One of the modern ways to grow plants challenges us to think out of the box and know what farming will look like in future. Hydroponic is one practice of growing plants that have emerged recently in which plants are grown in water instead of soil and land. The system is gaining popularity because it requires less space and reduces the risk of soilborne diseases. So, if you are a newbie, a plant lover without adequate space or an environmentalist, hydroponic farming system is for you.
Things that make up a successful hydroponic farming system
Every plant, whether they grow on soil or without it needs water that is filtered and purified. The freshwater needed for hydroponic farming must maintain a PH level around 6-6.5. Many solutions are available in the market that can be used to maintain the desired ph. balance that further depends on the type of crop you grow.
Just like water and soil, plant roots look for fresh oxygen. In hydroponic farming, you must ensure that enough air bubbles are present in the water to prevent plants from drowning. This can be done easily by placing an air pump inside.
Some of the basic nutrients needed by plants include calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and potassium. People administers such nutrients through composts, mineral fertilizers or mulch in traditional farming. But in a hydroponic system, the minerals are added directly to the water while managing a balanced solution all over.
In hydroponic farming, the plants do not compete much for root space, but they still require something to cling to for structure and support. Some important substrates for fulfilling this requirement are perlite, coconut fibre, vermiculite and rock wool.
Light is yet another important ingredient for healthy plant life. Different plants need light at different intervals and amounts. If you are planning to grow plants indoors, you will have to invest in speciated light systems.
Different types of hydroponic systems to choose from
A wick system transports water and nutrients to the plant’s roots by employing a wick, such as a string or a shred of wool. The plants are hung in a growth media, like coconut husk or perlite. A reservoir of water with a nutrient solution is located beneath the growth tank. Either end of the wick is immersed in the solution, while another is immersed in the growth medium. This permits the wick to carry nutrients and water at the same pace as the roots of the plants demand these. Wick systems are classified as “passive hydroponics” since they do not necessitate the use of water or air pumps. As a result, they are low-cost and simple to manage, making them ideal for beginning producers.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Also known as DWC, Deepwater culture is one of the hydroponic systems that are easy to maintain. It involves a reservoir that is filled with nutrient solutions and freshwater. The plants are set loose in the reservoir with the help of a growing media and net pot. The roots get immersed in the reservoir which helps them in receiving enough nutrients and water from below. Plants require a sufficient amount of oxygen failing which they can get drowned. You may use a pump or a stone to pump the bubbles in the reservoir to oxygenate the water constantly.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The nutrient film technique, also known as NFT, applies a thin layer of nutrients to the roots of plants. The nutrient and water solution are kept in a big reservoir with nothing but an air pump and an air stone to keep it oxygenated. Water is pushed through the canal by a timed water pump. This provides a thin coating of nutrients and water to the plants when the roots are not buried. The solution returns to the main reservoir at the channel’s end to be reused in the system.
Ebb and Flow
Ebb and flow are other forms of a hydroponic farming system that is also known as the flood and drain method. This is a less common practice because it is less adaptable to the demands of your plants. However, some gardeners prefer this approach since it does not consistently expose the root systems to the nutrient solution. To manage the plants, you need to fill the tray with a growth medium. On a cyclic basis, a timed pump will “flood” the tray using the nutritious solution. The flooding cycle is affected by growing conditions, water tests, air pressure, growth cycle, and other factors. Gravity empties the solution back into the reservoir after flooding the tray, and it can be recycled. While the reservoir prepares for the next flood cycle, an air pump should oxygenate the water.
This is the most technical and expensive way of hydroponics but at the same time, it is an effective one too. In an aeroponic system, the roots of the plants are suspended in the air along with the plant. The reservoir with an oxygenating air pump has misters spray solution on the plant roots. Many growers use a fine mist that is non-stop sprayers while others use mists that spray at regular intervals. Regular spraying or spraying in cycle keeps the plants roots have nutrients continuously without being submersed or oversaturated.
Drip systems are more commonly seen in commercial settings than in community homes as they work best on a big scale. These are identical to NFT systems in that the plants are kept in their own channel. The plants are hung in net pots having a thin layer of nutrient solution and water. The pump continuously pumps water through the channel to increase oxygenation and nutrient absorption. Excess solution is returned to the reservoir and recycled.
Few things to keep in mind when starting hydroponic farming
Experience Level: To start with a hydroponic system, you must have experience or get trained to monitor the nutrient level, water flow and how to place a pump failing which your plants may die or dry out.
Space availability: Although you can grow plants in a lesser area in hydroponic farming, typical hydroponic farming may require a larger area with a wide and deep set-up for growing many plants simultaneously. However, you can start with a small kitchen countertop and then go for larger ones when you get acquainted with it.
Types of plants: You must try for a small plant such as dwarf plants in the beginning. Some of the recommended plants include herbs like basil, chive and dill. Bushy tomatoes, flowers and pepper can also be grown easily.
Temperature control: This is the most essential part of a hydroponic farming system. Since these plants grow without soil, maintaining temperature is very significant. Usually, planters keep the temperature around 65–75-degree Fahrenheit whereas home temperatures must range between 60-80 degrees.
Nutrients: In hydroponic farming, all nutrients and substrates are liquids, which are easily dissolved in water. Many liquids are also available that maintains ph. level of water along with necessary minerals for the growth of plants.
Maintenance: Although the contemporary hydroponic system needs less maintenance, you need to ensure that your growing pot or area is thoroughly cleaned before starting a new crop. Plants grow swiftly in hydroponic farming and may die in just 3-4 months. So, wipe out any residue properly with a clean cloth besides following other maintenance criteria.