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Hydroponic plant growing is an innovative growing technique whereby plants are grown in a sheltered space (greenhouses), without soil and solely in water, allowing plants to be grown year-round. It is a method that prevents the effects of cultivation on poor quality soil. In this case, there is no need for soil sterilization and rotation. Planted plants do not come into contact with pests and diseases, so less money is spent on protective equipment, and more care is taken around the environment, which is especially emphasized in a closed system where excess nutrient solution is collected in a container and reused.
Hydroponics, or soilless culture, is actually the art of growing plants. The word hydroponics comes from the Greek words hydro meaning water and pride meaning working.
Hydroponic cultivation was first realized in 1930 at Berkeley University in California but was recorded far earlier in Babylonian gardens where plants were grown on water.
The basis of hydroponic cultivation is the cultivation of plants in water, during which the roots are laid in a solution of nutrients that is responsible for the growth of the plant. Oxygen must always be present in the solution. When the root receives a nutrient solution, it absorbs oxygen and nutrients very quickly, which affects the growth of the plant.
In hydroponic farming there is a difference in the system of irrigation, that is, moistening of the substrate, and in view of this they are divided into:
- Open systems (drain to waste) – The nutrient solution is used only once, and after moistening the substrate, it runs out
- Closed systems – The nutrient solution circulates in a closed system and is recycled. After irrigation, it returns to the troughs where it is controlled and water and nutrients are added as needed. These systems are the most affordable because they are economical and environmentally friendly, saving up to 70 percent of water
The largest leader in hydroponic farming is the Netherlands, followed by Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, and the United States.
How to Start Hydroponic Growing
What plants grow best hydroponically?
Hydroponic cultivation most often grows tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, spinach, cabbage, chicory, beans, young potatoes, asparagus, leeks, eggplant, carrots, and other vegetable crops.
What is obtained by hydroponics?
It is added in a controlled manner to the needs of the crop and thus consumes less water and nutrients, and plant growth is better and faster. Soil cultivation and human labor costs are reduced. Crops can be grown in areas where cultivation is otherwise restricted due to soil.
Types of hydroponic farming
There are six basic types of hydroponic farming. The difference is that some use a solid substrate and some do not. The substrate should be sterile, nutrient-free, porous, in the form of oxygen, and at the same time, it should retain and release water or nutrient solution. In this case, the most commonly used substrate is coconut fibers, rock wool, volcanic sand, and others.
Capillary hydroponic cultivation (Wick Systems)
Capillary hydroponic (Wick Systems) farming is a passive way of growing plants and one of the simplest and most used hydroponic systems. In this case, the great advantage is that multiple substrate types can be used, and the nutrient solution is drawn from the reservoir over rocks. It is not recommended when growing plants that need large amounts of water and need more nutrient solution than the rock can supply.
For this reason, capillary hydroponic cultivation is recommended solely for long and slow-growing plants such as flowers grown in pots.
Low and high tide system (Ebb and Flow)
The low and high tide system (Ebb and Flow) operates on the principle of intervals during which it soaks the growing vessels with nutrient solutions and then takes them back to the tank. The process is performed by a pump which must be connected to the control clock. The clock is pre-set so that the process is performed several times a day, depending on the type of plant, its size, substrate, humidity, and temperature. When the clock is plugged in, the nutrient solution is pumped into the growing vessel, and when it is turned off, the solution returns to the tank by free fall.
One of the major disadvantages of this system is that the root and the substrate can be easily drained. Namely, if the water cycle is interrupted and the needs are not met, the root will dry up. The problem can be solved if a substrate that can hold more water is used, which is one in the form of rock wool, coconut fibers and vermiculite.
The aquatic culture system includes a water pool where plants are grown by floating on a styrofoam substrate. During this cultivation, the root of the plant is completely in water. This cultivation system is impossible without an air pump that is used to dissipate oxygen through the water and thus give the plant roots oxygen without which the plant would die. In addition to supplying the plant with oxygen, the air pump also mixes nutrients in the water.
This type of cultivation is ideal for growing seedlings in containers. It is recommended for growing lettuce and all those plants that love water and grow quickly. Avoid it when growing plants with long vegetation.
Aeroponic farming is one of the highest quality of hydroponic farming. The substrate for growth is in the form of oxygen, the root of the plant hangs in the air and bathes in a trough in which a mist of nutrients is dispersed every few minutes. Because large quantities of oxygen are dispersed, the roots absorb the nutrients more easily and the plants grow 50 percent faster than when grown with a substrate.
Stem holders are required for this cultivation because the plants cannot be rooted. In addition, opaque troughs should be provided as the roots do not grow in the light. In aeroponic farming, the big advantage is that it is easier to move and clean. Just wash and disinfect the troughs.
Nutrient film technique or NFT
The nutrient film technique or NFT is one of the best hydroponic growing methods. It was developed in England in the 70s and works on the principle of a tank with nutrients and water. The tank contains a water and air spray pump that flows constantly and very slowly along the plastic pipes into the water supply system, where there are plants that have been placed in potholes. Air is a major factor in plant growth, with what little hydro-substrate is in the pots.
During this cultivation, the root must constantly hang from the pot and be in contact with nutrients and water. The nutrient solution is enriched with oxygen that flows along the entire tube, returns to the tank and goes back into the circle and is recycled at the same time.
Digging or Drip hydroponic system
Digging or Drip system is one of the most used systems in the whole world. The system operates on the principle of an underwater pump through which a nutrient solution is drained to each plant via a small dropper tube. In closed systems, the excess nutrient solution is returned to the container and can be reused until the nutrient solution is taken up in open systems.
Hydroponic cultivation substrate
Plants are grown on inert and chemical non-reactive substrates, and the most commonly used are:
- granite pebbles
- mineral wool
Mineral wool and perlite are usually used as they are considered as the best substrates for this production method. Specifically, mineral wool is completely sterile and does not react with any nutrient solution. It contains no harmful substances and microorganisms.
Hydroponic cultivation uses water-soluble fertilizers that are brought to the plant by a drop-by-drop system. During this process, it is important to take into account the humidity of the air, which must be optimal in order to avoid the onset of disease and the appropriate temperature that varies for each plant. To best cope with the optimum temperature and humidity, it is recommended that windows be installed to allow the plants to ventilate regularly.
Preparation of a facility for hydroponic production
To begin with, it is necessary to level the surface indoors. After that, place the black-and-white foil by turning the white foil toward the sun and black toward the ground, marking the rows and installing the heating pipes. Then the supports for the billets in which the substrate is placed can also be installed. Most often it is mineral wool. Usually, there are four cubes with a substrate in one billet. Each cube must have a dropper through which the plant is supplied with the water and nutrients it needs for growth and development.
Hydroponic farming equipment
The principle of all hydro-cultural systems is the same. The plants grow in a pot intended for hydroponic cultivation, which is filled with clay balls and into which a device for measuring the water level is placed. The pot for growing plants in water is in a hydrophone with a liquid nutrient solution.
The clay can be obtained in granules of 0.08 to 0.6 inches in size, and it behaves in a chemical-neutral manner and contains numerous pores that are filled with air and which guarantee good air and water supply.
The container for hydroponic cultivation of plants is made of artificial material, and there are slits at the bottom and sides to allow sufficient nutrient solution and oxygen to reach the roots. Various materials are suitable for this container which will satisfy the requirements of absolute tightness, ease of handling, beauty and of course stability.
On sale can be found pots of ceramics, wood or metal, which in certain circumstances will not transfer ingredients into the nutrient solution that could harm the plant.
This type of cultivation also requires a device that shows the water status. It consists of a plastic tube that has a built-in float.
The following are simple instructions for the easy growing of plants in water, as well as a list of plants that can be grown in this way – without too much investment.
Hydroponic vegetable growing
You can grow garlic in the water, and it is enough to place the garlic head in a glass with some water. After a while, green shoots will start to grow. These shoots are edible and you can add them to salads.
Chinese cabbage can also be grown this way. Put the cabbage in a shallow bowl of water, and over time, new Chinese cabbage leaves will grow from its bottom.
To grow young onions in water all you have to do is put the onions in a glass of water.
Carrots are grown in water so that the tops of the carrots with leaves are laid in a shallow bowl of water. The carrots will soon start to make new leaves that will also be edible, which can be mixed with honey or added to salads.
It is necessary to place shoots about two inches long in water for leeks.
Hydroponic cultivation of flowers and herbs
Mint is a spicy herb that is very easy to grow and is great for brewing tea, cake cream or various sauces. Its roots are enough to immerse in a glass of water and monitor its growth.
Basil can be grown in the same way, while rosemary needs a few twigs of it to be placed in water in which small roots will emerge after a while, which will start to grow significantly. You can then transplant the rosemary into well-drained soil, if desired.
Tulips are not only flowers that will adorn your garden, you can put their bulbs in a deeper vase with a small amount of water and they will bloom after a while.
Water hyacinths will easily grow without soil and provide beautiful flowers, and can also be placed in an aquarium. You can put hyacinth bulbs in a vase that is filled with smaller stones and water, and they need to be provided with enough light to help them grow. The same method can be applied to amaryllis, and stones are needed to keep the bulb stable.
Although the papyrus looks like a fragile and thin palm tree, it does not need soil but only water to grow. It is best to place it in a tall vase and maintain a constant water level.
A low bulrush is also suitable for this type of cultivation. It is named after leaves that resemble a wire that conducts light. It can be easily grown in a glass of water and will look great in a vase as well. If its bottom is wrapped in a small plastic tube, it may look like a miniature palm tree.
There are also several types of bamboo that can be grown at home, and since they grow quite quickly, they need a tall vase and water.
The plant known as devil’s ivy usually grows in jars with soil, but it can also be grown in water. It was given this name because it is almost impossible to get rid of, and it can have a green color even if stored in a dark place, which is why it is often used as decoration.
Although Chinese evergreen is not an aquatic plant, it can be grown in water, but in that case, it will grow more slowly.
If you travel frequently and stay away from home and have not been lucky enough to grow plants in the ground and pots because you have not regularly watered and maintained them, then growing plants in water might be the ideal choice for you, since all you need to do is change or replenish water.
Is hydroponic growing faster than soil?
For you who were wondering if hydroponic growing is faster then standard growing in soil, I have good news for you, it really is faster.
Crops grow about twice as fast in hydroponic gardens, and also, they use about 20% less space for about double the production.
Advantages and disadvantages of hydroponic farming
One of the biggest advantages of hydroponic farming is that the whole process is controlled, or according to the needs of certain crops. Thus, fewer nutrients and water are needed to grow the plants, and progress is faster and better. Savings are also achieved in human labor because there is no need for tillage as in conventional cultivation. The great advantage is that crops can also be grown in areas where cultivation is otherwise restricted due to lack of land.
The plants are grown in a healthy, unpolluted environment on fully sterile media. All this ultimately yields higher yields as pests and diseases are reduced. The roots of hydroponic-grown plants are more developed, as are its above-ground, edible parts.
Although all systems of hydroponic cultivation have great advantages, they still need to be aware of the possible disadvantages that can be detrimental to plant cultivation. Namely, the key factor in hydroponic farming is exclusively human. Without his knowledge, this method of growing plants is not possible.
If you want to grow plants by hydroponic farming, you are responsible for the water and the food it takes. Their proper way of dosing and adding nutrients and other supplements require great precision and lots of knowledge. In addition, expensive equipment required for cultivation (heating system, irrigation system, water-soluble fertilizers, construction, etc.) should be invested in prior to production.
Prior to any method of cultivation, including hydroponic cultivation, it is necessary to be well acquainted with the plant we are growing in order to prevent the possible undesirable effects that can lead to major problems in this extremely costly production. Also, it is important to emphasize that plants grown on soil cannot be transplanted onto the substrate because of pathogens, but there is a possibility that those grown on sterile soil are transplanted to soil.