Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants--especially vegetables--in a controlled environment using specially formulated nutrient solutions instead of soil. Because of the high costs of not only setting up a hydroponic farm but also of planting and raising a crop, the only vegetables worth growing in such a setting are those that will earn the farmer his money back plus profit. Fortunately, there are some crops where there is such demand.
Tomatoes are one of the world's most popular vegetables; more than 4 billion pounds are consumed each year in the United States alone. The demand for them is high, and tomatoes have an added feature that makes them a popular hydroponic plant--many varieties have a characteristic called indeterminate morphology.
Indeterminate morphology means that they will keep producing flowers and vegetables throughout their lifetime, rather than having one or two flowering cycles.
There are a number of different types of tomatoes that have the indeterminate morphology characteristics, so farmers carefully choose based on the color and flavor tomato they wish to produce. In order for the tomatoes to reach the consumer at their peak condition, they are often harvested while they are still green--a condition referred to as mature green.
European varieties of salad cucumbers are among the most popular types to be grown in hydroponic greenhouses. These mild-tasting vegetables can reach lengths up to a foot and weigh up to 1 lb.
Because cucumbers are self-pollinating, their planting allows farmers to maximize useable space. Plants produce all female flowers at the base of each leaf and do not even require the presence of pollinators such as honeybees to produce cucumbers; in fact, introducing pollinators into the system causes the plants to produce male flowers and, in turn, cucumbers that are inedible.
European varieties of cucumbers are traditionally fast-growing, producing fully developed vegetables within approximately two months of first seeding. Because they grow so quickly, farmers must make sure there is always a fresh supply of nutrients available to the plants.
European cucumber varieties include Sandra, Tosko 70, Fabio and Corona.
Echinacea is a medicinal herb used to treat a number of different ailments. Because of its increase in popularity, The University of Arizona did a study on the possibilities --and benefits--of growing echinacea crops in a hydroponic environment.
Since all plants are exposed to the exact same nutrient compounds and solutions, hydroponics allows for greater standardization of crops. Farmers can control exactly what is applied to the roots, an important ingredient in the standardization of botanical products. In a hydroponic environment, echinacea is suspended from the ceiling, allowing for greater yields in the same amount of space as conventional methods.
Another important advantage, considering echinacea is used as medicine, is that the roots of the plants are soil-free, as well as free of any contaminants, pollutants or insects that are frequently found in the soil.