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The recent growth in the number of gardeners and farmers engaged in hydroponics and the multiplication of useful new hydroponics technologies has made more people curious about the process. Is it possible that growing plants in water is as easy, more environmentally sound, and healthier for plants than soil gardening and farming? How can this be?
Hydroponics is superior for gardeners. Hydroponics offers less daily maintenance, tighter control over nutrition, elimination of almost all sources of disease, and more precise control over water use. Year-long growth cycles. The only drawback may be the initial investment costs.
To decide your practices as a gardener, you’ll need more information and analysis comparing soil and hydroponics techniques for plant growth. Please read on for further insights.
Hydroponics involves far less in the daily maintenance of plants than traditional garden beds or farm fields. There is no backbreaking work involved. For instance, no weeds threaten the plants, and therefore no daily digging and weeding need to be done.
Plants are protected from birds and insects. Hydroponics automatically carries nutrients to plant roots, so no fertilizing needs to be done.
The only thing the grower must do is make sure hydroponics equipment is working properly, there is plenty of water, and all nutrients are available and flowing to the roots of every plant.
Once this is determined, the grower needs only to “set and forget.”
What’s the first question a gardener or farmer would ask about hydroponics? Is it healthy for plants? Remember that farmers and gardeners have over 10,000 years of experience with soil and plants. Manure, composting, and fertilizer have been proven to produce healthy, productive plants.
Soil promotes the reliable, slow release of nutrients to plants. This system has sustained hundreds of generations of human life. Gardeners and farmers are loathed to give up what has worked for something that may appear too new and unproven.
Dr. William F. Grieke of the University of California began developing modern hydroponics systems during the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, a substantial body of research has been done on how well plant growth is affected by these systems. Plant growth has been shown to occur 30% to 50% faster in hydroponics than in soil.
The Army and Navy used this technology during World War II, allowing the troops to grow fresh vegetables on the small Pacific Islands where they were stationed.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics means growing plants without soil. It permits plants to grow in gravel, sand, or peat. Nutrients float in the water through the system and are easily taken up by the roots. Nutrients are delivered to the roots in precise amounts.
Growers can specify amounts geared to the species and variety of plants being grown. In addition, growers can specify amounts of nutrients for young plants, mid-season plants, and plants ready for harvest. Plants will get exactly what they need when they need it.
With the fine control hydroponics permits, flowers express more brilliant colors, and fruits and vegetables produce more flavor.
Hydroponics can scientifically measure every aspect of plant growth and optimize them with the perfect size and shape of hydroponic spaces for each species and variety. Hydroponics also offers fine control over quantities of nutrients, sunlight, and PH levels.
Every stage of plant growth can be monitored precisely, and the information can be used to design even better processes to foster the best growth for each plant.
Since plants are isolated, carefully monitored, and tended to, hydroponics promote disease-free fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Plants are healthier and well-protected from insects, fungi, weeds, and bacteria. Hydroponically grown plants do not require pesticides and herbicides.
By contrast, soil-grown plants are exposed to all these threats.
Weeding and applying pesticides and herbicides to protect plants is necessary.
Hydroponics Vs. Soil discussions often involve their impact on the environment. Soil gardening and farming use a lot of space and resources. Hydroponics permits the growth of the same number of plants in a much smaller space, especially when growers engage in vertical farming practices with artificial terraces stacking rows of plants on top of one another.
Hydroponics uses resources far more effectively with the precise application of water and nutrients. There is no waste. Nor is there any need to spray with chemicals. Neighbors are happier knowing their yards are not affected by pesticides and herbicides. Plants and animals in the immediate area are healthier. The hydroponically-grown plants themselves are healthier.
Hydroponic water is recycled and not released into the outer environment. Whatever isn’t used immediately is saved for later. There is little evaporation, which helps growers in dry climates. Tight control over water is significant to people during droughts.
Less water is taken from the outer environment. University of Arizona scientists estimate hydroponics conserves up to 80% of the water soil gardens and farms lose to the atmosphere and erosion.
If designed correctly, hydroponics systems can also capture water analogously to how soil farms do. If the installation roof is designed to let rainwater run off the roof into capture facilities, water becomes an essentially free resource.
Remember stories of how pioneers used to collect bathwater and drinking water in rain barrels? Hydroponics has the potential to do precisely that sort of thing.
More advanced technologies can capture and reuse water vapor during humid days outside the hydroponics facility. Any excess water captured that is not needed for immediate use can be stored later.
Growing Plants Whenever and Wherever
When we include the seasons while pondering soil v hydroponics, hydroponics wins hands down. It works well with greenhouse technologies. Gardeners and farmers can grow their plants anytime during the year, even in harsh, cold climates. The slogan “Grow and Eat Locally” becomes feasible for northern states.
Hydroponics also makes it possible to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers in the big city. Urban gardening is now possible. By contrast, soil farmers and gardeners generally need the space provided by suburbs, small towns, and rural areas.
The benefits are obvious. Fresh food year-round is now possible for everyone. The expense of shipping food and the possibility of losing nutrition due to the longer time from the field to the table becomes less of a concern.
Also, parents can give their kids valuable experience raising plants. They’ll learn exactly where fruits, vegetables, and flowers come from early.
The expense of setting up the infrastructure for hydroponic farming and gardening can be daunting for some growers. Gardeners may be put off since they don’t have any expense for access to soil. They already have their yards. Likewise, farmers have their fields.
And yet, there are expenses involved in gardening and farming that hydroponics will allow growers to avoid. Fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides cost money. So does water irrigation systems. Farmers incur huge expenses for field and maintenance equipment, including tractors, planters, and harvesters. Even the family farm is big business nowadays.
For farmers, at least, the issue of expenses may be a wash.
Wick systems are relatively low-tech, inexpensive, and easy to set up. They might run you as low as $50. Somewhat larger, more elaborate ones may cost as much as $200.
Wick systems have no moving parts. They consist of a reservoir of water and a growing tray. Wicks–thin ropes–run up from the reservoir, delivering water when they grow tray’s water level runs low. An aeration system consists of an air stone set in the reservoir.
An air pump blows against it, producing bubbles that aerate the water, providing oxygen to plant roots. This aeration system is similar to that used by aquariums.
Place the roots of your plants into the grow tray near the wicks. Make sure you’ve dissolved your nutrients in the reservoir at the right water ratio to nutrients. The wicks will deliver water, oxygen, and nutrients directly to the roots of your plants.
More Expensive Hydroponics Systems
Somewhat more, higher-tech systems that include controlled lighting and water flow control can cost as much as $1,000, depending on size and features.
The truly high-tech control systems, usually used by professional growers, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. They produce a lot of plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
These systems include complete computerized water and nutrient dispensing systems and elaborate physical infrastructure.
Recently, gardeners and farmers who want even tight control over the growing process are beginning to opt for a new aeroponics system. Instead of immersing roots in water, aeroponics produces an environment saturated with fine water drops. Please think of the most humid day you can remember when it didn’t rain–only more so. That’s aeroponics.
Aeroponics benefits growers dealing with plant species that can survive in soggy environments. They often suffer from root rot. Aeroponics cause no such problems at all.
Mechanical Aptitude Needed
Rigging up a set-and-forget water and nutrition mechanical delivery process means gardeners do have to be somewhat handy. But once it is set up, tested, and working, they soon learn how to run it easily. They sometimes enjoy the results so much they elect to scale up production by replicating the system.
The Future of Hydroponics
More precise processes are being developed to extract potable water from salt water. Consider what will happen when these are incorporated into hydroponics systems. Villagers in developing nations with access to saltwater could make hydroponics gardens bloom while the salt is automatically extracted from the water.
Any town or family could use sewage effluent to separate water from impurities once the technologies are in place.
Sewage is loaded with nutrients. Further down the road, technologies could analyze any configuration of molecules and move nutritious ones to the hydroponics mix, thus turning waste into valuable resources.
Conclusion on Soil Vs. Hydroponics
Increasing precision in handling plant mixtures is the key to understanding how technological development may lead to a situation in which humans can predictably move single molecules to where they will do the best for plants and humans.
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