There has been a lot of talk about hydroponics in the recent past with some arguing that it is the future of farming and the solution to global food shortage. Well, what exactly is hydroponics?
In simple terms, hydroponics is a form of farming in which you grow plants in an inert medium such as perlite or gravel, or directly in a mineral-rich water solution, without the use of soil.
This means that this type of farming can be done indoors in farms that are popularly referred to as grow shop. The fact that no soil is used shows that this is a special kind of farming and thus, it requires special techniques to get the nutrient solution to the plant roots. These techniques, also called hydroponic systems, include the following:
1. Deep Water Culture Systems
Also referred to as the reservoir method, this is the easiest hydroponics system to use. Basically, plant roots are suspended in the nutrient-rich solution in a reservoir while an aquarium-sized pump circulates the solution to oxygenate it. Oxygenation is important because it prevents the roots from drowning.
The main benefit of this system is that it has no clogging. This is because it has no drip or spray emitters, which usually clog when organic nutrients are used to feed the plants.
An important thing to note here is that you should use an opaque reservoir because the light will cause algae to grow in the solution, wreaking havoc in your soil-less farm.
2. Nutrient Film Technique
This hydroponics system usually sets the plant growing troughs on a slight tilt so that the nutrient solution can flow through easily using the force of gravity.
A continuous flow of nutrient rich solution is passed through the trough, leaving the plant root tips in contact with it, absorbing nutrients and water in the process.
Its main benefit is that plant roots absorb more oxygen from the air than from the nutrient solution. This makes the plants grow faster, leading to faster maturity and plenty of produce.
This system suspends the plant’s roots in air and mists them with the nutrient solution. This misting can be done in two ways: Using a small nozzle to spray and moisten the roots or using a pond fogger, which requires more maintenance especially if a Teflon coated disc is not used with it.
It uses considerably less water than other hydroponics systems and also enables plant roots to absorb more oxygen from the air, leading to faster growth.
This is probably the most cost-effective hydroponics system. It involves the use of a wicking material, such as cotton, surrounded by a planting medium, with the wicking material slightly touching the nutrient solution and wicking it up to the plant roots.
Alternatively, a planting medium with wicking capabilities can be used, such as perlite, with its bottom part suspended in the solution, wicking it up slowly to the plant roots. This system is particularly useful for growing tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.
5. Ebb and Flow
This system floods the plant area with the nutrient rich solution in intervals, achieving this using a pump on a timer. This is ideal for plants that require certain periods of dryness so that their root systems can grow larger in search of water.
This positively affects the plant growth because as the root system grows, it absorbs more nutrients, making the plant grow faster.
6. Drip System
Just like in drip irrigation, this system uses a slow nutrient solution drop feed to keep the planting medium moist so that it can support growth.
Slow draining mediums, such as coconut or peat moss, should be used so that they maintain the solution on the upper layers, where most plant roots are spread out. It has one major downside, which is clogging and if undetected early enough, plants may wither due to dryness.
Irrespective of the hydroponics system you use, the benefits are clear. You get to save water, you have no weeds and less disease, faster growth and most importantly, you use no soil.
This gives you the ability to farm almost anywhere, including inside buildings on city streets, creating the now popular grow shops that are emerging very quickly to serve the big city populations.
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