What is Hydroponics?
The produce grown for grocery stores, do you picture open fields, tilled soil, and seedlings? While a lot of the world’s fruits and vegetables are grown this way, there are other ways to grow produce without soil!
To grow plants without soil, in which all the nutrients are supplied via the water is called hydroponics.
Hydroponic systems are tremendously popular and are suitable for both small and large-scale use. With the current sophisticated equipment and technology in the industry, the future appears bright. Hydroponic systems are being developed to provide astronauts with fresh food during expeditions to Mars. Hydroponic plants are exposed to light to allow for photosynthesis, and plant roots are exposed to nutrient water that they need to grow. Nutrients mixed into the water include:
What Are the Benefits of Hydroponics?
1. Enhanced plant yields: Hydroponic plants produce a greater output of fruits and vegetables. In a hydroponic system, plants need less space than needed by land to grow the same number. In a hydroponic system, the nutrient content of the water, amount, and type of light, etc. — can be controlled.
Types of Hydroponic Systems?
Plant roots grow through a medium while an absorbent “wick” draws nutrient-filled water up from a water reservoir to the root system.
Plant roots partially hang in nutrient-filled water while the upper part of the root system is exposed to air.
Plants are in a floating surface with their roots hanging in nutrient-filled water.
Ebb and Flow
Nutrient-filled water is pumped frequently (e.g., every 30 minutes) to the roots and drains back into a reservoir.
Plant roots grow through a medium. The growing medium allows for air to reach the roots. Nutrient rich water is pumped to the top of the medium, then allowed to run down the root, and drain back to the reservoir.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Plants are on a floating surface hanging in a trough that is slightly tilted. The bottom part of the roots are exposed to nutrient rich water pumped to the top of the trough at the higher end. The water flows down past all the roots and back to the reservoir.
Plant roots are positioned in a closed space and exposed to moist air frequently. Nutrient-filled water as a mist.
Less water: Hydroponic systems use less water — as much as ten times less water — than traditional field crop watering methods. The water is captured and reused rather than run off and drained to the environment.
Locally grown: Indoor hydroponic systems allow plants to grow almost anywhere all year round.
Less space: Hydroponic systems come in various designs, including vertical stacking systems that take up a small amount of space.
In some hydroponic systems, a growing medium is used to support the plant roots and allow for more effective water absorption to the root structure. One type of growing medium commonly used is coconut core — a shredded fibrous product made from coconut husk. A subset of hydroponics, called aeroponics, requires only light, water, and nutrients and does not use a growing medium.
Some ancient hydroponic systems are The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the floating gardens of the Aztecs in Mexico.
In open cultivation systems, the roots are continuously supplied with fresh nutrients, while the old rich water is removed by the drainage system. In a closed or re-circulating system, the rich nutrient filled water is not removed by the drainage system. It is collected and resupplied to the plants.
In hydroponic cultivation systems, the nutrient rich solution contains all the elements that the plant needs in the correct proportions. The most suitable type of system depends upon what the gardener is looking for.
I have personal experience with the top feeder configuration. I have grown cherry tomatoes, peppers, herbs and my favorite, lettuce. Although the selection of plants to grow hydroponically is huge, for the smaller systems such as mine, you need to be picky. With small roots, larger plants have little support. The ones that I grew were miniature but provided a tremendous amount of food. My system was self regulated. The timer turned on the grow lights at a set time. The water circulation was also regulated by a timer. A light told me when to add my plant food and additional water. A tremendous system that provided me with lettuce (my favorite) all winter long.