No Soil, No Problem
Unlike traditional gardens that are rooted in soil, hydroponic gardening allows you to grow your plants without soil. Yep, that’s right, NO SOIL. The use of hydroponics is nothing new; records date back thousands of years to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which used hydroponic principles, as well as, the Floating Gardens of the Aztecs.
There are lots of different systems out there to choose from but none of them use soil. Instead of plants being placed in soil they are placed in rockwool, grow stones, clay pebbles, perlite or coco just to name a few. The point here is that your roots are having direct contact with oxygen and your nutrient solution.
Growing with hydroponics offers many advantages to growing in soil. Although the start-up cost can be a little more, it is proven that your plants will not only grow faster, but they will produce more. By providing your plants roots directly with nutrients and lots of oxygen, you lessen the energy being used to search for them. Instead your plant can focus its energy towards growth and producing flowers/fruit. With that being said, I think it’s also important to point out that hydroponically grown plants are less forgiving than soil grown. They need a little more attention, for example, one bad pump could ruin the garden. So make sure you have the time to care for your hydroponic garden before you set it up.
As I stated before, there are lots of systems to choose from. None of these will use soil, and all will have a reservoir of some sort and generally use a pump to move the nutrient solution to your plants. A Deep Water Culture or DWC system is one of the easiest to start with because you don’t have to worry about clogged lines. You basically have your reservoir directly below your plants and the roots will be suspended in the nutrient solution which is being kept aerated with an air stone and pump. As your plant gets bigger their roots will grow longer and be continually submerged in the nutrient solution.
Another system is an Ebb & Flow system. Plants in this type of system are flooded for a set amount of time several times a day and then the nutrient solution drains back to the reservoir. This way the roots are feed and they get their dose of oxygen when the system drains. Much like the DWC system, you don’t have to worry about lines and emitters getting clogged.
Aeroponic systems generally contain little to no grow media and are continually spraying the roots of plants above; creating both a nutrient and oxygen rich environment. The abundant amount of oxygen allows plants to maximize the amount of nutrients they absorb. This in turn makes your plants grow at a much faster rate. As great as these systems are, they can also be a headache. There are lots of tiny parts that can get clogged easily, which can be disastrous if you’re not monitoring the system constantly.
Drip systems have a reservoir with a pump that delivers the nutrient solution to the plants via tubing and drip emitters. These systems offer a lot of versatility, you can use grow media of your choice and set the drip to your preference. You do have to keep an eye on emitters to make sure that lines aren’t clogged, but other than that, these systems are fairly easy to run.
Nutrient Film Technique, also known as NFT is another bare-root system where your roots hang and are being constantly fed with a thin film of nutrient solution. Generally the nutrient solution is about 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep and cycles continue between the reservoir and growing system. You do have to watch the roots on plants with these systems – if they get to big they can clog up the channels or pipes.
- Remember to clean out your reservoir every week or two weeks. Plants benefit from the change out and get a fresh dose of nutrients.
- Keep an eye on pumps, emitters and lines – the sooner you can catch a problem, the better.
- Check your pH – pH that is too high or too low can cause problems with your plants.
- Make sure your reservoir temperature isn’t to low or high – try to keep the temperature between 65 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Always clean out equipment after each grow cycle – this will ensure that everything is clean and free of debris before you start the next cycle.
- Check your reservoir daily – as your plants grow and bigger they will suck up more of the nutrients and you will have to add more.