Growing for a greener future!
Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants to full maturity and harvest, without any soil required throughout the whole process. Instead an inert growing media is used that holds no nutritional content and hydroponic nutrients are added into the water to provide essential minerals that plants require for them to grow quickly and flourish. The amount of hydroponic media required will depend on the type of hydroponic system you are using, as some now require no media and the roots are constantly submerged into a mineral rich nutrient solution.
Many people are unfortunately misguided when they ask what is hydroponics and conversations of lighting and ventilation usually arise. Providing artificial lighting to replace the sun is of course an important factor to growing plants indoors and ventilation fans and filters can be used to control the temperatures, but these are not anything to do with the true meaning of the word hydroponics, they are just critical items that are needed for you to be able to grow plants indoors either with hydroponics or just plain old soil.
Hydroponics can be used to grow almost anything you desire. Various vegetables, herbs, peppers and flowers are all grown hydroponically and regularly supplied for the public to consume. Your weekly trip to the supermarket will provide you with many items that are grown hydroponically by large commercial companies and there are many restaurants and home owners that nowadays use hydroponics to grow their own fresh produce.
Hydroponics may seem futuristic to you, but it has actually been around for centuries and has been used worldwide by many different cultures as a way of producing food crops, with the earliest reports of hydroponics farming on a large scale dating right back to the Gardens of Babylon; and now many years later NASA are also using hydroponics in space to produce edible crops.
Hydroponics is much better for producing bigger yields when compared to soil grown crops. Plants grown hydroponically are provided with a constant supply of water, nutrients and much larger amounts of air flowing into the main root zone and this is the main reason for its success. Plants grown in soil can also have a constant supply of water and nutrients provided directly to the roots, but as the root system is contained in the soil the amount of air available is far less when compared to a root system in a hydroponic media, such as Rockwool or clay pebbles. This allows the hydroponically grown plants to grow much quicker than a soil grown plant, so if you raised a plant in hydro and a plant in soil for 6 weeks and then compared them both, you would certainly have a much bigger and stronger plant grown with hydroponics, so when you switch the plants over to bear flowers and fruits, the hydroponically grown plant already has a head start on the soil grown plant to produce a much bigger yield.
Hydroponic substrates are used mainly to support the plants that are being grown and allow the roots access to water, nutrients and air at all times. This is one of the main reasons for hydroponics cultivation being so much quicker and better than soil grown plants. A soil grown plant will divide its energy into root growth and plant growth to ensure it uptakes any available nutrients, but a hydroponically grown plant is supplied with all the nutrients it requires directly to the roots and with higher amounts of oxygen also available, it allows the plant to concentrate more on plant growth.
All hydroponic substrates are inert, which means they contain no nutritional content to feed the plants. This allows much greater control on the amount of nutrients supplied to the plants, which is very important as young plants will require far less nutrients when compared to large established plants. Hydroponic substrates do not compact together like soil can in pots and this allows far more air to flow through the media and around the roots, which helps to accelerate the growth of both the root system and also the plant above. Rockwool, clay pebbles, Perlite, Vermiculite, sand, gravel and coco coir are all hydroponic substrates that can be used to raise plants, with Rockwool and clay pebbles being the most popular for hydroponic systems and coco coir becoming very popular for pot culture.
When plants grow outdoors with Mother Nature to help them along the way, they obtain natural minerals that lay beneath the ground and uptake them through their roots. Hydroponics growing media contains no nutritional content that can feed plants and also the water you supply, so the correct proportion of minerals required for plants to grow and also produce flowers or fruits is provided into the water that is supplied to the roots to feed them.
Hydroponic nutrients will contain macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients in a well-balanced form that can be easily absorbed through the root system and then broken down chemically within the plant. Macro-nutrients are the elements that plants require the most to grow, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) are absorbed through plant roots in very large amounts, with secondary macro-nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and sulphur also required by plants in large amounts. Plant roots absorb micro-nutrients in very small amounts. Zinc, manganese, iron, boron, cobalt and molybdenum are all micro-nutrients which will be available in a good quality hydroponic nutrient.
Maintaining a hydroponic nutrient solution can easily be done on a daily basis with the correct tools. The EC level and pH value of the nutrient solution must be maintained at the correct levels for the plants to be able to uptake all of the available nutrients through their roots.
The pH level will depend on the type of plants you are growing and this can be checked with a pH meter to ensure an accurate reading. The pH value is read on a chart from 0-14 with 7.0 being neutral and anything below this is regarded as acidic and anything above is regarded as alkaline. To change the pH value in the solution, pH adjusters (up & down) can be added to the water to lower or raise the pH value.
EC stands for electrical conductivity and it is a way of measuring the strength of a nutrient solution as an electrical current passes through it. The EC level will depend on the stage of the plant, with low EC readings required for small plants and much larger EC values for larger plants. A good quality EC meter or EC truncheon will take away any guess work when mixing the nutrients into the water and it will provide you with an accurate reading of the amount of feed you are supplying to your plants.
There are many different types of hydroponic systems available, from a 1 pot bubbler to commercial hydroponic systems that can hold hundreds of plants, but the main thing they all have in common is to regularly supply the plant roots with water and nutrients to feed them and this can be done two ways.
Active Hydroponic Systems
An active hydroponic system requires a pump to move the water and nutrients to feed the plants.
Passive Hydroponic Systems
A passive hydroponic system will require no pump as it will deliver the water and nutrients either by gravity or through capillary action, with the water absorbed through the bottom of the media.
Aeroponic systems are designed to support the plants in the top of the system, usually in net pots to allow the roots to be suspended below in the dark in a sealed container or tank and misted or sprayed constantly or regularly at timed intervals with a nutrient rich solution. Excess solution will drain from the roots and system and re-circulate back into the main tank for later use. Aeroponics is an extremely clean and efficient way to grow and requires very little growing media to support the plants; and with the large amounts of oxygen available to the roots it is also one of the quickest methods of plant cultivation as well.
Deep Water Culture
Deep Water Culture is a very simple, yet very effective method for hydroponics. Plants are supported in the top of the system and the roots are suspended below in the dark sealed container or tank and submerged into a deep solution of water and nutrients that is constantly aerated and highly oxygenated by an air pump and stones. The flow of bubbles into the solution and around the roots allows the plants to flourish; and with a constant supply of water and nutrients the plants grow very quickly. DWC is becoming a very popular method with growers, as it requires very little media and it is an easy way of growing hydroponically.
Hydroponic dripper systems are a favourite with many growers as they are very easy to use and they are also very reliable. Plants can be raised in pots, trays or slabs and irrigation feed lines are placed into the top of the media to drip and deliver the nutrient solution directly where it is required to go. The solution will drain through the media to feed the plants through their roots and any excess solution can re-circulate back into the main tank or in some cases it can be run to waste.
Flood & Drain - AKA Ebb & Flow
Flood & drain systems do exactly what they say they do, which is to flood the system with a nutrient rich solution to moisten the media and feed the plants through their roots; and then they drain pulling fresh air back into the media and around the roots.
BENEFITS WITH HYDROPONICS
Hydroponics offers many more benefits when compared to normal methods of plant cultivation, especially when it is used indoors in a controlled environment.
Pest & Diseases
When growing indoors with hydroponics, the chances of pests and diseases occurring is very small, but if unfortunately they do it can be far easier to treat and eliminate the problem. Hydroponics media is inert, containing no nutritional content so the chances of the media carrying any pests or diseases, is also very small if any. Usually the main culprit who transports any pests or diseases into the grow room, will unfortunately be you.
Growing many plants in soil can be a tedious task with many hours spent on maintaining the garden and feeding the plants, but with hydroponics a garden can be set up and checked weekly for maintenance.
Quicker Growth & Bigger Yields
As hydroponic systems provide the nutrient solution directly to the roots of the plants, the plants can put all their time and effort into vegetative growth up top. This provides much quicker growth from the plants and when growing fruit bearing plants the yields that can be achieved cannot be matched with any other method of cultivation.
Grow All Year Round
Using hydroponics indoors under controlled conditions allows you to grow any time of the year and produce a consistent, bountiful harvest all year round. The outdoor temperatures and light conditions throughout the year play a major role for commercial growers who depend on good weather and light, but growing indoors with hydroponics defies Mother Nature and allows you to continue growing all year round.