A pair of hydroponic stores
African violets, rock wool, and more
Early in June two indoor gardening supply stores opened within days of each other.
Joe Collins, who owns a similar business in Toledo, swears his decision to open Hot Hydro has nothing to do with Michigan's legalizing medical marijuana. Collins has been an enthusiastic hydroponic gardener for over a decade. African violets and vegetables are his specialty-but, he says, "people grow orchids, bonsai. Root crops are a little harder, but I'm going to try to do some potatoes and carrots here." He's already growing lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs.
Hydroponic gardens are closed ecosystems where plants are grown under artificial light without soil. Collins sells all the components, including lights, timers, and growing media. The classic medium-lightweight clay pellets sold under the brand name Hydroton-serves "more to make the plants stand up than anything else," says Collins' son, a robust, outdoorsy-looking eighteen-year-old also named Joe. The plants get their nutrients from water circulating through the medium.
The Collinses don't necessarily recommend organic fertilizers. "In organic gardening, you're feeding the soil, and the soil is feeding the plant," says Collins. "For hydroponics I recommend something nonorganic like General Hydroponics." Nevertheless he carries organic fertilizers like Earth Juice and bat guano (several varieties of it, in fact-Mexican, Jamaican, and Indonesian).
Collins sells separate components for large systems, as well as smaller self-contained units for herbs, like the "as seen on TV" AeroGarden. To start seeds, he sells blocks of "rock wool-they really take rocks, melt them, and spin it like cotton candy." At the moment he doesn't sell seeds but promises he'll be getting some: "mostly heirloom, organic seeds." He also sells hoses, soil, and other outdoor equipment.
Hot Hydro, 5245 Jackson Rd. 761-5040. Mon.-Fri. noon-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. www.hothydro.com
The funky Geechi Bleu, in the garage behind the Fleetwood, has changed direction, but its replacement, Gro Blue Indoor Gardening, it has a family connection: Geechi's owner, Maurice Archer, is married to artist Gigi Archer; Gigi's brother James Humphrey, a hydroponic
gardener, is running Gro Blue.
First Humphrey cleaned and painted the space. "It's a whole new color scheme. We thought we'd do something a little more earthy. Well," he amends, looking around thoughtfully at his fresh lime green, purple, and turquoise handiwork, "not exactly earthy. Fruity! That's it!" At thirty-two, Humphrey sports a theatrically retro demeanor: Father-Knows-Best striped cardigan and oversized glasses.
Around the perimeter of the store are pallets of rock wool and Hydroton, shelves of books, and bottles and jugs of fertilizers. One of Humphrey's favorite lines is Advanced Nutrients out of British Columbia, but he also carries the more well-known General Hydroponics.
In the back of the store is a tangle of metal and glass, mostly lights: "We have a really expansive collection of recycled and used equipment. You need 200- to 1,000-watt lighting if you want to get any kind of high yield. Basically, plants eat light, you know."
Gro Blue is keeping-in fact, expanding-Geechi Bleu's T-shirt inventory. Humphrey says in addition to the hip-hop-flavored shirts, he'll be carrying more environmentally friendly and organic-themed clothing. And he's keeping sister Gigi's display case featuring her jewelry line, called "Chocolate Chipmunk," as well as body care products made from hemp.
Gro Blue Indoor Gardening, 207 W. Liberty. 913-2750. Daily 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
This article has been revised since its publication in the July 2009 Ann Arbor Observer to clarify that Maurice Archer is not involved in Gro Blue.
[Originally published in July, 2009.]