Hyproponics Part I: An Introduction

If you have ever considered hydroponics, this post is intended to give you a general overview of the basic principles involved. There is a lot more to it than what is contained in this post. So if you are truly interest, then there are extensive resources available. However, this post will give you a good idea if this is something you want to attempt.

A brief history of hydroponics

Very simply put, hydroponics is growing plants without soil. This method of cultivation has a long history. Many people believe that growing plants in this manner started in ancient Babylon. This city had an elaborate system of hanging gardens that many people believe was a hydroponic system into which fresh water rich in oxygen and nutrients was regularly pumped.

Why it works

Contrary to popular belief, plants do not actually need soil to grow. The three things that plants need to grow is food, water, and air. Soil simply provides a structure or substrate to support the roots of the plants and provides a means of oxygenation. Water dissolves nutrients into a soluble form which can then be absorbed by the roots of the plants.

In a hydroponics garden, plants are first sprouted and rooted in a medium such as a seed tray. Once the plants are well rooted, they are then anchored in an inert growing medium that provides stability for the roots. Food and nutrients necessary for growth are dissolved in water. Beyond that all that is needed is a method of water delivery to the roots. This can be accomplished by hand watering or using some other method of irrigation.

Advantages of Hydroponics

-Grow plants anywhere: A hydroponics system can virtually be set up anywhere regardless of the type of soil. That is provided you have a source of water.

-Fewer pests: Plant pests are either soil or air borne. Since hydroponics does not use soil, you at least eliminate that possibility. If using a green house, you also have the advantage of introduction beneficial insects and keeping them contained.

-More plants per square foot of growing space. The roots are directly fed which means there is no competition for root space.

-Faster growing time: Since nutrients are provided in proper portions plants grow faster and are more pest resistant.

-Less water usage: Studies have shown that plants grown hydroponically use 90% less water than soil-grown crops. This is because the water is re-circulated most of the time. Water is only lost due to evaporation.

-Greater yield: Roots systems stay smaller and more energy goes into producing plant mass. Harvesting has been show to be 11 times greater with hydroponics rather than conventional soil planting.

-Better control: Hydroponics allows you to monitor and adjust nutrients in the water. Consequently, you have more control over the growing environment.

Disadvantages of Hydroponics

Set up cost: Start cost is higher than soil grown crops. Depending on the system you choose, you may need to purchase a water tank, pump, grow medium, nutrients, and light sources.

Airborne disease: Although soil borne disease are eliminate, airborne disease are not. Because in hydroponics, plants are grown closer together, disease can spread quickly.
Knowledge: There is a learning curve. Although the basic principles are simple you need to know how to run and monitor the system. Getting this right is essential to your success.

More intensive monitoring: Soil grown plants can be left for days. Hydroponic systems need to be monitor regularly, especially if they are active. Mechanical failure means your plants die.

Electricity: Active systems need a source of electricity. Power failures can results in your plants dying very quickly. Depending on your set up, you may need to have a back up source of power such as a generator or solar.

Different Types of Hydroponic Systems

All hydroponic systems have certain characteristics in common. Regardless of the type of system, plants are provided with a anchoring substrate, they are irrigated with a nutrient solution, and provided with proper lighting. It is that simple.

However, each system varies greatly in how they are set up. This is where it can be kept very simple or it can be made complicated and expensive. Whatever system you choose, you must initially take into consideration your available space, time lighting, and budget constraints before purchasing equipment or building a DIY system.

Passive systems

This is the simplest system to start with because it is affordable, uncomplicated, and easy to build yourself. The root tips are either suspended in a stationary system with the main root ball suspended in a net pot or a wicking material is used to draw nutrients up to the roots. Passive systems are better suited for smaller plants.

Active systems

This type of system uses a pump and a timer to irrigate the roots with the nutrient solution and provide the plants with aeration. It costs more to set up but it more efficient. I also requires less attention since the pump and timer do all the work automatically.

Media based systems

These systems are typically active. They utilize ebb-and-flow (flood-and-drain), top-feed ( drip), or bottom-feed in order to irrigate the plants. They rely on a growing medium to support the plants and hold in nutrients. Timers and pumps are used ti alternately wet the growing medium, flush out salts, and provide nutrients. The medium then drains so that the plant roots can draw in atmospheric oxygen.

These systems are super efficient since the water is recycled. However, set up cost is higher and electricity is required.

Water culture systems

These operate without growing medium. Plants are simply anchored in a plank that floats on the water reservoir. This systems is simple and inexpensive to set up. It is great for water loving plants.

Final Comments

I hope that this post has peaked your interest in hydroponics. In the next post, I will give several examples of different hydroponic set ups. And since I live of the grid full time, I will give examples of the best types of systems to use off grid.

Go off grid and live well,


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