A beginner’s guide to Hydroponics gardening
Growing your own wholesome food needn’t require soil or compost. Hydroponics offers a solution to bountiful harvests in small spaces requiring no soil. Hydroponics is one branch of an exciting growing method called hydroculture – growing plants in mineral and water solutions, supported by an inert substrate, coir, gravel or perlite.
Hydroponic cultivation is a sustainable and efficient solution for the suburban gardener, nursery owner and commercial farmer. With a little bit of knowledge, some basic DIY skills and a smattering of ingenuity, anyone can integrate hydroponic systems into their current growing space. A successful hydroponics garden can yield much more than conventional soil planting, as well as requiring less space, resources and water.
A flat Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system of one square metre of growing area, for example, can produce 36 Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard plants with 10% of the water usage as per regular planting in soil.
Hydroponics is often used by commercial growers because of the relatively low costs and high yields. Hydroponic cultivation requires the grower to add the nutrients to the water and manage the pH, temperature and oxygen levels of the water. This enables the grower to fine tune the nutrition available for improved growth rates as well as accurately track inputs and outputs Hydroponic cultivation found its’ roots in industry and the goal when employing this method, is to ensure absolute accuracy, control and efficiency. Many growers recycle the water and only add the nutrient profiles required for the stage of growth. This allows commercial operations to plan and budget accordingly, as well as streamline their operations. Nurseries, co-ops and small farms are prime instances of ideal implementation of hydroponic systems. Despite the required watering and feeding, the actual growing of the plant can be accommodated in many ways, including simply planting in an inert medium and planter bag, using standard irrigation to transport the nutrient solution from the water source to the plants.
If you would like to implement your own Hydroponics growing system at home, here are 6 ways you can start:
- Wick Systems – This is a great method to start with because it uses pump/irrigation-free methods of feeding the nutrients to the plants. In this instance, a reservoir/sump below the plants contains the nutrient solution. Via a wick, the capillary movement of the plant’s roots will pull the nutrients into the grow tray, where the plant can assimilate it.
- Deep Water Culture (DWC) – The plant is suspended in deep water that is well-oxygenated and enriched with nutrients. An air pump and an air stone are necessary to provide the plant with the oxygen needed to prevent suffocation.
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) – This is a recirculating system, using a pump to move the nutrient solution from the reservoir/sump to the growing trays and back. This is the most commonly used growing method for hydroponics from small scale, pipe or tray systems, to large scale hydroponic systems. Plants are grown in a substrate like coir, perlite or gravel. (In some cases, no substrate is used – the roots are in the solution directly.) The nutrient solution is then pumped to run in a stream over the roots of the plants. The flowing solution aerates itself thus no air pump is necessary as long as the flow rate is good
- Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain) – The plants are grown in a substrate with a nutrient reservoir/sump below. The nutrient-rich water is pumped and used to temporarily submerge the roots in the substrate, before been siphoned out through a bell siphon and refilling the reservoir. This system allows air to get to the roots as the nutrient solution level drops in the system.
- Drip Systems – This active system uses a submersible pump to pump the nutrient solution from the reservoir below the plants upward, to drip down on the plants using a drip line and drip manifolds.
- Dutch bucket system- A bucket with 2 holes, the big one at the top and a small one on the side just above the bottom. The substrate in the bucket can be gravel, coco-peat or perlite. This system is used in conjunction with the drip system whereby the nutrient solution is dripped into the bucket and is returned to the reservoir or sump. With this type of system, one can grow potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots.
There are also some more complicated methods where hydroponic ideas can be used, e.g:
- Vertical walls utilising the NFT method
- Double-sided wet walls
- Hanging waterfall filter gardens
One is not limited to growing only vegetables and herbs through hydroponics, flowers and succulents can be grown through these methods as well.
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Images supplied by Hydroponics in Action