Tyler Zlatkus is making a lifestyle and possible profit off his new hobby, hydroponic engineering.
Hydroponics is an intimidating word that Zlatkus insists is easier than its name would suggest.
“I think people should not be afraid of the word,” said Zlatkus. “Anybody can do it. Seriously. I mean, if you can assemble Ikea furniture then you can do this. It’s all straight forward, just don’t convince yourself you can’t do anything.”
Hydroponic engineering is the construction and upkeep of a plant environment without the use of soil. Zlatkus instead uses clay pellets and grows various vegetables and other flora in plastic and glass jars. He hopes to one day have enough hydroponic plants to grow 90 percent or more of his own food.
“[Hydroponics is] good for people that have apartment lives that want to be in touch with their food a little bit more than just going to Wal Mart,” said Zlatkus. “If they want to have a relationship with the food they’re eating this is a good way to do that. It’s also just a fun hobby.”
Zlatkus led a hydroponic engineering workshop this past weekend at North Pacific Coffee Company, or NPCC, on Garfield Street. The coffee store already had a four-tiered hydroponic plant system hanging in its window. At the event Zlatkus brought enough materials to build four of the vertical window plants.
“It costs about $150 for all four of them to be sustained for a year, with plenty of [leftover supplies],” Zlatkus said.
Most of Zlatkus’ other creations cost far less. His strawberry plant –pictured right- cost Zlatkus a grand total of $10.
But more impressive than the price is the amount of time it has taken Zlatkus to become successful with hydroponics.
“I started this about two weeks ago,” Zlatkus stated. “I’ve been gardening my whole life with my parents and I’ve always been around growing my own food… but as far as hydroponics go, these plants are about as old as my knowledge is.”
Zlatkus has grown basil, sweet million cherry tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, thyme, and lavender using hydroponics. All plants were shown off at NPCC’s hydroponics workshop and blooming with full force.
His green beans are grown in a bottle of Jack Daniels, a special hydroponics setup he calls “Jack and the bean stalk.” This invention is Zlatkus’ own, pictured left. Other containers include plastic cups from the dollar store, a 64 fluid ounce jug and more. Zlatkus explains that a wider variety of plants and vegetables are available with hydroponics.
“You can grow things that aren’t acclimatized to this area like spicy peppers, which have to be in 80 degree weather,” said Zlatkus. “It’s really easy to climate-control things like that, as you’re typically already paying to heat your home.”
Zlatkus gets help from Sunny’s Indoor Garden Supply in Puyallup. Recently the shop has asked to buy Zlatkus’ design for his window hydroponics setup.
“They said they’ve never seen anything like it. That was really cool,” said Zlatkus. “I hope eventually I’ll be able to have a trading system with them: I can refer them customers and I can make them things if they just give me nutrients and soil.”
Zlatkus then explained he did not begin this hobby with the intentions of turning it into a business.
“I didn’t originally do it for monetary purposes,” said Zlatkus. “I still don’t really plan on going there, I want it to be all open sourced, I want everybody to grow their own food. I want them to be educated.”
Zlatkus does however hope this new venture allows him to travel. He explains that Hawaii is in need of an alternative to soil. In Hawaii he would hope to create an aquaponics farm. Zlatkus explained that aquaponics is similar to hydroponics but uses fish to give nutrients to the plants in a symbiotic relationship.
“[Aquaponics is] especially good for Hawaii because soil is hard to come by there,” said Zlatkus. “It’s just lava rock. For thousands of years things couldn’t grow there until a certain type of tree grew. The soil there is also really acidic, so it’s hard to grow lots of different varieties. With aquaponics I don’t have to have soil whatsoever.”
Parkland might lose Zlatkus to Hawaii someday. Thankfully for now you can catch Zlatkus and his hydroponic creations at NPCC. He encourages anyone to try out the alternative to outside gardening.
“If you have them in a controlled environment they’re happy,” Zlatkus said. “You can have them totally inside, away from a window, with a lamp and humidify controller. So you can grow really delicate, rare species of plants, that would never grow in Washington, with hydroponics.”