Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture and is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral solution only, or in an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel
How to Grow Hydroponics It is simple and easy to use. It works like this: A reservoir containing nutrient solution is located below a growing tray. To support the plants in a hydroponic system, an inert soil-free medium like fiber or stone, may be used to anchor the roots
The Benefits of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is proved to have several advantages over soil gardening. The growth rate on a hydroponic plant is 30-50 percent faster than a soil plant, grown under the same conditions. The yield of the plant is also greater. Scientists believe that there are several reasons for the drastic differences between hydroponic and soil plants. The extra oxygen in the hydroponic growing mediums helps to stimulate root growth. Plants with ample oxygen in the root system also absorb nutrients faster. The nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system. The plant does not have to search in the soil for the nutrients that it requires. Those nutrients are being delivered to the plant several times per day. The hydroponic plant requires very little energy to find and break down food. The plant then uses this saved energy to grow faster and to produce more fruit. Hydroponic plants also have fewer problems with bug infestations, funguses and disease. In general, plants grown hydroponically are healthier and happier plants.
Hydroponic gardening also offers several benefits to our environment. Hydroponic gardening uses considerably less water than soil gardening, because of the constant reuse the nutrient solutions. Due to lack of necessity, fewer pesticides are used on hydroponic crops. Since hydroponic gardening systems use no topsoil, topsoil erosion isn't even an issue. Although, if agricultural trends continue to erode topsoil and waste water, hydroponics may soon be our only solution.
Hydroponic systems are characterized as active or passive. An active hydroponic system actively moves the nutrient solution, usually using a pump. Passive hydroponic systems rely on the capillary action of the growing medium or a wick. The nutrient solution is absorbed by the medium or the wick and passed along to the roots. Passive systems are usually too wet and do not supply enough oxygen to the root system for optimum growth rates.
Hydroponic systems can also be characterized as recovery or non-recovery. Recovery systems or recirculating systems reuse the nutrient solution. Non-recovery means just what it says. The nutrient solution is applied to the growing medium and not recovered.The Wick System
The wick system is a passive non-recovery type hydroponic system. It uses no pumps and has no moving parts. The nutrients are stored in the reservoir and moved into the root system by capillary action often using a candle or lantern wick. In simpler terms, the nutrient solution travels up the wick and into the root system of the plant. Wick systems often uses sand or perlite, vermiculite mix and a growing medium. The wick system is easy and inexpensive to set-up and maintain. Although, it tends to keep the growing medium to wet, which doesn't allow for the optimum amount of oxygen in the root system. The wick system is not the most effective way to garden hydroponically.The Ebb and Flow System
The Ebb and Flow hydroponic system is an active recovery type system. The Ebb and Flow uses a submersible pump in the reservoir and the plants are in the upper tray. They work on a simple flood and drain theory. The reservoir holds the nutrient solution and the pump. When the pump turns on, the nutrient solution is pumped up to the upper tray and delivered to the root system of the plants. The pump should remain on for about 20 to 30 minutes, which is called a flood cycle. Once the water has reached a set level, an overflow pipe or fitting allows the nutrient solution to drain back into the reservoir. The pump remains on for the entire flood cycle. After the flood cycle the nutrient solution slowly drains back down into the reservoir through the pump.
During the flood cycle oxygen poor air is pushed out of the root system by the upward moving nutrient solution. As the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir, oxygen rich air is pulled into the growing medium. This allows the roots ample oxygen to maximize their nutrient intake. Rockwool and grow rocks are most commonly used growing mediums in Ebb and Flow type systems. The Ebb and Flow is low maintenance, yet highly effective type of hydroponic gardening.Nutrient Film Technique
The Nutrient Film Technique or NFT system is an active recovery type hydroponic system. Again, using submersible pumps and reusing nutrient solutions. The NFT uses a reservoir with a submersible pump that pumps the nutrient solution into a grow-tube where the roots suspended. The grow-tube is at a slight downward angle so the nutrient solution runs over the roots and back into the reservoir. The nutrient solution flows over the roots up to 24 hours per day.
Oxygen is needed in the grow-tube so capillary matting or air stones must be used. The plants are held up by a support collar or a grow-basket and no growing medium is used. The NFT system is very effective. Although, many novice hydroponic growers find it difficult to fine tune. It can also be very unforgiving, with no growing medium to hold any moisture, any long period of interruption in the nutrient flow can cause the roots to dry out and the plants to suffer and possibly die.Continuous Drip
The Continuous Drip system is an active recovery or non-recovery type system. This system uses a submersible pump in a reservoir with supply lines going to each plant. With drip emitter for each plant the gardener can adjust the amount of solution per plant. A drip tray under each row of plants, sending the solution back to the reservoir, can easily make this system an active recovery type. In the early days of hydroponics, the extra solution was leached out into the ground. Continuous Drip systems are often used with Rockwool. Although, any growing medium can be used with this system, thanks to the adjustment feature on each individual drip emitter.