Pros And Cons Of Outdoor Hydroponics
Hydroponic systems have been around for decades as a way of growing higher-yielding crops to feed the ever-increasing population. Such systems can be used to grow food for a household or commercially. If you live in the city, rooftops, balconies, and basements make good space for setting up but if you have a country house or enough room in the backyard, you can set up outdoor hydroponic systems.
Outdoor hydroponic systems are somehow different from indoor hydroponics especially when it comes to maintaining the systems. For instance, in indoor hydroponics, the farmer can control temperature and humidity. In outdoor systems, there’s the advantage of space and the benefits of natural light and seasonal weather.
There is no better setup in terms of indoors and outdoors hydroponics, that is a personal choice. However, in this article, we’ll be discussing the benefits and downsides of using outdoor hydroponic systems.
Natural Grow Light
Outdoor hydroponic systems have the advantage of natural sunlight saving on artificial light sources. You don’t need to worry about adequate time intervals, intensity, and quality. The sun is enough for your plants in all the growth stages. The plants will enjoy the full capacity while saving you high electricity bills.
In addition, all types of hydroponic systems such as Nutrient Film Technology (NFT), Deep-Water Culture (DWC), Ebb and Flow, and others can all work perfectly with natural direct sun. You can also work with vertical towers or long gutter towers with enough spacing to utilize the natural light.
More Working Space
Indoor hydroponics is always limited by space compared to outdoor hydroponic gardens. Most farmers involved in outdoor farming are transitioning from traditional soil gardening to hydroponic gardens to increase their yields, reduce pests and diseases.
Furthermore, you get to plant more varieties of plants with a longer season. The systems can also accommodate different types of vegetables, and flowers. With proper planning, an outdoor hydroponic system should bring in the abundant harvest in all seasons.
Reduced System Build Costs
Initial indoor hydroponic costs are expensive to set up since you need ventilation, light fixtures, pipes, water pump, air pump, fans, and other equipments. In outdoor systems, most of the equipments such as artificial light, ventilation, and fans are canceled out with the natural sunlight and wind. You get to save on the extra cost and enjoy the natural resources easily available to you.
No Need for Manual Pollination
During the pollination stage, indoor plants find it hard to pollinate and the farmer would have to help by pollinating each plant manually after every few days. In outdoor pollination, insects and the wind take care of the pollination for you. Furthermore, most outdoor hydroponic systems are large, imagine having to pollinate each plant, it would be a nightmare.
Easy Water Changes
When adding water and draining the old used water, you can create a huge mess indoors. Sometimes the water systems can start dripping and you’ll need to change the leak or risk flooding your indoor space. But in outdoor hydroponic systems, drips and leaks do no damage to any floors. After changing the used nutrient water, you can dilute it and use it to water the potted plants, grass, or flowers outside. No water goes to waste ever.
Cons of Outdoor Hydroponics
Heat affects two aspects of your outdoor hydroponic garden air temperature and nutrient temperatures. When the air temperatures rise, plants will absorb more water then suffer from the side effect of salts and EC levels increasing in the system.
To reduce the effects, during the hot seasons, you can reduce the nutrient concentration. In addition, you can implement an overhead shade to block out the harsh sun or even use vents and electric fans during the hot seasons.
As for the nutrient solutions, during the hot periods, the water solution gets warm making it difficult to hold much oxygen. Thus, the plants will suffer without sufficient oxygen but it can be solved by the use of air pumps or insulated reservoirs. Yes, the extra equipments will cost more but they are necessary for your plants’ growth and health.
Shorter Growing Seasons
Indoor hydroponic systems win for the primary reason plants grow all year long. You can plant whatever variety you choose and harvest without worrying. On the other hand, the outdoor systems are limited by seasons depending on your local region.
You can incorporate a greenhouse structure with heating for the extremely low seasons but the yields might still be affected. You can choose to plant crops that can withstand cooler temperatures during the cold season and alternate when during warm seasons.
Systems Face More Wear and Tear
Most systems are constructed using PVC plastics and tubing that when dealt with harsh weather conditions degrade quickly. The direct UV rays contribute to the pipes and plastic reservoirs drying out and cracking soon after. The systems start leaking, costing you in maintenance, high water bills, and nutrients.
You can prevent this by shielding the systems with greenhouse protection. That way your equipments will last longer and serve as expected.
Lack of Control
Outdoors, you have no environmental control that an indoor garden delivers better. Apart from the obvious hot and cold seasons, the rains may also interfere with the water levels and dilute the nutrient solution. You should consider a way to cover the reservoirs to prevent your nutrient solution from wasting away in the excess rainwater.
As for the larger plants like corn, strong winds might blow them over easily especially since they don’t have the soil grounding them firmly. You can try to use wind blockers, nets or build a proper greenhouse to prevent further damage.
Pests and Diseases
As much as we want free pollination, bugs and diseases will also be attacking your plants. In open hydroponic systems, bugs are free to jump from one farm to the next bringing diseases too. A greenhouse maybe your best option to keep the nasty bugs away.
This is much better than using chemical pesticides especially because it may end up in the nutrient solution and after absorption may kill the plants or affect humans when feeding on the plants. It’s best to avoid the chemicals altogether and opt for a safer shield. Furthermore, rabbits and birds might also be an issue and you want a solution that solves all that.
Can Hydroponics Be Grown Outside?
Yes, you can set up your hydroponics outside where they can thrive under the natural sunlight. Outdoor systems usually don’t cost much especially since you don’t need to pay for artificial lights. However, extreme weather conditions, bugs, diseases, and animals can truly be a problem. Excess rain may also dilute your nutrient solution, risking your plants facing malnutrition.
Outdoors hydroponics can work but with proper care. You’ll need to pick the right crops for each season and monitor the water temperatures, nutrient solutions, pH levels, and plant’s overall health. Other than that, the outdoor systems produce higher yields and quicker growth compared to the traditional farming methods.
Types of Hydroponic Systems Used Outdoors
Hydroponic systems do well outdoors but most common systems such as deep-water culture are challenging to use due to the difficulty in controlling water temperatures.
Extreme weather is also a challenge but you can implement a greenhouse structure to protect your plants from extreme sunrays, strong winds, and fluctuating temperatures.
There are three best types of hydroponics that work best for outdoor systems. The systems include:
Vertical hydroponic systems are the normal horizontal structures set up vertically. This system is best for maximizing space allowing you to fit more plants in the same garden area. You should consider these systems, especially for commercial products. Furthermore, if you have limited space like the rooftops or back yard, you can utilize the space better while integrating the urban planning and development.
Aquaponics is a combination of fish farming and hydroponic gardening. These systems are best for spacious outdoor areas allowing you to grow crops feeding on the waste produced by fish. This symbiotic ecosystem has the ability to produce two types of food sources in one system.
The fish realizes waste that feeds the plant, reducing the need for fertilization while the plants help clean the water for the fish to enjoy. The only required input is the fish food, other than that, the system is self-sufficient.
Simplified hydroponics is mainly found in developing countries or regions to cancel out the use of mechanical equipment. Simplified hydroponics is manual when it comes to aerating and water circulation. In these systems, flood and drain systems or floating bed type systems are commonly used.
The advantages of simplified hydroponics are their availability and affordability to set up. Furthermore, most of the systems are self-sufficient, can reduce water usage, and have the ability to recycle nutrients.
Farmers are still debating about outdoor hydroponics but the advantages outweigh the cons. The decision lies on the farmer and with all the facts, it’s easier to choose the right systems for your garden. It doesn’t matter your location, a hydroponic system offers higher yield and reduces the growth periods. If you’re still unsure about the outdoor systems, you can start small and increase depending on the results you see.