In a nutshell, hydroponics is simply a novel way to grow plants without using traditional substrates like soil or compost. Instead, nutrient-rich water solutions are either applied to the plants’ roots periodically, or the roots are kept in the solution full time.
This innovative, exciting approach to agriculture offers the grower plenty of advantages over traditional soil-based methods, including higher crop yields, more efficient use of resources, and much greater control over growing conditions. In this article, we'll explore the basics of hydroponics and some of the peripheral topics associated with this technique.
How Does It Work?
Hydroponic systems typically consist of a container filled with a nutrient-rich water solution and some kind of containment for the substrate that the plants are rooted into, typically a net pot or similar. A pot with holes and filled with porous, inorganic substrate allows the roots to grow outward into the solution. In a typical deep water culture system, which are most popular, a means of aeration is required to deliver oxygen to the roots and prevent them from rotting.
There are several different types of hydroponic systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the most common types of systems include:
- In deep water culture systems (DWC), plants are suspended in a container filled with water. This method is simple and effective but may not be suitable for all plant types, especially those that prefer drier environments
- In drip systems, nutrient solution is delivered to the plants by being steadily dripped onto the roots in precise amounts
- Ebb and flow systems work by periodically flooding plants’ roots in a container with nutrient solution. The water is allowed to drain away between waterings
- In nutrient film technique systems, water and nutrients are delivered through a shallow trough that allows the roots to grow through and into the solution. The systems include a water pump to continually cycle the water through the system
Advantages of Hydroponics Over Traditional Methods
Hydroponics offers several advantages over traditional soil-based agriculture. Some of the key advantages make this growing method a highly attractive prospect for commercial growers and home hobby growers alike. To summarise, some of the main benefits of using a hydroponic system over traditional methods are listed below.
- Higher crop yields
- Faster maturation of plants
- Multiple growing cycles in a year
- Space saving
- More hygienic
- Can be automated
- Time efficient
- Higher resource efficiency
- More cost-effective
- Greater control over growing conditions
A Dive into the Future Hydroponics
There is more to hydroponics than there may seem on the surface. While it is a great hobby that anyone can take up and is a useful method for farmers to use, it is also an innovative technique which has wider implications for food security in the context of climate change.
As the global population continues to grow and climate change is set to impact the efficacy of traditional agricultural methods, there is increasing interest in innovative and sustainable methods of food production. Hydroponics and other similar methods are viewed by many experts and agriculturalists as potential solutions to these challenges.
For starters, hydroponics is capable of offering higher yields per square metre, better resource efficiency especially in terms of water use, and greater control over growing conditions that make crop production less dependent on the local climate. As a result, it's highly likely that hydroponics will play a larger role in food production in the future, particularly in more arid regions and places where water is more scarce.
A Summary for Beginners
Hydroponics is a fascinating and innovative approach to growing plants that offers several important advantages over traditional soil-based methods. While it may seem like a complex topic, hydroponics can be easily understood and carried out with a bit of research and experimentation. Even if you are totally new to the concept and have never grown anything before, you should be able to make hydroponics work for you with relatively little effort.
Whether you're a hobbyist looking to try out a new gardening method or an expert in the field of agriculture there's always more to learn about hydroponics. Most beginners start with a deep water culture system because these are considered to be the most “fool-proof”, and they are also an extremely cost effective way to dip your toe into something new.