Plants do so well with soils because the soil is able to provide most of the nutrients needed by plants for survival and growth. So what happens when those same nutrients are provided in water for plants without the soil this time around?, that’s hydroponics.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is simply farming or gardening without soil. This method of farming skips the soil, supports and grow plants in nutrient-rich water. Yes, all you need do is pack all the needed nutrients in water and grow any plant. Nah.. not that easy.
This modern agricultural way of farming actually conserves a whole lot of water compared to traditional farming. About 95% of water is conserved.
From watermelons to tomatoes to lettuces to carrots to orchids and the likes, plants flourish under the careful management of hydroponics. Using minimal space, less water than traditional agriculture, and ingenious designs, hydroponic gardens grow beautiful fruits and flowers all year round.
There are multiple approaches to designing hydroponic systems, but the core elements are essentially the same.
Materials For Hydroponics
Basically, all you need is:
- Fresh water
- Root support system
Whichever form of water you’re using for hydroponics, whether from public utility or water from the well or rain water or, filtered or distilled water, it should be treated to have the qualities of a good water.
water should be odorless, clear and tasteless. Most plants like water with a pH level around 6-6.5. You can adjust the acidity of your water with over-the-counter solutions found at your local hardware, garden, or hydroponic store.
Root support system
Though this system completely takes soil out of the picture, you plants still needs a little something to hold on to. Materials like coconut husk, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, etc all retain moisture and are very good root support systems for your hydroponic plants.
Oxygen needed for respiration by roots can be gotten in traditional farming from pockets of air in the soil.
Depending on your hydroponic setup, you will either need to leave space between the base of your plant and the water reservoir, or you’ll need oxygenate your container, which you can accomplish by buying an air stone or installing an air pump.
Just like plants growing in the ground need healthy soil and fertilizer for growth, your plant is going to need plenty of nutrients like magnesium , phosphorus , calcuim, and others to stay healthy and productive.
While your plants are growing without soil, these nutrients which serves as food must be included in the water for your plants.
You can easily get these nutrients from online stores or you may want to go through the stress of having them homemade.
If you’re growing your plants indoors, you might have to invest in some special lighting. Each kind of plant will have a different requirement for the amount of light it needs and for the placement of lights.
The amount of lighting you’ll give to watermelons won’t be the same with that of tomatoes or carrots.
There are other elements to consider in hydroponic farming system; like carbon iv oxide supplementations and the likes. But the above mentioned will work for any hydroponic system.
How does hydroponics work?
Hydroponics works under a very simple principle: provide plants with what they need and when they need it. Hydroponics administer nutrient solution tailored to the needs of the particular plant being grown.
They allow you to control exactly how much light the plants receive and for how long. pH levels can be monitored and adjusted. In a highly customized and controlled environment, plant growth accelerates.
By controlling the climate of the plant, many gamble factors are diminished. Plants filled in nurseries and fields are acquainted with a large group of factors that adversely sway their wellbeing and development.
Organism in the dirt can spread infections to plants. Untamed lives like bunnies can loot maturing vegetables from your nursery. Bothers like insects can drop on crops and devastate them in an evening.
Hydroponic farming frameworks end the capriciousness of developing plants outside and in the earth. Without the mechanical obstruction of the dirt, seedlings can develop a lot quicker.
By taking out pesticides, hydroponic farming will produce a lot better and great foods grown from the ground. Without impediments, plants are allowed to develop energetically and quickly.
This apparently unpretentious change by they way we make food is really progressive. it permits growers to make food available anyplace on the planet, anytime of the year, and to have better returns with less assets. This is the future of farming.
Growing seasons and regions are in major flux right now as temperatures change and growing conditions change along with them. Even in normal conditions, there are plenty of places where the ground just isn’t conducive for farming, like deserts, concrete jungles
Right now, most of the vegetables you come across in a store have been shipped in from afar, and have lost nutritional value along the way.
Utilizing hydroponics, we can make hyper-neighborhood food frameworks. Our compartment farms are set up directly in the networks and districts that we serve.
It’s even conceivable to put a farm straightforwardly behind eateries that need super new produce! Whatever it is you’re developing hydroponically, you don’t need to hit stop for a season or hazard crop misfortune from nasty weather conditions.
Types of hydroponic systems
There are different ways of running a hydroponic system. These ways have be further classified into six.
- Deep water culture system
- Nutrient film technique system
- Wicking system
- Drip system
- Ebb and flow system
Deep water culture system
Deep water culture or DWC system is the simplest and most popular method of hydroponic gardening today. In a DWC system, a plant’s roots are suspended in a well-oxygenated solution composed of water and nutrients.
There are three critical parts of this solution:
- Oxygen: Because the roots are submerged in water and not soil (which has gaps and holes where air resides), the water needs to be well oxygenated so the plant doesn’t drown. This is accomplished with an air pump and air stone.
- Water: Consider this framework on the off chance that you’re filling in soil and for all time watering your plants – this is one reason developing hydroponically is so advantageous – you at no point need to ‘water’ in the future.
- Nutrients: A good quality soil contains all of the micro and macro nutrients that a plant needs to survive and thrive. Because we have no soil, we need to supplement the oxygen-rich water with nutrients so our plants can grow.
In deep water culture, most of your plant’s root system is submerged 24/7 – hence the name!
If you learn more visually, you can check out a video concerning this system
Advantages of deep water culture system
- It is one of the simplest type of hydroponic systems to start with
- It requires low maintenance once set up
- Growing period is extremely fast. According to experiment, it takes like half the time a normal plant will grow on soil.
- Very little moving parts and gathering.
Disadvantages of deep water culture system
Most of its disadvantages can be controlled if there is proper maintenance. They include:
- In small systems, pH, water level, and nutrient concentration may fluctuate wildly
- In small systems, opportunity to over or under calibrate is very easy due to small scale
- If you have an electricity outage or a pump failure, your roots may “drown” in low-oxygen nutrient solution
- It can be difficult to maintain a consistent water temperature
Nutrient film technique system
The nutrient film technique (NFT) is a popular hydroponic gardening system that uses a pump to diffuse nutrient solution to the bare roots of plants.
NFT is quite similar to ebb-and-flow hydroponics, except NFT is active which means the water or the nutrient solution continuously flows over the roots ensuring they are fed and watered properly.
The term “nutrient film” was derived from how this technique works. The shallow stream of nutrients solution flows as a film on the bottom surface passing over the roots.
In NFT, the roots of the plants develop on a surface with a maximum of 1mm of nutrient solution. This ensures that only the bottom part of the roots are immersed in the nutrient solution while the uppermost part is left exposed to humidity.
You will need these basic components to set up your own NFT system and make it work:
- Growing channels. The ideal growing channels are those with a flat bottom and a larger surface area for the roots and should measure no more than 10 to 12 meters.
- Net pots or net cups. Net pots are the small baskets used in the NFT system that works well as an alternative to growing media.
- Nutrient solution reservoir. The reservoir is where the nutrient solution circulates. Its size depends on the number of plants you’re growing.
- Submersible pump. A reliable pump is vital in a nutrient film technique hydroponics as it keeps the nutrient solution flowing throughout the system. When choosing a pump, look for the one with an adjustable flow rate for easy modification.
Advantages of NFT
- This system is very easy to set up and relatively inexpensive.
- Here, less water and nutrients are consumed.
- This system works well even without a growing medium
- It is very easy to monitor the root’s health and conditions of plants in this medium
- Adaptable to different plant requirements
- There is reduced chance of water contamination due to constant circulation
- Due to the continuous flow of water, salt buildup is avoided in the root area.
Disadvantages of NFT
- If the flow of nutrient solution stops, the roots will dry out and become stressed quickly.
- This system is not suitable to grow plants with large tap-root systems like carrots.
- Pump failure can cause the death of crops in a few hours especially when the weather is hot.
- The roots in the channels can become blocked by roots of vigorous growing plants.
Wick system hydroponics is definitely the simplest and easiest in both form and function of the six types of hydroponics. This system only requires four components, and you can readily build a functioning system out of everyday household items, for those of you who are fans of reuse and upcycling.
The trickiest part is probably choosing what to use for your wicks, and that’s just because there are so many materials to choose from.
Wick system hydroponics is the simplest of the six types of hydroponics system designs. The name refers to the fact that these systems take advantage of the action of wicking to feed a water-based nutrient solution to the roots of plants.
Every hydroponic wick system is made up of four basic components:
- Growing container
- Reservoir for the nutrient solution
- Growing medium
Advantages of wick system
- The significant advantage of a wick hydroponic system is that it is simple to build and easy to maintain. It is beginner-friendly.
- Whether you choose to keep your wick hydroponic system small or scale it up, you can do it by recycling or upcycling your everyday household items and materials that you already possess at home.
- Once you have your wick hydroponic system set up and running, you can enjoy low-maintenance gardening year-round.
- Another significant advantage is that a wick hydroponic system doesn’t require electricity making it possible to set up in places that lack electricity power and leading to electricity saving.
- Wick system hydroponics is also very water efficient because the system is automated since the water-based solution delivery depends on the plants’ consumption.
- Hydroponic wick systems use fewer nutrients and water than other growing systems due to the kinds of plants the system supports.
Disadvantages of wick system
- One of the major downsides of wick system hydroponics is that you are somewhat limited in what types of plants you can grow because of the slow rate at which the system delivers the nutrient solution.
- Larger plants and plants that produce fruits are not well suited for wick system hydroponics because they are thirstier for water and nutrients to support their growth.
- Another disadvantage to wick system hydroponics is that the growing medium is susceptible to toxic buildup of nutrients over time. However, you can prevent this issue by rinsing it out every week or two with fresh water.
A drip system is an active hydroponic system. This means that it uses a pump to feed your plants with nutrients and water regularly.
It is also called trickle, or micro irrigation system. As the name suggests, the system uses small emitters to drip the nutrient solution directly onto your plants.
A drip system is not unique to hydroponics. Such a setup is also widely used in outdoor gardens to deliver water and nutrients to individual plants.
It works equally well with soil as well as growing media. In fact, the drip system was initially conceived for outdoor cultivation of plants in Israel.
The system was developed to improve water efficiency in the outdoor cultivation of crops. It was later successfully adapted to hydroponics.
Instead of spraying or running water to the plants, the emitters secrete the liquid in a slow dripping action. This ensures that the system uses very less water. You have a high level of control over the amount of water and nutrients supplied to the plants.
The system uses a network of feeder lines to deliver the water to the plants. This kind of setup is best suited for large growing operations.
As already mentioned, the drip system is very flexible. It can scale well according to the size and complexity of a growing operation. For a basic drip system, you will need the following essential items:
- Drip Emitters: Depending on the number of plants you plan to grow, you will have to buy an emitter for each plant. They are readily available at garden centers and hydroponic suppliers.
- Thin Tubing: spaghetti tubing is readily available in the market and is perfect for a drip emitter.
- PVC Tubing: These will be the main lines that carry the water and nutrients from the reservoir pump to the emitters. Depending on the size and complexity of your setup, the length and number of tubes required will vary. For smaller home-based setups, two-inch tubes are enough.
- Water Pump: a regular submersible pump is more than adequate for the task. Capacities of between 120-300 gallons per minute should suffice for smaller setups.
- A Tray: In smaller recirculating setups, you can get best results by having all the pots drain into a common tray. This is a simpler option than having separate run-off tubes from each pot to the reservoir.
- A Large Bucket/Bin: This will act as the reservoir. Choose between 10-20 gallon volume depending on the size of your setup.
- Small pots for your plant
- A Garden timer for the pump
- Aquarium grade silicone sealant
- A Hydroponic growing medium like coco coir
- A power drill, and hacksaw or PVC cutter to cut the pipes
Plants like lettuce, onions tomatoes, strawberries, cucumber, melons peas, will do well in this system.
Advantages of drip system
- This system provides more control over water and nutrient supply
- It is a flexible system that can be scaled for growth
- Requires low maintenance compared to other methods of hydroponics
- This system is one of the cheapest and most affordable to be installed
- There is less chance of system failure
Disadvantages of drip system
Though this system have some catching advantages, there are also some disadvantages. They include;
- Might be too complex for a very small grow operation
- If using water recycle system, maintenance is high (for reservoir water)
- There is chance of waste if using non-recovery system
Ebb and flow system
Ebb and Flow, also known as Flood and Drain, is one of the most widely recognized hydroponics systems. The versatile system is relatively low-cost to set up and requires an intermediate level of skill to maintain.
This method allows you to easily alter your garden, adding or removing plants as you wish without affecting any of the surrounding crops. Like other methods, the basic concept is very simple–plants are placed in a tray, which is periodically filled with nutrient-rich water pumped out of a reservoir below. The system uses gravity to return the water to the reservoir to be reused.
This system involves;
- A plant tray: which is also called a flood tray, is a large, shallow container on a tall stand. The plants are placed in the tray, in perforated pots filled with a growing medium such as Perlite. The pots chosen for seedlings should be about twice as deep as the flood tray.
- The reservoir, submersible pump and timer: the reservoir is placed directly below the flood tray on the stand. It is connected to the tray via a fill tube and a drain tube. The fill tube attaches to a submersible pump with a timer, which controls the flow of water up into the flood tray.
Advantages of the ebb and flow system
- The ebb and flow system is low-cost. The setup cost is affordable, especially if you decide to build the parts; you may end up saving a lot of money.
- The ebb and flow system is almost plug-and-grow easy.
- The ebb and flow system offers nutrient abundance for your plants by ensuring that your plants obtain just adequate nutrients. The overflow tube prevents any flooding in the containers. And consequently, your plants will grow healthy and nutritious.
- The ebb and flow system is easy to use – An ebb and flow hydroponics system is relatively easy to use and manage because it doesn’t require much technical knowledge to keep it running.
- Unlike other expensive and complex types of hydroponics, the ebb and flow system does not require expert knowledge. It is easy to build up the structure.
Disadvantages of ebb and flow system
- The ebb and flow system can be sensitive to power failure. If you experience any equipment failure, your system might not operate. Since the primary flooding system works on the use of a water pump.
- In an ebb and flow system, the entire system depends on the water pump to flood the grow tray, and the overflow out lets drain the system. However, if any failures occur with the draining system, the trays can flood, leading to oxygen cut off to the plant roots and eventually plant death.
- With the system constantly recycling the nutrients, it can be challenging to keep nutrient levels consistent, affecting pH levels. If you don’t continuously correct PH, it can lead to several problems for your plants.
- Possible fluctuating PH levels can have harmful effects.
- The ebb and flow system is commonly known to have breakdowns. Once you decide to improvise the materials and build your ebb and flow system, you must be extra careful.
This is an advanced form of hydroponics, aeroponics is the process of growing plants with only water and nutrients. This innovative method results in faster growth, healthier plants, and bigger yields
this should be a topic on its own cause aeroponics is like a form of vertical farming on its own, but most times it is classified under hydroponics.
read more about aeroponics.
Lets look at the overall advantages and disadvantages of hydroponic farming system.
Advantages of Hydroponic farming system
The advantages include;
- Water conservation
- Space maximization
- Less labor is required
- It produces higher yield
- Farm-to-mouth system is adopted
- Requires no soil
- Produces higher and better quality foods
- Crops grow faster compared to traditional farming
- Reduces supply chain
- Predictability and seasonality
- Facilitates a micro-climate
- Farming can be done anywhere
Hydroponics saves about 90-95% of water when compared to traditional farming. This system allows for water filtration. This means you can use same water from germination till harvest stage.
All that is required will be filtration and replenishment of nutrients. Hydroponics systems make use of recirculated water, allowing plants to absorb what they need, then return the rest to the system.
When hydroponics are combined with vertical farming techniques, they can use up to 99 percent fewer lands than typical farming techniques.
Water and nutrients are delivered to the roots directly, either intermittently or constantly, depending on the hydroponic technique being employed.
This means that each plant’s root system can take up far less space, resulting in the ability to grow more plants in a smaller space.
When you add in vertically stacked method, it’s easy to see how a much smaller area is needed to produce a hydroponic garden than a traditional one.
- Read also: Vertical farming
Less Labor is required
Since there’s no soil involved, you wouldn’t have to worry about weeding from time to time. Tilling, herbicide, pesticide and insecticide application and other labour intensive jobs are completely cut off.
In fact, a small hydroponic greenhouse can be entirely managed by a single part-time worker.
Produces higher yield
Creating ideal conditions ensures plants receive the perfect amount of nutrients, which come in direct contact with roots. Additionally, microclimates allow for year-round growth and faster crop cycles.
All of this adds up to create far higher yields than traditional farming methods. In fact, we’ve found that hydroponic greenhouses can produce about 240 times the yield of other farming practices.
Promotes farm-to-mouth system
As you can get fresh and wholesome food from the comfort of your backyard or from a neighbours farms or just a street aways from yours, you do not have to store food items.
The right amount of what you need can be gotten from the farm to your mouth.
Requires no soil
You’ve read from above that hydroponic system of farming do not need no damn soil to function.
Provide good water and the right amount of nutrient needed by the particular crop you intend growing and you’re good to go.
Additionally, there is a wide variation in soil quality from one location to the next, and many plants have strong preferences for a particular soil type.
This means traditional farmers can only grow crops suited to the soil in their areas. In large parts of the world, few crops can be grown using traditional methods.
With hydroponic gardens, the soil is not a concern so farmers can grow whatever crops would be most beneficial to their community without concern for soil degradation.
Higher and better quality foods
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, there’s nothing like getting them fresh and wholesome, without spot or wrinkle. And few person tend to enjoy this because of soil type and climate conditions.
Fruits and vegetables are to be eaten fresh and hydroponics is the only guarantee for this. Foods that ripens naturally on the plant, typically has more nutrients and better taste too.
Because hydroponic gardens contain their own microbiomes, these crops can be grown just about anywhere. This means they can be picked at the peak of ripeness since they don’t have far to go before they reach the homes and restaurants where they’ll be enjoyed.
Crops grow faster
When a crop is given all it needs, without any disturbance from pest and diseases or climatic conditions, with the proper lighting system, all they’ll have to do is just grow.
Crops grown hydroponically are two times faster than those grown traditionally. When both systems are compared, a farmer will make ×2 income or even more when vertical farming is in play.
Farming can be done anywhere
A greenhouse in your backyard, inside one of the free rooms in a skyscraper, astronauts grow crops in space, even in your room, it will serve both as food and decor.
All you need do is provide the crop with its nutrients, water and good lighting with some other materials. This is the future of agriculture .
Disadvantages of hydroponics
With the advantages of this farming system, it almost looks as though there are no disadvantages. But let’s look at some.
- It is time consuming
- Risk of water and electricity
- Expensive to run
- Requires some expertise
- Threats of system failure
- Not all crops can be grown
- Return on investment
- Waterborne disease
- Problems affect plants quicker
It is time consuming
while the whole hydroponics process can look all juicy, it is time consuming as well. Since you’re not using soils and the plants grown in this system depends on water, you need to be very mild with them.
The water need to be changed at regular intervals and there should be a regular check on your plants just to see if all is well.
Risk of water and electricity
In hydroponics, water and electricity are one of the most important. There must be adequate water and a stable electricity.
Expensive to run
Planting traditionally just involves you renting a farmland or using one of the ones you’ve got and planting anything you want. hydroponics farming involves expensive equipment, especially when you’re just starting up.
Regardless of the kind of system, you plan to build, you will require containers, high-quality lighting, an accurate timer, and quality nutrients and boy they’re expensive.
Requires some expertise
The process of Hydroponic farming depends on a range of equipment that requires proper expertise. Unless you know how to operate this equipment, the plants won’t thrive or flourish as much as you’d want them to.
Here even the simplest mistake can destroy your entire farm, so you’ll need someone who’s got experience and can handle things well.
Not all crops can be grown
hydroponics have got some hindrance when it come to growing crops. this system of agriculture does not support all crops. this is one of the major advantages a traditional system have over hydroponic system.
It doesn’t matter how modern the world can get, there are some crops that can never be grown indoors. A mango tree can’t fit in a green house.
Read also: Mixed farming
Because hydroponically grown plants are grown in water instead of soil, waterborne diseases are higher. With the water circulating continuously through the system, infections can spread quickly. And when this happens, you can loose all your plants in hours.
The bottom line
Asides he fact that hydroponics system can be very expensive to start up and does not support all crop type, it is actually a very good system and developing countries should venture more into this farming system.
When well implemented, a hydroponics gardening system can save you money, time and resources, offering up higher yields and better crops compared to traditional gardening.
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