If you are a commercial grower or home gardener, chances are you have come across the idea of hydroponics. This technology is not new, in fact, a variation in ancient times was used to create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But a modern understanding of the science behind hydroponics now allows us to use it to grow more food with fewer resources.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a way of skipping the soil, using different materials to support the plant roots, and growing plants directly in nutrient-rich water.
There are several approaches to designing hydroponic systems, but the core elements are essentially the same.
What you need:
- Freshwater. We were talking about cousin stuff, filtered with a balanced pH. Most plants like water with a pH of around 6-6.5. The acidity of your water can be regulated with over-the-counter solutions available at your local hardware, garden, or hydroponic store.
- Oxygen. Don’t drown your plants! In traditional agriculture, roots can obtain the oxygen they need to breathe from air pockets in the soil. Depending on your hydroponic setup, you will need to leave space between the base of your plant and the water reservoir, or you will need to oxygenate your container (think bubbles in an aquarium), which you can achieve by purchasing a stone aquarium air or installing a water pump.
- Root support. Even if you don’t need soil, your plant roots still need something to hold onto. Typical materials include vermiculite, perlite, peat, coconut fiber, and rock wool. Stay away from materials that can compact (such as sand) or do not retain moisture (such as gravel).
- Nutritious. Your plant will need a lot of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and other nutrients to stay healthy and productive, just as plants that grow in soil need healthy soil and fertilizers. When you grow plants without soil, this “plant food” must be absorbed into the water that nourishes your plants. While you can technically make your own nutrient solution, it’s easy to buy mixes online and in stores.
- Light. If you are planning to grow your plants indoors, you have to invest in specialized lighting. Each species of plant has different requirements for the amount of light needed and the location of the lighting (usually referred to as the Daily Light Integral or DLI).
While there are other items to consider as you add sophistication to your hydroponic farm (such as things like CO2 supplements), the five items listed above are the most basic elements of a hydroponic system.
By monitoring and adjusting these key variables, you can begin to discover exactly what your plants need to thrive and mimic these conditions for any future growth.
Why grow without soil?
This seemingly subtle change in the way we produce food (i.e. omitting soil) is actually revolutionary: it enables producers around the world to produce food in all seasons and obtain higher yields with fewer resources.
Consider climate change. Growing seasons and regions are undergoing major changes as temperatures and growing conditions change with them. Even in “normal” conditions, there are many places where the soil is simply not conducive to agriculture (like deserts, concrete jungles … you get the essentials).
Right now, most of the vegetables you find in a grocery store are shipped remotely and have lost nutritional value along the way.
With hydroponics, we can create hyper-local food systems, and that’s us! Our container farms are located directly in the communities and regions we serve. Also, there is a great possibility to put a farm right behind restaurants that want ultra-fresh produce! And when you grow hydroponically, you don’t have to stop the season or risk losing crops due to bad weather.
Plants that can be grown in well-managed hydroponic systems live a very good and healthy life. Because roots are full with the nutrients they need. So the plants spend more time growing upward and less time and energy cultivating extensive root systems for food.
Growth rates of plants depend on the type of system and the quality of care, but hydroelectric plants can mature up to 25 percent faster than the same plants grown in the ground, with a higher yield.
I am sure you must not be expecting this. But for a fact, Hydroponic systems actually use less water than traditional soil-based systems. This happens because closed systems are not viable to the same evaporation rates. Additionally, the water used in hydroponic systems can be filtered, repopulated with nutrients, and returned to the plants so that the water is constantly recycled rather than wasted.
If there are Vertical Roots, this system uses up to 98 percent less water than any other conventional land-based systems.
Don’t indoor hydroponic plants need other “resources”? Pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals like hydroponics are protected from many of the pests and plant diseases found outdoors on soil-based farms.
Benefits of Hydroponics farming
Plants that grow in the ground need to spread their roots to find water and all the nutrients they need to survive. This means that they must be planted at a certain distance from each other.
In hydroponic systems, the roots do not have to spread because they receive water and nutrients directly.
As a result, hydroponic systems can grow more plants in the same area as soil-based systems.
Did you know that agricultural farms account for 80% of water use in the United States?
Agriculture uses so much water because so much is lost. The water evaporates, rolls forms puddles, and makes much of it useless. That’s a lot of crap!
Hydroponic systems use about 10 times less water because it is delivered in a controlled way. In addition, some systems circulate water, further reducing consumption.
Hydroponic systems, while not eliminating pest problems, reduce their potential, resulting in less need for pesticides and herbicides. There is no risk of weeds overgrowing in your garden because the hydroponic systems are highly controlled. This means that herbicides are not required.
Also, since hydroponic systems are often found indoors, they cannot be infiltrated by pests as easily, so no pesticides are required.
Plants that can grow in hydroponic systems grow at 30% to 50% faster rate than those grown in soil.
Plants grow faster in hydroponic systems because they receive an ideal amount of nutrients and, when grown indoors, have less environmental stress (such as weather and pests).
Some styles are faster than others. For example, leafy vegetables like lettuce and thirsty fruits like tomatoes tend to grow faster in hydroponic systems.
Hydroponic systems feed plants with a nutrient solution mixed with water, which allows the farmer to better control the nutrients his plants ingest.
Soil-grown cultivars may need the help of fertilizers to survive. But in hydroponics, the plants are already getting all the help they need, in the right amount.
Do your research and take the right action, and all plants need to survive is just their water.
Another benefit of hydroponic farming is that it is easy to do indoors.
Growing indoors has its own advantages, such as the ability to grow year-round, temperature and climate control, and fewer pests.
Hydroponic systems are typically used indoors due to the environmental control they offer. Plants grow stronger and faster in near-perfect growing conditions.
In hydroponics, plants grow healthier than in soil.
On the one hand, soil-borne diseases are not a problem in hydroponics, as there is no soil in which these diseases can become infected and spread.
In addition, plants do not have to extend their roots in search of nutrients in order to expend more energy on growth.
Because hydroponics can produce more plants in a small space than soil agriculture, hydroponic systems typically produce more per square foot.
Also, plants are healthier and grow faster, which means more products are produced faster.
Indoor conditions also allow for year-round cultivation regardless of weather or season, so plants that continue to produce after the first harvest can be harvested more frequently.
No soil erosion
Agricultural practices have eroded half the land in the last 150 years, reducing the availability of arable land.
Hydroponic systems do not use soil.
Soilless means that there is no soil erosion. It’s that simple
Hydroponic systems are not habitable for weed seeds.
Weeds need the same as other plants to germinate, but the seeds are rarely sown in hydroponic systems. In this way, the system can be adapted for the growth phase and not for germination.
Since seeds cannot germinate, weeds do not take root and rob your plants of valuable nutrients.
Now that you know the benefits of hydroponics, it’s time to get started.