The steady flow of nutrient-enriched water in a hydroponic system--a method of growing vegetation without the use of soil--often yields larger crops than those grown in natural soil. The term "hydroponics" comes from the root words "hydro," meaning water, and "ponics," meaning work. This alternative gardening method yields a plentiful crop in the absence of a traditional garden.
How Plants Grow
In hydroponic farming, seeds or seedlings are suspended in sand, peat, glass wool or another porous material and are fed liquid nutrients that promote their growth. In one method of hydroponics, the water-culture method, the plant roots extend through the growth medium and into a container of liquid nutrients.
In the drip method, the plants are fed with a continuous drip of liquid nutrients. In the flood method, the plants are flooded with the liquid nutrients. Excess nutrients drain out of the plant medium and can be reused in the next treatment, according to NASA.
Hydroponics is a way to grow produce and plants beyond their natural growing seasons outdoors. In a controlled greenhouse environment, growers can nurture their crops with a consistent nutrient feed under a watchful eye.
At home, hydroponics can become a hobby for growing herbs and vegetables indoors, throughout the winter months. On a larger scale, hydroponics makes it possible for commercial growers to produce flowers, plants, fruits and vegetables year-round.
Hydroponics was used by the U.S. Army during World War II, and now it holds promise as a way to grow vegetables in outer space settlements, according to NASA.
One type of setup for a small hydroponic system uses an enclosed tray that has individual compartments for each hydroponic plant. A hose connected to a submersible pump feeds into the enclosed tray from a container filled with liquid nutrients. At the other end of the enclosed tray is a drain hose or pipe that returns the excess liquid nutrient to the nutrient container so that it is recycled back through this hydroponic feeding system.
Large-scale hydroponic systems operate in a similar manner and use automated feeding and lighting systems to sustain and promote the growth of the hydroponic vegetation. Commercial hydroponic sprouters perform automated seed washing, sanitizing, rinsing, soaking, germinating and growing functions for producing large amounts of seed sprouts, according to Hydroponics Farming.
Easy-to-Grow Hydroponic Vegetables
Lettuce and tomatoes grow easily in a hydroponic system. Other vegetables that grow well in a hydroponic system include spinach, chard, radishes, onions, green beans, peas, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli and a variety of herbs, according to Hydroponics Simplified.