Growing plants and reaping fresh food may be fun and rewarding. But what about the extra effort and energy needed to work on the soil to break those large chunks and make it ready for planting? Isn’t it a cumbersome task?
Well! If you feel the same and back off from growing crops, you might love to know that there are some alternatives to the soil to grow plants.
Sounds interesting…isn’t it?
So in this article, I will be talking about one such soilless cultivation method, known as hydroponics.
What is Hydroponics
Hydroponics is a Latin term that means “working water”. It is the art of cultivating plants without soil. Water and nutrients are used as an alternative to the soil in this system. Thus, it is called the soilless cultivation method.
Why grow with hydroponics?
With the rapid growth of real estate, land under cultivation is dropping and growing food might become challenging.
But our scientists have developed exceptional technologies like hydroponics where you can grow healthy food anywhere, without concern for the land.
So, here are some reasons why you need to consider hydroponics for growing food.
Requires fewer resources
This is a great method if you have little access to water. Hydroponics uses a controlled environment and thus needs fewer resources in hand.
It needs about 90% less water than traditional cultivation because the plants are less prone to evaporation and the water used in the system can be recycled and reused.
Also, hydroponic plants are safe from harmful chemicals as they are protected from many soil-borne diseases in the traditional method.
Grow food anywhere
In traditional farming, seasons, geography, and climate influence the growth of plants and thus leave few options for growing in specific regions.
So you need to import food from the native lands and can savor the taste only in specific seasons.
Hydroponics comes with the advantage of growing food from anywhere with its controlled environmental system and you can taste fresh local food from anywhere.
Reaps higher yield
Hydroponics saves you from the turmoil of crop failure. You need not wait for the monsoon or worry about the pests.
Hydroponics system guarantees higher yields by reducing the risks. Additionally, the crop comes to harvest quickly, ensuring more returns and several crop cycles.
Hydroponics- How Does It Work?
The hydroponic system works in a controlled environment by regulating temperature and pH and maximizing the use of nutrients.
Here plant roots are suspended in the nutrient medium and thus the plant gets adequate nutrients and shows robust growth. The nutrient solution must be tailored according to the need of the plants.
What do you need
1. Fresh Water- As the system is devoid of soil, the main substitute for it is water. The water used in hydroponics should have a pH between 6- 6.5
2. Nutrients- Well, either in soil or in water, your plants need nutrients to survive.
In a hydroponic system, it’s going to need plenty of Calcium, Magnesium, and Phosphorous. Do not worry! You can get them in store or can buy them online
3. Light-You know your plants need light for carrying photosynthesis. If you are growing indoors, you need to invest in lighting
4. Air pump- Your plants may drown in the water if they are not aerated. Air pump helps to distribute oxygen in the water by forming bubbles
Types of Hydroponic Systems
There are six popular methods used for growing plants using a hydroponic system. These techniques differ in the method of giving water to the plants.
Deep water Culture System
Source- Google image
In this system, plants are placed on a Styrofoam platform. A tray or tank with water and nutrients is present under this platform. The plant roots are suspended in a nutrient media. An air pump is used to pump oxygen into the media so that the plant grows.
- This system requires less maintenance
- Can be made easily at home
- Not ideal for growing large or slow-growing plants
- It is temperature-sensitive, thus, you need to maintain the water temperature between 60oF – 68o F
Source- Google images
In this system, the plants are suspended in the air and the roots are exposed to a nutrient-filled mist. This is an enclosed system that can hold many plants at once. A reservoir stores water and nutrients, and they are then pumped to a nozzle that distributes the nutrients as a fine mist.
- It is an eco-friendly and high-yielding system
- They are easy to transport from one place to another
- The system holds a higher initial cost
- Needs proper maintenance
In this system, plants are placed on a growing media that is set up on top of a reservoir. The reservoir is filled with water and nutrients. Wicks are connected between the reservoir and the growing media. Water and nutrients circulate within the wick and reach the plant roots suspended in the growing media.
- Simple to set up and easy to maintain
- It can be installed anywhere and is a beginner-friendly system
- It is highly susceptible to rot as the wick system is always damp and humid
- Plants requiring large quantities of water and nutrients like tomatoes cannot thrive in this system
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Source- Google images
In this system, plant roots are suspended in a continuously flowing nutrient solution that washes the plant root system. The structures holding the plants are tilted, allowing the water to run down the length of the growing tray before draining into the reservoir below
- Does not require large quantities of water and nutrients
- It is best for large and commercial setups and can be used in a greenhouse.
- If a pump fails, your whole system would disrupt and your plants may dry out.
- Overcrowding with plants might disrupt the system
Ebb and Flow System
In this system, the growing tray is flooded with nutrient solution and a reservoir is placed below. This system is connected with an outflow tube to ensure the flooding doesn’t exceed the limit and damage the stalks of the plant. The length of time between flooding is set according to the size of the bed and the size of the plant.
- Ideal for growing larger plants like fruits, vegetables, and flowers
- It is easy to construct your own ebb and flow system at your home
- If the pump fails, your plants will starve for nutrients and water and dry out
- Requires high maintenance and cleanliness. If the system doesn’t have proper drainage, it may lead to root rot disorders.
In the drip system, the nutrients are pumped through a network of tubes to individual plants. The nutrient solution is dripped slowly into the growing media surrounding the root system, keeping the soil moist and well-nourished.
- Supports a large variety of plants
- Supports large-scale hydroponic operation
- Requires proper maintenance
Advantages of Hydroponics
- It is a customized system and works in a controlled environment, thus plant growth is accelerated.
- You can grow plants all year round, irrespective of the seasons
- With hydroponics, growing plants indoors has become popular and it saves from climate change effects in outdoor gardening
- Plants have much smaller root systems and can divert more energy into leaf and stem growth
- Without soil, seedlings can mature much faster
- With controlled environmental conditions, the risk of pests is eradicated and you can reap fresh and healthier fruits and vegetables
- Requires less space and can grow more pants and get higher yields. One can also go for vertical farming
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
- The cost of equipment (containers, pumps, lights, nutrients, etc.) for setting up the system is higher
- As the plants have a smaller root system, it might become difficult to support themselves every time (Especially, heavy fruiting plants may need quite elaborate forms of support)
- It is a scientific method and needs constant monitoring
Hydroponics is the next big thing to revolutionize the farming industry with its great potential. It has a larger scope and can reap fresh and healthy food if practiced commercially.
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