A downtown store offers systems to grow vegetables, herbs and other plants without soil, cutting down on maintenance.
An avid gardener, Tommie Jacobson used to spend a lot of his evenings tilling and weeding, wishing he could be spending that time doing something else, especially because all he seemed to be growing was weeds.
Now he can do something else.
The tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, mustard, peppers, chives and other herbs and vegetables Jacobson grows at his new downtown business, GC Hydroponics, never need tilling or weeding. And there's no need to worry about soil-borne diseases or pests.
That's because the plants aren't grown in soil.
"It's the lazy man's way to garden," Jacobson says.
Hydroponics is a year-round growing method that recirculates water and added nutrients that do the work of soil but don't require any of the maintenance.
"Basically it's gardening without soil," Jacobson explained. "The food that soil offers we make up for with (added) nutrients. That way you know exactly what's going into your plants."
Jacobson started experimenting with hydroponics about four years ago after reading about it in a gardening magazine.
"The first year was a disaster for me because I didn't really know anything about it," he admitted.
But through experience and experimentation, Jacobson has learned how to grow tasty tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, herbs and other plants, he said.
He remembers the night he considered his venture a success.
He came home from work and hollered to his two children, Gabriel and Caitrin, then 4 and 3 years old, that dinner was ready.
They were out on the porch eating the butter crunch lettuce he had produced through hydroponics.
"To me, that was the success I was looking for," Jacobson said.
GC Hydroponics offers several types of systems, from small versions priced at $59.95 to larger setups with room for 16 plants for about $300.
Plants grow bigger without soil, Jacobson said, because their roots don't have to reach out to get the nutrients they need. The nutrients are delivered automatically through the circulating water.
"The plants don't have to work either," Jacobson said.
"Grow rock" made of baked clay is used to anchor the plants, doing the job that soil normally would.
The main reason Jacobson likes hydroponic gardening -- apart from the no-stress maintenance -- is that he can control what goes into the plants. GC Hydroponics sells a lot of organic fertilizers and nutrients for use with its systems.
"I know exactly what's going into my kids' bellies," he said of his children, now 7 and 6.
Jacobson, who works at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Topeka with his fiancee Angela Fowler, said hydroponics is a great alternative for apartment dwellers who would like to garden but don't have the space.
The new business owner said he did quite a bit of market research before opening his shop. He found that 51 percent of the residents in eastern Kansas garden. Nationwide, 71 percent of homeowners and about 20 percent of apartment dwellers garden.
GC Hydroponics is the only store offering the gardening alternative in Lawrence or Topeka. The Kansas City area has one store, said Jacobson, who estimated the startup cost for his shop at about $10,000.
Jacobson has been impressed with the knowledge many of his customers have about hydroponics, though some people have ventured into the store at 1109 Mass. wondering "Huh?" With the commitment to health and the environment Lawrence residents seem to have, Jacobson said, "Lawrence is the best place for this at this time."
GC Hydroponics needs to do about $8,000 in sales a month to succeed, Jacobson said. It employs three people.
He considers the business a partnership with his fiancee.
"It's our first life adventure together," he said.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.