Hydroponic Gardening for Beginners
Hydroponic gardening is a popular method used all around the world for growing vegetables and fruits and this method has been around for centuries. Many of us remember our mothers having plants directly floating in water. This is just one type of hydroponic gardening known as N.F.T (nutrient film technique), but there are countless methods and variations of hydroponic gardening. Hydroponic gardening has several advantages over gardening with a soil growing medium. A hydroponic plant growth rate is 30-50 percent faster than a plant grown in soil, under the same conditions and they also yield more. Research says that the differences between hydroponic and soil plants are based on oxygen, there is extra oxygen in the hydroponic growing mediums which helps to stimulate root growth and plants that have an abundant of oxygen in their root systems will absorb nutrients quicker. The nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system several times a day where in soil they have to search for it, so plants have less energy to grow faster and to produce an abundance of fruit. Hydroponic plants also have fewer problems with bug infestations, fungi, diseases, and hydroponic gardening is good for the environment. Lets look at some general information about hydroponics. There are 6 basic types of hydroponic systems; Wick, Water Culture, Ebb and Flow, (Flood & Drain), Drip, N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique) and, Aeroponic. All these methods have hundreds of variations but all hydroponic methods are a combination of these six.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
The wick system is the easiest and cheapest passive hydroponic system (no moving parts), you can set and forget it. The nutrient solution that is contained in a reservoir underneath the plant pot is drawn into the growing medium (Perlite, Vermiculite, Pro-Mix and Coconut Fiber) from the reservoir with a wick. You do have to pay attention to the size of your plants because large plants use large amounts of water which may use up the nutrient solution faster than the wick(s) can supply it. You should always use an appropriate size container for the plants you wish to grow and the size of the reservoir is dependent on the size of the plant pot. You can use a large number of materials for the wick including; dish sponge, dish cloth, piece of tea towel, and rope (not nylon).
Ebb & Flow – (Flood & Drain)
The ebb & flow hydroponics system temporarily floods the grow tray where the plants are with nutrient solution and then drains the solution back into the reservoir which holds the the nutrient solution and the pump. When the pump turns on for 20 to 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a day the nutrient solution is pumped up to the upper tray and delivered to the root system of the plants. Pots or a flood tray are filled with a grow media such as gravel, clay pellets, lava rock etc., which anchor the roots and function as a temporary reserve of water and nutrients. During the flood cycle, oxygen poor air is pushed out of the root system by the upward moving nutrient solution. Oxygen rich air is then pulled into the growing medium, as the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The N.F.T. system is fairly simple to use and popular with home hydroponic growers. Nutrient solution is pumped up from the reservoir, usually to a manifold that connects into growing-tubes where the roots are suspended. The grow-tube is at a slight sloped angle so the nutrient solution runs over the roots 24/7 and back down into the reservoir. Plants are held up by a support collar or a grow-basket and ideally the roots of the plant should have constant access to oxygen so this type of system is best for young plants or plants with small root mass.
The continuous drip system is an active recovery or non-recovery system. One basic idea for a continuous flow system is to build a culture tank with an angled bottom to facilitate flow and drainage. This system uses a submersible pump in a reservoir with supply lines going to each plant where you can regulate the flow of nutrient solution that is fed to the plants from the top down. Plants are grown with a growing medium, and the adjustability of the drip emitters leaves allows you to choose any growing medium.
Water Culture systems are about the simplest of all six types of hydroponic systems and it is an effective way for growing plants. Plant are put into holes or in baskets on top of a chamber that stands them up with the roots suspended in the nutrient solution in the reservoir where the roots hang down from the chambers or baskets the plants are in. The plant roots are submerged 24/7. Plants get oxygen from the air bubbles rising through the nutrient solution from an air pump and air stones. The air pump provides the air volume, and is connected to air stones with an air line/tubing. You can also use a soaker hose instead of air stones to create bubbles. The bubbles rising should look like heavily rolling water boiling. This system relies on 1 piece of equipment so it is easy to use, but if your air pump malfunctions, you only have approximately one hour to prevent disaster because your plants no longer have air supply to the roots and your plants will drown.
As you can see plants do not actually need soil to grow, they need the nutrients that are hiding in it. Hydroponic gardening provides nutrients directly to a plant’s roots. It provides your plant with everything it needs, in all the right proportions, at just the right time, and in the most efficient way with a perfectly balanced, pH adjusted nutrient solution that is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. Your plants roots do not have to search out the nutrients and extract them as they would in soil, instead nutrients are delivered to roots in an efficient and effortless way.
Is Hydroponic Gardening Complicated
Hydroponic gardening can be incredibly simple. In fact, a few of the many advantages of growing in a soil free medium (peat, water, rocks and pebbles) is the higher rate of growth potential and crop yielding with less work, and very little, if any watering requirements. You can grow your own plants, fruits, vegetables and flowers hydroponically. When most of us think of gardening, we think about all the hard work and intensive preparation that goes along with traditional gardening, hoeing, tilling, digging, planting, watering, weeding, dirt and mud. However; the hydroponic approach to gardening may seem like something out of a Sci-Fi movie and unnatural, but it makes things a little easier and your not getting your hands dirty.
So why do we use dirt? Soil is a means where plants traditionally get nourishment. Plant roots spread out in a mineral-rich soil and draws nutrients from it, but don’t get confuse in thinking that soil in itself has nutritional value. The nutritional value in soil comes from a medium in which is hosted in the soil. In a previous post I explained soil differences and soil preparation. Not all soil is equal and to successfully plant and grow vegetables and fruits in a traditional garden, you may very well have to treat the soil with additional nutrients. Soil is very important in traditional gardening for nutrient dispersal, but it also has many drawbacks i.e., bacteria, insects, other disease sources, and plants may absorb destructive elements from pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Hydroponics provides a great alternative because you are relying on water and not soil as a neutral medium for the dispersal of nutrients, and water can be controlled more easily, adjusted and tested, and is less likely to play host to common plant-killing diseases and insects. In retrospect; soil is really not necessary, we are just providing plants with nutrients they take from the soil.
What Are The Benefits?
One of the biggest deterrents to gardening is the lack of space. Many people who live in apartments would love to have a garden, but they do not have enough space to make one. Hydroponic gardening allows us to utilize relatively small areas to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs. With specialty lights and the right knowledge, a closet, storage space, or any small area can be converted into a garden.
Another big deterrent to gardening or gardening failure is weather. Many climates only allow us to garden a few months a year until freezing temperatures return. Even during these prime few months, many gardens fail due to extreme weather conditions such as torrential downpours, extreme heat waves, drought conditions, or other weather relate difficulties. Hydroponics allows us to grow indoors and avoid the changing climates and extreme weather conditions that can be detrimental and damaging to our plants.
With traditional gardening we have to prepare the soil for creating an environment for successful planting and this process is specific and takes time. Even then, soil adjustments are typically very difficult and usually rather uncontrolled. You have to know soil type, mix fertilizer, add compost, and in many cases, the medium may not be adequately responsive due to drainage or other issues. Hydroponic garden eliminates the soil issues because it is not used which allows direct and easy control of the nutrient intake of plants for maximum efficiency.
Hydroponic gardening allows plants to focus energy on actual growth because the plants are not struggling to find sufficient nutrients in soil. Instead nutrients are supplied directly to the roots where plants do not have to focus on survival and in turn they produce larger blooms and more produce.
Food grown hydroponically is more nutritious, because you are able to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs with the right mix of fertilizers, water, and micronutrients. Hydroponic gardening does not only produce bigger, delicious fruits and larger crop bounty, it also provides more nutritional value with a lots more vitamins and minerals.
With traditional gardening there are many times when water is being wasted due to over-watering, evaporation, inadequate drainage, and other issues. Hydroponic gardens are typically designed to re-circulate the water and the same water is used in a cycling manner so water is not being wasted. Hydroponic gardening also provides a great alternative to climates that have poor soil, limited resources and where traditional gardens are not an option.
There is a long list of advantages and benefits associated with hydroponic gardening and thinking past soil seems like an obvious choice. Hydroponics provides overall environmental benefits, food grown hydroponically tastes better and has higher nutrient content, hydroponic gardening is environmental friendly and is a great alternative to meet the demands for food and support the world’s hunger problem and growing population, hydroponics eliminates the consumption of toxic chemicals, and hydroponics helps to rebuild natural habitats that is so important for conservation of animal populations.
If you are looking to try an alternative to traditional gardening or want to grow fresh foods all year round with knowledge of the quality of your food you are eating, hydroponic gardening may be your answer.
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