Hydroponic systems generate nutrients for plants through water and not soil. The systems are either passive where the water transfers the nutrients through a wick system or active in that the water passes over the roots in a growing medium to deliver the necessary nutrients. The active hydroponic systems either collect the enriched water and re-circulate it or disposes of the water after it is used. The five active hydroponic systems include drip, flood and drain, aeroponic, nutrient film, and water culture. Not all the active systems have the plants in a growing medium but they all essentially work the same way.
Feeding and Growing
The plants get positioned into the growing medium, such as shredded coconut shells, loose rock, or vermiculite, so the water flows over the root system of the plant. The process allows the plants to concentrate on producing vegetation above the roots because the root system does not have to grow large to gather food like the plants grown in soil. The nutrients are fed directly to the roots. Most of the active hydroponic systems are controlled with a timer to regulate how much and when the enriched water flows around the roots. Certain aeroponic systems use a misting technique to regulate the feedings. The misting takes place several times per minute so the small roots do not dry out, killing the plant. No matter the system, the water loses nutrients during the growing season and must be checked for proper pH levels and nutrients. The water is recharged with the missing elements for proper plant growth.
Harvesting and Starting Anew
Once the crops reach optimum growth stage they are harvested from the growing trays in the hydroponic system. The growing medium is discarded replaced with new material. The water is replenished again with nutrients designed for the chosen crop. The growing trays are re-inserted into the watering tray and the entire system begins again. One of the few problems with growing plants in a hydroponic system is the water lines becoming clogged or power outages. Either of these circumstances is detrimental to crop production.