Hydroponics is the concept of soil less gardening, it has been around for thousands of years. Example being the floating gardens or the hanging gardens that you see from past civilizations.
The method of Hydroponics dipping the roots or submerging them directly in nutrient-enriched water, or the plant is grown in a container filled with a soilless mixture of perlite, sand, and or coconut fiber.
This container is then submerged into or suspended above a water-filled reservoir.
While just about any type of plant can be grown using this method. The technique is most often used for growing vegetables or herbs.
The Benefits of Hydroponics
It is proven to have several advantages over soil gardening. The growth rate on a hydroponic plant is 30-50 percent faster than a soil plant, grown under the same conditions.
The yield of the plant is also greater. It is believed that the extra oxygen in this method helps stimulate root growth.
The nutrients in the hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system.
The plants do not have to search in the soil for the nutrient that it requires.
Those nutrients are being delivered to the plant several times a day. The hydroponic plant requires very little energy to find and break down food.
The plant then users this saved energy to grow faster and to produce more fruits or veggies.
Hydroponic plants also have fewer problems with bug infestations, funguses, and disease. In general, plants grown hydroponically are healthier and happier plants.
If you’d like to try this soilless method of gardening, you can purchase one of the many hydroponics kits, like this one Farm XL Aerogarden. Or even the Miracle-Gro twelve stacking kit would be quite beneficial.
Growing Mediums for Hydroponics
The purpose of a growing medium is to aerate and support the root system of the plant and to channel the water and nutrients. Different growing mediums work well in different types of hydroponic systems.
To be as detailed as possible there are a variety of growing mediums. Starting off with a fast-draining medium, such as hydro corn or expanded shale works well in an ebb and flow type system.
Hydrocorn is a light expanded clay aggregate. It is a light, airy type of growing medium that allows plenty of oxygen to penetrate the plant’s root system. Both types of grow rocks can be reused, although the shale has more of a tendency to break down and may not as last as long as the hydro corn.
The grow rock is very stable and rarely affects the pH of the nutrient solution.
Other commonly used growing mediums are perlite, vermiculite, and different grades of sand. These three mediums are stable and rarely affect the pH of the nutrient solution.
Although these mediums tend to hold much moisture and should be used with plants that are tolerant conditions.
Perlite, vermiculite, and sands are very inexpensive options. But may not be the most effective growing mediums to use. To read more about these mediums click here.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
The different systems are characterized as active or passive. An active hydroponic system actively moves the nutrient solution, usually using a pump.
Passive hydroponics systems rely on the capillary action of the growing medium or wick.
The Wick System
The wick system is a passive non-recovery type hydroponic system. It uses no pumps and has no moving parts.
The nutrients are stored in the reservoir and moved into the root system by capillary action often using a candle or lantern wick.
In simpler terms, the nutrient solution travels up the wick and into the root system of the plant. Wick systems often use sand or perlite, vermiculite mix, and a growing medium.
The wick system is easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain. Although it tends to keep the growing medium wet, which doesn’t allow for the optimum amount of oxygen in the root system.
The wick system is not the most effective way to garden hydroponically.
The Ebb And Flow System
The ebb and flow hydroponics system is an active recovery type system. The ebb and flow use a submersible pump in the reservoir and the plants are in the upper tray.
They work on a simple flood and drain theory. The reservoir holds the nutrient solution and pump.
When the pump turns on, the nutrient solution is pumped up to the upper tray and deliver to the root system of the plants. the pump should remain on for about 20-30 minutes, which is called a flood cycle.
Once the water is has reached a set level, an overflow pipe or fitting allows the nutrient solution to drain back into the reservoir.
The pump remains on for the entire food cycle. After the flood cycle, the nutrient solution slowly drains back down into the reservoir through the pump.
During the flood cycle, oxygen-poor air is pushed of the root system.
This is by the upward moving nutrient solution. As the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir, oxygen-rich air is pulled into the growing medium.
This allows the roots ample oxygen to maximize their nutrient intake. Rockwool and grow rocks are the most commonly used growing mediums in the ebb and flow type systems.
This method is low maintenance, yet highly effective type of hydroponics gardening.
Nutrient Film Technique
the nutrient film technique or NFT system is an active recovery type hydroponics system. Again, using submersible pumps and reusing nutrient solutions.
NFT uses a reservoir with a submersible pump that pumps the nutrient solution into a grow tube where the roots suspended.
The grow tube is at a slight downward angle to the nutrient solution that runs over the roots and back into the reservoir.
The nutrient solution flows over the roots up to 24 hours per day.
Oxygen is needed in the grow tube so capillary matting or air stones must be used. The plants are held up by a support collar or a grow basket and no growing medium is used.
The NFT system is very effective. Although many novice hydroponics growers find it difficult to fine-tune.
This method can also be very unforgiving, with no growing medium to hold any moisture, any long period of interruption in the nutrient flow can cause the roots to dry out and the plants to suffer and possibly die.
Continuous Drip System
This method is an active recovery or non-recovery type system. This system uses a submersible pump in a reservoir with supply lines going to each plant.
With drip emitter for each plant, the gardener can adjust the amount of solution per plant.
A drip tray under each row of plants, sending the solution back to the reservoir, can easily make this system and active recovery type.
In the early days of hydroponics, the extra solution was leached out into the ground. Continuous drip systems are often used with Rockwool. Although any growing mediums can be used in this system, thanks to the adjustment feature on each individual drip emitter.
Caring for Your Hydroponics Garden
Once you’ve either set up your hydroponic kit or built your own grow system and decided which hydroponic system you will use.
You will need to understand the basic maintenance needed for your Hydroponic system.
You want to make sure you have added hydroponics nutrients to the water reservoir, following the directions on either the Kit or system/brand your using.
There are many available in both liquid and powder form.
Fill the water reservoir with filtered water. Aim for the ideal water temperature for your hydroponics garden is between 65 to 75 degrees F, with a pH level between 5.7 and 6.3.
Keep the water moving the reservoir with a bubbler or pump, and if you have a hydroponic kit or a system like a harvest elite slim from Aerogarden it should do the work for you.
Hydroponics And Greenhouses
You can aim to combine these hydroponics systems with greenhouses, you often see a lot of hydroponics taking place within greenhouse facilities.
We’re seeing a number of hydroponic business owners try their hand and growing great yields utilizing the power of hydroponics and greenhouse systems. Below you will see some greenhouses that I’d recommend you get, for your hydroponic gardening needs.
The RIGA Greenhouse is designed, engineered, and manufactured in Germany by Hoklartherm, a leading manufacturer of commercial and hobby greenhouses, sunrooms, pavilions, pool covers, home additions, and commercial building, with 28 years experience.
he RIGA XL is truly a greenhouse by the European definition of a greenhouse – designed to be used to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers in the middle of winter.
Other “greenhouses” using less than 8 mm twin-wall polycarbonate are considered to be Season Extenders, to be used when only a slight night frost might be expected during the spring or fall season.
At best, they can only be used to house established plants during the winter season.
Hydroponics gardening is the wave of the future. I’ve touched upon the various systems and maintenance involved with Hydroponic garden and hopefully, I’ve piqued your interest.