What is Hydroponics?
Origin of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is being used more and more in modern farming techniques, but it has in fact been used for centuries, with many civilisations utilising the gardening technique to produce crops in unfavourable growing conditions. Hydroponics actually means working water in Latin, Hydro being water and ponos being labour.
The popularity of hydroponics has grown enormously in the last couple of decades with an increasing awareness of unfavourable growing conditions creating a necessity to utilise more efficient growing techniques. And of course the increased knowledge of hydroponics has meant we can create bigger yields and produce better crops. But what actually is the technique of hydroponics?
Definition of Hydroponics
The definition of hydroponics if the method of growing plants using hydroponic nutrient solutions, in water without the use of any soil. The plants can either be grown with the roots directly in the mineral nutrient solution or within an inert medium such as mineral wool or clay pebbles.
Pros & Cons of Hydroponics
There are many advantages of using hydroponics and this is why we are seeing such an increase in the use of the method all over the world
- Water is circulated in the system and as a result there is a reduced water requirement
- There is no requirement for soil
- Nutrient levels can be fully controlled and therefore is a reduced nutrient requirement
- Very stable and high yields
- Pests and diseases easier to control
- Ease of harvesting
The main two advantages which have resulted in such a sharp increase in the use of hydroponics is the ability to grow much higher yields, and also the ability to use the method in places where growing would not usually be possible.
The disadvantages are that if you have any failure in hydroponics system then this will lead to rapid plant death without soil to act as a natural buffer. Crops also have increased exposure to pathogen attacks due to the high humidity conditions of hydroponic growing.
The Different Hydroponics Techniques
There are 6 main different hydroponics techniques:
- Aeroponics: A system where the plants roots are periodically sprayed with a fine nutrient mist solution, no substrate is used and the plants roots are suspended while they are sprayed with the nutrient mist.
- Drip System: The most widely used hydroponics technique. The hydroponic nutrient solution is held in a reservoir where it periodically pumped and pushed through tubing which drips out at the base of each plant. The excess drainage is collected and returned to the reservoir.
- Ebb & Flow System: A tray filled with growing medium is placed above a nutrient reservoir, at regular intervals a pump fills the try with the nutrient solution where it then drips back into the reservoir.
- N.F.T: Nutrient film technique. Similar to Ebb & Flow but with this technique the nutrient solution is continuously flowing over the roots. This is achieved with gravity, with the grow try being placed at an angle that allows the nutrient water to flow downwards towards the drain pipe while new solution is constantly being pumped into the high end of the tube.
- Water Culture System: Tray is floated in nutrient solution, an air pump is used to supply oxygen to the plant roots and release the nutrient solution.
- Wick System: The simplest of all the hydroponics techniques where the nutrient solution is delivered to the tray via a wick.
Modern Day Hydroponics
With access to hydroponics ever increasing there has been a growing trend in home hydroponics to produce peoples fruit and vegetables. With the technological advances in hydroponics it has become cost effective to produce huge yields and premium quality crops.
NASA have also been using the technique for some time in space and believe it will result in advancements in space exploration.
One of the most encouraging projects that is gathering momentum is the use of vertical farms, with 2014 set to see a number of these popping up all over the world, from the Middle East, to China, to the USA. Vertical farms aim to avoid the problems inherent in growing food crops in drought-and-disease-prone fields many hundreds of kilometres from the population centres in which they will be consumed.
The plant racks in a vertical farm can be fed nutrients by water-conserving, soil-free hydroponic systems and lit by LEDs that mimic sunlight. And they need not be difficult to manage: control software can choreograph rotating racks of plants so each gets the same amount of light, and direct water pumps to ensure nutrients are evenly distributed.
People see vertical farming as a way to feed a global population that is urbanising fast: it is believed 86 per cent of the people in the developed world will live in cities by 2050. It could also make food supplies more secure, because production can continue even when extreme weather strikes. And as long as farmers are careful to protect their indoor “fields” from pests, vertical farming needs no herbicides or insecticides. They also conserve water far better than earthbound farming.