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One of the many reasons people get into gardening is to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs. But what if your space is limited or you live in extreme temperatures that make it difficult to plant on soil or outdoors? A popular solution is hydroponics gardening which does not depend on soil, climate, or space.
Hydroponic gardening is gaining popularity among urban dwellers and those who live in buildings or apartments.
Let’s have a look at hydroponic gardening and how you can set up your own easily.
What Is a Hydroponics Garden?
Hydroponics comes from two Greek words hydro and ponos. Translated, it means water and labor. Hydroponics is the act of gardening using water.
There are two ways plants can be grown using hydroponics; using water culture where a nutrient solution is used to help the plants grow, or medium culture where sand or solid material is used to support the plant’s root structure.
There are also two systems in hydroponics; an open system uses the nutrient solution once, whereas in a closed system, the nutrient solution is used once, then recycled back into the system after analyzing pH levels.
Whether set up indoors or outdoors, the advantages outweigh the limitations of having your hydroponics garden.
- Plants can grow all year because you have control over the conditions.
- Higher yield in vegetable, fruit, or herb production in a shorter period.
- Save water consumption by 90%.
- Plant position can be closely spaced together or vertically stacked.
- No need to pull out weeds.
For people living in the desert with low precipitation or others in areas with limited arable soil, hydroponics is a solution for food production. You don’t rely on the climate or space or fertile soil to produce vegetables, fruits, or herbs.
Seven Important Elements for Hydroponic Gardening
Hydroponic gardens need eight hours of direct sunlight a day. But if you use artificial light, then have 14-16 hours of artificial light with 10-12 hours of darkness every day. Allowing time for darkness is needed for the plant to rest and metabolize.
The air pump determines the amount of oxygen for your plants. The air pump will depend on the size of the nutrient reservoir. Ensure you have at least 500-600cc per minute of air or 500-600ml per minute.
You can grow plants through a watering solution instead of getting nutrients from the soil. They need 17 essential elements to complete their life cycle, build molecules and go through enzymatic reactions. The nutrient solution acts as fertilizer salts by using a commercial solution or making your optimum formulation:
- Macronutrients- carbon, phosphorus, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, potassium, magnesium, calcium
- Micronutrients- zinc, nickel, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, boron, chlorine
Hydroponic plants require a steady 70-78˚F temperature for their nutrient solution. A plant’s needs may change due to the season, weather, or environmental surroundings in an outdoor setting.
During the winter months, a mini water heater can be used inside the reservoir to keep the nutrient solution warm. In the summer months, you can put the reservoir in a shaded area and top it off with cool water.
The pH level or acidity of the solution is essential to a successful hydroponics system. pH is the measurement of hydrogen ion concentration using a 0–14-point scale, with the numbers below 7 as acidic and numbers above 7 as alkaline.
Since plants have different requirements, you have to carefully balance the pH levels with the nutrient solution for maximum absorption.
The ideal heat for your plants in a Hydroponic Garden must be 68-80˚F and closely monitored to avoid getting too warm. When temperatures are too hot, the plant reaches stress levels where it loses oxygen and chokes.
Giving the plant the right space requirement of 18-30 inches apart allows the plant to grow and reproduce. You need to either move or thin out your plant to avoid depletion of air, CO2, and light exposure.
Hydroponic Water Culture Systems
|Nutrient Film Technique – a technique where water travels to the plants.||Floating Raft System – a technique where rafts carry plants||Aeroponics – a technique that relies on air for nutrient rich mists for plant roots|
|Type of Casing or Container Used for Plants||Small-Diameter PVC tube or trough.||Supported by sheets of Styrofoam.||Placed on a supporting container|
|How Nutrient Solution is Delivered||A nutrient rich film of water passes through the roots to provide the plants with the nutrients.||Roots hang through small holes of aerated nutrient solution.||Roots are suspended in air and misted with nutrient solution|
|Is it an Open or Closed System||Can use the open system where the water is reused after balancing pH levels or closed system that uses the nutrient rich water once.||Uses a closed system that must be adjusted and monitored.||Can use the open or closed system.|
Hydroponic Medium-Culture Systems
|Ebb-and Flow System||Drip System||Sub Irrigation System|
|How Nutrient Solution is Delivered||Nutrients are pumped from a reservoir into the young plants and are drained back by gravity.||Using drip irrigation, the nutrient solution is given directly to the plant by drop emitters.||Plants are grown in a porous medium. Nutrient solutions are transported to the roots by high capillary action.|
|Is it an Open or Closed System||It uses a closed system by recycling the nutrient system||It can use a closed system where the water is recycled or an open system where the water is discarded.||Greenhouse sections or container-grown plants on benches use a closed system.|
Starting Your Own Hydroponics Garden at Home
If you choose to start your own hydroponics garden at your home, there are several things you need to organize.
You must decide what kind of plants to grow. Do you want to grow leafy vegetables, tomatoes, or possibly herbs? In this case, an easy way to germinate your seeds is to make use of rapid rooter cubes. This promotes a healthy root system and starts the process faster.
2. Decide on Your Hydroponic System
Decide on what hydroponic system would suit the plants you have chosen to grow. There are many different types of hydroponic systems so it will be useful to do some research.
A proper light source will determine the success of your hydroponic garden. Sunlight is the easiest source but if that is not possible with your space, then you can use a full spectrum LED grow light that is cheap and effective for leafy greens, plants, and fruit. You want to consider the intensity, spectrum, and coverage area to maximize the light distribution.
Grow mediums are used for water retention, pH stability, and aeration levels for different kinds of plants. You can use hydro-ton-expanded clay pebbles that work well with different types of plants.
Rockwool is another popular choice of mineral fiber from basaltic rocks that has a faster crop turnaround with less crop failure. Other choices are perlite, sand, foam, gravel, pumice, and coco coir.
The beauty of Hydroponic gardening is that nutrients are not diluted or locked in the soil. These nutrients are for the plant to go through photosynthesis, respiration, and other growth cycles.
The primary nutrients needed are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Secondary nutrients are magnesium, sulfur, and calcium. Some plants require micronutrients like Boron, Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Sodium, Copper, and Chlorine.
Introduce the nutrient solution with the correct pH range per plant, which means a regular test of the pH levels. Measure your pH level by using an electronic meter or a liquid kit with test strips. Adjust the pH levels to correct any spikes or dips and get to the specific pH level needed for your plant.
Once you have all the items listed above ready, you can start your hydroponics garden. Remember to follow these steps:
- Start by letting the water run in your system to ensure there are no leaks and the flow is working properly.
- Mix the nutrients, then wait 15 minutes to test the pH level. Do your pH adjustments as per your plant requirements.
- Add your plants.
- Set the timer of the Grow Light to the specific duration of needed light.
Setting up your hydroponics garden is not as hard as you think. The important thing to remember is to plan things out and research the number of elements needed for the plant, vegetable, fruit, or herb.
Once you have set up your hydroponics garden, you will enjoy a garden all year round. It is rewarding to harvest vegetables and herbs that you can serve on the table.