What Are Hydroponics?
With our society’s increasing desire to live more sustainably, many people are interested in growing produce with minimal impact on the environment.
Plants require soil, water, and sunshine to thrive. But what if a farmer could save valuable resources and skip the soil? That is exactly what hydroponic growing accomplishes.
From the Latin roots “hydro” meaning water, and “ponos” meaning labor, hydroponics essentially translates to “laboring with water.” That is exactly what happens with hydroponic growing. Water is directly fed to the plant with a nutrient source added to the water. No soil is necessary, and the amount of water used can be as much or as little as needed, making this a very environmentally-friendly option for growing produce.
The environmental benefits of hydroponic versus field and soil growing are numerous. Field crops use 10% more water than hydroponically grown ones. Hydroponic plants also require less pesticides or herbicides, because the soil that carries weeds and pests is not present. The space needed to grow plants is vastly reduced, saving valuable green space.
Methods of Hydroponic Growing
There are several different ways to grow plants hydroponically.
The easiest way is known as the reservoir method, also known as the lettuce raft method or “deepwater culture” (DWC). This method involves a large tub at least one foot deep that is filled with water. The “raft” (usually a Styrofoam layer) sits atop the water and has holes in it which contain Net-Pots that house the nutrient solution for the plants. An aerator is needed to make sure the nutrient-filled water is sufficiently oxygenated and the roots are healthy.
Another popular method of hydroponic growing is the wick method. It is similar to the reservoir method because the plants rest atop a large reservoir, but the roots do not touch the water like they do in the reservoir method. Nutrients are carried to the plant through a wick system, such as a rope.
A third way to grow hydroponically is called the “ebb and flow” or “flood and drain” method, in which the tray of plants sits atop a reservoir that is connected to a nutrient-filled water reservoir below and connected by pumps that periodically “flood” the reservoir above with water. The reservoir above will then drain back into the reservoir below, letting the plant roots rest for a little before the cycle starts again. This method can cause algae to grow, so it needs to be carefully monitored.
This YouTube video shows a hydroponic greenhouse in action. The “cool” factor of hydroponics cannot be denied – it appears futuristic and is taking the world by storm. From appearances at local farmers markets, to becoming a part of the food delivery service industry, hydroponic growing is becoming more and more popular. For all you know, the salad you are eating tonight might have been grown by hydroponics!