What are the Benefits of Hydroponic Farming…No Soil involved:…Hydroponics was employed to give fresh crops to troops stationed on the Wake Islands. It is a remote arable location in the Pacific Ocean for those who unfamiliar with the Wake Islands. With numerous NASA astronauts …
What if you got no space to garden outside, or let’s say you want to cultivate fresh plants indoors next to your kitchen space? What would you do if you were going to grow vegetables, herbs, and small fruiting plants commercially throughout the year for your plants-based business?
If you got no space to garden outside, bring your gardens inside!
And to do so, you need to know what hydroponics is and how it works for indoor settings and greenhouse chambers.
Hydroponics is the art and science of growing plants without any soil.
The word hydroponics is derived from two Greek words, “hydro meaning water and ponos meaning labor,” i.e., “working water”. In the absence of soil, “working water” acts as a supporting medium for the roots of hanging plants and enriches them with hydration, nutrients, and oxygen (dissolved form) to plant life. With hydroponics, you can grow juicy watermelons to tasty jalapenos to orchids.
Using 1/3rd less space and 95% less water than traditional gardening, you can grow virtually any plant using the ingenious hydroponics design in half the time.
Though this pioneering technology might seem a recent phenomenon, the process itself is centuries old. The floating gardens of Aztecs in Mexico and the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon were hydroponic in nature. The great Marco Polo, in the 13th century, wrote detailed notes of beholding floating gardens in China.
In the Second World War, the U.S. Army crafted humongous hydroponics gardens on various islands of the western pacific to ensure a concurrent supply of lustrous and green vegetables to its troops
You would be amazed to know; NASA is extensively using hydroponics for space exploration and applications. Through this method, NASA was able to grow aeroponic bean seedlings in 1990 for the first time.
No doubt, hydroponics continues to amaze us with its unique and truly inspiring process of water conservation and crop production.
What is hydroponics?
In simple terms, hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil.
It is one form of soilless-crop cultivation all over the world.
Hydroponics is an efficient and quick method of cultivating herbs, veggies, flowers, and some selective fruit-producing plants in an inert growing media bombarded with oxygen, nutrient-rich solution, and water.
I think some explanation is needed here regarding the nutrient-rich solution and inert growing media!
What is a nutrient-rich solution?
It’s nothing but 16 of the19 plant growth essential nutrients. These essential nutrients are provided by means of nutrient-rich solutions.
Next, what is inert growing media?
It may be, depending on the choice of the grower, an inorganic substance (such as gravel, sand, Rockwool, perlite) or organic substance (such as sphagnum peat moss, coconut fiber, or pine bark).
An inert growing media plays a vital role in creating a perfect hydroponics system by providing mechanical support to the plant life.
In recent times, hydroponics has been quite popular among growers because the system offers robust growth, higher yield returns, and top-notch performance.
Traditional soil-based agriculture was good until recently when growers started to use various chemicals. This not only caused public health concerns but environmental pollution as well. Moreover, in soil-based agriculture, plants use most of their energy to promote roots system
to search for nutrients underground.
On the other hand, in hydroponics, plants don’t waste their energy promoting root growth. The roots of the plants are supplemented with nutrient-rich water. So, plants redirect their surplus energy to encourage faster growth to reach maturity levels at a faster pace. As a result, leaf canopy flourishes, as does the blossoming of flowers and fruits.
Plants grow and thrive through a process called photosynthesis. In this process, plant leaves capture sunlight through chlorophyll cells. Cells in the leaves combine water taken from roots and carbon dioxide obtained through stomatal cells that are present underside of the leaves.
Six water molecules combine with six carbon dioxide molecules using sunlight energy to produce sugar molecules and, in the process, release six molecules of oxygen. This oxygen upon creation is released into the atmosphere, which is highly essential for the sustainability of the Earth.
As you may have noticed, plants don’t need soil to carry out photosynthesis. Plants need soil for water and all the essential nutrients.
You can easily supply the required dose of nutrients through hydroponics by mixing them in water and bombarding them through misting, flooding, or immersion.
Research and reports from hydroponics growers have shown that direct exposure of nutrient-rich water to the exposed roots of the plants can be a more effective and nifty technique than traditional irrigation.
How does hydroponics work?
No doubt, hydroponics is doing wonders these days.
It is all because of the simplicity of the process itself.
Hydroponics works by allowing little control over environmental variables such as humidity, temperature, pH levels, and full exposure to water and nutrients.
Moreover, hydroponics functions under a straightforward process: to provide plants what they need, in which quantity, and when they need it.
Today, nutrient solutions are tailored precisely to each plant’s needs and want in markets.
Furthermore, you can check the energy needs through a perfect monitoring system.
Each plant in hydroponics has different light requirements to function correctly.
Don’t worry if you have shorthand over the indoor lighting system; you can supplement the required light through photosynthetic lights. In this regard, LED lights can do wonders for your hydroponics.
In addition, pH levels can be monitored and tailored according to the need of each plant.
If you’re looking for high plant growth, you can install a highly customizable hydroponics system. No doubt, plant growth boosts in a customized and controlled environment.
With a controlled system like hydroponics, many risks can be avoided. In soil-based agriculture, plants are always prone to the risk of soil-borne diseases (fungus), pests (flies, leafhoppers, locusts, etc.), and predators (rabbits), which can destroy freshly grown vegetables from your outdoor garden. When you opt for hydroponics instead of traditional agriculture, you can expect healthy, high-quality fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Furthermore, with the absence of pests and diseases, seedlings can grow at a much faster rate and mature in less than a month.
Lastly, hydroponics enriches your plant with a stable environment that allows your plants to grow vigorously and speedily.
Note: Don’t be fooled by reading some unscientific posts on Google!
Hydroponics is full of problems.
It requires special attention to detail and good growing skills.
Unfortunately, research has shown that “failures far outnumber the successes, due to management inexperience or lack of scientific and engineering support. Soil growing is more forgiving of errors made by the grower than are most hydroponic/soilless growing systems, particularly those that are purely hydroponic.”
What are the components of the hydroponics system?
As a human body is made of various organs which work together to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, the hydroponics system consists of three principal organs: Growing Media, Air Stones and Air Pumps, and Net Pots. A considerable understanding of each principal component will allow you to run your system smoothly and swiftly.
- Growing Media: Plants in a hydroponics system can be grown with or without the use of growing media. A growing media is an inert material which means it does not directly play any significant role in the growth and development of the plants. Still, it is helpful to have a growing media in a hydroponic system because it provides the necessary support to hold and anchor the plant’s weight and root structure. Further, it plays a vital role in regulating water and nutrients for quick and swift uptake of nutrients by plants. Many veteran hydroponics plant growers recommend using pH-neutral growing media as it doesn’t disturb the normal pH balance of the nutrient solution. There are many kinds and types of inert materials available in the market to choose from. By keeping in view your exact requirements, you can opt for specific growing media from online, local, or nursery gardening vendors.
- Air Stones and Air Pumps: Oxygen is the lifeline of all living species, and hydroponics is no exception. Without a proper and balanced supply of oxygen, your hydroponics seedlings can drown in no time. To keep up with the quick growth process, it is essential to properly aerate your hydroponics plant. Air stones and air pumps serve the purpose of providing oxygen to plants in a closed system by creating and dispersing tiny air bubbles through your nutrient-rich water solution. Moreover, these air bubbles make sure the nutrients in your hydroponics system are evenly distributed. On the other hand, air pumps don’t introduce oxygen to the nutrient solution on their own like air stones but form the external environment via opaque food-grade plastic tubing. You can easily find both air stones and air pumps from aquarium stores.
- Net Pots: Consider net pots as your body muscle and skeleton. As your muscle and skeleton hold your body intact. Similarly, net pots are the meshy skeleton that keeps hydroponics plants in place and intact. The meshy and interlaced material allows the roots of plants to grow downwards and outwards to allow each plant to extract maximum nutrients and oxygen. Moreover, net pots are better as compared to plastic or clay pots in providing better drainage.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
Following are some of the top advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics, as listed by Jensen in his scientific report.
- First and foremost, the hydroponics system is clean, mechanized, and lightweight.
- With hydroponics, it is possible to grow crops where no suitable soil exists for the growth of some plants or where the soil is contaminated with pests and diseases.
- This process removes the need for tilling, weeding, fumigating, watering, cultivating, and other traditional farm practices.
- You can expect higher yields, quality food production, and efficient resource management.
- Conservation of water and land is the main highlight of this system. This advantage plays a vital role in the conservation of the environment.
- Little to no chemicals are used. This helps rightly in reducing water and land pollution.
- If the plants in the hydroponic system show a sign of fungal or bacterial disease, you can eradicate them easily with some commercially available eradicant.
- The best distinctive feature of hydroponics is the wholesome control of the environment. With this advantage, a person can easily check the root’s health condition, irrigation requirements, and timely nutrient feeding.
- A skilled horticulturist can use this system to design patio-type gardens or even gardens in high-rise buildings.
If you’re in the mood to set up a hydroponics system, don’t forget to ponder on the original construction cost, which is relatively high.
At least one trained person must always be on the spot to check and test the growing operations. Without knowing how plants thrive in a hydroponics system and rules of nutrition, it is not easy to grow plants in hydroponics to the full capacity.
Unknown introduction of fungal, bacterial, nematodes infection can spread very quickly in the closed-loop system of the hydroponics.
Extensive research is the need of the hour to make hydroponics more efficient and easier to operate.
Plants are highly reactive to the poor supply of nutrients. The grower must pay special attention to the needs of plants.
Hydroponics Structures and Their Operations – The Five Main Types of Hydroponics Systems:
Today there are over hundreds of hydroponics kinds and types available in the market. Still, we will limit our study to only the five main types of hydroponics systems because all of them are some kind of modification or alternation of five main basic types of hydroponics.
- Wick System: The wick system is one of the most straightforward and elegant hydroponic system designs that works independently of electricity, pump, and aerators. Seedlings are directly introduced in an absorbent such as coco-air, perlite, vermiculite, etc., “with a nylon wick running from plants roots into a reservoir of nutrient solution”. Water from the nutrient tank to the growing medium flows with the help of the capillary action. Capillary action is a natural phenomenon where water moves from a water-rich place to a water-scarce spot. This system is suitable for small fruiting plants, leafy greens, and herbs that require less amount of water. One of the major drawbacks is that this design is not ideal for plants that require high doses of water.
- Ebb and Flow System: Ebb and flow system is the first commercial hydroponic system that functions on the principle of flood and drain. Water and nutrient solution move from the storage tank to the grow bed with the aid of a water pump until it reaches a specific level. Nutrient-rich water stays in the grow bed section for a certain period of time so that it provides moisture and nutrients to the seedlings in the grow bed section. With this system, you can grow various kinds of crops. The significant drawbacks of the Ebb and Flow system are the problem of algae, root rot, and mold. To limit the problem of algae, root rot, and mold, create a modified system with a filtration unit installed.
- Drip System: The Drip Hydroponic System works magically for indoor home gardens and outdoor commercial growing spaces. In this design, water or nutrient-rich solution is pumped to the individual plant roots with the help of a water pump. Each plant is placed in a moderately “absorbent growing medium so that the nutrient solution drips slowly.” This system is known for growing various veggies, herbs, and flowers with the remarkable conservation of water.
- Deep Water Culture System: In this hydroponics system, plants roots are suspended in nutrient-rich water, and oxygen to the roots is provided with the help of air stones or air pumps. Plants are usually kept in various sizes of net pots, and roots are dipped in nutrient-rich water. Continuous supply of nutrient-rich water to the plant roots all the time promotes the rapid growth of plants and enables the plant grower to accumulate large masses of plants quickly. Keep an eagle eye on the nutrient, oxygen, salinity, and pH levels to limit the growth of algae and molds. This system is a perfect fit for larger plants that gives fruits such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) System: “In this system, water or nutrient solution circulates throughout the entire system; and enters the growth tray via a water pump without a time control.” This NFT System was designed and developed by Dr. Alen Cooper by keeping in view the shortcomings of the ebb and flow system in the 1960s in England. He designed this system to make sure the nutrient solution moves and passes throughout the system every time. The internal system of this design is slightly tilted to make sure the nutrient-rich water moves through the roots of the plants and down back into the storage tank. “Plants are placed in a channel or tube with roots dangling in a hydroponics solution.” The major drawback of this system is the danger of fungal infection as the roots of the seedlings are immersed in water all the time. Many leafy greens can be procured with this system. Commercially the NFT system is used for the commercial production of lettuce.
A Comprehensive Guide About Different Types of Hydroponics Systems
Hydroponics is a specialized system of growing food in the nutrient solution than the soil or other growing media. Numerous variations have been developed in this system over the past few years and different types are being used for optimizing production potential according to requirements. There has been significant research in hydroponic production and cultivation, and it has led to a good variety of hydroponic production and cultivation systems. The hydroponic system helps to produce good quality, nutritionally rich, and fresh food despite the soil quality and prevailing climatic conditions of the specific region.
At present Europe is the biggest market of hydroponics and France, Netherlands, Spain, USA, and Asia pacific are top producers. The demand for hydroponic-based food production is growing even more due to global warming, climate change, and industrialization. Hydroponics system has huge potential to achieve sustainable food security across the globe. Moreover, there is less utilization of resources as compared to conventional farming and good quality food can be produced in all regions of the globe. Thereby the financial burden of importing food from other areas will be reduced and poor countries can also generate surplus income by selling good quality food to the developed countries. Therefore this article is focused to discuss different types of hydroponic systems and hydroponic farming types.
Some significant advantages of growing in the hydroponic system are as follows.
- More yield, better quality, and nutrient-rich crops
- The use of soilless media ensures pathogen-free production
- Plant growth, development, and yield potential is independent of soil quality, and prevailing climatic conditions of an area
- Better control and monitoring of plant growth is possible
- Growers can control the nutrient concentration by targeted application of the nutrient solution
- The significant potential of nutrient re-utilization and maximizing the resource recovery
- Minimized risk of diseases and insect pest attack by excellent and oriented control over environmental conditions
Crops and Plants for Hydroponics System
The hydroponic system is fairly helpful to grow a wide range of crops including the following.
Edibles: Herbs, celery, watercress, strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, leaf lettuce, cantaloupe, sage, celery, grapes, basil, kale, tomatoes, blueberries, chives, bell peppers, beans, and spinach.
Houseplants: Spider plant, Chinese evergreen, leopard lily, female dragon, Chinese money plant, peace lily, philodendron, arrowhead vine, and Devil’s ivy.
Flowering plants: Hyacinth, peace lily, carnations, gerbera, chrysanthemums, freesia, daffodils, iris, amaryllis, orchids, petunia, daisies, snapdragon, zinnia, brachycome species, coreopsis species, baby’s breath, marigold, gazania, lavender, phlox, hydrangeas, asters, daily lilies, rex begonias, hoya, peace lilies.
The new scientific technologies and tools have enabled the growers to grow all kinds of plants in the hydroponic system by the provision of the right growth dimensions and management systems. However, the growth potential and production status are greatly dependent on the use of the right measures for each type of growing plant.
6 Types of Hydroponics
Wick System in Hydroponics
Wick hydroponic system is passive and does not have any moving parts. This system consists of a growing container, reservoir, wicks, growing medium, and aeration system. The growing container is specifically positioned at a shorter distance above the growing reservoir. Wicks are placed in the nutrient solution from the reservoir and are released to the growing medium for the easy absorption and availability of nutrients to the roots of growing plants. The working of this system is based on the capillary action to feed the roots with nutrients. This is a passive system and does not require any moving parts, pumps, and motors for operation. However, this system requires a pump for aerating the nutrient solution and providing oxygen to the plant roots.
Select a container that does not allow the passage of light. This is helpful to restrict the growth of microorganisms and algal bodies. Placing the reservoir in close contact with the growing container helps the wicks efficient delivery of the nutrient solution to the growing medium. Growing mediums having excellent absorption and moisture-holding capacity are ideal choices for the wick hydroponic systems. The most efficient and popular wick system growing media includes vermiculite, perlite, coco coir, and other lightweight structures. Growstones also provide the best wicking capacity, oxygen supply, and moisture to the plants. Strip fabrics, ropes, yarn, and strings can be easily used for the wick system. These materials can be made by using synthetics, polyurethane, nylon, felt, wool, and cotton. Washing these materials before making wicks helps to improve their strength.
- This is a simple and easy-to-use hydroponic system.
- Growers can easily scale it up by upcycling and recycling household materials and items.
- Wick system allows low maintenance growing and quality food production throughout the year.
- There is no major requirement for an electricity system.
- It is a sustainable hydroponics system in terms of water use efficiency.
- There is self-regulation of the system and delivery of the nutrient solution is greatly dependent on nutrient consumption by the plants.
- Growers cannot enjoy a wide range of growing choices.
- The nutrient delivery rate is slower.
- This system can cause a buildup of toxic nutrients, so the replacement of nutrient solutions is a must task. So, it requires rinsing after every 1-2 weeks for better growth.
Deep Water Culture (DWC) or Deep Water Hydroponic System
Deepwater culture is also known as direct water culture where plant roots are continually suspended in highly oxidized, and nutrient-rich water. The other hydroponic systems such as drip systems, aeroponics, and ebb and flow methods are focused on partial water exposure. While deep water culture is focused on the total submission of roots in the water. The use of larger reservoirs is significantly effective to maintain stability in hydroponics farming. Usually, the plants growing in the soil and other growing media cannot tolerate excessive water saturation because it causes suppression in the oxygen levels. However, plants growing in the deep-water culture can easily tolerate water-submerged conditions due to aeration pumps and the constant provision of oxygen. Other than oxygen growers should also constantly provide nutrients, sunlight, optimal temperature, and humidity to maintain the normal growth and development of plants.
- This system requires low maintenance after building up.
- It offers extremely fast growth and development than the soil-based growing system.
- This system is provided with some assemblage and moving parts.
- Deepwater culture requires more care and management for proper maintenance.
- Any mismanagement can cause great fluctuation in the nutrient concentration, water, and soil pH.
- Small scale systems are easy to manage but under calibration or over calibration can cause significant problems in both small scale and large-scale systems.
- Plant roots suffer immediately due to pump failure or power outage for a few minutes only.
- Maintenance of constant water temperature is a difficult task.
Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics (NFT)
The nutrient film technique is used for growing quick-growing and smaller plants such as baby greens and herbs. Shallow and slightly angled tubes are used in this system for the movement of nutrient solution to the upper portion of the nutrient film system. There is the gradual movement of nutrient solution in the upward direction due to gravity. A tube system provided with the holes is used instead of the growing tray because it allows the easy angle to ensure the proper flow of nutrient solution to the roots. Most of the growers directly plant in these holes and some of the growers use net pots. The plant roots directly fall into the nutrient solution, but roots are not soaked completely in the nutrient solution. In this system, a pump is used to ensure a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen to the plants. This technique is an active hydroponics system due to the involvement of moving parts. This system cannot support the weight of heavy growing plants due to the use of delicate grow media. However, the use of a trellis system is a good choice to support the weight of vining and heavy growing plants.
- Any imbalance in the nutritional composition and nutrient flow can cause stress on growth and root drying.
- The use of saline water is not a good choice for this system and completely effective saline water treatment of wastewater treatment is required for utilization.
- Pump failure or electricity outage can cause the death of growing plants within a few hours only. The situation can get even more severe in the hot weather and warm climatic conditions.
- Vigorously growing roots can cause blockage of system channels.
- Exposure of newly grown plants to intense sunlight can cause fast heating of the channels and roots will become aggregated in the Rockwool.
Ebb and Flow System (Flood and Drain)
Flood and drain system are the most effective and simplest method of hydroponically growing and is an ideal choice for both commercial growers and hobbyists. There is periodic flooding and drainage of nutrient solutions in this system. This system involves two operational phases such as flooding (when the nutrient solution flows through growing areas) and drainage of nutrient solution back to the reservoir. These two actions work simultaneously and thus it is named a flood and drain system. Growers can set up the working of this system in different ways and the growing medium can be filled with solid growth media. It is also possible to leave the grow medium empty and place the plants in the smaller pots in the grow beds.
Most of these systems are provided with inlets, outlets, and two bulkhead fittings. Typically the outlets have customizable heights and inlets are short for controlling the water levels. While there is another variation based on the siphon system where the water pump is running at all times and constantly fills the growing bed. Water can be drained using a siphon after reaching a certain height. Different kinds of siphons are available in the market but bell siphons are being most commonly used. Using automatic drains for this system allows 24/7 running of the pump and eliminates the need for a timer. Different types of growing media work well for different purposes and some examples are stated below.
Improved water retention: Use of Hydroton clay pebbles and lava rock offers maximum retention of nutrients and moisture.
Supporting vegetable roots: Rooting vegetables requires soft growing media for easy movement in the downward direction. Perlite mix, grow mix, vermiculite, and Hydroton are excellent choices to support the best growth of rooted vegetables in the flood and drain system.
Adding buoyancy or weight: The strength of the growing medium is foremost important for holding the weight of water and grow media. There is the filling of grow bed with the water, and it causes floating of growing media that can disrupt the health of plant roots. Therefore, the use of growing media that does not swell and float after the addition of water is greatly important for supporting the best growth.
- The use of this system is fairly easy for beginners.
- This system is greatly flexible, and growers have a good choice of using different grow mediums.
- Reusing nutrient solutions makes this system economical and sustainable.
- This system allows roots to dry for some time and supports the development of larger root systems.
- This system easily supports large-scale and commercial production.
- This system requires more labor and money investment for large-scale setups.
- There is a constant requirement of washing and sterilizing the grow media so this system requires more time, money, and management.
- Removal of damaged and harvested plants can cause problems for the roots of other growing plants.
- Pathogenic contamination in the pot, flood tray, and growing medium can cause contamination of the whole system and shared water sources.
The aeroponic system is focused on growing the plants in a specialized environment focused on using mist or air. This system is different from traditional aquaponics and hydroponics as the roots do not grow into any medium but dangle in the air. These plants are periodically fed by misting the water-based nutrient solution on them. However aeroponic systems require a complete enclosure to prevent light contact with the roots and to maintain the humidity. Some aeroponic systems are used in the horizontal direction as the planting beds but tower-based and vertical approaches are also gaining popularity for the space-limited conditions. Mostly the aeroponic systems are being used for growing cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, marijuana, and herbs.
- This system allows the use of different approaches in one frame.
- It allows fast and massive plant growth.
- The replacement of old plants with new ones is significantly easy.
- There are minimum requirements for maintenance and care.
- This system can be easily supported in space-limited conditions.
- Aeroponics allows easy mobility of plants without affecting their production potential.
- This system supports the development of a healthier and denser rooting system.
- This system can be operated at fairly optimal power supplies.
- Constant monitoring and care are required for better growth and development of plants.
- The initial setup of aeroponics requires more investment as this system involves automation.
- This system is greatly susceptible to electricity outages.
- Technical knowledge is required for the efficient working of this system.
- The rooting system of the plants growing in the aeroponics requires regular disinfection.
- Long term use and benefits of this system can only be supported by the use of high-pressure systems.
- These systems can produce noise in enclosed environments.
Drip Systems Hydroponics
The drip hydroponic system is focused on delivering the nutrient solution to the plant roots by using drip irrigation. Low flow drip irrigation is significantly effective and minimizes water losses by preventing evaporation. This system can be easily established by using a container for plant roots, a reservoir for holding the nutrient solution, a pond pump, a timer to turn on and off the pump, tubing running from the reservoir pump to the plant roots, and growing media. Growers can easily replace the tubing with drip emitters for easy work. There are two major types of this system such as recovery drip system and non-recovery drip systems also known as recirculating drip systems and non-recirculating drip systems respectively. Recirculating systems are far most efficient for home growers and non-recirculating systems are most commonly used by commercial growers.
- This system is simple and easiest to use for year-round growing and production.
- It is also possible to make optimal priced equipment according to the requirements.
- This system does not cause the drying of plant roots in case of a power outage.
- Drip-based hydroponics system is greatly versatile and can be easily used both for small-scale growing and commercial production.
- This system allows great control over the watering schedule, nutrient concentration, and drip location so growers can greatly optimize the production potential according to the requirements.
- This system is dependent on electricity as compared to the other passive systems.
- Regular monitoring is required to control the fluctuations in the nutrient concentrations and pH levels.
- This system requires more accurate timers than the other systems.
- There is a significant threat of clogging the drip emitters due to nutrient buildup and algal growth.