Hydroponics is the practice of growing vegetables in a soilless culture. Plants grown hydroponically are either placed in a substrate such as vermiculite or are supported from above so that their roots float freely in liquid. Hydroponic growers feed their plants by continually flooding the rooting chamber with liquid nutrients. Because the plants receive all the nutrients that they need at the proper time, hydroponic plants produce larger plants with more impressive yields. Hydroponic growing has a number of applications.
Hydroponics is a technology that has been embraced by tomato growers for producing commercial tomato crops. Traditional hothouse tomatoes suffer from a buildup of disease such as anthracnose in the soil as the same tomato plants are grown in soil on a yearly basis. Hydroponic systems may be completely flushed and sterilized between growing seasons to eliminate the possibility of this disease. Additionally, hydroponic yields allow growers to produce more fruit in a shorter amount of time with less space.
Because hydroponics allows growers to produce fruits and vegetables without soil, workers in scientific stations such as those located at the Antarctic Circle grow crops hydroponically to supplement their diets. NASA also studies hydroponic crop production for use in future space stations and colonies on other planets. According to the magazine Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses, the ability to have both fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh flowers at mealtimes in scientific stations in Antarctica boosts morale among those stationed there during long, dark winters. Additionally, scientists who show symptoms of seasonal affective disorder were sometimes sent to the hydroponic greenhouses, where the heat and light from the room helped to relieve their symptoms.
Third World Crop Production
Because of the potential for plants grown hydroponically to produce more with less resources, some volunteers are teaching hydroponic principles in Third World countries. These hydroponic systems are crude by comparison to a hydroponic system built by NASA. The hydroponic tanks are often made of scrap metal and the nutrients come from domestic waste. But these hydroponic systems still work and may help to reduce famine in Third World countries.