Everything You Need To Know About Organic Hydroponics
Organic hydroponics is where the nutrient solution used consists of only organic compounds. In all hydroponic systems, it’s a requirement that a nutrient solution is mixed with water in a reservoir to circulate and feed the plants. The plant will receive all the nutrients it requires for growth. The nutrient solution consists of a combination of fertilizers that are balanced and monitored to maximize yield.
In organic hydroponics, the nutrient solution only consists of all-natural organic fertilizers and micronutrients such as compost tea. In theory, the ingredients are organic but technically, it all goes down the entire natural process in which the plant is grown.
There are some debates refuting that hydroponic plants can be organic. This is because, apart from the nutrient solution, hydroponics uses an air pump, water pump, and artificial lighting. In the worldwide definitions, organic farming relies on soil health and growers are always careful of things they add as nutrients for plant growth.
Some people claim that organic hydroponics might clog up, stink, or lack the right nutrients to feed the plants. Without synthetic fertilizers, the plants might suffer from pathogenic fungi and bacteria that thrive on an anaerobic decomposition of nutrients that plants don’t use. However, there are numerous successful organic hydroponics that use only water and nutrients from natural decay processes.
How To Use Organic Nutrients In Hydroponics
For farmers using an aquaponics system, they’re already using water enriched with fish waste balanced out by the nitrifying bacteria as the organic nutrient solution. However, for the normal hydroponic systems without fish creating your own organic nutrient solution should be on top of your list. There are a few ways of degrading organic waste or opting to buy commercial organic fertilizers. If you choose to go organic, you must be intentional in everything you add to avoid contaminating the system with unwanted things.
Using commercial organic fertilizers
Commercial organic fertilizers are okay but lack a percentage of all the minerals required for rapid plant growth. However, you can purchase some mineral salts such as magnesium sulfate nitrogen, calcium, zinc, iron, and other nutrients allowed in organic production. That way you can come up with your own mixture of nutrients to make the perfect organic fertilizer. Note before buying any separate compounds to mix with your organic fertilizers, do some research or talk to the local specialists to help you make an educated decision
Homemade Nutrient Solutions
Creating your own organic hydroponic garden can be fulfilling and a bit challenging. You’ll need to source the right raw materials and turn them into a nutrient solution for your plants to digest easily. This can be done using a bio-digester or vermiculture (earthworms) that creates worm tea full of micronutrients.
If you mix fewer nutrients, the results are stunted growth, diseases, and certain deformities. If you add too much, your plants would choke and die due to nutrient build-up that cuts out oxygen and increase pathogen multiplication. That makes it a necessity for every grower to learn how to look out for signs of undernourishment or suffocation due to much fertilizer.
The best way to check for the signals is to test the water including the color, smell, texture of the solution, and slime in the substrates often before the plants start showing the signs. You can buy the test kits used in other hydroponic systems to check the pH of the water and nutrient solutions. You can always start with limited quantities and increase after you see how the plants react. After you reach your balance, it would be easier going forward.
Nutrients and Microbial Activity
You can also use microbial activity around the roots to make nutrients within your space. This process involves introducing bacteria that break down nutrients into digestible compounds for the plant. It works similar to aquaponics, the bacteria require enough oxygen to degrade the waste. The water may be smelly and slimy to create a healthy breeding ground for pathogenic microorganisms that provides the plants with nutrition.
You’ll need to prepare the breeding reservoir before introducing the plants since it takes a long to provide enough nutrients for the plants. With that in mind, you need a hydroponic substrate with enough surface, oxygen, and bio-filters for the bacteria to thrive.
Bio-filters are based on microbial catalysts to break down the complex nutrients into simpler molecules that are digestible by plants. In simpler terms, a biofilter works similar to soil, in this case, the medium acts as a biofilter. Therefore, you should invest in a good medium for planting your crops that allow oxygen and nutrients for thriving microbial life.
Seawater sounds far-fetched but think about it for a minute, seawater is rich in mineral salts that would be beneficial to your plants. Many growers are experimenting on adding sea salt solutions to traditional soil farming and now to organic hydroponic systems. So far, there have been successful experiments on commercial-level projects. You can also do your research, try it out in small doses, and watch how your plants react. This could be your plants’ holy grail.
What are the disadvantages of organic hydroponics?
Organic hydroponics is challenging especially for beginners with matters such as lack of funding, experience, and confidence limiting them from reaping the benefits. That makes most farmers prefer working with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In this segment, let’s discuss some of the most common challenges organic hydroponics face and ways to overcome them.
Clog up the hydroponic systems
Most organic nutrients leave some residue that may end up clogging the hydroponic systems. Some of the organic growing regimens involve a high quantity of sugars in the form of thick, sticky molasses which are beneficial to the microbes.
However, after a week or two, the sticky substances build quickly forming thick layers of organic nutrients clogging the tanks, drippers, and pumps. This becomes a costly mistake if not rectified immediately, you might end up replacing everything after every few weeks. The best thing is to check regularly and scrap off any build-up before it causes any damage.
Anaerobic Conditions Can Rapidly Arise
In the reservoirs, the build of nutrients and microbes can rapidly deplete oxygen levels in the water creating a conducive environment for algae to bloom. When this happens, the good bacteria suffocate while pathogens start to dominate. The roots of the plants also require oxygen and when deprived the plants experience stunted growth and finally die.
This problem isn’t exclusive to organic hydroponic systems only, the normal hydroponic systems also get clogged up with bacteria, roots, algae, and built-up nutrients. Usually, chemical solutions are used to clear up the gunk but in organic hydroponics, that is not an option. The whole concept must remain organic at all times to maintain the healthy colony of microbes without killing them with cleaning chemicals.
Organic Nutrient Availability in Hydro Systems
The availability of organic nutrients poses a challenge pushing most beginners to prefer working with chemical nutrient solutions. Since it’s still a new concept, finding genuine organic nutrients is hard, and mixing them yourself can be time-consuming and costly.
In organic hydroponics, the system only relies on the presence of microbial life to help break down complex molecules into digestible nutrients for the plants. The process takes time especially to build up enough to feed the plants constantly to accelerate growth. That means it’s possible to have insufficient quantities leading to deficiencies or stunted growth. This might be a challenge, especially for beginners but if you learn this beforehand, gather enough microbes, and let them sit in the reservoir for a while before introducing the plants, you’ll start off well.
Can Hydroponics Be Organic?
Yes, Hydroponics can be organic but it takes preparation, research, and courage to start. Organic hydroponics is a growing trend and people are catching up quickly. This type of gardening requires all plants to grow organically with every organic fertilizer and pest control.
In organic hydroponics, all chemical use is strictly forbidden to ensure the system stays clean and protects the microbes helping to break down the nutrients. As complicated as it sounds, it’s easier to grow plants organically in a hydroponic system than in soil. All you need is a source for organic materials before you start your farming that is consistent with everything else.
You’ll need to use organic solutions, monitor chemical use, and be open to trial and error that work best for your systems. There’s never one-plant-fits-all in such experiments, you only need to find a workable routine and stick to it.
Organic hydroponics can be done in a sustainable way and you have nothing to be afraid of. It’s best if you come up with a way to create your own organic nutrient solution since you can balance the nutrients well and be sure no chemical is used in the making process. Furthermore, you’ll be able to add in consistent amounts each time to avoid deficiencies, stunted growth, or deformities. Also, be open to experimenting with different nutrient balances to determine which combinations your plants prefer.