Hydroponics: A Revolutionary Way to Grow
Did you know that soil is not needed for plant growth? That’s right – as long as nutrients are present in the water supply, it is possible to grow beautiful, thriving plants without anything but water and nutrients. This radical way of growing is surprisingly not a new phenomenon, as it was discovered back in the 19th century. Other parts of the world have utilized the system for decades, but our culture has never fully adopted it until recently. Hydroponics is now growing in popularity and, since its acceptance, has progressed to be available in a variety of styles, each with different benefits over traditional soil-based growing. Almost any crop can be grown hydroponically, the most typical being tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, cucumbers and animal fodder.
WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS NEEDED FOR HYDROPONIC GROWING?
There are three components to every hydroponic system: a nutrient reservoir, pumps, and growing media. The nutrient reservoir is the container which holds the nutrient and water mixture, and can be made from plastic, cement or glass. A circulation pump is necessary to circulate the nutrients in a few types of hydroponic systems and an aeration pump is required in all system types to ensure that the solution in the reservoir is properly oxygenated. Growing media supports the roots of the plant and can consist of perlite, rockwool cubes, clay pebbles or coir.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT HYDROPONIC SYSTEMS?
The four most popular hydroponic methods are drip, nutrient film technique (NFT), raft and ebb and flow. While all systems can be used for many different plants, some systems are especially useful for certain crops.
Drip: The nutrient solution is dripped onto the growing medium near the plant’s base. The plant’s roots are suspended in a medium, typically using rockwool cubes with perlite or clay pebbles. Advantages of this system are increased water efficiency and proper root aeration. This system is ideal for growing vine crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.
NFT: The roots are suspended in a channel and a shallow stream of nutrient solution is recirculated through the bottom of the channel. This system is beneficial because it allows you to produce high yields in a small amount of space. It is especially used for growing lettuce and herbs.
Raft: Plants are held up by a foam raft that floats on a basin of nutrient-rich and aerated water. This system is ideal for home or hobby gardeners because of its simple design and is typically used for growing lettuce.
Ebb and Flow: These systems feature a tray and nutrient reservoir combination. The plants can be planted directly in the tray with a growing medium or placed in containers which sit inside the tray. The tray is flooded with the nutrient solution at regular intervals and the solution is drained back into the reservoir. This is a popular hydroponics system because it has a low startup cost and is easy to use. These systems do not have a certain crop that they are especially useful for and can be used to grow any of the above mentioned crops.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF HYDROPONICS?
Hydroponics works so well because you are able to give your plants exactly what they need, when they need it. You have greater control over the nutrient ratios, so you are able to produce larger, higher quality crops in a smaller growing space. Also, since you are not growing in soil, there are no soil-borne diseases to worry about and you can use up to 90% less water. Another aspect that people find favorable is that no herbicides are necessary because there are no weeds, and the need for pesticides is greatly reduced because there are fewer pests.
WHERE CAN I GROW HYDROPONICALLY?
Almost anywhere! We recommend that you choose a controlled, indoor environment, such as a greenhouse, high tunnel or even a basement or garage. This is because the nutrient regimens of these systems need to be highly regulated and growing indoors provides the best protection from the elements, pests and diseases. Additional lighting may be needed to provide the right amount of light to your plants.
Hydroponics is also useful in areas where soil-based cultivation isn’t possible, such as locations with poor soil quality or where water supplies are limited. This is a great benefit, and one of the main reasons why hydroponics is used all over the world. It allows more people to be fed, using fewer natural resources and with a smaller environmental footprint.
HOW DO I CREATE MY HYDROPONICS SYSTEM?
Regardless of which type of system you decide to go with, you will need to provide the basic necessities that seeds need to germinate, including clean containers, a growing medium, water, warmth and sometimes a light source. Read our post Seed Starting: The Journey from Seed to Seedling for more information on starting plants from seed.
Give us a call so that our professional hydroponics consultant can help you set up your own system! From our Hesi line of nutrients to our GT50-672 Hydroponic Lettuce System which can produce over 3,700 heads of lettuce per year, we offer the components you need to have your own hydroponic system up and running in no time.