The term hydroponic gardening sounds familiar, but most people misunderstood it as growing plants on water. While that's not wrong, it's not the complete picture. In reality, this gardening technique simply means you don't grow plants with soil.
But you still need other growing mediums.
Also, while it sounds new and modern, hydroponics actually come from ancient times and it has many proven advantages (and, to be fair, some disadvantages).
If you’re interested in learning more about this compact gardening technique, read on because today we'll be explaining each aspect of hydroponic gardening.
What is Hydroponic Gardening?
Hydroponic gardening is a technique that was birthed in the seventh century B.C.
It’s a method where you can grow plants without soil. Instead of soil, the plant’s roots grow in a nutrient-rich solution, giving the plants desired nutrients and oxygen.
Depending on the system, the roots can either grow directly in the system, or the plants can be misted with the solution.
Hydroponic gardening does still require sunlight which can be provided through artificial light or natural light.
This method is a great way to grow a more considerable amount of food in smaller locations, with fewer requirements to care for the plants produced.
Pros of Hydroponic Gardening
Many people are somewhat skeptical of hydroponic gardening because even though it was created many centuries ago, it’s still a new technique for this current generation of gardeners.
It’s important to understand the benefits this style of gardening can bring to the table. Here are the pros to hydroponic gardening:
1. Increased Quality of Produce
This pro would be one of personal opinion, but many people state the quality of produce is better when grown in a hydroponic garden.
Again, depending on your taste, you may agree or disagree. I prefer an old-fashioned tomato from my garden.
However, the produce grown in hydroponic gardens do look better for grocery store shelves because they have a greater chance of looking identical in shape and size.
2. Less Space Needed
Hydroponic systems allow you to grow plants closer together. Hydroponics requires much less space than a traditional garden.
The reason is the plants are supported which means they won’t have the concerns of becoming root bound as they would if planted in soil.
Also, the nutrients are brought directly to each plant. Therefore, they don’t have to sprawl out as far either to get required nutrients.
3. Requires Fewer Resources
However, when you grow in a hydroponic garden, your plants require fewer resources because the nutrient solution they receive has everything in it they need.
The water the plants absorb is recycled. Therefore, you’ll need less water to grow your garden, and the plants are grown in controlled environments which means you have less to contend with when it comes to disease and pests.
4. Good for Urban or Indoor Gardening
If you’re in an urban area or have no room for a garden, hydroponic gardening could be your chance to grow your own food.
You can combine a hydroponic system with vertical gardening techniques. This would allow you to produce a decent amount of food in a small amount of space.
5. Fewer Battles with pests
As I’ve mentioned above, when you produce plants in a controlled environment you have less to contend with when it comes to pests, fungi, and disease.
The reasoning behind this is most hydroponic gardens are grown indoors with artificial light or in a greenhouse setting.
This provides extra hurdles for pests to jump through to get to your plants. Also, many diseases are soil-borne. When you don’t grow in soil, they have nowhere to form.
6. No Digging or Weeds
I love digging in the dirt, but I don’t like weeds. If you dread either of these or both, you might enjoy hydroponic gardening.
Since the plants grow in a water and nutrient solution, no dirt is involved. You won't have to dig to plant your garden.
Also, since there’s no dirt, there’s nowhere for weeds to grow. Which equates to less work for you overall.
7. Produces Faster
Since the plants are produced in a controlled environment, there is no end to a growing season. You can continuously restart the grow cycle.
This equates to you growing around two times more food in a year than you would produce in a typical soil garden.
8. Produces More
Obviously, since there’s no end to a growing season, you have the potential to provide more food because you can grow all year long.
Also, since the nutrients go straight to the roots, plants aren’t competing for nutrients. Nor are they having to battle pests, diseases, or adverse weather conditions. You’re creating a plant utopia which makes plants grow better all the way around.
Cons of Hydroponic Gardening
There are no real drawbacks for the gardener who wants to use hydroponic gardening on a smaller scale. The disadvantages begin to pop up for those who try to use the hydroponic gardening technique on a more substantial level.
The reason is the start-up costs are much higher than with traditional gardening. Hydroponic gardening on a larger scale would require more supervision to make sure everything is functioning as it should.
Also, hydroponic gardening requires electricity in some cases because of timers and pumps needed with certain systems. The costs would add up when using this technique on a larger scale because of the amount of energy required.
Plants to Grow in Your Hydroponic Garden
There are some plants which grow beautifully in a hydroponic gardening system. If you’re considering trying this style of gardening, begin with vegetables known to do well in these systems.
Here are the vegetables which perform best in a hydroponic garden:
- Leafy greens such as kale and arugula
- Herbs such as basil
- Watermelon (because of their size, you may want more experience before trying this out.)
Plants NOT to Grow in Your Hydroponic Garden
There are some plants which don’t do well in a hydroponic gardening system. Usually, it’s vegetables which sprawl out or grow to be larger whether in height or girth.
Because hydroponic systems are compact, you’ll need to avoid these type of plants:
- Root vegetables
- Plants on a vine
In a hydroponic gardening system, the plants are usually suspended in the air. This allows for the roots to absorb the necessary nutrients without the plants draining in the process.
For this to work correctly, you’ll need what is called a ‘grow medium.’ The grow medium’s job is to keep the plants out of the nutrient solution but not stop the roots from having access to it.
Here are some ideas for growing mediums in a hydroponic garden:
- Hydrocorn (a style of clay pebbles)
- Sand with different consistencies
pH and Solutions Requirements
The pH requirements are different for a hydroponic system than for traditional gardening styles. In a hydroponic system, you want the pH to be between 5.8-6.8. The ideal pH level is a 6.3.
Also, you’ll need to purchase nutrient solution for your hydroponic garden. Be sure to read the instructions before adding to the water.
However, in most cases, the solution is highly concentrated. You’ll only need to add two to four teaspoons per gallon of water used in your hydroponic system.
Keep in mind; you can make your own nutrient solution. Remember, as with most things in life; there are pros and cons for doing this.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
If you decide to grow a hydroponic garden, it’s important to understand the different systems available and see which method will work best for you. Here are your systems:
1. Ebb and Flow System
In this type of operation, the plants are supported by a growing medium and are produced in trays. The trays are systematically flooded and drained.
This process is carried out at regular increments to ensure the plants receive the proper amount of nutrients needed.
2. Wick System
This system design is simplistic. The plants are grown in a container and supported by a growing medium. The roots stick out underneath.
There’s a nutrient solution beneath the plant, and a wick runs from the solution to the plant. This gives the plants a constant supply of nutrient solution without it sitting directly in the solution.
3. Aeroponic System
An aeroponic system is one which uses a mist operation instead of directly applying the solution to the plants.
The plants are suspended from the solution while the roots are periodically misted with the nutrients the plant needs to produce.
4. Nutrient Film Technique System
When you find a company which uses hydroponic gardening, this is the typical method they choose. The plants are grown in channels. They look similar to gutters.
From there, the nutrient solution constantly runs along the channel. This allows the plants to get the required nutrients needed to produce.
5. Deep Water Culture
When you think of hydroponic gardening, this is probably the system which comes to mind. The plants are supported in a growth medium where they float.
From there, the roots are placed directly into the nutrient solution. This gives the plants a constant supply of nutrients and water for optimal growth.
6. Drip System
Our final system is the drip system. This system suspends the plants in a container and growth medium. From there, a drip is applied to the container where the solution can drip into the plants to give them everything they need to produce high-quality produce.
Well, you now know what hydroponic gardening is, the pros and cons of this gardening technique, what to grow, what to avoid, the different terms involved with hydroponic gardening and the system options.