What is Hydroponics?
Simply put, Hydroponics (from the Greek 'water working' - 'hydro' = 'water', 'ponics' = 'working'), is the science of growing plants without soil. Hydroponics is as old as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Today, the technology is widely used to grow lush, healthy indoor plants and premium grade vegetables, fruits and herbs. With use of the correct nutrients and the right artificial light source, today’s indoor gardeners can achieve astonishing results.
Agriculturists discovered that plants absorb necessary nutrients in the water in the form of simple ions. In the traditional garden, soil reserves these nutrients - but soil is not essential for plant growth. Plants cannot absorb any of the nutrients found in the soil unless they are first dissolved in water. In fact, when the essential nutrients are introduced to a plant through the water supply alone, soil becomes more of a nuisance than a necessity! Hydroponics allows the plant to gain nutrients directly from the water supply, with a total absence of soil. The plants have an ideal environment, with the the gardener assuming the role of Mother Nature. The physiological requirements of plants can be met without the use of soil or natural sunlight. Plants are rooted (and thus supported) in an inert medium and nutrition is provided by water soluble mineral elements.
Through years of research determining which elements and their combinations affect plant growth, scientists (inadvertently at first) discovered the first hydroponic formulae. This allowed for greater control over plant nutrition and therefore increased production.
Advantages of Hydroponics:
- While removing soil-grown crops from the ground effectively kills them, hydroponically grown crops such as lettuce can be packaged and sold while still alive, greatly increasing the length of freshness once purchased.
- Solution culture hydroponics does not require disposal of a solid medium or sterilization and reuse of a solid medium.
- Solution culture hydroponics allows greater control over the rootzone environment (rhizosphere) than soil culture.
- Over and under-watering is prevented.
- Hydroponics is often the best crop production method in remote areas that lack suitable soil, such as Antarctica, space stations, space colonies or atolls, such as Wake Island.
- In solution culture hydroponics, plant roots can be seen.
- Hydroponics is excellent for plant teaching and research.
- No soil is required.
- Soil borne diseases are virtually eliminated.
- Weeds are virtually eliminated.
- Fewer pesticides may be required because of the above two reasons.
- Edible crops are not contaminated with soil.
- Water use can be substantially less than with outdoor irrigation of soil-grown crops.
- Hydroponics cost 20% less than other ways for growing strawberries.
- Hydroponics let the plants receive more sunlight.
- It is easier to replant and pick the strawberries because some hydroponics systems are towers that can hold 5 square pots which each pot can hold to 4 plants per each pot and the towers rotate.
- Many hydroponic systems give the plants more nutrition while at the same time using less energy and space.
- When using hydroponics the plants are less at risk of getting a root disease than plants that are grown in the ground.
- Hydroponics allow for easier fertilization as it is possible to use an automatic timer to fertilize the plants.
- Maintanence for this system is very low.
- It provides the plant with balanced nutrition because the essential nutrients are dissolved into the water soluble nutrient solution.
Disadvantages of Soil Cultivation versus Hydroponics:
- In soil, bacteria have to break down the dirt into the basic elements of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as well as trace elements.
- Soil is not able to produce as much nutrient per area as the root system is able to take up.
- Soil loses its nutritional value and is difficult to measure in terms of pH and fertility.
- Only when you water your soil plants, the basic elements can dissolve into the water.
- Soil plays host to many nasty little creatures.
- Soil requires a lot more watering, has a higher occurrence of pests, plants grow slower, need more space and constant maintenance.
Advantages of Hydroponic versus Soil Cultivation:
- Balanced plant food (the nutrient solution) is dissolved directly into water so the plant may receive perfect nutrition at all times.
- Hydroponics takes the desired amount of food directly to the root rather than making plants' roots look for it.
- The pH and nutritional value of the water are easily measured and maintained, so plants always have enough to eat.
- In a hydroponic system, moisture is present for extended periods of time or for all the time.
- Hydroponic growing mediums are inert and sterile making a very hygienic environment for the plant and owner.
- Hydroponics increases plant growth and yield per area, decreases pests and diseases and reduces the need to water plants.
Outdoors versus Indoors
- Outdoor conditions limit the selection of flowers, herbs and vegetables you can grow.
- Indoor growing conditions are determined by you. You can pretend to live in a tropical or cooler country year round.
- Outdoors you can have bad weather: too much or little rain, too much or little sun, too high or low temperature, etc.
- Indoors all factors that limit plant growth, can be kept in check with hydroponics.
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