Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants in absence of soil. Here, nutrients are provided to the plants by dissolving nutrients in the water and then supplying the water to the plants directly.
In today’s modern world, a lot of research is happening in every field. The whole world is moving forward at a very faster rate. Everyone is focused on making the best product. Farmers are also trying to do their best and grow the best crops.
There are many people who have always wanted to do agriculture but, it just isn’t possible for them to leave their work and start doing farming. Well, Hydroponics is the perfect option for those who want to do farming without risking a lot.
Hydroponics is such a great system that I just can’t stop bragging about it. Hydroponics has, literally, destroyed all the excuses of a person to avoid doing agriculture. Problems like space for farming, food quality, availability of food are non-existent because of hydroponics.
Hydroponics is now the new trend that is going on in the agriculture world. The whole world is accepting it and it is growing day by day because of the thousands of advantages that Hydroponics has.
One is that it takes very less space. It can even be accommodated in your balcony. Even I have a hydroponics system set up in my balcony. It is also referred to as backyard hydroponics.
You can grow varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers in hydroponics. I personally have grown spinach and strawberries in my backyard hydroponics system. For a modern human being, who is always in a hurry and has very limited time, backyard hydroponics is the way to go.
Hydroponics will also ensure that this modern day human eats very fresh and whenever he wants without having the slightest bit of worry in his mind regarding the food quality.
Also, you require very less time for maintenance of a hydroponics system. And the returns, very beautiful! great! bountiful! No need to worry about soil quality, insects, rodents, fleas and flies. No need to do the dirty work in the soil.
Types of Hydroponics system:
The main purpose of hydroponics is to provide plants with nutrients directly at their roots. The type of hydroponics system doesn’t matter. The main function is that the roots should be supplied with water which has dissolved nutrients in it. Keeping this point in mind, all the types of hydroponics systems have been designed.
In this system, a wick or rope or simply a piece of cloth is used. The wick is placed in such a way that one end of the wick is in water and the other end is touching the roots of the plants. The wick then absorbs the water and provides it to the roots.
Deep Water Culture (DWC):
In this system, the roots of the plants are directly dipped in the water. As the water is stagnant here, we need to provide oxygen to the water. Hence, an air pump is used.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):
Here, the plants are kept in a pipe by keeping their roots inside and the plant should be outside the pipe. The roots are directly provided with water by pumping the water through the pipe using a water pump. As water is pumped continuously, there is no need to use an air pump to provide the water with oxygen.
Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain):
Here, a container or tray is filled with hydroton balls or any growing medium that is compatible with hydroponics. Plants are then planted in the growing medium. As the name (ebb and flow) suggests, the water is supplied for some time and then the water supply is cut off for some time.
In aeroponics, we do not use any growing mediums. The roots are kept hanging in the air. Tiny sprayers are used to create the mist around the roots so that the roots can get the essential nutrients.
Drip systems is a commonly used technique. The water is provided by making it drip from holes made on a pipe. The holes are positioned exactly above the plant so that the water will drip straight in the growing medium of the plant.
My Hydroponics System:
In my hydroponics system, I have made an iron stand as shown in the picture. On that, I have mounted plastic PVC pipes vertically with holes in them to carry the nested cups which in turn can hold a plant in it. The pipes used for carrying plants have a diameter of about 10 cms. Here, I have made use of hydroton balls as the growing medium.
As we can see in the picture, there is a network of small PVC pipes which have faucets at particular distances. These faucets, when opened, supply water from the tank to each and every pipe.
My system qualifies as ebb and flow system and I have mounted my system vertically. It is more like a vertical garden.
Total of 24 pipes can be mounted in this system. However, I have only mounted half of the pipes in my system.
Please don’t use soil or sand as a growing medium as it can change the nutrient composition and can badly damage the water pump. Soil also promotes bacteria growth and insect growth.
The Science behind Nutrients:
When a plant grows in soil, it gets all the required nutrients for its growth because of all the processes the soil has gone through. Many trees and organic materials have decomposed in the soil, ashes, metals, minerals, almost everything needed for a plant’s growth is present in the soil.
Here, in hydroponics, there is no soil. So, the plants do not get nutrients. We have to provide the nutrients by mixing the liquid fertilizers in water and then the water is provided to the plants.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are the three most important nutrients that a plant needs.
Over the years, farmers are looking after these three nutrients only. However, there are other nutrients also to look after. These other nutrients are required in very small quantities but essential to a plant’s growth. These other nutrients include iron, calcium, magnesium, boron, etc.
In traditional farming, we don’t take care of these nutrients. After growing crops for years and years, these nutrients are no more present in the fields. That is the reason why we need to do soil checkups.
However, this not a concerning factor in hydroponics because the nutrient solution that we add in the water contains all these nutrients in required quantities.
What is currently happening?
In traditional farming, farmers are only using cheaper fertilizers like urea. This is making the content of nitrogen to go up drastically and in turn, is affecting the crop.
Due to overfarming, the content of nutrients in the soil has become very low. Therefore, vegetables grown in this soil is not that nutritious. This is the reason, everyone should start hydroponics and eat fresh vegetables at home.
In hydroponics, we just have to dissolve the nutrients in the water. This is the only way to provide nutrients to plants in hydroponics as the soil is not the medium here to provide the plants with nutrients.
We do this by adding liquid fertilizers to the water. One point that should be kept in mind is of maintaining the pH and electrical conductivity because the plants consume nutrients only in a particular range of pH (6 to 7).
Advantages of Hydroponics:
Space requirement is less:
Hydroponics also follows the rule of modern-day real estate builders of less space and longer buildings. Likewise in hydroponics, we can grow plants in the same space above each other.
It is not the case in conventional farming, you can use the soil only once. As I have told you earlier, I have built my setup in my balcony and I get fresh vegetables from my it every week. So, just imagine the power of Hydroponics. This is one of the biggest advantages of hydroponics.
The soil is not used hence, no soil related problems:
Well, the definition of hydroponics says that it doesn’t require soil. If plants are grown in soil, it solves the nutrition aspect of plants but soil also brings many problems. These problems can sometimes be so big that it can give you nightmares. Hydroponics, therefore, has this biggest advantage which makes it very popular.
Recycling of water helps us save a lot of water:
Water supplied to the plants is circulated again and again. So, the water is conserved. When we water the plants that are grown in soil, some water is consumed by the plants the remaining gets percolated in the soil.
In hydroponics, the ways by which you will lose water is by plant’s consumption, evaporation and leakage in the system.
Can you even imagine how advantageous this can be in drought-prone areas? If hydroponics is implemented properly in drought-prone areas, it will help to feed so many hungry people. This is, according to me, the biggest advantage amongst the advantages of hydroponics.
Plants make effective use of nutrients:
When the growing medium is soil, the soil has different nutrient content in different parts of the field.
Even if we check the nutrient content in one part of the field, it is very much possible that a different part of the field may have different nutrient content. Therefore, some plants in the field may receive different amounts of nutrients while others will get different amounts of nutrients.
No matter what you do, you can’t look after all the plants effectively.
This is not the case in hydroponics. You can change the nutrients and its quantity according to the requirement of the plants. The nutrients that are supplied are used effectively by plants grown hydroponically because the water full of nutrients is directly supplied to the plants.
Benefits of Hydroponics:
Required climate conditions can be maintained:
Climate is one of the most important factors in agriculture. Climate is the reason we get some fruits and vegetables in particular season only. You can control the climate my manipulating factors like humidity, sunlight and temperature. By controlling the climate, you can grow vegetables round the year.
Suppose, there is a shortage of tomatoes in the market and you somehow are able to grow tomatoes during that period, then you can sell those tomatoes at a very good price. This is one of the biggest benefits of hydroponics. Having the ability to grow a plant round the year, feels like a super-power to me.
pH level can be measured and hence can be controlled:
The biggest advantage of hydroponics is that you can monitor nutrient value, climate, temperature, pH etc. pH is an important factor to monitor when growing plants because plants consume nutrients only when the pH is between 6 to 7. In hydroponics, we can easily measure the pH and keep it in control.
Plants grow faster:
As discussed earlier, nutrients in the hydroponics system are provided to the plants by mixing nutrients in the water. This water, which is full of nutrients is supplied directly to the roots.
That is why, the roots in a hydroponics system don’t get too long because the roots don’t have to search for the nutrients, instead, the plant focuses on growing its leaves, fruits, flowers and stem.
If roots are exposed directly to the oxygen then, the plant’s metabolism increases substantially. Therefore, in hydroponics, the plants grow faster and healthier.
Pests are nowhere to be seen:
The soil is home to many pests. Without proper care, these pests can multiply quickly and in turn affect the crop. There is a very little chance of pests affecting plants grown in a hydroponics system and even if they do, it is very easy to spot them and take the necessary measures to get rid of them.
No problem of unwanted weeds:
Soil contains other seeds also, which we don’t require. As we water the plants, other unwanted seeds also germinate. These unwanted plants or weeds affect the growth of the plants that we have planted. As there is no soil in hydroponics, there are no unwanted seeds and no weeds.
Flexibility in working hours:
When the sun is harsh, it gets really tough to work in the farm. In hydroponics, we can change our working hours according to our needs because a hydroponics system can be built in our homes. We can even work in the evening or night to avoid the harsh sun.
This benefit of hydroponics is the one, that everyone is looking for these days. You can work whenever you want! Seems like a dream!
Get some headspace:
While working on your hydroponics system, you will get some time to spend with yourself. It has been proven that spending 15 mins alone every day, increases focus and gives you clarity in thinking.
Disadvantages of Hydroponics:
The whole system is dependent on electricity:
Whole hydroponics system is dependent on electricity as some electric devices like water pump, climate controller are used. It is the major risk in a hydroponics system. If the water pump doesn’t get electric supply, the plants will not get water and the whole system will die. Therefore, it is always better to have power backups. This is one of the biggest disadvantages of hydroponics.
If you have a wick system or deep water culture for hydroponics, you can avoid this risk by manually changing the water in every 2-3 days.
Initial expenses can be high:
Expenses are completely dependent on the hydroponics system that you have built. Hydroponics is a little expensive from traditional farming as you have to buy pipes, water pump, nutrients, growing medium and some other things even for a small setup.
However, the amount you spend is not a lot, in fact, this amount is insignificant for a person who is passionate about building a hydroponics system at home. If you ask me, I will not label this as an expense because it is an investment according to me.
Nothing comes easy in life. You have to work hard towards your goal. Hydroponics can be as laborious as farming if you are planning to scale up your hydroponics system to make it a substitute for a farm. However, in hydroponics, we can change our working hours. We can even work in the evening to avoid the harsh sun.
Points to remember:
Covering the tank for preventing algae growth:
The major problem a hydroponic system faces is of algae formation. Algae is formed when stored water is exposed to sunlight. To prevent algae formation, cover your tank with something black like bin bags or simply paint the tank black. Black colour doesn’t allow the light to pass and doesn’t allow algae to grow.
Artificial lights for photosynthesis:
Plants make their food from sunlight. We all have heard this from our childhood. That is why, it is important to keep your hydroponics system out in the sunlight but, if you want to keep your system inside, then you will have to use artificial lights.
Nowadays, you will find lights in the market which are designed specifically for growing plants. They are called grow lights.
Maintaining ppm and pH:
One good way to maintain ppm or electrical conductivity is by using a large tank to store the water. The reason behind using a large tank is that it can store more water and if you have more water, small changes in ppm won’t matter.
It is like adding a teaspoon of sugar into an ocean, the salty ocean water won’t turn sweet. As the ocean is big, these small changes don’t matter. Similarly, while using large tanks small changes in ppm won’t be problematic.
Well, I would like to express this again that maintaining pH is extremely important because if pH is not in the range of 6 to 7, the plants won’t even absorb any nutrients.
How to change or refill the water in the tank?
If the water level in the tank goes down or somehow the water gets contaminated, just flush the water out because it will severely affect the concentration of the salts in the water.
The ppm and pH will eve be in normal ranges but, the concentration of some salts will be high and some salts will be low. So, without even knowing, your plants will be affected. Just flush the already used water completely and fill the tank with fresh water and then add the required salts.
Never plant two varieties of plants which have different properties together:
If you plant two varieties of plants with different properties in the same setup, one of the variants will definitely suffer because the nutrition requirements of both the varieties are different. If you are planning to plant two varieties together, just check their properties beforehand.
Once you start hydroponics, there are many things that you can do to take your hydroponics system to the next level. You can add climate controllers in your system, so that, you can grow any fruits and vegetables irrespective of the season and climate.
Temperature controllers can also be added to maintain the system at required temperatures. Humidity can also be controlled by using the designated machines for doing so.
The whole hydroponics system can be accommodated in a greenhouse to maintain proper conditions so that the plants will bloom to their fullest.
I would highly encourage you all to start hydroponics and keep on experimenting with your setup. The goal is to completely shift to hydroponics and start doing farming in less space.
These are some of the steps that you can implement in the future in your hydroponics system. Once you start understanding things in hydroponics then, you can experiment with your system.
Keep a log of all your experiments. Keep a log of each and every failures and success of yours. Share this valuable information with others and help them gain knowledge of hydroponics. And these are the steps of becoming professional in your field.