Hydroponics is a technology that has been in existence for close to fifty years. It has been in turns controversial, and invites debate, and at some points it was either the worst for the environment and the most environmentally friendly method of growing plants.
The main idea behind hydroponics is that it is growing a plant without the use of soil. The main ingredients of growth are water, nutrients, and sunlight. In conventional agriculture, the soil is only there as a container for the nutrients. As long as the nutrients that a plant needs are provided, the plant would grow. The medium for transporting the nutrients is the water. Sunlight, or a reasonable facsimile, is required for the plant’s internal chemical reactions.
Hydroponics supplies chemicals or chemically treated water which serve as nourishment for the plants. Detailed studies of plants have shown that different types of plants need almost the same nutrients, with varying ratios. This explains why some plants thrive well in different kinds of soils and climates.
The most important part of hydroponics farming is the setup. Like a plot of land with plenty of sunshine and irrigation, hydroponics grows system is the basic unit of hydroponics farming. It consists of the plant holder or pot, the water tank and a siphoning system. There are different types of grow systems: the wicks system; water culture; ebb and flow system which is also called the flood and drain system; drip system; nutrient film technique (N.F.T.) [and aeroponic system. These techniques use different setups and technologies to hold the plant and to water the plant.
The wicks system uses perlite, coconut fiber or a thin layer of soil as a medium to hold the plant. The plants draw water from a tank below the medium with the means of wicks. This is considered a passive system because it has no moving parts.
Water culture has the plants swimming in water. With the plants held in the medium, the whole thing floats on water. The roots extend below the medium, and directly to the water. Besides being rich in nutrients, the water also has oxygen pumped into the system. This allows the roots to breath. Few plants thrive with this system due to the excessive use of water.
The ebb and flow system is also called the flood and drain system because of the way it is irrigated. The plant and its medium are placed in a tray, which is flooded with water and nutrients and allowed to ebb. The water drains to a tank where it is recycled for the next flooding. The cycle is controlled by a timer, which floods and drains the tank on a regular cycle.
The drip system waters the plants from above. The water seeps through the medium and is collected in a tank. The water in the tank is recycled for the next timer controlled cycle. This is one of the most popular methods of hydroponics farming. Its main drawback is the variation in pH levels due to the recycling of water and nutrients. Regular pH level monitoring is required in the drip system.
The NFT system uses a pump to draw the water and nutrients to the plant tray. The system does not use any medium; instead, it draws water directly from the tray. The tray is tilted which allows the water to flow directly to the tank. A timer controls the flow of water to the tray. The NFT system is what comes to mind when most people think of hydroponics.
The aeroponic system also does not use any medium. Instead water and nutrients are sprayed to the exposed roots. A timer controls the spray ensuring that the roots do not dry out.
Hydroponics recycles water, excess nutrients and the medium. It does not make any use of soil, and does not cause soil erosion. Hydroponics farming can be done in a greenhouse or even in an industrial warehouse.
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