Hydroponics systems are soil-less, water-based farming processes. Rather than using soil for plant nutrition, crops are fed nutrient-rich water, negating a lot of the baggage that comes with soil-based methods.
In the hydroponic system, the plant roots grow in a liquid nutrient solution or inside the moist inert materials. The liquid nutrient solution is a mixture of essential plant nutrients in the water.
If you’re new to hydroponic gardening, it’s best to start with a live plant rather than growing from seeds. However, if you do choose to start with a live plant or seedling, be sure to thoroughly rinse the soil from your plant’s roots. This will avoid contamination of your water and nutrient solution.
Although almost anything can be grown hydroponically. Short-season crops or crops that do not produce fruit such as herbs and leafy greens are great choices for indoor production.
Components of hydroponic system
The simplest hydroponic systems to use at home fall into a category of hydroponics called “Deep Water Culture.”
Plants are suspended above a tank of water and the roots hang into the container where they absorb water and nutrients. This is the most common type of hydroponic system for small-scale growers such as people growing for their own use and school demonstration gardens.
It is also the least expensive and easiest to maintain and expand.
Pots and substrate
A key component of any hydroponic system is the support structure for your plants.
The most common system for DIY hydroponics is the combination of net pots and a substrate.
A net pot is simply a pot with holes or slits in the sides to allow the root system to reach the nutrient solution below. The net pot should only be partially submerged to allow the developing plant roots to get oxygen.
Net pots come in a variety of sizes and styles to suit a diverse range of systems.
The simplest option for hydroponic lighting is to grow outdoors in the summer. This is a great option for people who have access to a balcony or patio with sun exposure.
For indoor hydroponics, supplemental lighting is almost always necessary. While you may find success growing plants indoors if you have a very sunny south-facing window, you will likely need artificial lights in the winter.
The most common types of lighting available to small-scale growers include LED and fluorescent bulbs.
In a passive deep water system, the aeration is provided by the air gap above the water. This is why it’s important to only submerge the net pot partway as the seedlings grow, and why it’s important to keep the roots only 1/3 to 1/2 submerged once they start to develop beyond the net pot.
If using a single container, an airstone is the most common type of aeration device in hydroponics. An airstone is a synthetic “stone” full of pores. It is connected through tubing to an external pump. The pump pushes oxygen through the stone, which, due to its porous structure, releases the air as tiny bubbles. They are commonly used in aquariums and come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
Benefits of using hydroponics farming
1. Maximizes Space
Hydroponics requires far less space than plants grown in soil. Depending on the system, when hydroponics are combined with vertical farming techniques, they can use up to 99 percent fewer lands than typical farming techniques. This means that each plant’s root system can take up far less space, resulting in the ability to grow more plants in a smaller space.
2. Conserves Water
It may seem counterintuitive, but growing plants in water actually use less water than growing the same plants in soil. In fact, hydroponic plants can grow with up to 98 percent less water than traditional growing methods. Conserving water is likely to become more and more crucial as time goes on, making irrigation for agriculture more difficult and less profitable.
3. Produces Higher Yields
Creating ideal conditions ensures plants receive the perfect amount of nutrients, which come in direct contact with roots. Additionally, microclimates allow for year-round growth and faster crop cycles. All of this adds up to create far higher yields than traditional farming methods.
4. Facilitates a Micro-Climate
Hydroponic gardens can be easily contained within a hydroponic greenhouse or other structure. This means they can have their own micro-climates, insulated from many of the difficulties that traditional farmers must work to address. They aren’t left to the mercy of pests and don’t need to be treated with a wide range of insecticides. In temperature-controlled facilities, plants can be grown year-round, regardless of the climate or weather outside.
5. Require Less Labor
Without the need for tilling, weeding, herbicide and insecticide application, and other labor-intensive farm jobs, hydroponics offers a lighter load for laborers and can easily be managed with far fewer man-hours. This both cuts back on the cost of producing crops, and frees up time for other pursuits. In fact, a small hydroponic greenhouse can be entirely managed by a single part-time worker.
6. Produces Higher Quality Food
Food that ripens naturally, on the plant, typically has more nutrients and better taste too. Because hydroponic gardens contain their own micro-biomes, these crops can be grown just about anywhere. This means they can be picked at the peak of ripeness since they don’t have far to go before they reach the homes and restaurants where they’ll be enjoyed.
7. Nutrient Control
Hydroponic systems feed plants a nutrient solution mixed with water, giving the farmer better control over what nutrients their crops soak up.
Cultivars grown in soil may need the help of fertilizers to survive. But in hydroponics, the plants are already receiving all the help they need and the right amount of it.Do your research and make the right measurement, and the crops will have everything they need to survive just from their water.
8. Faster Growth
Plants grown in hydroponic systems grow 30% to 50% faster than those grown in soil.Crops grow faster in hydroponic systems because they receive an ideal amount of nutrients and, if grown indoors, have less environmentally induced stress (like weather and pests).
Some species are faster than others. For example, leafy greens like lettuce and thirsty fruits like tomatoes tend to grow faster in hydroponic systems.
Challenges associated with hydroponic farming
1. Expensive to set up
Compared to a traditional garden, a hydroponics system is more expensive to acquire and build. Costs range depending upon the type and size of the system purchased, and whether or not it’s prefabricated or built with individual components to create a customized design.
2. Vulnerable to power outage
Both passive and active hydroponics systems depend on electricity to power the different components such as grow lights, water pumps, aerators, fans, etc. Therefore, a power outage will affect the entire system. In active systems, a loss of power can be detrimental to plants if it goes unnoticed by the grower.
3. Requires constant monitoring and maintenance
Hydroponics requires a higher level of monitoring and micro-managing than growing plants traditionally. To maintain a carefully controlled growing environment, all system components need constant vigilance—lights, temperature, and many aspects of the nutrient solution such as pH and electrical conductivity. The nutrient solution also needs to be flushed and replaced regularly, and the system parts cleaned often to prevent buildup and clogging.
4. Waterborne diseases
Because hydroponically grown plants are grown in water instead of soil, waterborne diseases are considerably higher. With the water circulating continuously through the system, infections can spread quickly throughout the growing system as a whole, affecting the whole collection of plants. In extreme cases, a waterborne disease can kill all the plants in a hydroponics system within hours.
Should farmers embrace hydroponic farming
Absolutely. Hydroponics is a great way to try growing healthy plants at home without the use of soil. While it may seem counterintuitive, plants grown in hydroponics have higher yields and present a host of other advantages. Just remember to watch out for the pitfalls along the way.
For any clarification contact Mazero Agrifood on 0729777711 for more information.