Hydroponic Farming FAQ Information For Beginners

Hydroponic Farming FAQ:

You can find here most commonly asked questions about hydroponics or Hydroponic Farming FAQ.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 1: How does hydroponic farming work?

The process of growing plants with the help of water based nutrient solutions is called hydroponic farming. Soil is replaced with an inert medium such as rock wool, clay pellets peat moss or vermiculite and the roots of the plant have direct access to nutrient solution through these mediums. The plants have access to oxygen and sunlight, however, if they are not available, then an arrangement is made to provide these basic needs artificially through a greenhouse set up.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 2: Is hydroponic gardening organic and can hydroponic vegetables be certified organic?

The nutrient solution or the macro nutrients used in hydroponic farming are made of chemicals and are synthetic in nature. So, hydroponic gardening or farming is not organic and it is not certified as organic because by definition of organic farming ‘techniques or practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve the biological diversity’ are termed as organic and are certified for the same. If hydroponic techniques start using organic methods and recycled biological resources, then they could probably be organic.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 3: Why would someone use hydroponics?

The charm of hydroponics is growing within the urban population mainly because of some important aspects it carries such as faster growth rate of crops, less effort, etc. In a hydroponic system, plants have direct access to the exact amount of nutrients required so they grow quickly and produce bigger crops than usual. This system needs less space and the effort of maintaining soil conditions is also reduced. With the growing demand for food and less space available in the urban areas, hydroponics can be the right solution.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 4: Is hydroponic farming faster than soil or why do plants grow faster in hydroponics?

In hydroponic farming everything is given to the plant in required quantities and under perfect conditions. There is no dependence on irrigation facilities, no drought periods, no nutrient deficiencies, etc. Therefore, when there is a continuous supply of required elements, the growth is regular during different plant stages and maturity is attained faster. An extra feature with hydroponic systems is that plants grow bigger than normal due to an abundance of nutrients. Traditional soil farming method is a long process of soil preparation, planting, irrigating the plants, supplying manure and fertilizers, etc. that too under unpredictable availability of proper atmospheric conditions. Soil farming is comparatively slower than hydroponic farming and it is estimated that plants grow 30-50% faster with hydroponics.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 5: What are the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics?

Like any other farming mechanisms hydroponics also has both advantages and disadvantages. These have been listed here;

Advantages

  • Can be grown anywhere and they require less space
  • Water used for hydroponics is 20 times less than traditional farming
  • Sterile conditions keep the pests and insects away, so no pesticides
  • Reuse of water is an additional facility
  • Nutrients are provided as per the requirements, no wastage
  • No messing up with soil and no soil maintenance issues
  • Easy to harvest
  • Can produce anytime during the year

Disadvantages

  • Setting up a medium or large hydroponic system needs some effort and money
  • Regularly monitoring the farm is an essential activity
  • Depends on power supply and power outages may create problem
  • Development of water based micro-organisms
  • Hydroponics farming needs expertise in handling techniques
  • The size of the farm decides the quantity of produce
  • Disease in one plant may spread fast to other plants
  • Failure of the system may result in losing the crop

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 6: What are the 6 different types of hydroponics?

Hydroponics doesn’t simply deploy a single system for farming, but there are multiple ways to design a system for hydroponic farming. They are:

  • Deep water culture
  • Nutrient film technique
  • Aeroponics
  • Wicking
  • Ebb and flow
  • Drip system

Sometimes we also find names like Fogponics and rotary systems associated with hydroponics. The working and description of the above mentioned systems can be read at: Hydroponic Gardening Techniques.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 7: What is the difference between hydroponic and aquaponic system?

Hydroponics is the use of water based nutrient solution along with some inert medium to grow plants under controlled environment. An aquaponic system has two components, one to grow crops and the other to grow fish. Crops are grown on a hydroponic bed and fish are grown in another system. Both these components coexist in aquaponic systems. The waste from fish tanks is treated with bacteria and is converted into nutrients, which are used by the hydroponic bed to grow plants.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 8: Is hydroponic garden sustainable?

Hydroponic farming is definitely a sustainable means of cultivation because of the following reasons:

  • Consumes less water
  • Yields more in shorter duration of time
  • Minimal carbon footprint because the greens are grown locally
  • Minimal use of harsh chemicals and fertilizers
  • No dependence on climate and soil conditions
  • Highly adaptable , i.e. can be grown in greenhouse or in at home
  • The produce is safe and free from harmful pesticides

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 9: Is Aeroponics better than hydroponics?

Unlike the hydroponic systems, aeroponic systems do not make use of the growing medium. The plants to be grown are suspended in a dark container or enclosure and a nutrient rich solution, which is dense, is sprayed on the roots at regular intervals. Commercially, hydroponic systems have more advantages than the aeroponic systems because a major drawback of Aeroponics is constant attention and maintenance of nutrient density ratios.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 10: What are the best plants to grow in hydroponics?

Plants that are best for indoor hydroponic farms are:

Herbs – peppermint, green mint, basil, Stevia, lemon balm, rosemary, oregano etc.

Vegetables – lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, celery etc.

Some plants can be grown depending on the type of hydroponic system that is used as such:

Nutrient film technique – plants, most suited are lettuce, spinach, radish, herbs etc.

The wick and ebb systems – generally deep rooted plants are grown such as comfrey, chicory, beet-root, beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes potatoes etc.

Other than these there are plants like cilantro, coriander, chives, fennel, lavender, thyme, watercress, strawberries and green onions, etc. can all be grown successfully in a hydroponic system, but with the proper expertise and knowledge of the system and its function.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 11: Why is it possible for plants to grow without being in soil?

Soil acts as a medium to provide the necessary elements required by the plants. The basic requirements of a plant to grow are support, nutrients, protection from pests and insects, proper atmospheric conditions, oxygen and moisture. A hydroponic system can provide all these conditions and it uses inert growing medium like Perlite, rock wool, peat moss etc. instead of soil.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 12: What are the fastest growing plants in hydroponics?

The hydroponic systems can be tested for their efficiency and speed using these plants because they are considered to grow very fast in the hydroponic system arrangement. Some varieties of lettuce like the bib, butter crunch, romaine, iceberg and head lettuce; herbs like basil, peppermint, spearmint, oregano and marjoram; other greens like mustard greens, kale, spinach, swiss chard and watercress are all considered to grow very fast and the estimated time for growth is around 6 to 8 weeks.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 13: Do hydroponic systems need special seeds?

Not really, hydroponic systems use the same seeds like the traditional farming, but in a cleaned format. Any type of seed can be used in these farms, but indeterminate varieties are most preferred because they keep producing for longer time.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 14: Can someone grow trees with hydroponics?

Probably yes, but only certain varieties. It is known that a dwarf variety of lemon can be grown hydroponically. Species of plants which have smaller varieties can be tested on these systems. Huge growing trees should not be grown in this system because of less space availability.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 15: Is hydroponic farming easy?

For people who are passionate about horticulture or related disciplines and are willing to learn about the technology and implement them in a creative manner then understanding hydroponics and related plant behaviour becomes easy. Hydroponic farming needs lots of attention and focus for producing good results. From a commercial perspective, hydroponic farming can be difficult if people are more yield oriented and do not follow the proper techniques. Following proper procedures and methods in hydroponics is of extreme importance.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 16: Is the nutritive value of the crop better than in soil?

Soil grown plants or hydroponic plants make their own vitamins, so the levels of vitamins are same in both. The difference is the supply and use of nutrients. Soil farming practices rarely use micronutrients for their farms, but in hydroponics one can supply whatever nutrient is required by the plant directly. Therefore, these plants become nutritionally superior to that grown on soil.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 17: Do we use chemical pesticides in hydroponics?

People who practice hydroponics do use pesticides under unavoidable circumstances. Generally the occurrence of diseases and pests is very rare in hydroponic farms, but sometimes due to poor maintenance and carelessness there could be an outbreak of disease which can be handled using bio-pesticides. Getting trained on the methods of hydroponics would help tackle the situation better.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 18: What materials do you need to build a hydroponics system?

Some common things required for setting up a hydroponic system are:

  • Buckets
  • pH testing kit
  • Plant clips
  • Nutrient tanks (50 gallons)
  • PVC pipes
  • Plastic tubes
  • Expanded clay pebbles
  • Clean
  • Cups for planting
  • Trellis and stands made of PVC pipes
  • Fertilizers
  • Pump
  • Twine
  • Plants or seeds

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 19: Where is hydroponics training given in India?

‘Pet Bharo’ is a project in India exclusively working on developments in hydroponic farming. They provide training in hydroponic farming practices and, also assist in setting up farms for people, i.e. they provide consultancy services as well.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 20: What are beneficial insects?

Some insects are available in the market to control the harmful insects in the farms. Ladybugs, lacewings and other insects which feed on aphids are spread throughout the hydroponic arrangement so that they eliminate the threat of harmful insects.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 21: How much water is required for performing farm operations in 1 acre of hydroponic farm?

There are several factors that influence the use of water in the farm such as type of crop and its stage of growth, the climate of the area etc. The average water requirement may range from 6000-10000 litres per day.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 22: What kind of nutrients are used in hydroponics?

The most essential nutrient elements required for hydroponic farming are nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, molybedenum, boron, chlorine etc. these are already mixed in different proportions are available in the market to be used instantly. Some nutrient solutions may also be available with cobalt, silica, selenium, nickel, etc. but these are not very much essential for plant growth.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 23: Can two different types of crops be grown in a single hydroponic set up?

Each crop may require different green house or controlled environment and growing both of them together is not advisable. Only one crop per greenhouse can be grown. If the area is large enough, then another green house arrangement can be simultaneously set up to grow another variety.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 24: How much will it cost to set up a hydroponic farm of 1 acre in India? 

On a commercial scale, hydroponic farming will have two components; one is the fixed costs and the other is recurring investment. Fixed costs involve the arrangement of outer structure, the cover, insect net, plastic materials for farm operations, etc. the recurring investment is made in the procurement of nutrient solution, growing medium and other miscellaneous requirements. It is estimated that to create a hydroponic farm with a controlled environment in 1 acre of land would cost around 10 to 50 lakhs initially. For more information on the cost and profit structure one can read the following at: Hydroponic Farming Cost and Profit Analysis.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 25: What is the scope of hydroponic farming in India?

The scope of hydroponic farming in India is limited to the expertise in the area. With growing technology, high input gives higher output plus higher risk. So practicing such techniques in India will need knowledge and expertise. Even before starting large farms, people should focus on the productivity and quality of small hydroponic farms and slowly expand them. Awareness among the population and proper training can help people invest into hydroponics. In India we have several wastelands, which have poor soil quality and are abandoned; such lands can be brought under hydroponic farming and can be made useful for growing vegetables and plants on a large scale.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 26: why do we sanitize and sterilize hydroponic systems and how?

Sanitation of the farm may involve sweeping the floor, removing the dead and unwanted material, cleaning the filters, properly maintain the planting and cleaning area, etc. sterilizing is required to kill the microbes from spreading and causing disease to plants. Sterilizing is done with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. And sanitation is maintained using degreasing agents. Organic compounds like vinegar can also be used.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 27: Do you need sunlight for hydroponics?

Yes, hydroponic plants need direct sunlight at least for 4 to 6 hours in a day and may need bright light for 12 to 14 hours in a day.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 28: what are the optimum temperature and humidity requirements for hydroponic systems?

The temperature of the nutrient solution should be maintained between 20-22˚C. The humidity around the place should be maintained around 40-60%, but this may change depending on the plants that are grown in the system. At these temperature and humidity levels the plants have easy access to nutrients and survive better.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 29: What are the common pests that infest the hydroponic plants and how do you control them?

The common indoor plant pests that infest the plants are spider mites, thrips, aphids, whiteflies and fungus gnats. These pests can be driven away by bio-pesticides or by natural methods like sticky traps, organic sprays, beneficial predators, etc. Apart from all these there could be another way of protection by putting a rhino skin, which is a potassium sulphate foliar application as a protective coat over the plants such that they have minimal insect or pest infestation.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 30: What are the common diseases that infect the hydroponic plants and how do you control them?

Commonly found hydroponic or indoor plant diseases are powdery mildew, downy mildew, gray mold, root rot, iron deficiency, etc. preventing the diseases is highly important rather than curing them. Some preventive measures are to wear clean clothes, immediate cleaning of spills and runoff, sanitizing the plant surrounding. The disease can also be controlled by maintaining the proper pH of the soil.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 31: What chemicals are used in hydroponics?

Commercial hydroponic farms use the nutrient solution mixtures readily available in the market, but for small farms if someone want to know what chemicals can be used then the list is here; calcium nitrate, magnesium sulphate heptahydrate, potassium nitrate, copper sulphate pentahydrate, potassium monobasic phosphate, manganese sulphate monohydrate, zinc sulphate dehydrate, sodium molybdate, boric acid, iron ETDA etc.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 32: Can you grow organic hydroponics?

Organic systems have a definition and need to satisfy the guidelines laid by the national organic programs, only then produce from the farm would be declared organic. The hydroponic and organic systems can be overlapped if the microbial activity within the growing medium can be physically separated from the plant root environment and the nutrients developed from the activity can be delivered to the plants in the form of solution. Such systems have probably been developed in some countries, but need to be certified before being termed as organic.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 33: What is the recommended pH level of the soil for hydroponics?

Maintaining a proper pH level of the nutrient solution is of utmost importance because this is the only way plants get their nutrients and any imbalance can cause nutrient lockout i.e. nutrients cannot reach the plants. So, it is recommended that the best pH range of plants in hydroponic farms is around 5.5 to 6.5.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 34: What type of water is needed for hydroponics?

Before starting a hydroponic farm, it is advisable to get the water tested because hard water is considered to have large amounts of calcium and magnesium, which can be seriously dangerous to the plants. If the dissolved salt content in water is beyond 200 ppm then water should be tested for calcium levels and if the calcium levels are greater than 70 ppm, the water is considered a hard and nutrient solution has to be prepared accordingly. Mineral or spring water should not be used for hydroponic farms because they tend to imbalance the nutrient solution or become toxic to the plants.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 35: Does the flavour and taste of the produce change when they are grown hydroponically?

This is not true, hydroponically grown vegetables or fruits taste either similar to normal vegetables or even better. It was noticed that vegetables and fruits get juicier and fleshy when grow in hydroponic farms.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 36: When should one replace the plants in a hydroponic system?

Every plant has its own life span. Depending on the seed varieties such as determinate or indeterminate, the plants need to be replaced when they stop producing.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 37: How is the nutrient level tested in hydroponic farms?

When plants start absorbing the nutrient solution, the levels start decreasing. An electrical conductivity meter or total dissolved solids meter can be used to test the levels of nutrient solution. The readings of the meter indicate the amount of nutrients to be added and their proportions. Every crop needs a different mix of nutrients and additives of used up (absorbed) nutrients should be crop specific.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 38: How often should one feed hydroponic plants?

There are many factors which influence the feed given to the hydroponic plants such as the age of the plant, temperature, humidity, crop type, nature of the growing medium, etc. Young plants need very low amount of nutrients, so they are given nutrient supply for a shorter period of time. Plants at flowering and fruiting stage require more nutrients hence the supply is given for a longer duration of time. Similarly, for growing mediums like Perlite (once in 2-3 hours at low frequency), clay (once every 1-2 hours at low frequency) and rock wool (3-6 times a day)

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 39: How often should be the nutrient solution changed?

The nutrient solution should be changed once in every one or two weeks. Regularly changing the solution keeps the plants healthy and nutrient sufficient.

Hydroponic farming FAQ # 40: Where in India can one buy raw materials for hydroponic farms?

Radon grow, Northy’s, Gardenguru, Growhouse, Futurefarms, 99Hydro are some suppliers of raw materials for hydroponic farms in India. Thorough research and prior knowledge are necessary before ordering materials for your hydroponic farm.

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