Hydroponic gardening--growing plants without soil--might sound like science fiction. But it was actually first used in ancient Rome to grow out of season cucumbers for Emperor Tiberius in the first century. There are many advantages to hydroponic gardening. It is cleaner, more precise and can be used anywhere. Hydroponic plants can grow up to 30% faster than conventionally-grown plants.
Basics of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is a gardening technique that replaces messy soil with an inert growing medium to support the plant's root system. This medium does not contain plant nutrients on its own and can be as simple as a pot of crushed rocks or peat moss. Nutrients in the form of liquid fertilizer are mixed with water and fed to the plants on a regular basis. Plants can grow faster with hydroponics because they can quickly access nutrients. In traditional gardening soil can act as a barrier to nutrients and inhibit root growth.
Hydroponic gardening can be used indoors to make the most out of limited space. It can also be used outdoors when gardeners are faced with the problems of poor soil or even no dirt at all. Hydroponics can be used to bring a garden to an apartment balcony or a rooftop patio.
A simple setup for growing plants using hydroponics can be as basic as a pot filled with inert medium and hand watered with liquid fertilizer. Another simple method uses a sheet of Styrofoam to support net cups while floating in a tank aerated by a pump. The common method of rooting a plant cutting in a glass of water is actually hydroponics in its most basic form.
Hydroponic fertilizers provide all the majors nutrients that a plant needs including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Plants grown in soil may run out of some trace elements when the soil becomes depleted through overuse. Also, hydroponic fertilizers are easy for plants to absorb, whereas soil fertilizers depend on bacteria and microbes to break down the nutrients first.
Indoor hydroponic gardens that use special grow lights can provide fresh vegetables or flowers year round. Indoor gardeners also do not have to contend with weeds, birds or rabbits, though insects can still be a problem.