Hydroponic gardens grow plants without soil. Plants growing in a hydroponic garden receive nutrition directly to the roots through a water soluble nutrient solution. Feeding the roots directly eliminates the need for the roots to search for food. Hydroponic plants focus on growth and production, rather than nutrition. You can grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit, shrubs and trees hydroponically
According to thefarm.org, hydroponically grown crops can enjoy up to 30 percent faster growth rates than similar crops grown in soil. Yields for hydroponic crops are also equal to or greater than soil-grown crops. Another benefit to hydroponic gardening is the elimination of soil-borne pests and diseases.
Three common types of hydroponic gardening systems are the wick system, the nutrient film technique (NFT) and the ebb and flow method. The wick system is the simplest method as the setup has no moving parts. Plants are placed in a growing tray that is filled with growing medium. The reservoir beneath the tray is filled with nutrient enriched water. Wicks running from the tray to the reservoir allow the plants to absorb the nutrients and the water as needed. The NFT technique pioneered hydroponic gardening and provides for a constant flow of nutrient-rich water to individually potted plants placed in plastic baskets. The ebb and flow hydroponic garden setup is similar to the NFT technique, but the nutrient water floods the growing tray several times daily as opposed to a constant flow.
In addition to the plants and growing mediums, components of hydroponic gardening systems include a growing tray, a reservoir, a nutrient pump and an air pump. Many hydroponic systems also have a nutrient return component. The growing tray holds the plants and rests above a reservoir. The roots of the plants dangle beneath the growing tray, into the reservoir. The air pump circulates oxygen to the roots; the nutrient pump provides food. The nutrient return cycles water or nutrient overages from the growing tray back to the reservoir.
Lighting options for hydroponic gardens include high-intensity discharge lights, fluorescent grow lights, metal halide bulbs and high-pressure sodium lights. Fluorescent lights are the least expensive, but do not emit as much light as the other choices. Metal halide lights produce full-spectrum light and are a good choice for vegetating plants. High-intensity discharge lights produce more light but also emit more heat which can affect air circulation for the plants. High-pressure sodium lights have a long life span, but they also have significant heat output.
Hydroponic growing mediums are inert, meaning that they do not offer nutrients to the plants. Different hydroponic systems use different growing mediums. If the hydroponic garden system suspends the plants roots in air or water, you will not need additional growing mediums. Some hydroponic garden systems use the growing medium to anchor the plant's roots and to store water and nutrients so that the plant will survive. Perlite, vermiculite, rockwool and coconut fiber are among the preferred growing medium choices. Each of these materials will retain water and provide aeration to the plants.