What are hydroponics?
Simply put, hydroponics is a method of growing plants that uses a nutrient-rich, water-based solution instead of soil to support plant growth.The root system is placed in an inert medium – usually clay pellets, peat moss, perlite, rockwool, or vermiculite. This allows the roots direct contact with both the air and nutrient solution.
If you’ve never heard of hydroponics, you may be hesitant or confused – figuring out how the method works, choosing which hydroponic system, and which plants to grow can be challenging. This guide will provide all the basic information you will need to begin growing a hydroponic garden.
Benefits of hydroponics?
There are many benefits to Hydroponics: as no yard is required, a garden can be created in any indoor space, meaning that it’s possible to grow year-round. And because the plants are surrounded by oxygenated and nutrient-rich solution, they don’t need a large root system and you can pack more plants closer together.
Hydroponics also provide a higher yield compared to a traditional garden of the same size, plants mature more quickly, and produce better tasting and more nutritional results. There is less likelihood of plants diseases and pests, as many of these are soil-borne. And – perhaps best of all – there are no weeds!
Many commercial systems are available in various configurations that are easy to set up, require little day-to-day maintenance, and allow the cultivator complete control of the nutrient balance in the solution. Most systems are easily scalable as well, meaning that the same components can be used for a small home-based garden or an industrial-sized farming operation.
There are also several environmental benefits to hydroponic gardening. A recycling hydroponic system can use up to 90% less water than traditional gardening. And because plants can be grown indoors year-round, the carbon footprint is minimized as many varieties of food that would normally be imported can instead be grown locally. Further, the use of harsh chemicals fertilizers is not required for soilless cultivation.
Disadvantages of hydroponics
The biggest impediment to hydroponics is often the cost. Unless your soil is in bad condition and requires extensive work, the startup costs of a hydroponic garden will be far greater than a traditional soil garden. And while large-scale hydroponic systems are more cost-effective than smaller gardens, the operational costs (for utilities, system maintenance, etc.) tend to be higher than for a soil garden.
Maintaining a water garden requires more technical expertise than soil gardening. The hydroponic gardener should be familiar with the workings of their chosen system and able to make any repairs or adjustments needed.
A hydroponic system needs to be monitored closely; the pH and nutrient levels should be verified and, if necessary, adjusted daily. The water should also be checked regularly for water-based micro-organisms and the plants should be closely inspected for signs of disease. In such densely packed growing systems, all plants would be affected should one develop a disease.
The largest risk would be due to a power outage as most systems require power to keep the water solution circulating. A pump failure could kill off the plants within hours depending on the size and type of your hydroponic system. Because there is no soil buffer to retain moisture, plants grown in a hydroponic environment are dependent on a fresh supply of water to provide the required nutrients.
People have also commented that fruit or vegetables grown hydroponically can have a watery taste, and are less flavourful than their traditionally grown counterparts.
Types of hydroponics?
There are several different types of water culture systems. Many retail hydroponic kits combine several types of hydroponics into one growing system. In fact, there are many techniques that deliver the proper mixture of nutrients to the plant. The 6 main types are:
In this systems, the roots are suspended in the air and are misted with a nutrient solution. This can be done either with a fine spray nozzle or a pond fogger. Several commercial aeroponics systems have recently been developed.
Deepwater Culture (DWC)
The reservoir method is one of the easiest hydroponic systems as there are no drip or spray nozzles to clog up. The roots are instead suspended in a nutrient solution which is oxygenated by an air pump.
It’s important to prevent light from penetrating a DWC systems, as this could cause algae to grow which would be catastrophic to the system.
This is one of the more simple systems. It works by providing a slow feed of nutrient solution to the growing medium; it’s best to use a slow draining medium for this system such as peat or rockwool.
Drip systems are notorious for clogs – nutrients can build up in the dripper/emitter.
Ebb & Flow
This system is also known as a flood and drain system. At specific intervals, the growing area is flooded by the nutrient solution, which slowly drains back into the reservoir. The pump is connected to a timer, ensuring that the process repeats itself at regular intervals and that the plans receive the recommended amount of nutrients.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
In the NFT system, a continuous flow of solution runs over the plant roots; it should be set up on a slight incline, allowing the nutrient solution to flow using the force of gravity. Only the tips of the roots come into contact with the solution, meaning that the plant can absorb more oxygen from the air.
This is the least expensive and one of the easiest methods of hydroponic gardening. In this system, a material such as cotton is surrounded by a growing medium then the other end is placed in the nutrient solution. It’s also possible to use a medium that can wick the nutrients to the roots – in this case, the bottom of the growing medium should be suspended directly in the solution.
Tips for hydroponics
It’s best to change the solution in the reservoir regularly – usually every two to three weeks; at the end of each growing cycle, the system should be fully flushed, cleaned, and sterilized.
The water temperature should be fairly constant and heaters and/or chillers can be used to maintain the ideal 18-24°C (or 65-75°F)
You should always follow the feeding cycle recommended by the manufacturer of your nutrients.
Are Hydroponics the future of gardening?
So long as the trend toward conservation and environmental protection continues, we will see more and more hydroponic gardens. People enjoy growing their own food, and many restaurants and grocery stores are adding gardens, allowing them to offer the freshest and most organic produce.
Hydroponic gardening is an excellent choice for anyone interested in growing the largest and juiciest plants quickly, and with little impact to the environment.