Gardening is an extremely satisfying venture.
Being able to plant something and watch it grow, is an exuberating experience.
It is easy to be discouraged from venturing into gardening.
This may be, for instance, because of a lack of space or finances.
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However, there is an answer to both these problems.
It is possible to garden with limited finances and space and the solution is in hydroponics.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a sub strand of agriculture that involves growing plants in water without using soil.
The water used in the growing process has mineral nutrients mixed in it.
Thus, the plant has access to all the mineral nutrients it needs, without having to come into contact with soil.
Simply put, hydroponics is the science of planting crops in water rather than in soil.
Why grow your plant using hydroponics?
Planting crops hydroponically is highly advantageous.
There are very many gains to reap and so many reasons to try it.
Some of the more important reasons are;
It uses less space. Crops planted hydroponically, have their roots in close proximity to mineral nutrients any time of day.
Their roots do not need to spread out looking for water, oxygen or nutrients.
This saves a lot of space, making hydroponics an ideal indoor gardening technique.
This technique is quite useful for people living in urban areas, who want to try gardening but do not have the luxury of space.
It saves water. With hydroponics, plants are provided with the exact amount of water they need.
The system minimizes wastage. It encourages the infinite recycling and reusing of the water used to grow the plants.
Conversely, planting in soil wastes this resource.
The plants have to be watered daily.
Most of the water used, will be wasted either when it leaches into the soil or evaporates in the sun’s heat.
Higher yields. Since the plants are not exposed to extremes of the outdoors, they are definitely going to grow big and healthy.
The plant is kept in close proximity to nutrients, water and oxygen. It need not struggle to access anything.
Thus, it conserves the nutrients acquired and utilizes them in producing large, healthy fruits.
No use of soil. Hydroponics is a big win, especially, if one lives in an area that has poor quality soil or no soil at all.
The entire basis upon which hydroponics is built is that the need to use soil is eliminated.
Thus, a person living in the rocky mountainous regions of the Andes or the sandy Sahara Desert, can also reap the joys of gardening.
Faster growth. Plants grown hydroponically are supplied with mineral nutrients necessary for growth.
With this system, it is possible to gauge what a plant’s needs are mineral wise.
It thus becomes possible to provide the exact amounts needed for optimal growth.
This precise provision of nutrients enables the plants to grow faster.
There are no pests or diseases. Hydroponics is an indoor gardening activity. Being indoors protects plants from harmful pests and diseases.
This is quite an advantage because plants do not need to be sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
The produce harvested is safe from chemical contamination.
One need not worry about falling sick from any traces of herbicides that could have been left on the plants.
No weeds. Weeds are the most angering and frustrating part of gardening.
They choke plants and use up nutrients in soil.
Apart from risking the health of your plants, the process of pulling them out is tedious and tiring.
With hydroponics, one need not worry about weeds.
Since the plants grow in a controlled and closely monitored environment, the danger of weeds is non-existent.
Plants can grow freely without having to share nutrients with pesky weeds.
How to start a hydroponic garden as a beginner.
The benefits of hydroponics are immense.
Being able to grow healthy nutritious food in your home is quite appealing.
The entire process of growing plants in water is quite easy.
Hydroponics tends to be very simple and straightforward.
With a little knowledge anyone can begin an entire hydroponics system and start reaping the fruits.
Some of the plants that can be managed well in a hydroponic setup include;
In order to begin the hydroponic journey, it is important to understand the science behind it.
There is more than one way to grow plants with water.
The following steps should be helpful in this venture;
Step 1: Choose a hydroponic technique to invest in.
When choosing a particular technique, have in mind how much it would cost setting up, how much space it would take up and the kind of care and maintenance required.
There are many ways to set up a hydroponic structure.
Each technique is designed to suit various needs, budgets and locations.
All of them vary in efficacy but still meet similar end goals.
Some of these techniques include;
Deep water culture
This is the easiest and simplest hydroponic technique to set up.
It is called the still water technique. With this method, the water is placed within a reservoir.
The plant’s roots are then immersed inside nutrient rich water. The reservoir can be covered to avoid evaporation.
The plant will be immersed into the water through a hole made on the cover.
With this technique, it is important to uncover the reservoir from time to time and stir up the water.
This aerates the water and ensures that there is enough oxygen for the plant to use.
The plant’s roots will therefore not suffocate.
Ebb and flow
This technique is also known as flood and drain.
It involves using a reservoir and a pipe system.
The plants are grown on trays, poly vinyl pipes or pots that are connected to the reservoir via pipes.
Their roots are not kept submerged like in the still water technique.
Here, all the water is kept in the reservoir.
At various times of the day, the water is released from the reservoir via the pipes to the roots.
It is allowed to flood the containers holding the plants for a few minutes and is then drained.
The roots absorb nutrients during the “flood”.
This is an economical technique, if one does not wish to use too much water.
The plants’ roots are only exposed to the nutrient mixture for a short time.
The water is then taken away and will be reused again .
This is similar to the normal drip irrigation carried out on soil.
The only difference with this system is the fact that the water has nutrients mixed in it.
The water is conveyed to the plants via a PVC pipe system.
The pipes have holes on their sides that convey drops of water directly on the plant’s roots.
The system avoids wasting water as only very little amounts are used.
Aeroponics system setup
With the aeroponic technique, plant’s roots are periodically sprayed with nutrient rich water.
The water is held in a reservoir connected to pipes that have nozzles on their ends.
The water is sprayed onto the plant’s roots via these nozzles. This ensures that water is used sparingly.
Plants are also able to quickly absorb nutrients and water since the droplets are minute.
Fogponics technique is very similar to aeroponic technique.
Plants’ roots are periodically sprayed with nutrient rich water.
Fogponics, however, goes a step further.
Instead of using nozzles, a diaphragm vibrating at ultrasonic frequencies sprays the water.
Consequently, the droplets of water sprayed are microscopic in size.
This makes it easier and quicker for the roots to absorb the nutrients.
Aquaponics growing system setup
This aquaponic technique is one that may be used by fish farmers.
It involves reusing water from aquariums.
Water that has been drained from aquariums is very rich in nutrients sourced from fish excrement.
This water can be used for growing plants.
The water does not need extra nutrients added into it.
Once it has been passed through the hydroponic system, it can be filtered and reused in fish farming.
Another notable type of hydroponics bubbleponics.
Step 2: Building a cheap hydroponic system
Setting up a hydroponics system is easy and straight-forward.
In fact, one can utilize things found in one’s living space.
One need not have a large garden or years of experience to set up a hydroponic structure and enjoy the benefits.
This is because the entire basis of hydroponics is pegged on a person’s ability to be creative and inventive.
As a beginner it is best to look to simpler, more cost effective setups.
This is because, simple set ups require less maintenance and are less capital intensive.
Trying out these easy setups can act as motivation to step to more complicated hydroponics plans.
The following setups are simple yet effective beginner DIY hydroponics plans that anyone can build at home;
- The passive bucket
This is quite easy to put together.
One only requires pots, growing substrates such as sand or gravel and hydroponic nutrients.
Hydroponic nutrients are the mineral nutrients to be used by the plant.
They can be obtained from organic and inorganic sources.
Organic sources of these nutrients would be from fish or chicken excrement, duck and cow dung.
Inorganic sources would be from synthetic fertilizers which can be obtained from any gardening stores or agrovets.
This set up utilizes the deep water culture technique.
Here, the water is poured into a bucket which acts as a reservoir.
Seeds are then planted in a pot which has holes on the underside. The pot is then placed supported above the water.
This system is easy to set up and maintain.
It only needs the gardener to stir up the water ensuring it remains aerated.
- Simple bucket system
With this set up, one needs a bucket, growth medium, hydroponic nutrients and the plant seeds.
The bucket is to be filled with the growth medium, drenched with the hydroponic nutrient solution.
The seeds are then planted in the growth medium. This hydroponic setup is very useful with large single plants.
The substrate will need continuous monitoring and manual watering to ensure healthy plant growth.
Step 3: Taking care of your plants
Even though hydroponics is easy to set up and maintain, that does not make it hands-free.
It needs to be monitored and looked after to ensure that the plants grow healthy.
Ensure that your plants receive enough sunlight.
Plants need light to make food. Without light, photosynthesis will not happen and a plant will not survive.
A plant should be exposed to sunlight for a minimum of 6 hours a day for optimal growth.
Place the plants on roofs, outside or near windows to make this possible.
If such locations are not available, it is necessary to use artificial lighting.
With artificial lighting, one must keep in mind the fact that photosynthesis only occurs at a specific light spectrum and wavelength.
Therefore, one must invest in lights that provide this. The best are LED grow lights which can be regulated.
Secondly, it is important to ensure that the pH of the water does not kill the plants.
PH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of a substance.
Tap water will normally have a pH of 7.0, which is the neutral point on a pH scale.
Most plants however, require a mild alkaline environment in the range of pH 5.0 and 6.0.
Therefore, hydroponic farmers are encouraged to have a pH kit in order to constantly monitor the pH of the water and ensure that it is within the required range.
The third and most important tip with hydroponics is to always keep the water aerated. Plants need oxygen too.
Keep the water within which the plants grow aerated.
Stir the water in the reservoir and expose it to the air time and time again, to ensure that air gets into it.
Hydroponics is an easy and affordable way of gardening.
It encourages recycling and reusing of water which encourages conservation.
There is one challenge that you may encounter and that is managing the growth of algae.
But of the other hand the same algae is being farmed and used to make plastic shoes.
Getting involved with hydroponics and starting a gardening project is an easy, straight-forward and inexpensive feat.
One will only need to use items that they ordinarily have in their living space.
The system needs very little space, very little maintenance and effort.
Starting as a beginner will not be difficult at all.
In fact, it will be a joyous adventure.