Hydroponics may sound like a space age way of growing plants. But small scale, simplified hydroponic production may even be used in third world countries to produce enough crops to feed local communities. You can even create a simple hydroponic system at home that will work on your kitchen counter. Hydroponics requires a few tools to successfully grow food.
Plants growing hydroponically are either grown in a soil-like substrate that is saturated with nutrient solution, or are supported from above and allowed to float without support in the nutrients. No matter which version of hydroponic growing you prefer, you must have a flood chamber to hold the nutrient solution. Your flood chamber should be opaque so that light will not damage the roots. Rudimentary do-it-yourself hydroponic growers have used fish tanks or mason jars covered by aluminum foil as well as plastic pickle buckets, Styrofoam coolers and plastic storage tubs.
Since hydroponic plants do not grow in a potting soil or another medium that provides nutrients, you must provide all the nutrients that your plants need to thrive. Hydroponic solutions provide the three major macronutrients that are commonly found in fertilizer--nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. Hydroponic nutrient solutions also provide the 10 minor nutrients that are not found in fertilizers, but that plants still need to thrive. These nutrients are boron, iron, copper, chloride, molybdenum, manganese and zinc. Beginning hydroponic gardeners can buy pre-mixed solutions with a balance of all nutrients. More experienced hydroponic gardeners may prefer to mix their own nutrient solutions to provide their plants with a customized balance of nutrients.
pH Testing Kit
As plants use a nutrient solution they lower the solution's pH. As the pH of the solution lowers and becomes more acidic, the plants will be less able to remove nutrients from the solution. You can prevent this by changing the solution once it becomes too acidic or by adding alkaline chemicals to the solution. You must periodically test the pH of the solution with a pH testing kit. pH testing strips are available from local pharmacies. Or you can buy a liquid testing kit from a swimming pool supply store.
Most hydroponic systems are grown indoors under carefully controlled conditions that include lighting. If you use hydroponics in a greenhouse, your plants may receive some natural light. But even in natural light conditions you may wish to supplement light during short days with artificial lighting. Good artificial lights for hydroponic gardening are a mix of cool white fluorescent bulbs and plant grow lights. This blend provides the right amount of red and blue light waves that your plant will use to grow. You should use one grow light per every two fluorescent lights that your plants grow under. The plants should be placed so that their tops are no more than 12 inches away from the light.