Hydroponics – So What Is Hydroponic Farming?
Definition and background information
Hydroponics originates from the ancient Greek, from the words “hydro” which means water and “ponos” which means work.
Therefore, hydroponics system farming is an agricultural practice where the cultivation of plants is done without the use of soil.
Plants are planted in mineral solutions (water) without soil.
This practice dates back a long time ago, and it is thought that it was first used in Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
As time passed more and more advancements were made in this almost magical discovery and books were published to document it.
But the real breakthrough came in 1937 when Frederick Gericke of the University of California at Berkeley publicly advocated for soil-less agriculture to be used for commercial purposes too.
This is the man who gave this practice of soil-less agriculture the name Hydroponics System.
The embracing of this practice helped in a great way to solve so many problems that were earlier deemed very challenging, NASA have even gone to a greater step and till now goes on to research and develop techniques in order to grow food in Mars and make life there possible.
Also during the World War Two, this amazing discovery was used to feed soldiers who were deep interior in the Pacific Islands since soil agriculture could never work there.
How does hydroponic system farming work?
A hydroponic garden system consists of three essential components namely:
In order to produce high yields and for good strong growth, these components have to be provided to the system in the right proportions, otherwise a risk of total failure of the whole system will be very incumbent, therefore, experience comes in handy when practicing hydroponics.
Light is the most important component in a plants life and in this case, it can be provided by the grow light or the sun.
A grow light is simply a replica of the sun’s natural ultra-violet rays which the key requirement in the process of photosynthesis.
Components of a grow light
1. The Lamp – This is the source of light which is available as Blue light (metal halide), Red light (high pressure sodium) and Dual spectrum.
Blue light helps the plant in vegetative growth during early stages in its life, whereas Red light is used by the plant during the flowering/fruiting stages.
Dual spectrum is not specific and covers the whole life cycle of the plant.
Distributors sell lamps of different power ratings and one can choose any depending on the scale of production and amount of light needed.
You can find them ranging between 0.5kW-1kW in the following specifications-250W/400W/600W/750W/1000W.
2. The Reflector – Just as the name suggests, the main work of this component is to reflect light which means depending on the design and size it controls the area which the distributed covers and also the intensity of the light it delivers.
3. The Ballast – This is the ‘cockpit’ of the lighting system.
It houses all the necessary electrical and electronic components needed to switch on the lamp and also the current regulators which control the amount of current supplied to the lamp, hence, protecting it from damage and most importantly regulating the amount of light the lamp emits.
Effective ballast prolongs the longevity of the lamp because it contains a surge protector which protects the bulb during the power surges.
In this era, almost everything is being transformed from the old standard (analogue) systems to digital systems.
So having a digital ballast is more economical and beneficial than having the standard one.
This is because a digital ballast has a dime-able switch which means that the output current can be regulated to desired amounts.
In case you happen to change the lamp to a higher or a lower rating, you do not have to buy a new ballast but only adjust the switch to the desired output.
The main shortcoming of the ballast is that it is highly exothermic, and this can be harmful; hence, it has to be placed in a safe place away from children and other things that can be harmed by heat.
Water/Nutrient for hydroponic
This now is the main Hydroponics system since this is what delivers the essential water/nutrient mix to the plant.
It is provided by the hydroponic system, growing and nutrient solution.
Different systems are available favouring both beginners and the experienced.
For instance, there is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) where the roots of the plants are exposed rather than planted in the substrate and the Wilma System where the roots are held by the substrate.
The main requirements of a nutrient/water solution are Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium and other micro-nutrients, this solution is the one that provides the plant with the necessary nutrients, so correct proportioning is very important.
There are two types of mix: ”Grow” which is administered to young plants and those that do not flower or fruit, and “Bloom” which is administered at the flowering and the fruiting stage.
pH (measure of acidity/alkalinity) and Electrical Conductivity/EC level (measure of the strength of the nutrient solution) need to be tested on a regular basis by the use of a pH pen and EC pen.
This is the final component, and it is provided by the circulation (fan and filter) system. Generally a plant obtains 75% of its requirements from carbon (iv) oxide found in the air, so air is a very vital source of nutrition.
A fan controls air circulation and humidity, whereas a filter removes plant odour. Lack of proper control of these components, can lead to disease and stunted or lack of growth.
Benefits of Hydroponics
1. Higher yields and faster growth rate in hydroponics-This is because the nutrient solution is in direct contact with the root zone.
2. Facilitates an all-year-round food production.
3. Conserves water since the nutrient/water mix is recycled.
4. There is no risk of soil-borne pests hence the cost pesticides are eliminated.
5. Food is picked and consumed at the correct age thus avoiding exposure to gases used in packaging and transportation.
Frequently asked questions
There has been a lot of debating whether a Hydroponically-grown tomato tastes the same as the soil grown, and the truth is that there is no difference in taste at all.
People also wonder whether hydroponically grown food can be classified as organic, and the answer is no.
Other people also wonder whether a grow tent is a must in hydroponics, well, a grow tent helps in creating a customized system and most importantly regulate the amount of light that reaches the plant.
Sometimes people ask themselves where to put hydroponics system, the answer is that the system and the scale of production is the main determinants of the location.
Drawbacks of Hydroponics
Power – It is required by the machines that give the plants the nutrient solution, and in case of a prolonged power blackout the plants will die. This calls for manual watering which is tedious.
Maintenance – Hydroponics gardens call for regular tending thus consuming a lot of time and have a higher operating cost.
Spread of disease – Since these plants share the nutrient solution water-borne diseases can be spread very quickly throughout the hydroponics gardens, unlike the soil-based gardens.
Knowledge – This is a practice that needs technical knowledge in order to provide the right proportions of the required components.
Cost – Equipment needed in Hydroponics are expensive, and the costs of setup are more than those of soil based gardens.
In conclusion, hydroponics provides a platform for the growth of food or household plants like flowers and shrubs.
It is a fascinating practice that will make you feel great when you succeed!