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Hydroponic gardens might be a game-changer for humankind in years to come. Living in a world with a decreasing amount of fertile soil and 70% water, learning how to grow vegetables over water is a valuable skill. But, do you know what hydroponic gardening is?
Hydroponic gardening is a plant-growing method that covers all their needs utilizing zero soil. As we all know, plants need sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients to survive. Providing those nutrients through water and exposing them to air and light is enough to grow healthy.
That was the short answer to what hydroponic gardening is. Would you like to know more about it so you can create your own home oasis? Read on as we unveil how and why you should join the hydroponic culture today.
Where does hydroponic gardening originate?
Hydroponics can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt. Archeologists found hieroglyphs denoting backyard gardens with water ponds in which the population grew their vegetables. But, as you might know, Egyptian soil is not the most fertile for growing food.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and we have the first published work regarding aquatic gardens. It was Francis Bacon in his post-mortem book Sylva Sylvarum (1627) who laid the foundations. After him, many others like John Woodward (1699) continued this research finding better ways of growing plants with no soil.
“It used to be hydroponics was just a nod, nod, wink, wink, word for pot growing. Now it is accepted by consumers as a preferred method of growing high-quality food.”Michael R. Christian, Founder of American Hydroponics
Fast forward again, but to the present, the global hydroponics market valued at US$226.45 million in 2016 is expected to reach US$724.87 million in 2023. NASA is also considering making it part of their space program to grow food outside Earth.
From ancient Egyptians to the dark side of the Moon, hydroponics is here to stay.
What are the benefits of hydroponic gardening?
All of this sounds amazing, but why would we create a hydroponic garden instead of planting on the soil? First, let´s go through some of the many benefits of hydroponic gardening.
Space & natural conditions needed for hydroponic gardening
The first and most named benefit is the space. You can literally create a hydroponic garden anywhere you like. For example, companies sell indoor solutions that allow you to grow vegetables in your living room. Can you imagine having a tomato plant next to your kitchen so you can make the freshest salad imaginable? Well, it can happen.
Moreover, on a larger scale, it is possible to grow food through hydroponics in places where natural conditions would´t allow it.
In this regard, having a backyard hydroponic vegetable garden living in a desert or in the snow is now a possibility.
Growth rate & yields of hydroponic gardening
The growth rate for plants in hydroponic gardens is usually higher than in the soil. This rate can be from 25% to 50%. In some expert´s opinion, this is closely related to the fact that nutrients are easier to absorb when in the water.
This means that plants do not have to develop complex and long root systems to find them in the soil. Thus, allowing the plant to use more energy in growing above the ground.
Also, to some experts, water can be oxygenated, making it easier for roots to find it and hence have more energy available for growing.
Resources needed are fewer than expected in hydroponic gardening
As ironic as it might seem, hydroponic systems use as much as 10 times less water than regular soil-based crops. This is because there´s no runoff, drain, or evaporation; water is used, enriched again, and re-used. Thus, only a small quantity is enough for the entire system to work.
Pesticide-free crops are possible with hydroponic gardening
Because most bugs and pests can be found on the soil, growing your crops in water eliminates most of them.
Moreover, when creating a hydroponic system indoors, you also preserve the plants from flying pests.
This spares the produce and the environment from the use of dangerous chemical pesticides.
Troubleshooting is made easy in hydroponic gardening
Plants living in a hydroponic system are easier to take care of and troubleshoot because their roots are usually exposed. Also, you can be in control of what kind and quantity of nutrients and water that plant is receiving. This makes it easier to troubleshoot and also to improve your produce crop after crop.
Plants grown through hydroponics can be considered healthier than soil-grown ones in some factors.
The hydroponic plants can be considered healthier than those grown in soil due to them having lesser contact with soil-born pests and diseases (source). They are also healthier because they have a more balanced intake of nutrients that are less affected by outside sources like droughts, storms, or any soil-related problems.
Instead of searching for their needs and nutrients within the soil on a normal planting system, all their needs are handed to them through the hydroponic system, and this, in turn, helps them flourish more.
How does hydroponic gardening work?
All the benefits and history have been covered in the previous parts, but what exactly makes this system work and yield such great results?
In the next few parts, we shall discuss the basic needs of this system, the space requirements, and the types that one can look into when planning to create a hydroponics garden.
How to get started and the basic needs for hydroponic gardening
We said that plants need water, oxygen, root support, and nutrients. So let´s see what happens with the basics in a hydroponic system and how much a normal planting system coincides and differs.
Freshwater is a need for hydroponic gardening
When thinking of hydroponic systems, freshwater with a neutral PH is a must. You should always get a filter to make sure water is fresh at all times.
Consider oxygen needs and requirements in hydroponic gardening
Plants breathe, and they do it through their roots. When planted in the soil, they find it in small pockets formed in the dirt. So, it would help if you thought of an oxygenated container, something similar to bubbles in an aquarium.
Root support may be needed in hydroponic gardening
Although it is possible to have the roots dangling in the water, the best results often add a little root support. Some materials used for this include vermiculite and coconut fiber, among many others.
Adding of nutrients in hydroponic gardening
Besides breathing, plants need food. So what do they feed on? Nutrients are usually found in the soil they´re planted in. Thus, when in a hydroponic system, you need to feed those nutrients to it through the water. This means you should add minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium, among others, to the water in the system.
Light considerations for hydroponic gardening
Light is a definite must for any plant to do photosynthesis. Therefore, having a natural or artificial light source for it is part of the basics.
If you happen to use artificial lighting for your hydroponics system, make sure you get a timer so it can go on and off, mimicking nature.
Furthermore, the need and placement recommendation is usually referred to as DLI (Daily Light Integral) and is specific to each plant, so make sure you know this info before starting.
Hydroponic systems can be as complex as you want them to be. Nowadays, there is a lot of technology available to automatize your crop and control the different variables (such as light and PH, for example). That being said, the above items are the absolute basic to get started.
How much space do you need?
The space needed to install a hydroponic system depends on various factors. To begin with, you have to take into consideration the number of plants you want to install. Second, settle on the available budget and, finally, the design.
Types of hydroponic systems
Let´s go through some of the most popular hydroponic system designs so you can make an informed decision about them.
|Type of hydroponic system||Functions and specifications|
|Wick||Requires for you to position your plant inside a medium and leave a wick hanging down the bottom. This wick should dangle in a nutrient-rich water reservoir from where the plant can feed. |
Finally, there should be an air gap between medium and water for the plant to breathe.
|Raft||A floating surface (the so-called raft) holds the plants while their roots hang in nutrient-rich water. Beneath it all, a pump (like the one found in an aquarium) supplies the needed oxygen for them.|
|Air-gap||Roots of the plants are exposed to air with no medium and hang over nutrient-filled water.|
|Top feeder||Requires for plants to have a medium that will allow air to reach the roots so the plant can breathe. Nutrient-filled water gets pumped on top of the medium and is allowed to percolate back to the bottom recipient where the cycle starts again.|
|Ebb and flow||Requires a medium for plants to grow in. They are held over a recipient holding nutrient-filled water pumped into the root zone every thirty minutes. Water then percolates back to the bottom recipient.|
|Aeroponics||Roots are suspended in the air, exposed to oxygen. Every thirty minutes or so, nutrient-filled water either runs through them or is sprayed on via a mist.|
Any of these designs can be conceived in a small space. Whichever you decide, though, will have to match your budget and the available light for the plant you decide to go for. It is not mentioned in the explanations, but sun exposure or artificial light is a must for each.
Does hydroponic gardening take a lot of work?
Literally, the name hydroponic could be translated as “working water.” Indeed, the word Hydro stands for water, and Ponos means work or labor. Why is this important? Well, because it is an accurate description of how hard to maintain a hydroponic garden is. You have to let the water do all the work regardless of your design of choice.
Hydroponic gardens don´t require you to remove weeds or fight pests or even remember to water them often.
Once you have automatized the design and created a cycle, you need to make sure that cycle doesn´t break. If you can maintain it, your garden will grow big and beautiful with minimal effort on your side.
Conclusion on hydroponics gardening
Hydroponic gardens offer a myriad of benefits for home use and potentially help change millions’ lives when applied to large-scale agriculture. Still, they are not so well-known around the world, and most people prefer soil gardening instead.
Don´t be afraid of change; you can´t get a better return on investment than setting a hydroponic garden in your home. So follow our instructions, pick the best design, and let those leaves shine proudly.
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