Have you heard about growing your own food without using soil? Today is your lucky day to be able to learn the ingenious method of hydroponic gardening. Specifically, hydro is the Greek word for water and ponos means work. The water does the work, in this case, to nurture a wide variety of edible plants, such as vegetables, herbs, and even fruits indoors all year round, regardless of the weather conditions. It has been gaining popularity in recent years, wherein plants can be grown everywhere, from kitchen counters, backyards, and large-scale farming.
A Little History About Hydroponic Gardening
Surprisingly, this concept has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the floating gardens of Mexico and of China in the sixth century B.C. as the earliest examples. In 1950, scientists started experimenting with soil-less gardening and since then, many countries, such as Germany, Australia, and Holland, have used hydroponic crop production with excellent results.
A few decades later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration opened up the possibility of sustainable agriculture in space by growing an aeroponic seedling in zero gravity aboard the space station. Thus, hydroponics is far from only being an ancient age innovation, instead it continued to be a timeless method of water conservation and crop production.
The Hydroponic System
Plants need sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients in order to grow. Traditionally, plant roots get nutrients from the soil. In a hydroponic garden, nutrients are dissolved in the water surrounding the roots, which creates easier access to the nutrition they need.
As compared to the usual in-ground gardening, a hydroponic system uses minimal space and 90% less water. It will work just about anywhere and can help plants grow bigger and faster in half the time. The most common crops grown hydroponically are lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, celery, watercress, and strawberries, among others.
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A hydroponic system can be characterized as active or passive, wherein being active means the nutrient solution actively moves in a pump as opposed to being passive by relying on the capillary action of a growing medium or wick that absorbs the nutrients and passes them to the roots. The passive system is usually too wet and does not supply enough oxygen to the roots for optimum growth.
Furthermore, there are a hundred kinds of methods based on six hydroponic systems. This includes deep-water culture systems, wick systems, nutrient film techniques systems, ebb and flow systems, drip systems, and aeroponics. In some, the plant roots dangle in the water while in others, they grow in soil substitutes, like peat moss, coconut fiber, aged bark, perlite, or clay pebbles.
Essential Elements of Hydroponics
As one of the many advantages of a hydroponic system, you will need to become acquainted with only a few components to make it run efficiently. Other elements can easily be controlled and maintained, including light, water, temperature, humidity, pH level, and nutrients. These factors make it easier and less time-consuming than gardening with soil.
Growing media or medium is a substitute for soil; however, it is not a source of independent nutrition for the plant. This porous material aerates, supports the plant’s weight, anchors its roots, and retains moisture and nutrients that are delivered to the plant.
Different mediums work well in different types of hydroponic systems. For example, Hydro Corn or expanded shale is a fast-draining medium that best suit an ebb and flow type system. Hydro Corn is a light and airy expanded clay aggregate that allows plenty of oxygen to penetrate the plant’s root system.
Rockwool is another popular medium, which holds 10-14 times as much water as soil and retains 20% air in any hydroponic system, commonly used for propagation. Other common and inexpensive growing mediums are perlite, vermiculite, and different grades of sand.
If not sufficiently aerated, plants submerged in water can drown quickly. Therefore, air stones and air pumps are needed todisperse tiny bubbles of dissolved oxygen through the nutrient solution reservoir, helping distribute the nutrients evenly.
Although air stones do not generate oxygen, an external air pump should be attached through an opaque food-grade plastic tube (opacity will prevent algae growth). These materials can be purchased in your nearest pet stores since they are mainly used as aquarium components.
Last but not the least, to hold the hydroponic plants in place, net pots are nifty mesh planters that allows roots to grow in the sides and bottom of the pot. This creates greater exposure to oxygen and nutrients as well as provides superior drainage.
Benefits of Gardening without Soil
Many agricultural experts believe that hydroponic gardening is the future of food production. It is a revolutionary shift in allowing growers and home gardeners to produce food anywhere in the world at any time of the year. Due to climate change, growing conditions and temperatures change have become difficult for farming. With hydroponics, communities can create local food systems in container farms to provide more fresh produce to their locality.
Having one step a notch over soil gardening, the growth rate and yield of hydroponic plants are higher than 30-50 percent, grown under the same conditions. This decreased time between harvest and consumption increases the nutritional value of the end product.
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In terms of the environment, hydroponic gardening requires few resources as mentioned. As a matter of fact, they use no topsoil and less water since the water can be filtered and re-populated with nutrients to be reused in the plants instead of being wasted. Also, due to lack of necessity, no chemicals or pesticides are needed.
Overall, hydroponic gardening is an easy, clean, and effective method for growing plants, especially in an inconducive farming environment. It adapts well to most indoor settings and produces crops that are living their best life being healthier, happier, and of higher quality. You can buy or build your own system, but you must do further research on this topic. It can be a frustrating but rewarding experience built on trial and error. See and grow it for yourself.
Written by Gianne D. Inumerable