Hydroponic plants are basically plants that grow without soil.
Instead, they have their roots either in water or very moist air.
Plants do not require soil to grow. It is for this reason hydroponic gardening has become a perfect alternative.
They need sunlight, water and oxygen, which makes it possible for hydroponic plants to grow without soil.
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You may then wonder, why would anyone go for hydroponic plants rather than the conventional plants that are planted in soil?
Pros of hydroponic growing
Below are some of the advantages that hydroponic plants have over conventional plants.
- Plants that are grown hydroponically are able to have their roots dipped directly into solutions that are rich in nutrients hence are able to acquire what they need for growth more easily. This is not the case in plants that are grown in soil which make more effort to get the nutrients.
- Also, hydroponically grown plants are able to yield so much more as compared to conventionally grown plants because of their ability to easily get nutrients and whatever else they require.
- Hydroponics also need smaller root systems as compared to plants that are grown conventionally hence direct the energy that would have been used on roots into stem and leaf growth instead. This also gives more room for the growth of more plants at the same place, which in turn yields more. This is advantageous especially for people who do not have much space or who are growing plants in places like greenhouses or balconies.
- Besides, hydroponics has been proved to grow faster than plants grown conventionally in soil. This is because of the factors stated above.
- Plants grown hydroponically are also able to evade pests found in soil, giving you more hygienic system of growth that has fewer chances of disease.
- It is also possible to grow plants all year round with hydroponics because of how ideal they are for indoor growing.
- Other than that, hydroponically grown plants are easy to grow considering they use automated systems such as deep flow technique (DFT) which are controlled by computers and timers. This also makes the whole process of growing they hydroponics so much fun.
Cons of hydroponic growing
However, growing plants hydroponically has its drawbacks too.
It is not all rosy.
Some of the drawbacks include:
- You require equipment such as pumps, nutrients and lights. This may not be so much of a necessity when dealing with conventionally planted plants which are planted in soil.
- The plants require your control, unlike plants grown in soil which just need the weather to be okay. Hydroponically grown plants require you to control and monitor their growth if you do not have automated systems. This is done to ensure they thrive and do not grow wrongly. One of the things that need control is growth of algae.
- If you want to automate the growth of your hydroponics, you will have to purchase the items you need such as timers and computers. This is an additional cost, unlike in plants grown in soil which need less monitoring and hence less equipment. Thus, it can arguably be said that it is cheaper to grow plants in soil.
- The roots of hydroponics are much smaller, which causes them not to provide very firm support to the rest of the plant. This becomes problematic for example in hydroponics that yield many fruits or fruits which are heavy. Such hydroponics require to be provided with external support.
Which plants can grow in hydroponics?
There is a variety of plants that one can grow in hydroponics.
These include potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, mint, cabbage, basil, and green beans.
- Strawberries – Strawberries are able to do very well in hydroponics. The strawberry plant is also quite compact, enabling it to fit well in a hydroponic greenhouse. They also have the ability to thrive even in many configurations. This goes for the many strawberry plant varieties.
- Potatoes – Potatoes also have the ability to grow well in a hydroponic environment, but this only happens when they are provided with enough depth. They require enough space. Very limited space for potatoes will cause them to have stunted growth. It is advisable to choose the smaller variety of root crops so that you can give them enough depth.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are one of the plants that really thrive when grown hydroponically. Of course, they require support like many other hydroponically grown plants. It is important for you to choose the tomato type whose size you can offer support as there are many varieties of tomatoes and they grow into different sizes. As a side note, there are other vining vegetables that need support such as cucumbers, peas and pole beans. If you opt to plant these too, be ready to provide them with the support they need.
- Mint – Mint also does well in hydroponic environment and it comes in many different varieties. Mint requires enough space as it spreads quite a bit. Mint are known to produce nicely in hydroponics, be it peppermint, ginger mint, spearmint or any other type of mint.
- Basil – Basil is known to produce better in hydroponic conditions rather than in soil. Its flavor is also enhanced by the moist hydroponic conditions. Just like with other plants, its yield is likely to increase in hydroponic conditions. However, you are required to check the hydroponic system setup regularly to ensure it is fit for the plant. This goes for the many other different types of herbs too.
- Lettuce – This comes in different varieties such as iceberg (which is the most common), sweet butter, romaine and many others. They are all suitable for hydroponic growing. Their produce is very flavorful when planted hydroponically.
- Cabbage – Cabbage does very well in the hydroponic environment. You may however need to change temperatures if you are planting your cabbages in a hydroponic greenhouse because cabbage does well in cool environments. You may also be required to plant your cabbages according to the weather seasons.
- Green beans – Green beans are known to do really well in hydroponic conditions. The harvest is plentiful. The size of green beans is also more suitable for hydroponic indoor gardening as compared to that of pole beans, though pole beans can also be grown and flourish in hydroponic conditions if given the support they need.
Are hydroponic plants healthy?
Yes, hydroponic plants are just as healthy as plants grown in the soil, or even more.
The nutritional value of plants is what really matters.
Plants grown in the soil get their nutrients from the soil while those grown hydroponically get their nutrients from the solutions, they are grown in.
In many cases, when plants are tested for their nutritional value, those grown hydroponically rank higher than those grown in the soil.
This is despite the fact that hydroponics normally get their light artificially unlike those grown in soil which obtain light naturally from the sun.
Plants also make their vitamins on their own.
This causes the vitamin levels to be the same whether a plant is grown hydroponically or in the soil.
The only variable is the mineral content.
Mineral content can vary in hydroponics and this has a lot to do with the fertilizer used on the plant.
It is possible to enhance the hydroponic plant’s nutritional value by putting more nutrients into the solution that the plant is grown in.
These nutrients can be magnesium, calcium, iron or zinc, depending on whatever nutrient the plant is lacking.
As a result, plants grown hydroponically tend to be richer as the farmer has control on the levels of nutrients that they want the plant to have.
This is unlike plants grown in the soil, which only rely on themselves to acquire the nutrients they need.
It is also notable that the nutrient levels vary generally, regardless of the method that was used in growing the crop.
The difference in nutrient level is largely dependent on the type of vegetable or fruit, when it is harvested, how long it takes before consumption and generally the way it is handled and even stored before it is eaten.
Hydroponics also stand less chance to contract diseases that may easily be picked from soil by plants grown in soil.
They are therefore considered healthier.
On this note, hydroponics are healthier than plants grown in soil.
However, it has also been found that the pathogens found in the soil environment are able to make plants produce some beneficial compounds in higher amounts, which gives them an advantage over hydroponics.
What is the best plant for hydroponics?
As stated above, there are many different plants that can be grown in hydroponics and they can actually thrive in the condition.
Below, we shall look at the five plants that are best planted in hydroponics and they do so well in it.
The plants grow fast in water as compared to the conventional soil condition and they do not require so much hard work to get them grown.
Leafy greens such as lettuce should be given the first priority in hydroponic gardening.
Such greens, including lettuce, have shallow root systems and have a short height.
This ensures that you do not have to set guides or tie stakes for them.
Instead, all you have to do is keep changing the nutrient solution they are growing in, and they grow and sprout by themselves.
They take about thirty days to grow.
It is also advisable to stagger plantings if you are doing it for domestic consumption, so that you will not miss them at any given time.
They come in varieties such as iceberg, romaine and Boston.
Spinach are ideal for hydroponic growing because they grow so fast and require less water.
You have an added advantage if you use Nutrient Film Technique to keep the solution oxygenated.
They require about forty days to grow and come in varieties such as smooth leafed, Catalina, savoy and Bloomsdale.
The best thing about having strawberries in hydroponics is that you are not limited to the seasonal production of strawberries.
You have them all year long.
You do not get to miss them just because of failure to purchase them when they are in season.
The mode of harvesting them is also quite convenient as you do not have to bend.
They require the solution they are growing in to be well supplied with nutrients.
They take about sixty days to grow.
They come in varieties such as Tioga, Douglas, Brighton and Chandler.
- Bell peppers
Ebb and flow or deep-water culture are ideal for the hydroponic growth of bell peppers.
Instead of allowing them to grow to their full height, keep pruning them when they are about eight inches.
This spurs their growth. Their growth time is about ninety days.
Their varieties include Vidi, California wonder and Ace.
The list of herbs that do well in hydroponics is endless.
According to studies, herbs that are grown in hydroponic conditions have more flavor and aroma as compared to those grown in the soil.
Examples of herbs that can be grown hydroponically include mint, basil, rosemary, oregano, chives, dill and thyme.
The time taken by the herbs to grow hydroponically varies from herb to herb.
The greatest tip in growing your herbs hydroponically is that you should flush the solution once every week to help you get rid of extra nutrients that have not been absorbed by your plants.
Do hydroponic plants taste different?
Yes, hydroponic plants do taste different from those grown in the soil.
There are many different factors that influence the taste of a fruit or vegetable.
Plants vary in taste depending on the environment they grow in.
For instance, plants which do not have genetically induced flavors are likely to pick flavors from the environment they grow in.
However, generally speaking, every plant is vulnerable to change in taste depending on the condition it grows in.
It is said that plants which grow in soil have a great and rich taste, but this is subject to debate.
Whereas plants that grow in rich soils have this great taste, those that grow in weak soils have a poor taste because they lack nutritional value that should have been offered by the soil, they grew in.
This is the one great advantage hydroponics have over plants grown in soil.
With hydroponics, the nutrients supplied to the plant are determined and controlled, hence the taste of the vegetable or fruit determined by the farmer.