During the 1600's several techniques were used to protect horticultural crops against the cold. These included glass lanterns, bell jars, cold frames and hot beds covered with glass. In the seventeenth century, low portable wooden frames covered with an oiled translucent paper were used to warm the plant environment much as plastic row covers do today. These were the very beginnings of hydroponic gardens.
The word hydroponics comes from the roots “hydro,” meaning water, and “ponos,” meaning labor, this method of gardening does not use soil.
What Is a Hydroponic Garden?
By definition, hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. Hydroponic gardens don't use soil. Instead, substitutes like perlite, rock wool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite are used to support the root system. The main objective of hydroponic gardens is to allow the plant roots to come in direct contact with a nutrient solution, while also allowing access to the air, which is essential for proper growth.
Types Of Hydroponics
There are many, many types of hydroponic systems. Some of which are combinations of multiple types of hydroponic gardens put together.
Also known as the reservoir method, deepwater culture is one of the easiest methods for growing plants without soil. In this case, the roots are suspended over a nutrient solution in an aquarium that pumps in oxygenated nutrients to keep the roots from drowning.
The biggest downside to this type of hydroponic garden is that if any light gets into the tank algae will grow, stealing nutrients from the plants. The biggest advantage is the fact that it is no drip or spray hoses to get clogged.
Nutrient Film Technique
This is a type of hydroponics with a continuous flow of nutrient-water runs over the root systems. It is usually set up will a slight tilt, so the flow of the water is controlled by gravity. In Nutrient Film hydroponics, plants absorb more oxygen from the air than the nutrient solution.
Aerogardens are a great option for beginners since it requires little set up to get started. Commercial systems like the AeroGarden allows newbies to see the beauty of hydroponics without all the technical equipment.
There are two methods of getting water and nutrients to the roots in aeroponics, one of which involves a fine spray nozzle to mist the roots. The other uses a pond fogger. However, the pond fogger requires a Teflon-coated disc to reduce the amount of maintenance.
This is one of the cheapest and easiest to maintain of hydroponic gardens. One end of the wick is placed in the nutrient-rich reservoir, and the other end is fed through a hole into the grow box that the plants sit in, along with the growing medium (such as cotton, perlite, or vermiculite). By the power of capillary action, the water is sucked into the grow box.
In some systems, the grower chooses to place the grow box in the solution for the growing medium to cut the wick out of the equation. Either way, try to avoid mediums like rock wool, coconut coir, or peat moss since they absorb too many nutrients for themselves, taking away from the plants growing in it.
Occasionally, teachers use this type of system in the classroom with a see-through grow box to show students how plants grow and get them interested in hydroponics.
Ebb & Flow
Also known as a flood and drain system, this type of system works by flooding the growing area with the nutrient solution at specific intervals. In most cases, this system is set up with a pump and timer for best results.
Ebb and flow systems are ideal for plants that are accustomed to periods of dryness. During the dry periods, the roots will grow more, searching for moisture. This allows the plants to pick up more nutrients will finally be delivered
A drip hydroponics system provides a slow feed of nutrient solution to the growing medium. Slow draining growing mediums work best. It is possible to use a fast draining, but it will need an equally faster dripping emitter.
These systems are famous for clogging, especially when using organic nutrients. Because of this, the drip system is getting less popular, even though it is the simplest system of hydroponics.
What is Hydroponics Used For?
Plants in hydroponics systems grow quicker than in soil because they have direct access to food and water available when they need it, instead of having to search through the soil to get what they need. They produce bigger crops because they devote more energy to crop yield rather than expand their root systems. This causes hydroponic-grown plants to be top-heavy and have a smaller root system.
Many pests are carried in soil, so doing without it generally gives you a more hygienic growing system with fewer problems of disease. Since hydroponics is ideal for indoor growing, you can use it to grow plants all year round. Automated systems controlled by timers and computers make the whole thing a breeze.
Hydroponic gardens are a great choice for any type of grower. It gives the gardener the ability to meticulously control the variables that affect how well your plants grow. A fine-tuned hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil-based grow system in the plant's quality of life and crop yield.
Benefits of Hydroponic Gardens
The benefits of hydroponics can sometimes be debated, but there are numerous benefits of growing without soil. Most hydroponic growers find their plants produce more within smaller spaces than that required for growing in soil.
One of the major benefits of hydroponic gardens is the increased growth rate. When properly cared for, plants can mature 25 percent faster and yield up to 30 percent more than the same plant grown in soil. This is due to the plant having easy access to nutrients. The plant can focus on growing, instead of spreading its roots looking for moisture and nutrients.
Since there is no need for soil, hydroponic gardens can be grown just about anywhere. If you provide a truly sterile environment for your garden, there is no need for pesticides, and you have complete control over nutrients.
Not only does hydroponics not need soil, but it also uses 20 times less water than soil-based gardening. Due to the enclosed system, there is less evaporation, and hydroponics gardens take up 20 percent less space as well. Additionally, there is no soil-run off (which has been proven to degrade the environment), so even large-scale hydroponic gardens don't need the same upkeep as compared to traditional farming. Hydroponics uses much less water than soil farming because the water is recirculated. In traditional farming, water is poured over the ground and seeps into the soil. Only a small fraction of the water actually gets used by the plant.
With hydroponics, seasons and the manual labor involved with preparing the soil for the next grow are eliminated. Since hydroponics can be done indoors (and perform better indoors), there is no need to worry about plants being burnt by the sun or frost.
If this is your first time growing using hydroponics, it could take some time to feel comfortable with this method. From setup to constant monitoring, be prepared to spend some quality time with your new system to work out the technicalities.
Hydroponic gardens require a strict balance of pH and nutrient levels, on a daily basis. Unfortunately, if the system doesn't have a backup generator hookup, the garden is subjected to power outages. If a piece of the system fails, like a water pump, your plants can be killed off within a matter of hours. Without soil, there is no water or nutrient storage for plants to feed off of. Much like any typical grow room, if you have a power outage, be ready to step in to provide some TLC.
A hydroponic system is also vulnerable to malfunctions like a pump failure. Plants can suffer within an hour due to the fact that there is no medium to keep the root systems hydrated.
Even though hydroponic gardens are known to reduce the likelihood of disease because there is no soil to breed in, there are waterborne diseases that can affect the plants, which also spread quicker than due to the quick delivery of the water-based nutrients. To reduce the chances of disease, better quality water is required for hydroponic gardens than growing in soil.
Depending on your gardening budget and personal gardening goals, hydroponic gardens may or may not be for you. Even though a hydroponic garden can cost a pretty penny to get started, there are a few simple options like the wicking or drip-type systems.
The only way for hydroponic gardens to work out for you is to try it. You might fail. There is always that risk when trying something new. Someone can tell you how to set up it and how it works, but the only way to gain your hydroponic green thumb is to grow it. Hydroponics does better in a cool climate than hot. An air-conditioned bedroom is preferable to a hot corner of your patio in July. The nutrient solution must be kept cool, or it will “cook” the tender roots.