Many people often ask me, what is hydroponic gardening? Well, it’s a super cool way of growing plants without using any soil. Studies show it makes growing time faster and can significantly increase fruit and vegetable production.
This method has been around for centuries. However, modern technology is now making this way of cultivating plants more and more popular every day.
How Does Hydroponic Gardening Work?
Plants are fed with a specially made nutrient solution. The mineral rich fluid is delivered to the roots of plants by water or by air. These two ways are called “hydroponic” or “aeroponic” methods.
What? No Soil?
As an alternative for soil, growing plant roots are physically supported by a “growing medium”. The growing medium can hold water and nutrients, and is usually a porous substance.
Growing mediums can be made from many different materials including, clay, granite, treated glass or even plant material. Coco fibre from the outside of a coconut shell is a highly popular example.
You can grow flowers or food, using hydroponics, in limited space inside or outside of your home.
Simple System Example:
A Brief History
Because of all the fancy hydroponic gadgets kicking about today, many think that it’s a recent invention. However it’s actually been around for thousands of years.
Reputedly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon way back in 600 BC used this method of plant cultivation.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon (not an actual photo of course)
In the 10th and 11th century Aztecs were said to grow crops over lakes.
By placing their plants on floating rafts and letting the roots grow through into the water, they were using an early hydroponic system.
Famous accounts from the empire building Marco Polo state that he witnessed floating agriculture in China during the 13th century.
Real scientific analysis of the topic started in the 1600’s. Francis Bacon, a famous English scientist, artist, politician and philosopher researched the subject.
His book, which instigated huge interest in hydroponics, was published after his death in 1627.
The term “Hydroponics” was brought to light by Berkley scientist William Gericke in 1937. It comes for the Greek “hydro” meaning water and “ponics” meaning “work”.
Literally translated as – “Water Work” or “Working Water”
Hydroponics Are The Way Of The Future
Hydroponics are poised to be the growing method of the future. They can maximise growing space, crop quality and time to ripeness.
In our fast modern day world, new technology is dramatically improving this exciting approach to harvesting plants and food.
So much so that in Japan, USA and other countries experimental hydroponic farms are now being developed to grow vast amounts of fruits and vegetables indoors.
The latest and greatest of these is in Newark and is set to the the largest of it’s kind ever.
More and more news is appearing of the larger scale use of hydroponic technology for producing crops on a very large scale.
Benefits Of Hydroponic Gardening
- Hydroponic systems can be built in on many levels. Hence the sometimes used terms of “vertical gardening”, “vertical farming” or “vertical growing”.
- This means that small spaces in your home or garden can produce large amounts of crops because it is not limited to the actual floor space.
- As the method is suited to growing inside, food crops or flowers can be planted and grown all year round.
- Special lighting can also ensure optimal growth twenty four hours a day.
- Growing plants and food this way is very environmentally friendly and hence sustainable.
- No pesticides are required. Organic growing is a very real possibility.
- Anything from 80-95% less water is used by the plants. Way better than most large scale agriculture.
- It’s just as easy to do this type of horticulture outside as well as inside.
Main Hydroponic Setups
There’s six main types of hydroponic system.
Wick Hydroponic Systems
The most simple of Hydroponic methods is the Wick system. This involves a two part contraption. The plants sit in a top layer with their roots inside the growing medium.
A bath of nutrient filled water sits under the plant layer. Nutrients are delivered to the growing medium and plant roots by a number of rope wicks. Hence the “Wick” system name.
No moving parts makes this a very low maintenance method. Because of this, wick systems are an excellent way to get started in soil free gardening. They are both simple to make and non time consuming to look after.
Herbs and leafy greens are ideally suited to this particular way of growing. Kitchen tops or large window ledges can easily cope with a home system of this type.
Break out the basil, and and get ready to grow some lush lettuce with this simple yet effective little system. The pump shown in this diagram is often not necessary and in fact is not normally used.
Positives: Really simple way to get yourself started.
Drawbacks: Limited to lettuces and herbs. Plants needing a lot of water e.g. tomatoes will not do well.
Good For: Lettuce and herbs like basil
2. Water Culture
The Water Culture system includes just one tank. The tank is filled with water and the nutrient solution. The top of the tank has a covering. Small pots can be rested in holes of the covering. The roots of the plants then sit directly in the nutrient solution.
Air is fed to the plant roots via an air pump. The pump shoots air through a strip of air stones. The bubbles are nicely broken up by the air stones and spread them evenly throughout the mineral/water mixture. This helps the plants get their much needed supply of carbon dioxide.
Because of the pump which is a moving part, the water culture method is a member of the group called “active hydroponic systems”.
Due to its simple set up, it is also a hot favourite for educational purposes. Because it’s just a step up from the wicks system, it’s well suited for classroom demonstrations and new comers to active systems. (active systems have moving or electrical parts).
Positives: A great way to introduce newbies to “active” hydroponic systems. Active systems are ones with moving parts. In this case the air pump. Very simple to run.
Draw Backs: This method is really only suited to growing leafy greens such as lettuce. Not much else will flourish in this particular arrangement.
Good For: Lettuce and other leafy greens
3. Ebb and Flow System (Flood And Drain)
Just like the ebb and flow of the ocean, this layout involves water going from high to low levels at regular intervals. Nutrient filled water is pumped to an upper tray where the plants are housed. This is then allowed to slowly drain off.
An intermittent timer sets off the water pump. This gives the water enough time to fill the upper tray, drain away, then refill the upper tray when suitable.
This cycle of pumping and draining (ebbing and flowing) is repeated about four times daily. This structure can be used for potted vegetables fruits or plants and is extremely adaptable,
It is also possible to fill the entire upper tray with growing medium. Plants can be then directly placed into that. Despite this, the preferred arrangement for most is to have individual pots with growing medium and plants inside of them.
These pots are then placed in the upper tray.
Positives: Very versatile, many different kinds of plants can be grown.
Drawbacks: Vulnerable to power cuts. Plants may dry out if the pump doesn’t work for a certain amount of time and the upper tray is not flooded. However this is unlikely.
Suitable For: A wide variety of vegetables and fruits can be grown. Anything that can grow in a pot basically.
4. Drip System (recovery or non-recovery)
Drip drip drip. Yes you guessed it, this system works by dripping the nutrient solution onto the growing medium. The mineral mixture is aimed close to the plants and spreads throughout the growing tray.
This method is highly popular because the drip system can be applied at home or scaled up for commercial use. For this reason it is perhaps the most used Hydroponic system out there today.
Once again pumps are employed to deliver the mineral goodness from a reservoir and drip the solution in the correct place. In a recovery drip system the run off is “recovered” and recycled onto the plants.
Any run off goes back into the nutrient reservoir and is re-pumped back onto the growing tray. This makes for very efficient use of the nutrient solution.
In a non recovery drip system the mineral solution is not reused. It merely runs off and away. This may seem like a waste of good nutrients, however skilled timing and a precisely measured volume of the nutrients means very little will be wasted.
Most large scale use of this system uses the non recovery method.
Positives: Great for plants that require a lot of root space. Can grow anything.
Draw Backs: Large swings in PH due to increased concentration can happen in the recovery system. This may harm your plants. Checking PH at regular intervals is advised.
Suitable For: Everything.
5. N.F.T System
N.F.T stands for “Nutrient Film Technique”. Here the nutrient solution is pumped in a continuous flow over the plant roots.
It is released as a very shallow flowing stream creating a “film” of mineral dense water which gently flows over the roots.
No prizes for guessing where this system’s name comes from then!
In this particular hydroponic arrangement, there is no growing medium. The plants sit in a basket and the roots hang down into the flowing water.
Because of this the roots get an ample supply of both air and nutrients.
A slightly sloped tray allows the nutrient solution to run off. It is collected and usually recirculated over the roots again.
The combination of ample air and nutrients at the same time can make for fast growing and high yields.
Positives: Plants can get a perfect balance of nutrients and air. No growing medium reduces a great deal of hassle and expense.
Drawbacks: If the nutrient flow stops for any reason plants can be seriously harmed
Good For: Just about anything.
6. Aeroponic System
If you like gadgetry in your gardening this one’s for you. The aeroponic system periodically sprays plant roots with the mineral rich solution.
The plants sit on tray and the roots dangle into an enclosed compartment where the nutrient reservoir also sits.
Every few minutes the roots are sprayed with the nutrient solution. This creates a mist inside the enclosed chamber. The plants take this up to get their much needed nosh.
Like the NFT technique, in this system the roots get a good supply of both nutrients and air.
A timer controls the gaps between sprays. Spraying is needed every few minutes to stop the roots drying out.
Many ready to go hydroponic systems for your home use this set up.
Positives: Plants can get a perfect balance of nutrients and air.
Drawbacks: If there is a power cut or equipment failure roots will dry out very quickly.
Good For: Everything and anything you want.
Hydroponic gardening has many benefits including growing in small spaces, fast harvest time, higher yield and low environmental impact.
For these reasons it is fast becoming a popular agricultural method as well as a home hobby. Organic vegetables can be grown at home for all the family and it’s also very educational for kids.
Study Reference Nasa Study
What do you think? Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think it’s useful for us and the planet or is it a bad thing?
Please let us know in the comments below. Thanks.