The process of growing plants with the help of water based nutrient solutions is called hydroponic farming. Soil is replaced with an inert medium such as rock wool, clay pellets peat moss or vermiculite and the roots of the plant have direct access to nutrient solution through these mediums. The plants have access to oxygen and sunlight, however, if they are not available, then an arrangement is made to provide these basic needs artificially through a greenhouse set up.
The charm of hydroponics is growing within the urban population mainly because of some important aspects it carries such as faster growth rate of crops, less effort, etc. In a hydroponic system, plants have direct access to the exact amount of nutrients required so they grow quickly and produce bigger crops than usual. This system needs less space and the effort of maintaining soil conditions is also reduced. With the growing demand for food and less space available in the urban areas, hydroponics can be the right solution.
In hydroponic farming everything is given to the plant in required quantities and under perfect conditions. There is no dependence on irrigation facilities, no drought periods, no nutrient deficiencies, etc. Therefore, when there is a continuous supply of required elements, the growth is regular during different plant stages and maturity is attained faster. An extra feature with hydroponic systems is that plants grow bigger than normal due to an abundance of nutrients. Traditional soil farming method is a long process of soil preparation, planting, irrigating the plants, supplying manure and fertilizers, etc. that too under unpredictable availability of proper atmospheric conditions. Soil farming is comparatively slower than hydroponic farming and it is estimated that plants grow 30-50% faster with hydroponics.
- Can be grown anywhere and they require less space
- Water used for hydroponics is 20 times less than traditional farming
- Sterile conditions keep the pests and insects away, so no pesticides
- Reuse of water is an additional facility
- Nutrients are provided as per the requirements, no wastage
- No messing up with soil and no soil maintenance issues
- Easy to harvest
- Can produce anytime during the year
- Regularly monitoring the farm is an essential activity
- Depends on power supply and power outages may create problem
- Development of water based micro-organisms
- Hydroponics farming needs expertise in handling techniques
- The size of the farm decides the quantity of produce
- Disease in one plant may spread fast to other plants
- Failure of the system may result in losing the crop
Hydroponics doesn’t simply deploy a single system for farming, but there are multiple ways to design a system for hydroponic farming. They are:
- Deep water culture
- Nutrient film technique
- Ebb and flow
- Drip system
Hydroponic farming is definitely a sustainable means of cultivation because of the following reasons:
- Consumes less water
- Yields more in shorter duration of time
- Minimal carbon footprint because the greens are grown locally
- Minimal use of harsh chemicals and fertilizers
- No dependence on climate and soil conditions
- Highly adaptable , i.e. can be grown in greenhouse or in at home
- The produce is safe and free from harmful pesticides
Plants that are best for indoor hydroponic farms are: Herbs – peppermint, green mint, basil, Stevia, lemon balm, rosemary, oregano etc.
Vegetables – lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, celery etc.
Some plants can be grown depending on the type of hydroponic system that is used as such: Nutrient film technique – plants, most suited are lettuce, spinach, radish, herbs etc.
The wick and ebb systems – generally deep rooted plants are grown such as comfrey, chicory, beet-root, beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes potatoes etc.
Other than these there are plants like cilantro, coriander, chives, fennel, lavender, thyme, watercress, strawberries and green onions, etc. can all be grown successfully in a hydroponic system, but with the proper expertise and knowledge of the system and its function.
Soil acts as a medium to provide the necessary elements required by the plants. The basic requirements of a plant to grow are support, nutrients, protection from pests and insects, proper atmospheric conditions, oxygen and moisture. A hydroponic system can provide all these conditions and it uses inert growing medium like Perlite, rock wool, peat moss etc. instead of soil.
The hydroponic systems can be tested for their efficiency and speed using these plants because they are considered to grow very fast in the hydroponic system arrangement. Some varieties of lettuce like the bib, butter crunch, romaine, iceberg and head lettuce; herbs like basil, peppermint, spearmint, oregano and marjoram; other greens like mustard greens, kale, spinach, swiss chard and watercress are all considered to grow very fast and the estimated time for growth is around 6 to 8 weeks.
Not really, hydroponic systems use the same seeds like the traditional farming, but in a cleaned format. Any type of seed can be used in these farms, but indeterminate varieties are most preferred because they keep producing for longer time.
People who practice hydroponics do use pesticides under unavoidable circumstances. Generally the occurrence of diseases and pests is very rare in hydroponic farms, but sometimes due to poor maintenance and carelessness there could be an outbreak of disease which can be handled using bio-pesticides. Getting trained on the methods of hydroponics would help tackle the situation better.