Amid all the discussions about plant nutrients, grow room environment management and propagation techniques, one essential aspect of hydroponic growing can get lost. But ...
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics quite simply is a method of growing plants without soil, using nutrients dissolved in water. Its literal meaning descends from Greek and translates into "working water".
The process of growing in water has been around for roughly 2000 years but wasn’t widely used until hydroponics and plastic were introduced.
If you break hydroponics systems into 2 main categories, “Passive” and “Active“, hydroponics becomes easier to understand.
In a passive setup the plant is grown in a soil free medium, Coco or Compost for example. The main roots reach down to the nutrients solution and draw from this supply for the rest of the plant. There are no active parts and the plant does the work - Passive.
This type of growing is generally the easiest and cheapest to implement. The medium acts as a buffer between the roots and the nutrient solution, ensuring the perfect balance.
An Active setup requires the user to interact. These systems need to be monitored to keep the balance of pH and EC correct. pH is the measurement of acidity or alkalinity; Ideal levels being between 5.7 and 6.3. The second measurement is EC is the measurement of dissolved nutrient in the solution, plants require a different level of nutrients depending on age and type.
It was discovered a couple of hundred years ago that plants absorb the required minerals as ions in water, soil simply acts as storage. Nutrients dissolve in water enabling their speedy uptake.
When the medium is replaced with nutrient enriched water, the plant (in almost all cases) will go on to thrive.
Huge amounts of money have been invested into research and development of hydroponics systems and techniques. This is now being utilised around the world for the cultivation of food and medicinal crops.
Just a few of the benefits include:
• Reduced space requirements for generally healthier, larger plants - 25% more plants in identical spaces.
• Water is cycled through the system ensuring minimal or no wastage - up to 90% less.
• Full control of environmental factors and nutrient levels.
• Each system can be tailored to a specific plant type to maximise yield and in some cases, shorten the timescale by 50%.
• Plant disease is harder to contract and easier to eradicate due to complete containment.
The application of hydroponics and its future.
Hydroponic gardening is starting to find its place in the world. It's been adopted by many commercial crop cultivators and is currently the fastest growing sector in agriculture.
In Spain, hydroponics has been utilised for over 20 years to grow all year round in an arid, inhospitable environment with exceptional results. Reclaiming some of the ever growing desert and giving hope to all hostile environments.
Similar schemes have been set up in Dubai, Israel and most recently Australia with the same high level of results. Hydroponics technology is increasingly being paired with free solar energy lessening its impact even further.
Where land is at a premium, vertical hydroponic systems have started to offer a better option. As the name suggests, vertical systems sit on a smaller footprint and make use of available height, either by utilising the sun or with vertical/central lighting, shorter plants are arranged and generally moved by conveyor to ensure equal light exposure.
You may remember, if you are/were a fan, hydroponics was used on "Star Trek". A number of the "Enterprise" ships throughout various series had a hydroponics bay for production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
NASA has also spent a considerable amount of time and money researching hydroponics. The possibility of lengthened space travel and potential colonisation of the moon and later Mars, may hinge on the application of Hydroponic growing systems. Not only will they supply food but also renew oxygen levels.
There are a range of hydroponics systems available with different benefits for every situation or requirement.