Hydroponics refers to cultivating crops without soil but suspending the plant in a medium and having its roots in a nutrient solution. This emerging trend of growing plants is possible indoors and is suitable for people who lack suitable soil for plant cultivation around them.Before you start your hydroponics project, it is important to have these three factors in mind: the space available, what you want to plant and your budget.
Why Is Hydroponics Popular?
Many people especially urban dwellers are embracing the use of hydroponics mainly because of the following reasons:
- Small space required- With this system, you need a small space enough to lay down the medium on which you will be suspending your plants.
- Higher yields – scientists have confirmed that hydroponics system of growing plants yields up to 20% more of other growing areas as stated in advanced nutrients. This is attributed to the good environment where the nutrient solution has also the required nutrients a plant needs which is not the case with farming on the soil.
- Faster growth – Plants on this system grows faster compared to those on soil by 15%.
- Saves water – you do not have to keep on irrigating your crops on daily basis like in the soil system since with this you only have to inject the required amount of nutrients. This saves a lot of energy and time.
- Farm anywhere – you do not require soil and so you can do farming at the comfort of your house. It can be done on a veranda, corridor or on a balcony.
We all know that the basic things needed to grow crops are water, warmth, and air. In addition to this, plants need a medium for suspension. As a beginner, you need to know how well to balance the three items.
- Water / Reservoir – The nutrient solution that is watery usually has mineral nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron, Calcium, Manganese, Magnesium among other important elements which supply the plant with all the essential nutrients it needs. The nutrients should balance well but mostly the solution is available when already mixed like Steiner (1961), the Hoagland solution (1933), and the Bollard (1966). The P.H of your water should be between 5.5-6.3 as stated in hydroponics.net.
- Sunlight / Warmth – You need to plant your crops in an open space where there is an adequate supply of sunlight, at least six hours per day. If natural light is not available, you can use artificial lighting. This aids in photosynthesis. A temperature of 62-68F (17-20C) is essential.
- Air – Plants breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2) but surprisingly, their roots breaths in oxygen. With that in mind, you need to have an inlet of oxygen supply to the nutrient solution.
- Medium – Since there is no soil, the plant needs somewhere to support itself. This is supposed to be a sterile material. They are readily available in hardwares and local stores. Inexpensive mediums like Rockwool, clay pebbles, and coco-coir are the best for cutting down on costs.
Types of Hydroponics
All hydroponics is the same but the differentiating factor is how to administer nutrients and air. They include:
- Drip Irrigation – This is the most popular type of hydroponic systems worldwide. It is the best for a beginner. It is the easiest to set up and needs fewest parts. You need a container, a reservoir, a pond pump and a media on which the plant will grow. The tubing above the growing medium pumps the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the container with the roots and late the water flows out of the container back to the reservoir through gravity. The water is always flowing because if it just sticks on the container, the plant might exhaust it.
- Wick Systems – this involves integrating capillary theory. It is another simple way of hydroponic cultivation. The system involves having a wicking media like perlite or Vermiculite, which sucks up a mineral solution to the plant, which is in a container. It does not involve any pumping or movement. This system is good for small herbs that use less water like lettuce. Heavier feeders like pepper and tomatoes may not be ideal for this system since they will exhaust nutrients in short period of time.
- Water Culture – It is ideal for commercial growing of crops especially those that are heavy feeders. The plant hands on top of the reservoir containing a mineral solution. Holes on the lid covering the reservoir make the roots hang into the water making them submerged throughout. The roots get air through the holes on the lid or through air bubbles from the air pump and the air stones connected to the reservoir via air tubing.
- Ebb & Flow – This system uses a different technology whereby it waters the plants periodically. You need inlet tubing to your container and an outlet out of the container. It involves pumping the mineral solution from the reservoir to your plants’ container and leaving it for some time before emptying the water back to the reservoir in intervals depending on the feeding habits of your plant. It is important to leave some air space on top of the waterline and have the inlet pump smaller than the outlet pump to aid balancing in water flow.
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) – This involves having a large growing channel where water flows from the reservoir to small tubes that supply nutrients to the plants. The water goes downhill ensuring a continuous supply of water to the plants through a thin film of the nutrient solution flowing on the channel watering the roots.
- Aeroponic – This is considered one of the most complex and expensive systems in hydroponic cultivation. They use little growing media and has the advantage of using less water. This method involves having plants suspended in the air in the middle of the growing chamber. A sprinkler sprays water-containing nutrients to the roots with a fine mist increasing the surface area of the root to absorb minerals and oxygen. The disadvantage with this is that in case there is any clogging along the sprinkler, water may block, and your plants may die.