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How to grow your plants the ‘hydroponic’ way

The word ‘hydroponic’ is derived from Ancient Greek and means “working water”. Hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil and using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.

Hydroponics uses a water-based and nutrient-rich solution. Instead of using soil, the root system is supported by an inert medium such as perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss or vermiculite. The purpose of hydroponics is to allow the plant roots to come into direct contact with the nutrient solution while at the same time having access to oxygen which is very important for growth.

There are many benefits to hydroponic gardening versus soil gardening:

  • The growth rate on a hydroponic plant is 30-50% faster than a soil plant which is grown under the same conditions.
  • Plants will produce up to 30% more than those grown in soil.
  • Plants will grow bigger and faster as they do not have to work as hard to obtain nutrients.
  • There should be careful control of the nutrient solution and the pH levels.
  • Due to the enclosed system, the plants use less water than those in soil and there is less evaporation.
  • Hydroponics is better for the environment as it reduces waste and pollution from the soil runoff.


There are a few disadvantages to using hydroponics:

  • The cost of the equipment needed for this method can outweigh the cost of soil.
  • A large-scale hydroponics system involves a lot of time to set up, especially if you are not familiar with the infrastructure.
  • Managing the hydroponics system can involve a lot of time as the nutrient and pH levels must be monitored and balanced daily.
  • There are risks involved, for example a pump failure can destroy plants within hours, depending on the size of your system.
  • Plants can die quickly as the growing medium cannot store water the same way that soil can, thus the plants are dependent on a fresh water supply.


There are various hydroponic systems and it is important to be familiar with all of them so that you can choose the right one for you.

Deep water culture

  • This is also known as the reservoir method and can also be the easiest method for growing plants using hydroponics.
  • The roots are suspended in a nutrient solution while an aquarium air pump oxygenates the nutrient solution which keeps the roots of the plants from drowning.
  • It is important not to let light penetrate the system as this can cause algae growth.
  • Another advantage of this system is that there are no drip or spray emitters to clog.


Nutrient Film Technique

  • This is a system whereby there is a continuous flow of nutrient solution running over the roots of the plants.
  • This solution is on a slight tilt which ensures that the nutrient solution will flow with the force of gravity.
  • Using this system allows the roots of the plant to absorb more oxygen from the air than from the nutrient solution.
  • Only the tips of the root come into contact with the nutrient solution and this ensures a faster rate of growth.


Aeroponics

  • This system ensures that roots are misted with the nutrient solution while suspended in the air
  • There are 2 methods used to get the solution to the exposed roots. The first is when a fine nozzle is used to mist the roots and the second uses a pond fogger.


Wicking

  • This is the easiest and most cost-effective method of hydroponics.
  • This method uses a material used such as cotton that is surrounded by the growing medium with one end of the wick material placed in the nutrient solution.
  • The solution is then wicked to the roots of the plants.


Ebb and Flow

  • This is also known as the flood and drain system.
  • This floods the growing area with the nutrient solution at specific intervals and the nutrient solutions slowly drains back into the reservoir.
  • The pump is hooked to a timer, so the process repeats itself at specific intervals thus ensuring that your plants get the right amount of nutrients.
  • This system is ideal for plants which go through periods of dryness.


Drip system

  • This system provides a slow feed of nutrient solution to the hydroponics medium.
    Slower draining mediums such as rockwool, coconut coir or peat moss are the recommended mediums to be used.
  • The disadvantage of this system is that the drippers or emitters can become clogged.


If you are thinking about using hydroponics for growing your plants, then the following tips might come in handy:

  • Change the nutrient solution in the reservoir every 2 to 3 weeks.
    The water temperature in the reservoir should be kept between 65-75 degrees and this can be maintained by using a water heater or water chiller.
  • An air pump with an air stone connected by flexible tubing can increase the circulation and keep the nutrient solution oxygenated.
  • The pH level should be adjusted if you feel that the plants do not look healthy, they are discoloured or distorted.
  • If the pH level is not causing the above problem, then flush the system using a solution such as Clearex.
  • Follow the feeding cycle recommended by the manufacturer of the nutrients.
  • After a growing cycle has been finished, please flush clean and sterilize the entire system, drain the reservoir and remove any debris. Run your entire system for a day with a mix of non-chlorine bleach and water. Drain the system and then flush it thoroughly with clean water to remove any traces of bleach.


If you want to try something new and see if you can grow the biggest and healthiest plants around, then why not try hydroponics. It may seem intimidating with all the equipment and work involved but the rewards you can reap could outweigh the work in the end!