Hydroponics: Future to Sustainable farming

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Hydroponically grown plants taking up water and nutrients through PVC pipe.
Plants taking up water and nutrients through PVC pipe.

Hydroponics Definition

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a nutrient-rich media (water based) without soil. Yes, you heard that right, no soil. Instead, inert media such as perlite, gravel, peat moss, or vermiculite support the root system. The nutrients for this media comes from duck manure, fish waste or fertilizer. In the hope that it is a sustainable farming method, scientists are also now promoting to adopt sustainable agriculture techniques. With the decrease in soil health, it has become hard to grow healthy food. As a result, it has become important to adopt different farming techniques to maintain the healthy ecosystem and protect biodiversity.

Urban areas, where agricultural land is depleting and pollution are increasing day by day, use of the hydroponic system will prove to be very efficient in future. It takes the minimum area for their growth and can be grown in either way, vertically or horizontally.

Red bell peppers grown in hydroponic vertical farming
Red bell peppers growing in vertical hydroponic farming.

Benefits of hydroponics?

Bell pepper grown in hydroponic system
Farming of Bell peppers using the hydroponic system.
  1. Higher yields than the conventional method.
  2. Roots dipped in nutrient-rich media extracts nutrients more efficiently. Consequently, they divert more energy to leaf and stem as they require tiny root system.

    Roots of hydroponic vegetables
    Roots of hydroponic vegetables.
  3. A large number of plants grows in limited space, because of shorter roots.

    Picture showing high yield of tomatoes grown using water system
    The picture is showing a high yield of tomatoes grown using drip irrigation water system.
  4. Comparatively, plants grow faster.
  5. Indoor farming is also possible all year round.
  6. Moreover, it is a more hygienic method, as many pests live in soil. Hence, requires a lesser amount of pesticides.
  7. Being an automated system, nutrient supply, and controlling pH is easier. Also, timers and computer systems regularly check their growth.
  8. More sustainable, as it avoids waste and pollution from soil run-off.
  9. Less water usage than conventional soil irrigation farming. Recycled water serves the purpose of next irrigation.
  10. Hydroponic microgreens are easy to grow and easy to wash.

Hydroponics: How it works?

Mechanism of hydroponics
Mechanism of hydroponics

Plants only need sunlight, chlorophyll (in leaves) and water for their growth for the process of photosynthesis. Soil doesn’t come anywhere as a requirement for the growth of plants. The soil is only necessary to provide naturally occurring minerals in them. Therefore, nutrients are provided to the roots through the water medium which is taken upstream through osmosis. However, they convert sunlight to chemical energy to form sugars which help them to grow and sustain in water culture.

6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2

Photosynthesis requires certain minerals, which are naturally present in the soil. So, in a hydroponic system, a nutrient-rich solution circulates these minerals to the roots and upper part.

Types of the Hydroponic system:

Nutrient Film Technique:

Type of hydroponic system
3D model of the nutrient film technique hydroponic system

It is a technique in which plants grow in water channel with a slight slope. Water flows from high end and flows through the water channel with force of gravity. Pumps re-circulate the Water collected at the end. A very shallow nutrient film forms as a result of minimal water circulation. Thus, only the lower part of the roots come in contact with the solution, leaving the upper part moist in the air. Consequently, this method provides an adequate amount of water, sunlight, and oxygen to the plant. This method is most suitable for plants with long roots.

Deep water culture:

Cannabis plants growing under grow light (Metal Halide) in deep water culture system
Cannabis plants growing under grow light (Metal Halide) in the deep water culture system

Also known as reservoir system, is most accessible and the commonly used method in hydroponic farming. In this system, whole roots are suspended in the nutrient media. A pump supplies oxygen which not only helps the growth but also prevents roots from drowning. Light promotes the growth of algae, so it has no source for light to enter the system. This is an excellent method for organic hydroponic since it doesn’t have drip or spray emitters which could clog organic nutrients (as they are more susceptible to plug).

Drip System

Tubing network for Drip irrigation system in hydroponics
Tubing network for Drip irrigation system in hydroponics

It is the easiest and widely used hydroponic method which is easier to set up at home or commercial level. Unlike, deep water system or nutrient film technique, drip irrigation system is a very environmentally sustainable method. Likewise, drip irrigation method used in soil based agriculture releases water slowly, drip systems in hydroponics also slowly release nutrient solution. Furthermore, drip system timely releases just right amount of nutrients as required by the plants making it water and efficient ecological method. Similar to trickle or micro-irrigation, it uses a pump to emit the nutrients and water directly to the plants. Rather, these emitters release solution in a dripping action instead of spraying or running through the plants. Individual plant pots have the drip line tubes from a single tubing network.

Aeroponics

In this system, plants grow in a closed environment with roots hanging in the air. The chamber is controlled by air or mist to transmit nutrients. Nutrient Water is sprayed or atomized to the roots or lower stem, and proper aeration of the plant stimulates the growth and helps in preventing pests and disease. Consequently, this system needs less water and plants grow more quickly. Altogether, a well designed closed system of aeroponics provide all the three requirements of water oxygen and nutrients.

Aeroponics system
Aeroponics system

Wick Systems

This is the easiest of all methods of growing plants hydroponically which is cheap and does not require any technical or electrical systems like pumps etc. In this system, we need two buckets for plant and reservoir each and a right wicking media like vermiculite, perlite, or coco peat. These wicks will transfer water to the roots through capillary action. But this method is more useful for plants which require less water like lettuce or herbs (rosemary). Whereas, plants like tomatoes, peppers would not do well as they need a lot of water. Each plant would need one wick with a tip of the wick attached to the roots. For thirsty plants, two wicks can work to provide enough nutrients and water to the plants.

The point often overlooked is that if plan to use wick system for long time use, wicks need cleaning as they may start growing molds. Under those circumstances, it reduces the absorption of nutrients and reduces the efficiency.

Mechanism of hydroponics
Mechanism of hydroponics using the wick system

Hydroponic plants at your home

Stevia , a sugar substitute grown in hydroponic system
Stevia, a sugar substitute plant grown in the hydroponic system

Plants which you can grow using a hydroponic method at home are:

Hydroponic Herbs:

  • Basil
  • Green mint
  • Lemon basil
  • Lemon balm
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Stevia
  • Sage
  • Chives

Hydroponic Vegetables:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • celery
  • Radish

Hydroponic House Plants:

  • Devils Ivy
  • Arrowhead Plant
  • Philodendron
  • Peace Lily
  • Chinese Money Plant
  • Female Dragon
  • Dumb Cane or Leopard Lily
  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Spider Plant

Hydroponic Fruits:

  • Strawberry
  • Blueberry

Hydroponic Flowers:

Conclusion:

Therefore, we can say that hydroponics is a sustainable way of growing plants in which we do not need soil and very less amount of water. Thus, it is a water efficient method which will prove best shortly. In this system, we need nutrients which can come from the fish by-product, blood meal, earthworms, duck manure which are organic fertilizers. In like manner, commercial or chemical fertilizers are also available. Another most important is medium in which we have to grow our plants.

Selecting a media is also equally important as different media have different requirements and growing techniques. For examples, coco peat, clay aggregates, perlite, vermiculite, rice husks, etc. are the most common mediums. In fact, there are some other mediums which are less used are rock wool, wood fiber, brick shards, pumice, sand, gravel, etc. On the positive side, the hydroponic method provides faster growth and produces more yield than its counterpart in the soil. With this in mind, it requires careful control of pH levels and nutrient solutions.

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