Hydroponics is a new gardening concept for many people, even though "soil-less" gardening techniques were used in ancient Egypt and are believed to be the method used in the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Vegetables you see in today's supermarkets may have been grown this way. Many lettuces and tomatoes are grown by commercial hydroponic methods, for example. Indoor gardeners are becoming more and more interested in hydroponics as a way to grow some of their own food at home, without the need to rely on having a yard, soil or warm climate. Flowers are also raised with hydroponic techniques.
How Does Hydroponics Differ from Traditional Growing?
A traditionally grown plant must have a well-developed root system in order to draw in enough water and nutrients to support general good plant growth and good flower and fruit production. In hydroponics, all the nutrients a plant needs are provided in water whenever needed, so the plant's energy can be used for flower and fruit production instead of root development. Hydroponic plants do not need an extensive root system to anchor them to the soil, since other physical support is typically provided.
Do Hydroponic Roots Grow in a Medium?
Many types of growing mediums may be used in hydroponics. Some are natural, such as coconut husks, and some are synthetic blends of inert matter. Manufacturers have brand names for their different types of synthetic growing mediums.
What are Some Benefits to Hydroponic Methods?
Hydroponic plants can grow as much as 50 percent faster than traditional plants, because they have access to water with nutrients already in a usable form. Roots can grow without the resistance of soil particles, and smaller root systems can deliver more nutrients directly to the plant. Some growing mediums, StoneWool® for example, require watering only every 3 to 6 weeks. Weeds are not a problem in a hydroponic garden, and pesticides are rarely necessary. The plants start in sterile medium, so there is no risk of soil-borne diseases.
What Kind of Light is Necessary for Hydroponics?
Plants have similar light requirements whether they are grown by traditional methods or by hydroponics. Many commercial hydroponic systems are outdoors where natural sunlight gives the plants optimum light. Hydroponic systems can also be indoors, where compact fluorescent grow lights are used to simulate sunlight. Indoor hydroponics has the advantage of not being tied to the seasons. Temperature, light and water can be controlled, so the plants receive exactly what they need when they need it.
How Do I Know Which Nutrient Solution to Use?
Organic nutrients are available for hydroponic growers as well as chemical options. Nutrient solutions are rated using the same NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) ratio as regular fertilizer. In addition, trace minerals are added for optimum plant growth. Depending on what plants you are growing, you may start your seeds in small grow-pellets using a starter solution, and when you move the seedlings to larger growing containers you will switch to a growing solution. When the plants are ready to flower and bear fruit, they need a solution that supports that phase. Commercial nutrient solutions are available with complete instructions.