For some people, the term hydroponics sounds like a complicated construction. However, there is nothing complicated about it and simply means the growing of plants without soil as a medium – interesting?
Hydroponic systems just mean that you are growing plants using a growing medium, water, and nutrients. You must be asking yourself what then holds the plant upright.
Actually, the growing medium that can either be clay pellets, Rockwool, perlite, peat moss, coconut coir or vermiculite is sufficient to support the root system.
The primary goal of hydroponics is to provide the best growth conditions for your plants by eliminating possible barriers to optimal access to nutrients, and oxygen – the roots of your plants need this.
What are the Benefits of Hydroponic Systems?
The most significant benefit of using hydroponics is the associated high rate of growth. If you do it correctly, then your plants can develop by up to 25% faster than the other soil types. Their production rate is also reasonable and can be in the region of 30% better than you typical non-hydroponic plants.
The plants don’t need to work too hard to reach the nutrients, oxygen, and water – the basic necessities. As a result, their primary focus will be upward growth and not the expansion of the root system – talk of setting priorities right.
But, you will need to maintain the right PH level and control your nutrient solution. Other than that, the system uses less water. Of course, there is less water wastage through evaporation and runoff – it is enclosed. We can then say that they are good for the environment.
The Disadvantages of Hydroponic Systems
As the adage goes ‘nothing good comes cheap.’ A good quality hydroponic system does not come cheap. You will have to reach deeper into your pocket if your goal is to accrue the most from your plants.
And if you are a starter, setting it up will take more time. The same applies when it comes to managing it. You will need to balance the PH and nutrient levels appropriately which may not be easy.
If something like a pipe breaks, it can quickly kill off all your plants in a matter of hours depending on its size. This is because a growing medium is not like soil that can hold water for longer. It needs a constant supply of water.
The Different Types of Systems
- Deepwater Culture (DWC)
This is one of the most common and easiest systems for growing plants. DWC is also named the reservoir system, and it’s where the roots are hanging in the nutrient solution. It has an aquarium air pump the keeps oxygenating the solution and keeping the roots from drowning – yes, drowning can happen.As a rule of the thumb, always remember to keep light out from the DWC system to keep algae out.The good thing about the reservoir system is that it does not utilize spray emitters or drips that can jam without notice putting the plants at risk. This makes it the best choice for organic hydroponics. However, it is not the most appropriate for large plants.
- The Drip System
This is another simple system that works by providing small doses of nutrients to the medium. The most appropriate medium for is peat moss, coconut coir or Rockwool.It has a high level of nutrient control and watering. You will also not need to dig deep you’re your pocket to set this system up. However, this may not be the best for a small garden. It also has fluctuating PH and nutrient levels which may not be the best for individual plants. The drip system is susceptible to clogging.
Wicking is easy and a low-cost hydroponic system especially for those starting out. The basic idea behind wicking is having a piece of material covered on all sides by a growing medium. One end of the material is dipped in a nutrient solution wicking it to the roots of the plants.Alternatively, you can replace this piece of cloth and dip the growing medium into the nutrient solution acting as a wick itself. There is a word caution should you decide to do this. It is not all mediums that will work well as a wick. Some of them may end up choking the plants when they take in too much of it.Vermiculite and perlite will work well. Coconut coir, peat moss and Rockwool will do poorly as wicks.The wicking system is suitable for those that have finally decided to try their hand at gardening – it’s simple and cost-effective. It is suitable for small plants and is easy to maintain. However, this system is not the best for large plants. It is also risky as incorrect wick placement can mean death to your plants.
- The Nutrient Film Method (NFT)
The NFT is the kind of system where there is a continuous flow of nutrients for the plants. The solution utilizes the force of gravity to flow and be available for the plants’ roots – it is on a slight tilt. What makes this system efficient is the fact that the roots take in more oxygen from the air.Only the tips of these roots are in contact with solution meaning more surface area for oxygen intake leading to a faster rate of growth. However, the failure of the pump or overgrowing roots can ruin everything.
This involves misting the suspended roots with nutrient solution. You can achieve this by using a fine spray nozzle or a pond fogger. For those that decide that a pond fogger is the best route, then make sure it is Teflon disc-coated for durability.The finer sprayer ensures that your roots are getting the necessary oxygen in addition to the nutrients. This system is said to be more efficient than other hydroponic systems such as DWC attributed to the exposed roots – they get more air.Should the pressure nozzles fail, then your plant would be in big trouble. Another shortcoming is that the system does not come cheap – you may need to stretch your budget for it.
- Ebb & Flow
These are the least common, but that does not mean they are ineffective. This system which is also known by the term flood and drain can prove quite effective depending on what you are growing.What happens with the flood, and drain is that the tray packed with a medium is filled with nutrient solution, several times daily. The system is best for varieties accustomed to epochs of dryness. These dry periods encourage the roots to grow at a faster rate to reach the disappearing nutrients leading to faster growth.With ebb and flow, water, as well as, energy is used efficiently. However, this system requires a lot of growing media which can prove quite expensive. The plants can dry out should the flooding timer or pump failure.
Whichever system you choose, hydroponics will significantly increase your harvest – this is always the ultimate goal. The systems provide the best opportunities to control the variables that determine whether the plants thrive or not. The requirements in terms of inputs may be intimidating at first, but they are sure worth the effort.