What is Hydroponics?
There has been a surge in demand for hydroponics over the past few years. The rise in demand originates from people being interested in how food is produced. More consumers want to understand how food is produced to determine how safe the food is.
Consumers want production methods that are sustainable, free from chemicals and pesticides. Therefore, more people are now opting to grow their food and explore farming methods like hydroponics.
If you are looking to embark on hydroponics, you need to understand what it entails. Our article covers everything you need to know about hydroponics, how it works, its advantages and disadvantages.
Introduction to Hydroponics
Hydroponics refers to growing crops without soil. Unlike the popular traditional growing method, plants do not need soil to grow. Instead, they need the nutrients present in the ground to grow. So, with hydroponics, the plants grow in water, which includes all the necessary nutrients that crops need to grow.
You can rely on hydroponics for both small and large-scale production. With land becoming a very scarce resource off-late, hydroponics has been revealed to be quite useful. Residents in urban areas who lack access to an outdoor garden have sorted to this farming method.
Most crops perform excellently well with hydroponic gardening. Some highly responsive plants to grow using hydroponics include greens, herbs, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, and pepper. One rule in hydroponic plants is to avoid tall plants like corn or plants that need deep taproots like potatoes.
Understanding How Hydroponics System Works
Plant growth involves numerous processes. However, for plants to grow, they need three components; sunlight, essential nutrients, and water. In the conventional gardening system, the soil offers support for the plant and serves as a reservoir for essential nutrients and water.
On the other hand, in a hydroponic system, there is no need for soil. This is because the aqueous solution where plants grow is already nutrient-rich. Thus, the root of the plants will absorb the nutrients while remaining hydrated and fed.
There are two ways to grow the crops in this system. The plants can be directly suspended in the solution. Alternatively, you can grow them in a soil-free medium, for instance, rock wool, coconut coir, perlite, or vermiculite.
Irrespective of the method you choose, the crop’s roots will always receive nutrients from the solution actively or passively. In an active system, the system uses pumps to aerate and circulate nutrient solutions and deliver nutrients to the roots for uptake.
On the other hand, in a passive system, there are no pumps, and the system lacks any moving parts. Thus, the nutrient solutions are fed through capillary action, flooding, or gravity.
In indoor gardening, natural light will be limited. Therefore, the crops are provided with supplemental lighting, usually handing lights above them. The supplementary light mimics natural light and has natural cycles of both daylight and darkness.
Advantages of Hydroponic Gardening
Hydroponics may sound complicated, but it offers numerous benefits such as;
1. Better growth and yield
Indoor gardening results in higher-yielding and faster-growing plants compared to conventional farming methods. Better yield and growth result from the high oxygen levels included in the aqueous solution. It also comes from the thoughtfully controlled environmental factors.
By increasing the oxygen levels in the solution where the plants derive nutrients, you stimulate the plant’s root growth. Better root growth means better nutrient uptake and consequently a bountiful harvest.
2. Prolonged growing season
Agricultural produce highly depends on the seasons—for example, cold climates with extremely chilly winter temperatures experience short days and longer nights. Under traditional farming, the short days will prohibit plant growth.
However, with hydroponics, you can artificially provide sunlight for the crops. Thus, you can grow plants throughout the year as you regulate light, temperature, and necessary nutrient supplies.
3. Reduced water consumption
No doubt hydroponics relies on water for plants to grow. Nonetheless, this system needs less water compared to farming on the soil. Hydroponic systems use as much as 85% less water compared to ground faring.
In traditional farming, water is applied to the soil and needs to be in greater amounts to penetrate through the soil layers to reach the roots. Also, a lot of water is lost through evaporation, and a very small percentage reaches the roots, unlike in hydroponics, where the water reaches the roots immediately.
4. High plant density
When growing plants on soil, there are rigid spacing guidelines set which one must follow. The guidelines ensure that each plant gets the same access to soil nutrients and sunlight.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, offers a better nutrient-charged solution. The plants don’t have spacing guidelines and can be grown close without the need for plants competing over root space.
5. Fewer pest problems
Most pests are outdoor gardening problems. Hydroponics is an indoor gardening system. Thus, pests are not as common since the room is controlled and closed.
Also, insects find it challenging to enter through the hydroponics system and attack crops. Since there are fewer chances of pests, it means the crops don’t need to be constantly sprayed with pesticides.
6. Freedom to grow plants anywhere
Traditional gardens require plants to be grown on soil in a garden. Hydroponic plants can be grown anywhere, making them easy to incorporate. Thus, indoor gardening is easy to adopt in every home regardless of location and size.
7. Easy to harvest
Indoor gardening is mostly done on tables, benches, and counters. Thus, the plants are waist high for most growers, making them easy to harvest. Unlike in a traditional garden, you don’t need to bend for long hours or kneel to harvest.
The ease of harvest comes in handy, especially for growers with physical ailments or physical challenges like limited mobility. These conditions could prevent them from engaging in gardening using traditional methods.
Disadvantages of Hydroponic Gardening
It is easy to focus on the advantages of indoor gardening. However, like everything else, hydroponic gardening has its disadvantages. They include;
1. Costly to set up
Unlike conventional gardening that only requires a garden, seedlings, and fertilizer, a hydroponics system is quite costly. The cost depends on the size and the type of system you wish to purchase.
2. Diseases reach plants faster
In soil farming, the soil plays a role in protecting the roots from external factors like extreme temperature changes. Furthermore, it slows down diseases from reaching the roots and attacking.
Hydroponics eliminates the need for soil. Thus, the plants are more susceptible to get diseases fast, beginning from the roots. Problems like diseases and nutrient deficiencies will affect the plants more quickly.
3. Needs regular monitoring
The key to successful indoor gardening is to ensure the lighting, temperature, and nutrients are right. Therefore, the system needs regular monitoring and constant maintenance.
You will need to micro-manage the system more than in regular gardening. Besides, the nutrient aqueous solution needs to be flushed out and replaced on a regular basis. Also, the system parts need regular cleaning to avoid any chances of clogging.
4. Affected by a power outage
All systems (active and passive) depend on electricity. The artificial lighting, fans, water pumps, and aerators all depend on electricity to function. So, in the event of a power outage, your hydroponic system will be affected. Assuming the blackout is not noticed by the grower, it can result in adverse effects.
5. Waterborne diseases
Since the hydroponic system involves growing plants in water and not soil, the crops are more likely to get waterborne diseases. As water circulates through the system, infections can easily and quickly spread through the entire system, causing the death of plants in hours.
Should I Try Hydroponics?
Absolutely yes! Hydroponic gardening is a good way to grow healthy crops at home without necessarily having a garden. As counterintuitive as it may seem, hydroponics presents higher yields and offers numerous advantages.
Indoor gardening still remains a mystery to many since it involves the use of new technology. Nonetheless, hydroponic gardening is an easy, effective, and simple way to grow plants. The soil-less form of agriculture offers numerous advantages, which we have discussed above.
Remember, hydroponic plants are no different than soil-grown plants. The same natural elements and nutrients are absorbed by both plants. Other than farming throughout the year, you can enjoy safer produce, sustainability, and high-quality produce from the hydroponic system.