Hydroponic gardening is a great way to grow a garden. The growing season is quickly approaching and with all the research I’m doing to prepare my garden I keep hearing about “hydroponic gardening.” I’ve heard of this before, my cousin once said that it’s what he does for a living. I didn’t know much about it then, but with everything I’m hearing about it now I decided to look a little more into it.
So, what is hydroponic gardening? Hydroponic gardening is a method of gardening in nutrient-rich water solution without soil. Nutrients for hydroponic gardening systems are provided by multiple sources such as fertilizers, fish poop, and duck poop to name a few. Plants are often kept in containers and the root systems grow in the nutrient-rich water basins rather than nutrient-rich soil.
In regular people speak that means that hydroponic gardening is gardening with water instead of soil as the main source of nutrition to the plants. Conceptually, I understand it, but it also raises a lot of questions in my mind because I’ve always been taught that plants require soil. Clearly, if there is an entire subset of gardening devoted to hydroponics then I must be missing something.
This type of gardening isn’t new though. It dates back as far as the early 1600s. It really started being promoted during the early 1900s, and in the last 50 years has really started to take hold in the worlds of farming and gardening. From small gardens to three hundred acre large scale farms, hydroponics is a fascinating plant growing technique.
Hydroponic gardening is a culture of its own in the farming and gardening world because the techniques for hydroponic styles are different than that of traditional farming and gardening.
Hydroponic Gardening Techniques
This gardening is largely still being experimented with so I found that there is a TON of different techniques being used currently, and there will undoubtedly be more techniques as time goes on. For the most part, though the reservoirs or water basins for hydroponic gardens are built out of plastic.
- Static Solution – Plants are grown in containers and maybe, but don’t have to be, aerated. Home-made static solutions are easily constructed from basic plastic goods/waste such as food containers. Aeration for these home solutions can be provided with a simple aquarium pump and tubing. The nutrient-rich water should be kept from the light to avoid the growth of algae and should be changed regularly.
- Continuous-flow Solution – Plants receive nutrients from the solution as it passes by the roots constantly. This type of solution is perfect for automation which makes it great for large scale operations. This type of system takes a little more engineering because the slope and the flow of nutrients need to be just right to get the best results and make sure the plants have adequate nutrients for their needs.
- Aeroponics – With aeroponic system roots are regularly saturated with drops of nutrients through a mist or aerosol. This is a unique method of hydroponics because the roots are actually just hanging in mid-air and receive a periodic nutrient-rich “misting.” The best part of this type of hydroponics is the aeration. Aeroponics typically use 65% less water than other hydroponic gardening techniques.
- Fogponics – Similar to aeroponics. I refer to this as micro-aeroponics because fogponics basically allows for smaller droplets of nutrients to reach the roots without limiting access to oxygen. It’s kinda like the difference of taking a pill vs. getting a shot in the arm.
- Passive Hydroponics – This technique is about 10 times more efficient than your standard farming and gardening and uses way less water.
- Ebb & Flow (a.k.a. Flood & Drain) – This technique fills the reservoir with the nutrient-rich water solution and slowly drains back into a basin, only to be pumped back into the reservoir a short time later using a simple timer and water pump.
- The Bengal System – Sometimes this is referred to as a “run-to-waste” system. This hydroponic gardening technique may be the most common for commercial production. The nutrient-rich water solution is added to the surface periodically and flows through the plants to the other side.
- Deepwater – This is a very common technique that hangs the roots of the plants in oxygenated nutrient-rich water, usually in plastic containers and buckets with plants contained in plastic cups with holes in them creating a net-like structure.
- Rotary – Perhaps (and this is my opinion) the most visually appealing technique of hydroponic gardening. Rotary hydroponics involves a continuously rotating circular frame that contains the plants. This circular frame of plants rotates regularly around a grow lamp or a light that simulates the sun’s light. There are some very unique advantages to using the rotary technique including more production per square foot and faster plant maturity.
Hydroponic Gardening Substrates
Depending on the hydroponic gardening technique gardeners will use a substrate or medium to help anchor the plant’s roots. In other words, these substrates are grown mediums other than soil, used to hold down the roots so they can absorb the nutrients in the water solutions. Choosing the right substrate is important as not all substrates are the same.
- Coir/Coco Peat
- Rice Husks
- Wood fiber / Wood wool
- Sheep wool
- Rock Wool / mineral wool
- Brick shards
- Packing peanuts
Nutrient Solutions for Hydroponic Gardening
Nutrient solutions for hydroponics are usually divided into two categories: Organic and Inorganic. It’s critical to know what nutrients your plants need and how much of those nutrients are needed. Not every plant is the same and just like when planting in the soil you’ll need to make sure your plants are getting the right nutrients. This is where hydroponic gardening takes a lot more skill than typical backyard soil-based gardening. Nutrient levels in the water need to be regularly monitored to ensure plants are getting all the nutrients needed. Organic fertilizers and compounds can also be used in conjunction with typical inorganic solutions, but there are more challenges with using organic compounds so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
What are the benefits of hydroponic gardening?
One of the greatest benefits of hydroponic gardening is the rapid speed at which plants grow compared to other methods of gardening. This is because they spend less time exerting energy to search and find nutrients and water. Another great benefit of hydroponic gardening is that it can be done indoors at a massive scale that reduces or eliminates problems that traditional gardens and farms have such as unwanted animals and pests. Finally, because many hydroponic gardens are indoors they are able to operate year-round anywhere in the world.
Is hydroponic growing faster than soil?
Yes, and the plants are typically much healthier too because they receive the exact nutrients needed to grow without depending on finding those nutrients in the soil. This means fast growth, healthier plants, and more production.
Is hydroponic gardening healthy?
Hydroponic gardening is more scientific and less of a workout, so perhaps it’s less physically exhausting. If you’re asking about the quality of the product then your answer is yes, hydroponic gardening is healthy. That is because your plants are raised in water without the need for soil and the contaminants that soil often has. It also means you’ll spend less time fighting the weeds and worrying about unwanted critters and pests.