Most people believe hydroponics is the growing of plant matter in water. However, many mediums can be used to grow plants, so the term has come to be defined as the growing of plants without soil. Aggregate systems use sand, sawdust, or vermiculite to anchor the roots in conjunction with the hydroponic system. These can be set up for small-space gardening or large commercial endeavors.
Hydroponic systems can provide air, water, nutrients and light to plants. They can be indoor or outdoor. If they are indoors, light and air circulation must be provided for the plants. Gro-lights, halogen lights and solar lights are some of the options commonly used. A small fan is adequate for air circulation in small indoor hydroponic gardens. The water and nutrients are supplied directly to the roots and available at all times, causing the plants to develop stress-free.
In addition to the lights and air circulator, several other components are needed to complete the system. A container for the water-nutrient solution can be almost anything: glass aquarium, jars, crocks, and metal or fiberglass containers. Clear containers should be painted on the outside to prevent sunlight from causing chemical changes in the solution and causing algae to grow. A platform that fits across the top of the container made of chicken wire or similar material is covered in a layer of wood shavings 3 inches deep. This platform and bedding should rest 1 inch above the solution for young plants, and 2 to 3 inches for older plants. A pump, like those used for fish tanks, blowing water into the solution for aeration, is added to the system.
Traditional garden fertilizers do not contain all the nutrients the hydroponically grown plant will need. Special fertilizer mixes for hydroponic use are available by mail order or from a few specialized garden centers. The nutrient dilution rate will be shown on the package and should be followed. Nutrients are depleted at different rates, so the solution should be changed every two weeks. Also as evaporation occurs, additional water should be added to maintain the proper level.
Advantages for Plants
Mediums used in place of soil are sterilized, meaning they do not carry soil-borne pests or disease. It also accounts for the fact that no weeds are present. These facts alone make hydroponics a desirable alternative to conventional soil. Nutrients are more readily available as is access to water. Plants take up less space because their roots do not have to expand as far in search of them. Plants also mature and develop flowers and fruit more quickly.
Advantages for Gardener
With no pests, diseases or weeds to worry about, time is saved because plants require less maintenance. Because the plants take up less space, hydroponic plants can be grown in greenhouses or small environments like apartments. Hydroponically grown plants can be raised year-round. Hydroponic systems are automated, providing everything the plants need and leaving the gardener free to be away for long periods, if desired.