we saw these grapes growing--we might have to start our own to make some wine!