The following content is all bout Hydroponic Gardening Techniques and Basics.
INTRODUCTION TO HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
Hydroponics is a part of hydroculture, where plants are grown without soil. They only absorb nutrients from the water solution. In general farming, soil acts as a reservoir of nutrients through which plants absorb the required material. But botanists discovered that without the soil, the roots of plants can directly absorb the nutrients from the solution, which is a mixture of various organic nutrients. The plants are suspended in this solution and are expected to absorb the required supplements without the presence of soil. This kind of farming has excited people and agriculturists but has not replaced normal farming yet. The importance of hydroponic gardening is on the rise because of the fear of pesticides being used for growing plants in the soil. The best part of hydroponic gardening is that it does not involve the use of pesticides. Hydroponic gardening has two major advantages, i.e. one it increases the production of food and helps with economic balance. Two it does not disturb the environment, thereby contributing to sustainable goals. The hydroponic revolution has started in first-world nations.
This system of gardening has become popular in large cities where there are not many facilities for traditional agriculture due to less land availability. Hydroponic gardening can be used for both households as well as commercial farming. Hydroponics in addition to vertical farms is gaining importance because unused buildings in crowded cities are being used for vertical farms which give fresh produce. Hydroponic gardening can help meet the local food requirements of the people.
Any variety of plants can be grown using hydroponic techniques. Vegetables such as lettuce, kale, peppers, chard, cucumbers, and tomatoes are grown initially in the beginning. Herbs like basil are also grown. Some types of root vegetables and vining plants are not very much suited for hydroponic gardening as they need more space.
TECHNIQUES INVOLVED IN HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
Depending on the mediums used for hydroponic gardening there are two methods of irrigation; sub-irrigation and top irrigation. All the techniques outlined below can be categorized into active and passive hydroponic systems. An active hydroponic system uses pumps and other mechanical devices to pump nutrient-rich solution to the roots of plants whereas in passive hydroponic systems a growing medium is arranged in the container which absorbs the nutrients from the solution and passes it on to the plant roots. The various techniques in which this farming can be undertaken are:
Static solution culture: Containers with nutrient solutions are used in this method. Gentle aeration is provided so that the roots get enough oxygen. Each plant is supplied through a reservoir and a hole is cut in the lid of each reservoir. At home, plastic containers can be used and aeration can be provided by aquarium pumps, tubes, and valves. To eliminate the formation of algae, containers are covered with aluminium foils, black plastic, and other light excluding materials. The solution of nutrients is either changed once a week or when the concentration of the solution falls below a required limit as measured by an electrical conductivity meter. The solution is replaced with a new nutrient mixture. An Afloat valve can maintain the level of the solution.
Nutrient film technique: Here the flow of solution is continuous and constant through the roots. Automatic is easy as adjustments to the temperature and nutrients can be made, which serve thousands of plants in a tank. There is another way in which this technique is implemented whereby the nutrients required by the plants are made to flow in a shallow stream and are re-circulated through the plant roots by a watertight thick root mat. This mat is below the channel of solution and is moist on the upper surface so as to provide aeration to the roots. Nutrient flow technique should be designed such that it has proper flow rate, proper channel slope, and proper length of the channel. This method is considered the most advantageous because the plants get an adequate supply of water, oxygen, and nutrients. The design of the nutrient flow technique is such that all the supplements are adequately met at the same time. This results in higher productivity and higher quality. Ideally, the slope of the channel is 1:100 but practically this is difficult, so the recommended slope is 1:30. The major drawback of these slopes is water logging and ponding. The solution flow rate is recommended as 1 liter per minute. The length of the channel should not exceed 12 meters as this develops depressed growth in plants. As the length of the channel increases, it depletes the supply of nitrogen to the plants. Alternate arrangements of placing nutrient feed halfway through the channel are recommended when the length of the channel exceeds the proposed limit.
Aeroponics: In this method, the container with the plants is saturated with the nutrient solution. It has no substrates and the roots of the plants are suspended in the saturated chamber and receive nutrients from the mist that develops in the chamber. Aeration is the main requirement for this method. In the aeroponics system, any variety of plants can be grown because the environment can be controlled very easily, and also the plants tend to receive oxygen, carbon dioxide in adequate quantity. This method is estimated to use 65% less water and only one-fourth of nutrients than other hydroponic techniques. Plants grown in this environment are less prone to diseases and transplant shocks.
Fogponics: It is a sub-type of Aeroponics in which the nutrient solution by the use of a vibrating diaphragm of ultrasonic frequency creates aerosols. The solution droplets are 5-10 micrometer in diameter are comparatively smaller than the particles produced in Aeroponics. This droplet size makes diffusion easier and helps the roots to access oxygen conveniently.
Passive sub-irrigation: Here through the capillary action nutrient solution is supplied to the plants grown in an inert porous medium. The pot containing the plants is placed in the container with nutrient solution. The hydroponic media used are coconut husk, clay, etc. the major advantages of this method are reduced root rot and humidity control through evaporations. When compared to traditional farming these methods require 13 times less water and yield 10 times more than conventional farming.
Flood and drain sub-irrigation: A tray containing the plant and the medium is supplied by a timer pump, which fills the tray with nutrient solution and then drains into the reservoir. This method uses a timer to keep the try flushed with nutrients.
Run to waste: The nutrient solution is applied to the surface of the medium as and when required. A complex design of the system has an automated delivery pump, timer, and irrigation tubes to supply the solution at the desired frequency by observing the parameters like plant size, stage, substrate, PH level, water content, and conductivity.
Deepwater culture: plants are suspended in nutrient and oxygen-rich solutions. Plants in netted pots are suspended into the container from the center such that the roots of the plant touch the solution. Oxygen is provided in the saturated form through an air pump with porous stones such that the plants receive higher oxygen content for faster growth.
Top-fed deep water culture: Supplying an oxygenated nutrient solution to the roots of the plants directly. Here the solution is pumped from the reservoir to the roots and circulates back to the system constantly. An air stone pumps, air into the water from outside. Top-fed deep water culture plants grow faster than other deep water culture techniques. Unlike other methods roots have access to the nutrient solution at a very early stage, this helps in faster growth.
Rotary: This is a commercial way of hydroponic gardening where a circular frame of plants rotates during the growth cycle. The frame is rotated once every hour. The Center of the frame has a grow light fixed which stimulates sunlight based on a timer and the plants are watered with the solution during each rotation. Due to gravity plants grow faster in this mechanism and require less space for the production of plants.
SUBSTRATE MATERIAL REQUIRED
FOR HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
Every technique needs a different medium for growing plants. The various materials required or used in this method of farming are:
Clay: clay pellets that are baked, neutral and inert are used for hydroponic systems. The pellets are prepared and baked in kilns at 1200 Degrees Celsius. The clay therefore expands and becomes porous. These clay pellets are sustainable and also reusable because they can be sterilized in solutions like hydrogen peroxide, chlorine, and vinegar.
Growstones: They are made from glass waste and as they have more air and water retention space they as used as substrates in hydroponic gardening.
Coir peat: coir is the remaining part over the coconut after the fiber has been removed. It is a natural source of growing medium. It is used along with Trichoderma fungi to stimulate root growth. Coir has the ability to store minerals that are not used and release them when required by the plant. This activity is exclusive to the coir substrate and is called the cation exchange.
Rice husks: Sometimes in use for hydroponic gardening allow proper drainage.
Perlite: Superheated volcanic rock is either used loose or immersed in water. It can hold more air and less water.
Vermiculite: a mineral superheated to form pebbles that can store more water and easily draw nutrients from the hydroponic system.
Pumice: Also a rock of volcanic origin finds use in hydroponic gardening.
Sand: It is sometimes used because it’s heavy and needs to be sterilized very often.
Gravel: This has multiple uses such as drains well, does not log water, cleaner to maintain, and inexpensive. There is one disadvantage that if the roots do not get a supply of solution adequately they may dry out.
Wood fiber: A highly efficient substrate for hydroponic gardening and organic in nature.
Sheep wool: This substrate helps in higher yield and is a renewable medium.
Rock wool: Mostly used substrate for hydroponic gardening. During the seeding stage, this material is of utmost importance since it is less prone to microbial degradation. This substance can sometimes cause skin irritation while handling. The PH of rock wool has to be adjusted before use.
Brick shards: They are the same as gravel and require PH conditioning and cleaning before use.
Polystyrene packing peanuts: They are easily available and have good drainage capacity. There is a health risk with these as the styrene can be absorbed by the plants and can be passed on to the consumers. Generally, they are used in closed hydroponic systems.
NUTRIENT SOLUTION REQUIRED FOR HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
There can be two possibilities: organic solution and inorganic solution.
Organic hydroponic solution: This solution can be prepared from organic materials like blood meal, bone ashes, fish meal, wood ashes, leather waste, poultry manure, cow manure, and cottonseed meal, etc. there are a couple of challenges when organic substances are used as nutrients such as, the nutrients may be insufficient as the quality of manure depends on the feed of the animal, also disease transmission through the by-product poses a threat, the organic fertilizers are not as fine as inorganic substances, therefore, they can block the equipment used for hydroponic gardening and finally they can produce offensive odor in the farming area.
Inorganic hydroponic solution: the general inorganic elements found in the solution are nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, sulfur, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, boron, nickel, silicon, chlorine, aluminium, cobalt, sodium, etc. the solution method is different from the soil technology in certain ways. The cation exchange capacity of hydroponic solutions is negligible therefore this leads to an imbalance in the PH of the solution. Not all plants require the same nutrients so there could be an imbalance in the composition of the solution as plants tend to absorb the required nutrients more from the solution.
A ready-to-use nutrient solution can be prepared at home for hydroponic gardening. This mixture contains both the primary nutrients and the secondary nutrients. In 20 liters of water 25 ml of calcium nitrate, 1.7 ml of potassium sulfate, 8.3 ml of potassium nitrate, 6.25 ml of monopotassium phosphate, 17.5 ml of magnesium sulfate, and 2 ml of trace elements are dissolved to form the nutrient solution. It can be stored at room temperature and away from sunlight in a container. The solution should be mixed well before use. There is an indication by the leaves if there is insufficiency of nutrients i.e. they turn yellow else if the concentration of the solution is high they burn and turn brown.
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TOOLS REQUIRED FOR HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
Filter, thermostat, bug screens fans are considered for air and environment balance. Co2 generators help control the temperature and air requirements. Fluorescent lights and metal halides that control odor are used. Other components like trays, tables, tubes, sockets, hangers, filter cords, reservoirs, plastic pots, Rockwool, clay containers, etc are required for establishing the hydroponic setup. Propagating materials like heating mats, rooter plugs, etc. are also used. Some advanced equipment is also considered for creating nutrient solutions such as colorimeters, burettes, and pipettes, etc. The nutrient mixture is generally available in the market but in some hydroponic gardening areas, it is prepared using software tools.
FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED FOR HYDROPONIC GARDENING:
The budget: the system requires less and a flexible budget initially for the entire setup.
Climate: though the season is not so important for hydroponic gardening excessive heat, heavy rains, and frosty winters have to be considered when the farming is done in an open area.
Workspace: needs less space to start off initially.
Produce: the produce from hydroponic gardening is higher as this requires nutrients directly to the roots. The entire energy is formulated in growing the plants.
ADVANTAGES OF HYDROPONIC GARDENING OVER OTHER CONVENTIONAL METHODS:
- The produce from the hydroponic farm is obtained even during an unseasonable time and therefore it is stable.
- Hydroponic gardening requires very less water, which ultimately reduces the investment for heavy irrigation.
- Plants grow really fast so harvesting is done early to meet the market demand.
- Plants have a lesser risk of soil-borne diseases.
- Plants grown in a small area can produce higher yields than traditional farming methods.
- The hydroponic gardening method supplies the plants with sufficient nutrient content just enough to grow the plant. Therefore there is less destruction to the environment and biodiversity as in traditional methods.
- Since the nutrients flow equally to all the plants, less space is enough to accommodate more plants as the roots do not grow enormously in search of nutrients.
More technological advancements and orientations are required to spread this method of farming into the entire world. The global market of hydroponics is estimated to grow many fold times in the future. Hydroponic gardening is considered economical and sustainable because it is possible to grow nutrient-rich food in a small establishment with minimum requirements. It is a step ahead of other farming techniques as it can be practiced even from the comfort of home.
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