Hydroponics Gardening

 

Discovered in the 1800's

Plant physiology researchers discovered in the 1800s that plants absorb essential mineral nutrients as inorganic ions in water.  In natural conditions, soil acts as a mineral nutrient reservoir for the plant, but the soil itself is not essential for plant growth. 

When the mineral nutrients in the soil are dissolved in water, plant roots can still absorb them.  When the required mineral nutrients are introduced into a plant's water supply artificially, believe it or not, soil is no longer required for the plant to survive. Almost any plant can be grown this way, but some will do better than others.

 

A Soil-Less System

Coming from the Greek words ‘hydro’ for water, and ‘ponics’ for labor, the word hydroponics in gardening terms specifies a type of gardening where the plants don't have their roots in soil.  This soil-free type of gardening depends entirely on a water based system that is enriched with nutrients.

These nutrients can be in the form of specially formulated chemicals for hydroponics gardening, or they can consist of a variety of natural nutritional ingredients found in nature. The use of either nutrient form is solely dependent upon the gardener.

Since hydroponics gardening is a soil free system, using containers is the easiest method for growing plants.  When using a container, it is filled with a growing medium that is suitable for the plant.  This medium is how the water and nutrients are transferred to the root system.  Hydroponics can also be done without a container.

 

Media

With a little bit of research you can find out much more about growing media.  Here's a quick overview of the most popular ones.

  • Shale - A simple and easy solution for the first time gardener.
  • Diahydro - A natural sedimentary rock medium.  It consists of the fossilised shells of algae.
  • Expanded Clay - Also known as 'hydroton' or 'leca' , trademarked names (light expanded clay aggregate)
  • Rockwool - Made from basalt rock. Pprobably the most widely used medium in Hydroponics.  When this medium is dry, be very careful so you don't inhale any particles.  Doing so may carry a health risk.
  • Coco Coir - A compressed medium created from the husks of coconuts.
  • Perlite - A volcanic rock that has been superheated into very lightweight expanded glass pebbles.  Has similar properties to vermiculite but generally holds more air and less water.
  • Vermiculite - Like perlite.  It has been superheated to expand into light pebbles. Vermiculite holds more water than perlite.
  • Sand - Cheap and easily available. However, it's heavy, holds moisture, and can clog roots and must be sterilized between uses.
  • Gravel - Aquarium gravel is excellent, although any small gravel will work  provided it's washed.  Gravel is inexpensive, easy to keep clean, drains well and won't become waterlogged.  It's also heavy.  If your system doesn't provide continuous water, the roots may dry out.
  • Polystyrene Packing Peanuts - Yep, regular packing peanuts, although you don't want the bio-degradable kind.

 

Hydroponic Systems

There are two main types of hydroponics:
They are Solution Culture Systems and Medium Culture Systems. Solution culture does not use a solid medium for the roots, just the nutrient solution.

I'll briefly list the more well know hydroponic gardening systems below.  Each one is an entire topic in itself and you should plan on doing further research if you'd like to use one of these methods.

  • Static solution culture
    Plants are grown in containers of nutrient solution such as glass Mason jars, plastic buckets, tubs or tanks. The solution is usually aerated but if un-aerated, the solution level is kept low enough so enough of the roots are above the solution so they get adequate oxygen.  A homemade system can be aerated with an aquarium pump
     
  • Continuous flow solution culture
    The nutrient solution constantly flows past the roots of many plants.  Works better for automation than "Static Solution Culture" because adjustments to pH and nutrient concentrations can be made in one large storage tank that serves many plants rather than in many individual containers.
     
  • Aeroponics
    The roots of a plant are suspended in a darkened chamber and periodically covered with a mist or fog of nutrient solution.  No solid medium is used.  Aeroponics is a good method for plants with thick roots such as trees. Thick roots may not get adequate aeration in static or flowing systems.
     
  • Passive sub-irrigation
    The medium generally has large air spaces to allow oxygen to the roots.  Capillary action brings water and nutrients to the roots from the base of the medium.
     
  • Flood and Drain (or Ebb and Flow) Sub-irrigation
    There is a plant tray above a reservoir of nutrient solution.  At regular intervals, a timer causes a pump to fill the upper tray with nutrient solution, after which the solution drains back down into the reservoir.
     
  • Top irrigation
    Nutrient solution is periodically applied to the medium surface.  Usually, it is automated with a pump, timer and drip irrigation tubing.
     
  • Ultrasonic Fogging
    Feeding plants by atomizing water droplets. Producing a thick cloud of fog around the base of the plants root structure.
     
  • Deep Water Culture
    Suspending the plant roots in a solution of nutrient rich, oxygenated water.  Usually contained in a bucket.

 


Before you decide to dive into hydroponics. let me give you a few advantages and disadvantages to consider:

Advantages

  • No soil is required.
  • Soil borne diseases are virtually eliminated.
  • Weeds are eliminated.
  • Generally fewer pesticides are required (because of the above two reasons).
  • Edible crops are not contaminated with soil.
  • Water use can be substantially less than with irrigation of outdoor soil-grown plants.
  • Hydroponics Gardening is often the best plant production method in areas where soil is not available, such as on an apartment balcony.

Disadvantages

  • Usually requires a greater technical knowledge than growing plants in soil (Geoponics).
  • Usually requires extra equipment.
  • Usually requires more frequent maintenance than geoponics.
  • If timers or electric pumps fail or the system clogs or gets a leak, plants can die very quickly.
  • Hydroponics Gardening can make it more expensive to grow plants than with soil-based methods.
  • "Solution culture hydroponics" requires that the plants be supported since the root system has no support without a solid medium.

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