Hydroponic growing is the process of growing crops without soil. It is a method that has come into use in modern times due to extremely depleted soils on some agricultural lands and conserving water by recirculating it within hydroponic growing systems. In many cases, hydroponics can be used for both industrial applications and personal purposes. For example, a garden grown with hydroponics can provide fresh vegetables for a household year-round.
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The Basics of Hydroponics
Hydroponic systems are made up of three main components: the growing tray or bed, the nutrient solution, and the grow lights. The grow beds contain either soil or an inert medium such as sand through which the plant’s roots are suspended. The medium can be inert to prevent the plant’s roots from becoming contaminated by unwanted elements.
The nutrient solution is made up of water or other liquids that have been enriched with essential nutrients to help the plant grow. Plants need 16 different nutrients for healthy growth, but most commercial fertilizers are designed for use in soil and do not contain all 16 nutrients. This is why hydroponic fertilizers are specially designed to provide all of the essential ingredients that plants need to grow and thrive, according to Progrow, a UK hydroponics supplier.
The grow lights are usually specialized fluorescent tubes or LED lights that emit a specific spectrum of light energy and the wavelengths needed for photosynthesis. Most plants require at least 12 hours of light every day to flourish, so most growers set up their hydroponic systems with lights that are on for 12 hours and off for 12 hours.
Systems of Growing Hydroponically
There are many ways to grow using hydroponics. The different methods are defined by whether the grower uses soil or an inert medium as the planting base and the medium used to deliver nutrients.
These systems can be customized to meet specific needs and goals, but here are three of the most common ways to grow hydroponically:
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
In this system, a tray with a shallow channel is used as the planting base. A shallow stream of water containing dissolved nutrients is passed over the roots of the plants in the channel. The stream flows continuously to provide a constant supply of nutrient solution while at the same time allowing the root to get oxygen from the flowing water.
Ebb and Flow
This system uses a tray with a deep pool of water at one end, which acts as a reservoir. An irrigation system continuously floods the pool with nutrient solution and then drains the pool. The cycle begins again when a pump is activated to refill the reservoir with fresh nutrients.
In this system, water fog is the carrying medium for delivering nutrients to plants growing in a hydroponic tray. A fan draws air through the tray, where it is dampened with water fog. The air carries nutrient-enriched moisture to the plants.
The Final Word on Hydroponics
Hydroponics requires less water than traditional soil growing, but setting up a hydroponic system can be expensive. There are many reasons for growing in this way, but the main one is that plants grown using hydroponics gain access to more nutrients. The bottom line, hydroponic farming can lead to better crop yields.