Hydroponic systems are used for growing plants and produce of all kinds without the use of soil (dirt). They can be grown outdoors or indoors. There are many ways and methods used for doing so, and here are some of my favorites.
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"Hydroponics" is defined as "the process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or water, with added nutrients but without soil." It
is now a worldwide industry with an expected value in 2025 of $18 Billion.
The first known instance of water-based hydroponics is in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These gardens thrived from an elaborate watering system that supplied a steady stream of river water rich in oxygen and minerals. Located on the East bank of the Euphrates River near present day Baghdad, the gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) to please his wife Amyitis.
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics (800 BC) depict the growing of plants along the Nile River without soil, as do the floating gardens of the Chinese, described in the journal of Marco Polo.
The Aztecs of Central America developed an ingenious method of utilizing the concepts of hydroponics first displayed in 1000 AD. Treated with hostility by their more powerful neighbors and denied any arable land, they learned how to build rafts of rushes and reeds they called chinampas. Chinampas were stalks and tough roots that were lashed together and loaded up with sediment from the shallow lake bottom. The sediment was rich in a variety of organic compounds and minerals that the Aztecs used to nourish and grow plants. The chinampas supported abundant crops of vegetables, flowers, and even trees. The roots of the plants grew through the floor of the chinampas allowing a constant water source and root oxygenation. Chinampas were sometimes joined together to form floating islands as much as two hundred feet long, and some chinampas even had a hut for a resident gardener.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Dr. William F. Gericke of the University of California extended his own laboratory experiments on plant nutrition to crops growing outside for large scale commercial applications. In doing so he termed these Nutriculture systems “hydroponics”, coming from the Greek hydro meaning water and ponic meaning to work.
There are 6 basic modern methods of growing hydroponically, as shown in the following graphic.
These 6 methods are defined below. Refer to the drawing above to understand how each system works.
(click on any title below to view detailed information)
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) - A nutrient solution flows in a thin film over the base of the plant roots, ensuring they are watered and fed but not soaked. The position of this thin film ensures that the upper part of the roots remain dry and have access to oxygen in the air, and for insurance a separate air pump is used to inject oxygen from the environment directly into the nutrient solution.
Deep Water Culture (DWC) - In a Deep Water Culture system, a plant’s roots are suspended in a well-oxygenated solution composed of water and nutrients. The roots are able to get their oxygen from the nutrient solution because a separate air pump is used to inject oxygen from the environment directly into the nutrient solution.
Wick System - A Wick System uses two or more wicks for each plant to deliver water from a reservoir below to the roots via capillary action. The roots obtain oxygen from the air through the porous substrate they are sitting in.
Ebb and Flow - Ebb and Flow is a system that involves the periodic flooding and draining of the nutrient solutions. A reservoir tank holds the prepared liquid solution filled with nutrients and a small electric pump. The plants are placed in a deep tray above the reservoir. The pump directs the nutrient solution upwards into the tray and drenches the roots for a specified amount of time (usually 15 to 30 minutes). As the tray fills, the solution rises to a specified level and then overflows back down to the reservoir through a drain system to be recirculated again. This cycle is repeated every 2 hours or so to keep the roots from drying out. The very top of the roots are not exposed to the circulating solution and act as the source of oxygen for the plant.
Drip System - The Drip System is similar to the Ebb and Flow system but the pump directs liquid solution to emitters that are located above the plant roots in a medium that is porous. The solution drips from the emitters at a rate of about 4 gallons per hour and runs for about 30 minutes. The dripping solution works its way through the medium feeding the plant roots as it does, and eventually ends up in the drain tray and goes back to the reservoir.
Aeroponics - Unlike standard hydroponic systems where plant roots are typically submerged in water, aeroponic roots hang in the open air with no mechanical resistance from soil. The plants are suspended above a tray that is located above a reservoir containing a small pump. The pump disburses a nutrient solution through a sprayer that forms a misty fog directed at the plant roots. The roots are misted every few minutes to keep them from drying out, but they are able to absorb oxygen from their surroundings during the intervals. The mist flows against the roots and all overflow returns to the reservoir through a drain system.
There are many specialized variations of these systems but they all follow the fundamental designs of the basic 6. The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is perhaps the most reliable and popular hydroponic method. The fundamentals are very easy to get your head around. The most important feature of NFT hydroponics is that plant roots are in direct contact with constantly flowing nutrient solution.
In all methods, the plants that are used for hydroponics are seedlings that have been started from seed in separate containers until they are mature enough to be transferred to the hydroponic system of choice. Very seldom can we start seeds directly in a hydroponic unit, although it can be done using sponges and/or fiber blocks for mediums (see section on MEDIUMS for further details).
- No Soil Involved
- Optimal Use of Location
- Complete Control Over Climate
- Complete control Over Nutrients (fertilizer)
- Uses up to 20 times less water than soil gardens
- Up to 10 times the yield of soil gardens
- Faster growing of crops
- No need of chemical pest and weed control
- Easier harvesting
- No mulching or tilling required
- Year round growing is possible (indoors)
- Time Consuming
- High expense of system and maintenance
- Constant monitoring is usually needed
- Better water is needed (distilled is recommended)
- Requires Some Expertise
- Risks Of Water loss
- Risks of Electricity loss
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