Hydroponics is a growing industry which involves cultivation of plants and microorganisms under controlled conditions. Hydroponics is not just some fancy word for growing vegetables indoors; it’s actually a whole new way of doing things. Hydroponics allows us to grow food without soil or water, but instead relies on the use of nutrients contained within liquid solutions such as seawater, distilled water, or even urine (which contains urea).
The main advantage of using these liquids over soil is that they are easier to control and produce higher yields. Also, since there is no need for watering, pests do not thrive and diseases cannot spread.
Another benefit of hydroponics is that it does not require any pesticides or herbicides to grow your own food. You only have to worry about keeping the plant healthy so that it grows properly!
What Is A Hydroponic System?
A hydroponic system is basically a set up where you place plants in a nutrient solution. There are several different types of hydroponic systems, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Some hydroponic systems rely solely on one type of liquid while others utilize other ingredients like salts, sugar cubes, or even coffee grounds. Each type of system requires different equipment and expertise to operate correctly.
There are two basic types of hydroponics setups: aeroponics and soilless. A hydroponic system can either be open or closed loop.
Open loop systems have their nutrient solutions continuously flowing through the system where as closed loop systems do not.
Aeroponics is a type of hydroponics in which the plant roots are misted with a nutrient solution instead of being placed in a container of it. The plant’s roots dangle freely in the air and are constantly sprayed with a nutrient-rich mist.
There is no medium like perlite, vermiculite, or gravel, but the roots do eventually become laden with water and nutrients.
Soilless growing usually involves the use of a growing medium. In fact, soilless is hydroponics without the use of soil, which makes up a very small portion of this type of growing system.
A soilless mixture is essentially a sterile growing medium that holds the plant in place and allows it to access nutrients and water. The most common growing mediums are expanded clay pellets, perlite, vermiculite, sand, gravel, and coconut coir. Other mediums include wood chips, paper pulp, and sawdust.
There are two types of soilless systems: wick systems and flooded systems. A wick system uses a cotton wick to transfer the nutrient solution from a container to the plants’ roots.
Flooded systems submerge the roots in a container of liquid nutrients.
Semi-hydroponics is a combination of hydro and soil. It’s a method of growing where most of the roots are in soil but some are still in a hydroponic solution.
The advantage to this is you get the best of both worlds; an explosive vegetative growth phase from the soil along with a strong root system from the hydroponics.
Hydroponics is sometimes used in aquaculture where the solution also contains water from fish tanks, this creates an artificial wetland to grow on.
All hydroponic systems require sunlight for the plants to grow so it’s best if you choose a site that will get adequate sun throughout most of the day. You can use specialized lighting systems like high-pressure sodium lights, cob lights, or LED lights to supplement natural light but it must be strong enough to allow plant growth.
Why Use A Hydroponic System?
There are several benefits to using hydroponics over the traditional soil growing method. One of the biggest advantages is that you don’t have to deal with bugs and pests because there is no soil for them to live in. Even if they do appear, they can be easily eliminated as they have no place to hide and breed.
Fertilizer is easily available and can be used to great effect with hydroponics. If you’re smart about how you mix and apply them, you can give the plants exactly what they need without creating a nasty side effects.
For example, you can easily increase the potassium level in your system without affecting the sodium level. This allows you to give the plants a growth boost without worrying about burning them up or damaging their leaves.
The biggest benefit of hydroponics is that it enables you to grow leafy vegetables all year round! There’s no need to worry about the seasons or wait for the soil to warm up before planting.
This gives you an almost endless growing season and practically eliminates food shortages.
The main disadvantage of hydroponics is cost. It can be very expensive to set up a system, especially if you don’t put a lot of thought into it and just buy a cheap, unefficient system.
It’s best to create a hydroponic system that is specialized for your needs. This guide will give you all the information you need to pick out the right system for you.
How Do I Get Started?
Once you’ve settled on a location and have built your hydroponic system, you’re ready to start planting! First, let’s talk about soil because hydroponics isn’t soil and many of the rules that apply to soil don’t apply to hydroponics.
Different types of plants prefer different types of soil. Some like acidic soil, some like basic soil, and some like neutral soil.
Some plants like sand, some like clay, and some don’t care as long as they’re not being eaten by insects or rotting from too much water.
Hydroponics is different in that all the plants need are nutrients, these can come in the form of water-soluble chemicals (hydroponics) or slow release minerals (potting soil). Regardless of what the plants are growing in, they still need a few basic things to grow:
Water – This is pretty obvious, it’s recommended that you check daily and throughout the day to ensure the plants never dry out.
Light – Sunlight is best but bright electric light will do. Some plants need only shade while others require full sunlight.
Read up on the specific plants that you’re going to grow so you can place them in the right area.
Nutrients – Plants take in nutrients through their roots. The right amount of nutrients will ensure the healthiest plant and the right amount of growth.
Space – All plants require space to grow. If you don’t give them any space, they’ll eventually begin to suffer and die.
Even plants in small pots need at least a few inches of space around them or they will become cramped and sickly.
Soil or hydroponics, the same rules apply to both. While hydroponics does away with soil and replaces it with a special chemical solution that contains all the nutrients the plant needs, it doesn’t do away with the other requirements.
As long as you keep these in mind, you shouldn’t have any problems but if you start having problems such as browning leaves or poor growth, take a look at your lighting set up.
Are the plants in too much shade?
Perhaps you need to raise the lights or get stronger lights. Perhaps the plants need more light or they’re going to become malnourished regardless of how much water and nutrients they receive.
Lighting is very important when it comes to your hydroponic garden. Without proper lighting, your plants are going to become weak and die.
With proper lighting, your plants have a better chance of thriving and growing to their maximum potential.
The Right Kind Of Bulbs
Not all light bulbs are alike. Different bulbs provide different wavelengths of light and some are better suited to the plant you want to grow than others.
It’s recommended that you choose a bulb that is best suited to the type of plant you want to grow.
Cool White – This gives an equal blend of all wavelengths of light but isn’t the best for growing plants. It’s good for flowering plants, though.
Warm White – Gives a little more red than cool white and is the best all-around light bulb for growing plants. It gives an equal blend of all wavelengths of light but red is emphasized more than blue or orange.
Gro-Lux – Gives a much higher concentration of orange and red and less green and blue. This means more flowering but poor growth.
Sodium – Gives a good concentration of blue and is best for growing aquatic plants.
Metal Halide – Gives a high concentration of yellow and blue and is best for growing plants under strong light. It’s also good for flowering plants, though.
High Pressure Sodium – Gives a high concentration of red and orange but little green and blue. This means it’s great for flowering (as long as the temperature doesn’t get too hot) but poor for growth.
Choosing Your Bulbs
When choosing a bulb for your hydroponic garden, it’s important to choose the right one because plants can only thrive under the right lighting.
Most plants need equal parts of red, blue and green but some plants do better with more or less of a certain color. To be on the safe side, it’s better to choose a bulb that gives an equal amount of all colors rather than trying to get precise with it.
It’s better to have more options rather than less.
Using Incandescent Or Fluorescent
Most people choose either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs for their hydroponic gardens. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.
It really just depends on your garden and the specific needs of the plants within it.
Incandescent – These are the classic light bulbs that have been around for decades. They provide a nice warm glow and are effective at growing most types of plants.
Fluorescent – These light bulbs are more specialized for growing plants. They provide better quality light than incandescent and are able to produce better growth, especially when it comes to leafy greens.
Some people claim that they help flowers to grow as well but this has not been proven.
Using Halide Lamps
There are some types of hydroponic gardeners that prefer to use horticulture halide lamps. Typically, these are more expensive to use and require special equipment to regulate the temperature (such as a reflector) but they have some benefits as well.
These lights provide a wide range of wavelengths that plants need to thrive. This means that your plants will grow faster and larger than they would under any other type of light.
If you want to grow fast-growing plants (such as strawberries), a horticulture haloide lamp is the way to go. Be aware, however, that these types of lights require special equipment and can be dangerous if not handled properly.
Make sure you follow all safety instructions when using these types of bulbs.
LED stands for light emitting diodes. These are quickly becoming the bulb of choice for hydroponic gardeners.
They are long-lasting, low-energy bulbs that provide a strong concentration of blue and red light. This means that your plants will grow larger than they would under any other type of bulb.
These types of bulbs also have the added benefit of using less power. If you’re trying to save money (or run your hydroponic garden off-grid) then this is the best option for you.
Like halide lights, these also require some specialized equipment to protect you and the plants (such as a reflector) but it’s well worth it because of how effective they are.
Setting Up Your Lighting System
Once you’ve chosen your lighting system, it’s time to get started. Before you can start your lighting system, you’re going to need to set up your grow lights properly.
There are many different types of grow lights; some come with their own stands and hardware, some require you to set it up yourself. No matter what system you have, however, setting up your lighting system is fairly easy if you follow these steps:
Find a support structure – This could be anything from a simple metal stand to a wooden 2×4 that you screw your light into at the top and bottom.
Sources & references used in this article:
How-to hydroponics by K Roberto – 2003 – books.google.com
Smart system for bicarbonate control in irrigation for hydroponic precision farming by C Cambra, S Sendra, J Lloret, R Lacuesta – Sensors, 2018 – mdpi.com
Hydroponics: indoor horticulture by J Winterborne – 2005 – books.google.com
Energy demand analysis via small scale hydroponic systems in suburban areas–An integrated energy-food nexus solution by GA Xydis, S Liaros, K Botsis – Science of the total environment, 2017 – Elsevier