Hydroponics How It Works Best
Hydroponic farming is a versatile technique of cultivating plants or growing crops by holding their roots in a water solution using various types of holding mediums instead of soil. The growing medium holds the plant upright while the water solution provides all the necessary nutrients for growth and production.
Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
The water solution is called nutrient solution and contains all the minerals required by the plants in the appropriate proportion. The plants use around 14 different types of minerals besides oxygen, carbon dioxide and sunlight.
Inert medium is used so that it does not interfere with the plant nutrition. The various types of mediums that are used to hold the plants are coco peat or coconut fibre, gravel, rockwool, sponge, clay balls or hydroton or clay pellets, etc. The hydroponic technique produces equal or higher yield in comparison to traditional soil farming.
It is believed that the hydroponic technique has been used by people since ancient times in some way. The hanging gardens of Babylon could be a classic example though it cannot be verified. However William Frederick Gericke has been attributed with the honor of being the one who invented hydroponics cultivation in modern times.
The combination of the words hydro and ponos in the Latin language give the resultant word hydroponics. Hydro is the word for water and ponos is the word for gardening. The result is gardening in water or growing plants in water. This implies that no soil is essential for the activity. However some kind of growing medium or holding medium is required to keep the plants erect.
Importance Of Oxygen
Whatever the medium used for holding the plants it has to be ensured that the roots are partly in water and partly exposed to air. Exposing the plant roots to air is equally important as immersing them in water as without roots getting proper oxygen the plant cannot grow to its potential. In fact plants perform the best in the N.F.T system where the major part of the roots are exposed to air and in which there is only a fine film of flowing water and no accumulation at all.
Methods Hydroponic Farming Home Growers Can Try
Natural And Artificial Hydroponics
One can follow a choice of hydroponic farming techniques. Hydroponic farming can be practiced outdoors in the open or in a hydroponic greenhouse using natural light as well as indoors using artificial lighting system. Farming indoors includes the additional cost of using artificial lights. The grow lights are specially designed for growing plants. Good quality grow lights are found to enhance plant growth as they can be used for longer hours. Plant growth can also be controlled by simulating particular season using artificial lights.
Classification Of Hydroponics
Hydroponic systems can be basically classified into passive systems and active systems. This classification is based on whether additional actions are required or not.
Passive Hydroponics System
In passive systems the nutrient solution remains static and no mechanism is required to make the water flow. However to maintain availability of water with the correct nutrient concentration periodic top ups are necessary.
Active Hydroponics System
In active systems the nutrient solution is periodically made to flow from a water reservoir using pipes and a water pump. The periods are managed using an electronic timer.
There are a number of types in each system. Described below are some of the more popular types of hydroponic systems.
The wick system is a passive system in which plants are grown in containers or trays containing the growing medium. Wicks are used connecting the growing medium and the water in the reservoir. This keeps the growing medium moist thereby providing water and nutrients to the plant roots.
Deep Water Culture System
In deep water culture system (DWC) the cups or netpots containing the holding medium are placed in holes made in a platform. The platform in turn floats in the tank in which required water level is maintained. The plant roots require certain amount of oxygen which is absorbed from the mineral solution. As there is no movement of nutrient solution in the deep water tank the proportion of oxygen decreases gradually. A submersible air pump is used to supplement the used oxygen in the deep water solution. The deep water level height has to be at least a few feet. The initial investment in the deep water culture system is higher as large tanks are required.
Aquaponics system is the technique where the deep water culture system is integrated with fish farming. The deep water culture system can be turned into an aquaponics system if fish growing is carried out separately. The fish water is fed to the hydroponic tanks after a proper breakdown of the chemical compounds. After plants uptake the dissolved minerals the water gets purified which is then fed back to the fish tank. Investment is required in chemical compounds breakdown equipment.
Nutrient Film Technique System
In the nutrient film technique system (N.F.T) the cups or netpots containing the growing media are placed in holes made in a pipe or a conduit. The hydroponic solution is made to flow from the water reservoir into the pipes and back at set intervals. The hydroponic solution only flows in a thin film but does not accumulate in the pipes. This is done using a pump and a simple timer. This gives the plants the necessary supply of nutrients. The air pump is not required as major parts of the roots are exposed to air all the time. Continuous supply of power is a must for this system.
Ebb And Flow System
The ebb and flow system (EFS) is a derivative of the NFT system. Solution is pumped in the pipes holding the plants up to a certain level and then allowed to drain out back into the reservoir. The process is kept on repeating at set intervals using a timer.
Deep Flow System
The deep flow system (DFS) is a derivative of the DWC, NFT and EFS systems. Solution is allowed to accumulate in the pipes holding the plants up to a certain level. Only excess solution drains out back to the tank. A pump is required to circulate the water. Solution circulation even once a day is sufficient and just for around fifteen to twenty minutes. The solution can suffice even for a couple of days in case of power supply problems. Therefore this is the most recommended system for hydroponic home growers.
In the aeroponic system the cups or netpots containing the holding medium are placed in holes in vertical conduit towers. The roots of the plants are hanging in the air all the time. A mist of nutrient solution is sprayed on the roots at set intervals using a pump and a timer. Here again uninterrupted power supply is essential.
In the drip system cups or netpots do not work but larger containers are required to hold the medium. This system is usually used for fruiting plants as their root mass is bigger. The nutrient solution is pumped to the plants using a pump and drip irrigation pipes. The pumping interval is controlled using a simple timer. The reservoir can be placed at a higher level and nutrient solution be made to flow using gravity. The solution gets drained in a sump tank from where it is pumped to the higher reservoir. This can be done using a pump and a timer as well as manually.
Compilation Of Benefits Of Hydroponics
There may be various difficulties but still the benefits of hydroponics farming are remarkable and sustainable cultivation can be done. Some of the benefits of hydroponics growing system are placed before you for your own perusal.
- As there is no need of soil as a medium to grow crops hydroponic farming is feasible in areas that are not conducive to practice traditional farming.
- Places that are arid or infertile are no hindrance to carry out this activity. No worry of weeds, droughts, etc.
Rotation of crops is not required as is necessary in traditional farming to maintain the fertility of the soil.
- Plants can be grown in a nursery for the first few weeks during the vegetative growth and then shifted to the main growing system. Large number of young plants can be accommodated in a small space in the nursery. Space saving means an additional area available for production.
- Immediately after crops are harvested new fairly grown plants can be added to the growing system. As no change over time is required hydroponic plants can be grown round the year batch after batch. This enables large scale plant production.
- Because of the controlled nutrients the root growth is good and therefore plant growth is faster and plants are healthier. Plants do not get stressed out trying to search for normal nutrients like they do in the soil sometimes.
- It has been documented that because of good root growth in hydroponics farming the growth rate is 20% faster and hydroponic plants also deliver 20% to 25% higher yields. Faster growth rate reduces life cycle thereby increasing crop production.
Wider Importance Of Hydroponics
Benefits To Ground
No leaching of fertilizers into the ground as fertilizers used are held in a closed system. Less quantity of fertilizers used reduces the pressure on mining minerals which are mined from the ground.
Maximizing Water Utilization
Use of water efficiency is very high and there is no wastage. In fact plants grown hydroponically require 90% less water than in traditional soil farming.
There is no use of harmful chemical pesticides. This has a tremendous impact on the environment.
Disease And Pest Control
The prospects of diseases originating from the soil or soil borne diseases are completely eliminated. Use of organic pesticides is sufficient to deal with any related problems.
Cost Of Labor
Hydroponic farming requires significantly less labor and it is also less tiresome. More people are willing to do this type of work unlike traditional soil farming.
Marketing And Quality Benefits
Crops can be grown in the vicinity of the market and even in an urban area. The nutritional value of the crop can be maintained as the time between harvest and delivery is reduced.
Other Hydroponic Farming Advantages
Growth And Nutritive Advantages
Plants can be fed with the necessary nutrients in the correct proportion and at the precise time. This preserves the genetic structure giving vigorous growth and best nutritive value. This is very difficult to achieve in soil farming with such high accuracy. In a controlled environment the absorption of balanced nutrients is better than even organic soil farming. Adequate supply of normal nutrients can be controlled at the growth stage and can be changed for grown plants.
Production Output Benefits
The output of crops can be increased even ten times more in a given area as compared to soil farming as vertical farming is possible. In some cases plant growth is twice as fast as compared to traditional farming.
Hydroponic Farming Home Disadvantages
A basic technical knowledge of hydroponic nutrients is required which may be challenging for some farmers to master. Parameters like pH and TDS have to be properly understood. Use of instruments like pH meter and TDS meter is a must adding to the initial investment as well as difficulty.
A daily monitoring of the hydroponic solution is required as well as prompt responses to any changes in the concentrations or pH values. Knowledge of nutrients and how to manage the balance is essential.
Setup Cost Disadvantages
The initial costs of setting up a hydroponic system are very high although they give back the returns in the long run. Uninterrupted power supply is necessary in some of the systems and therefore there is need for investment in power backup equipment.
Disadvantages Using Organic Fertilizers
The recourse to organic fertilizers in hydroponics farming has been arduous as no single fertilizer contains the exact required minerals. Organic fertilizers originate from animal waste and have to be broken down into forms that when dissolved in the water must enable the plants to uptake. Also the danger of disease transmission can be very challenging.
Disadvantages Growing Multiple Crops
The plants select the type of nutrient and its proportion. This selection varies from plant to plant. So if different types of plants are grown in the same system then there can be wide variations in concentrations as well as pH. Maintaining the right combination is a challenge that has to be addressed on a daily basis.
Hydroponics Farming Home Venture
Incentives For Starting
As hydroponic farming can be practiced as a monoculture the grower has more time to focus on marketing strategies. Therefore hydroponic farming is surely a turning point in countering the global shortage in food production. With round the year food production and little worry about soil fertility or weeds or droughts hydroponic farming is here to stay.
Ease Of Getting Inputs
Hydroponic farming is becoming exceedingly popular among the present generation. With hydroponic setup systems and all allied materials being available on online sites things have become very encouraging. So read all the articles in our hydroponics guide completely and get set to start your own hydroponic garden.
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