Are you ready to use hydroponic farming to bring your farm into the 22nd century?
Even though this method was created in the early 1940s, the idea of growing anything without soil is still a concept that blows people’s minds.
Let’s take a look at this farming method that’ll have you questioning everything you once learned in biology class.
Here are the top things you should know.
1. What is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponics is a method by which you skip the soil in farming and sub in a different material to support the roots of the plant.
This allows you to grow crops directly in nutrient-rich water.
There are a variety of approaches to hydroponic systems, and we’ll talk about the various types in the coming sections.
However, the core elements of hydroponic farming are the same.
Here is what you’ll need.
You’ll need high-quality, fresh, filtered water with a balanced pH.
Most plants like water with a pH of around 6 to 6.5.
If the pH of your water is off, you can adjust the acidity using an over-the-counter solution found at your local hardware or gardening store.
Your plants will need oxygen and making sure they get it in a hydroponic setup can be challenging.
In traditional farming, roots can get oxygen for respiration from pockets of air in the soil.
In hydroponic farming, you’ll either need to leave space between the base of your plant and the water reservoir or you’ll need to oxygenate your container.
You won’t have plants grown in soil in hydroponic farming, but your roots will need something to hold onto.
You may consider vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, coconut fiber, and rockwool.
Just make sure you stay away from materials that might compact (i.e. sand) or that don’t retain any moisture (i.e. gravel).
Your plant will need nutrients to stay healthy.
When you’re growing plants without soil, the nutrients must be included in the water that’s feeding your plants.
Make sure any mix or nutrient solution you purchase included magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, etc.
If you’re hydroponic farming indoors, invest in special lighting to ensure proper growth.
Often, the lighting requirements will vary, so there may be some trial and error involved.
2. Why grow without soil?
The thought of growing plants without soil is a major shift from traditional farming methods.
Yet, there are so many reasons to do it.
Once you learn these, you’ll understand this revolutionary approach much better.
The ability to grow anywhere (especially with climate change wreaking havoc on the planet) is a major advantage.
Growing seasons and regions are currently unstable because temperatures and growing conditions are changing.
Plus, even in areas where the conditions are considered “normal” the ground may not be considered conducive for farming.
For instance, degraded land, a desert, concrete jungle, etc.
Hydroponic farming opens up the ability to create hyper-local food systems instead of shipping fruit and vegetables from a distance.
These container farms can be set up right in the communities and regions that they serve.
Theoretically, you could even create a hydroponic farm right behind a restaurant that needs fresh produce.
Pretty cool, huh?
Hydroponic farms actually use less water and no pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
So, with this method, you not only eliminate the need for soil but other “necessary” materials in traditional farming as well.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t keep your plants alive when your neighbor has no problem?
What factor in your situation is affecting your garden?
In all honesty, it’s impossible to know.
It could be the soil, a pest, your water, or a whole number of other things.
However, when you have a hydroponic farm, you’ll know exactly what conditions your plants are being grown in, and you’ll be able to isolate those variables to experiment if something goes wrong.
All you need to do is find the perfect formula of light, pH, and nutrients, and then you can replicate this success time and time again!
3. How does hydroponics work?
Hydroponic systems work by allowing control over all environmental conditions, like temperature and pH balance.
This maximizes exposure to nutrients and water.
The system operates under the principle that all you need to do to ensure success is provide plants exactly what they need when they need it.
As a result, in these systems, hydroponics administer nutrient solutions that are tailored to the needs of the particular plant being grown.
You can also adjust how much light the plant receives and for how long.
PH is another factor that is adjusted in a hydroponic setup.
When all these elements align, plant growth accelerates.
4. What are the types of hydroponics systems?
There are multiple techniques that you can use under the hydroponics umbrella that can help provide nutrients to your plants.
Here are the six methods below:
Deepwater Culture is also known as the reservoir method.
It is thought to be the easiest method of running hydroponics.
In this system, the roots are suspended directly inside the nutrient solution and growers use an aquarium pump to oxygenate the solution, so the plants don’t drown.
Nutrient Film Technique
This is a method that runs a continuous flow of nutrient solution over the plants’ roots and depends on the absorption of oxygen from the air.
For proper execution, the plants must be grown on a slight tilt that allows the solution to flow downwards.
While it is a high-maintenance approach, the increased growth rate is worth it!
In this method, the roots of the plants are suspended in the air, and then they are misted with the solution.
The best way to mist the roots is by using a pond fogger or a fine spray nozzle.
This helps to promote growth.
This method is thought to be the simplest and most cost-efficient hydroponics method.
The plant and reservoir of a nutrient solution are connected by the wick, which slowly feeds the plant over time.
Absorbent materials like cotton are the most common medium, and it helps to slowly move both water and nutrients to the plant.
Ebb & Flow
This system is also known as a Flood and Drain System.
It requires the flooding of a growing area at specific intervals based on a timer.
In between the flooding, the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir.
Ebb & Flow is considered to be an intermediate-level technique, and it doesn’t require much water if that’s a limiting factor.
The Drip System is a slow feed system in which a nutrient solution is distributed to the hydroponics medium using a slow-draining tool (i.e. rock wool, coconut coir, or peat moss).
5. What are the benefits of hydroponic farming?
Even if it’s a new process to most people, the benefits of hydroponic farming give it a distinct advantage over traditional methods.
Traditional farming often has concerns about soil erosion, massive water consumption, and food-borne illness breakouts.
Hydroponic farming solves many of these concerns because of its soil-less and water-based method.
In this section, we’ll present 10 benefits of hydroponic farming.
Hydroponic farming saves space
In traditional farming, plants are spread out so they can find water and nutrients to grow.
However, because hydroponic systems deliver the nutrients and water right to the plants, their roots don’t need to spread out.
Thus, these systems can grow more plants in the same amount of space.
You can even practice vertical farming to further increase your output per square foot.
Hydroponic farming conserves water
Farm fields account for 80 percent of the U.S.’s water use.
So much of the water is lost during farming because it evaporates, rolls away, puddles, etc.
This ultimately results in a lot of waste!
Hydroponic systems are able to use about 10 times less water (even though it’s water-based) because it’s delivered in a controlled way.
Additionally, some hydroponic systems are even able to recirculate water, which helps to further reduce water waste.
Hydroponic farming utilizes fewer chemicals
Although hydroponic farming doesn’t eradicate pest issues, it can lower their potential.
As a result, you’ll likely need to use fewer pesticides and herbicides.
Hydroponic farming promotes faster growth
Hydroponic systems grow 30 to 50 percent faster than soil systems.
This is because they receive an ideal amount of nutrients and (if grown indoors) are less likely to be put under environmental stress.
Hydroponic farming supports nutrition control
Because farmers can mix in nutrients through the water, hydroponic farming allows greater control over the nutrients that crops soak up.
As long as you do your research and include the right measurements, your crops will receive everything they need to grow right from their water.
Hydroponic farming allows growth indoors
With hydroponic farming, you’re able to grow indoors as well as outdoors.
This feature comes with its own benefits, including temperature and climate control, year-round growing, and fewer pests.
You’ll typically see hydroponic farms indoors for the ideal climate control it offers as well as the near-perfect growing conditions.
Hydroponic farming produces healthier plants
Plants grow healthier in hydroponic farms than in soil because there aren’t any soil-borne diseases.
Additionally, because plants do not need to exert their energy on spreading out their roots to find nutrients, they can spend more effort on growing.
Hydroponic farming harvests bigger yields
More plants can be grown in smaller spaces with hydroponic farming.
As a result, these systems typically yield more.
Additionally, the plants in hydroponic farms are often healthier and grow faster.
Finally, the ability to grow indoors means that year-round growing is possible.
Hydroponic farming avoids soil erosion
One of the biggest strikes against traditional farming is soil erosion.
In fact, field agricultural practices have eroded half of the soil on Earth in the last 150 years.
This occurrence has greatly decreased the availability of arable land.
Fortunately, hydroponic farms don’t use soil, which means no soil erosion.
No soil means no soil erosion — plain and simple.
Hydroponic farming means no weeds
Hydroponic farms are not habitable for the seeds of weeds.
As a result, since the seeds can’t start germinating, you won’t have to worry about weeds taking root and taking your crops’ nutrients.
6. What are the components of a hydroponics system?
To create a flourishing hydroponic system, you’ll need a few integral components.
Hydroponic plants should be grown in inert media that support the plant’s weight and anchor its root structure.
This is a substitute for soil, but it doesn’t provide any nutritional value to the plant.
Rather, the growing media will help retain moisture and nutrients from the nutrient solution and then deliver it to the plant.
You can find this both online or at local nurseries or gardening stores.
Air stones and air pumps
Did you know plants can drown if the water is not sufficiently aerated?
Air stones disperse tiny bubbles of dissolved oxygen throughout the nutrient solution reservoir.
These bubbles help to evenly distribute the dissolved nutrients in the solution.
Note: Air stones don’t generate oxygen on their own, and they will need to be attached to an external air pump via opaque plastic tubing.
Net pots are mesh planters that hold hydroponic plants.
The pots have a latticed material that allows roots to grow out of the sides and bottom of the pot.
This ultimately provides greater exposure to oxygen and nutrients.
You’ll also enjoy better drainage with net pots.
7. What can be grown hydroponically?
Here are some of the best plants to grow through hydroponic farming:
Lettuce (and other leafy greens) (pH 6.0 to 7.0)
Strawberries (pH 5.5 to 6.2)
Spinach (pH 6.0 to 7.5)
Bell peppers (pH 6.0 to 6.5)
Cherry tomatoes (pH 5.5 to 6.5)
8. What cannot be grown hydroponically?
While most plants can be grown hydroponically, not all plants should be.
The following list includes what should not be grown hydroponically.
This will allow you to make the best use of your resources, including time and space.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Large root vegetables
9. What are the problems with hydroponic farming?
Hydroponic farming isn’t the best for all vegetables.
The setup and creation of a hydroponic system can be highly time-consuming, and there are a few key mistakes that beginners can make.
Here’s what you should know.
Don’t ignore pH
Plants are susceptible to changing levels of pH.
If the pH of the plants in your hydroponic farm isn’t balanced, then it can cause nutrient deficiencies or even the death of your plants.
This is a crucial factor that you’ll need to monitor with hydroponic farming.
Hydroponic farms can be created inside, but that doesn’t mean that indoor lighting is enough to sustain them.
Make sure you invest in quality equipment — including high-quality light bulbs.
These will help your plants to thrive.
Don’t forget to sanitize
Your hydroponic farming setup isn’t self-sustaining once you set it up.
You’ll need to spend time disinfecting your garden to prevent diseases and pests.
For example, you’ll need to disinfect the reservoir before switching the nutrient-rich solution.
Make a list of all the critical sanitary tasks, so you can keep your plants growing strong!
Keep an eye out for new technology
This type of technology is still new and developing.
While the fundamentals of hydroponic farming won’t change, there may be new improvements.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for technology that can improve your experience!
Our world is currently fighting climate change and food insecurity.
Is the answer as simple as hydroponic farming?
In all honesty, it might be.
This method has the ability to produce a greater quantity of higher quality, sustainable, and safer produce.
If you’re looking for a new farming method, this one is at your fingertips.
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