The word "hydroponics" is derived from the Greek words "hydro" (water) and "ponos" (labor). It involves growing plants using a mineral nutrient solution as opposed to soil. The hydroponics growing method is employed in commercial crop production throughout the world. A variety of vegetables and herbs have been grown in hydroponic gardens. Many consumers have turned to purchasing hydroponically grown vegetables as an alternative to purchasing organic produce. Hydroponic foods tend to be less expensive than organics foods and, in some areas, are easier to find.
History of Hydroponics
The hydroponic method of growing was used by the Aztecs of Mexico more than 700 years ago. This ingenious group used hydroponics to produce fast-growing floating plant gardens. The ancient Egyptians also used hydroponics. The famous gardens of King Nebuchadnezzar II (600 B.C) were composed of plants growing in water. Recorded scientific experiments of this growing method began with Leonardo Da Vinci in 1492 and have continued up until this present day. Researchers now know that nutrients and gases obtained from the soil and air can be simulated to provide an alternative growing medium for plants.
Benefits of Hydroponic Growing
Hydroponically-grown vegetables are not exposed to disease-causing bacteria so often found in fields utilized by feeding livestock. Using the hydroponic method of growing also eliminates the need for chemical pesticides. Because the vegetables are grown in a controlled indoor setting, they can by monitored closely and easily attended. A nutritionally superior vegetable can be successfully produced by enhancing the nutritional quality of the nutrient solution.
Features of Hydroponically Grown Vegetables
Because food and water are easily accessible, hydroponically grown vegetables experience a faster growth rate (up to 50%) than soil-grown vegetables. The quality of the vegetable is higher due to the sparing (if any) use of pesticides. This absence of heavy chemicals produces nutritious vegetables that are superior in color, size and taste to vegetables not grown in this manner. Hydroponically grown methods also result in a greater vegetable yield. This yield is made up of a strong breed of plants that are resistant to pests and diseases.
Methods of Growing
There are four basic methods of growing vegetables hydroponically. The drip irrigation system is the most common. Commercial facilities generally use this method for growing long term crops such as peppers and tomatoes. In this method, the roots of the plants are partially submerged in the growing solution. The NFT (Nutrients Film Technique) system is also used commercially. With this method, plant roots are grown in a shallow, light-tight channel while a nutrient solution flows continuously over them 24 hours a day. With the Ebb & Flow method, vegetables are usually grown in pots with their roots supported by a specific growing medium. Roots are fed by splurges of nutrient-filled water, usually generated by a pump. Aeroponics is a new growing technique currently being studied by NASA. In the Aeroponics method, the roots of the growing plants are suspended in the air and continuously misted by high pressure sprayers.
Considerations for Growing
In order to successfully grow vegetables hydroponically, specific control systems should be in place. An inert growing medium (such as perlite or sand) supports potted plants while protecting roots from strong light. Artificial grow lights are needed to make up for the absence of natural sunlight. A well-balanced nutrient formula provides necessary nutrition to plant systems. Proper ventilation removes humidity and excess heat, while providing plants with adequate supplies of necessary carbon dioxide. Temperatures must be controlled to ensure plants are neither too hot or too cold.
Types of Vegetables Grown Hydroponically
Just about any type of vegetable can be grown hydroponically. Some vegetables may require special attention such as additional lighting or have greater space requirements. Others may thrive from a specific growing method. For the most part, however, a variety of vegetables can be successfully produced through hydroponic systems. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, squash, beans, snow peas, spinach, lettuce, chard, broccoli and hot chilies have all flourished under hydroponic measures.