Due to the limitation of crop production by environmental factors and challenges such as deforestation, climate change, increasing food and water scarcity and lack of arable land, the demand for an alternative way of production is increasing as each day passes. Hydroponic farming which has the ability to eliminate these challenges has been identified as a great alternative.
What is Hydroponic Farming?
Hydroponics is a word formed by the combination of two Greek words “hydro” – which means water, and “ponos” which means labor.
Hydroponic Farming is a method of farming that involves growing plants by using soil mineral nutrient solution in water, without using soil. The nutrients used in the hydroponic system of farming can come from various sources which include, chemical fertilizers, duck manure, fish excrement, or artificial nutrient solutions. Plants normally grown using hydroponics include plants like Arabidopsis Thaliana, peppers, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, cannabis and lettuce.
The Idea of hydroponics isn’t considered a new one though, its usage can be traced back to The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and floating gardens that existed in Mexico and ancient China.
Growing Crops With Hydroponic
Using the hydroponic system of farming requires reliance on nutrient solutions for the growth of your crops instead of fertilizer and soil.
These nutrient solutions are added to water to increase their concentration and then delivered into the plants as substitutes for the food they would have gotten from the soil.
Hydroponic system aims at ensuring healthy growth of plant roots by providing easy access to the elements they need.
Hydroponic Crop Processes
1. CHOICE OF SEED: Deciding what seed to sow is the first step in the crop cultivation process.
Profitability can prove to be a major factor here. Season, maintenance, location, affordability, potential result and demand are major factors that determine whether a crop will be profitable or not.
2. SOWING: After deciding on what to grow, you have to start sowing. It is advisable to plant with seeds, which gives you control over your plant’s health and not already-germinated seedlings because seedlings may be diseased, damaged or infected by pests, which could cause harm to other plants on the farm. Use grow cubes, which are usually made from the same materials as coconut fiber, as a growing medium to plant seeds in humid conditions.
Soak the cubes until they are saturated and place at least 3 seeds in the cube.
Planting more than one seed gives you the chance to preserve the strongest seeds and also increases the possibility of at least one seed germinating in each cube.
Watch out for signs of unhealthy plants which could cause harm and make sure you pay attention to the crops until they are fully matured for harvest.
3. HARVEST: Once your crops are fully matured, you can harvest them by pulling out the produce or roots from its growth medium depending on the plant and removing unhealthy leaves.
After Harvesting, it is left for you to either personally consume them or sell them for profits.
Types Of Hydroponic Systems
The process of growing crops varies in different hydroponic systems, but the major classification includes:
1. Passive System: This system involves the constant soaking of plants that are rooted in a growing medium, in nutrient-rich water.
This system is recommended for beginners.
2. Active System: In this system, tools like tubes and pumps circulate, flood and remove water from the growing medium, as needed.
Other classifications of hydroponic systems include Recovery or Circulating System which circulate and reuse nutrient solutions and Non-recovery or Non-Circulatory system which doesn’t circulate and reuse nutrient solutions.
Hydroponic Growth Techniques
1. Wick System: This process involves growing plants above a reservoir of nutrient-rich water.
These wicks supply water to the plant’s roots by connecting them to the reservoir and soaking up the water.
Its inability to supply maximum oxygen, which is pivotal for healthy and fast growth is the system’s notable setback.
2. Ebb and Flow System: Regarded as an active recovery system and the most famous process because of its effectiveness and minimal maintenance, this process involves pumping nutrient solutions to the tray by flooding the tray and afterwards draining the water back to the reservoir in anticipation of the next flood.
3. Continuous Drip System: This process which can be considered as an active and recovery or non-recovery system, is very effective because of its ability to distribute different portions to different plants easily, and give the farmer greater control over the growing process.
In this process which is one of the most used hydroponic systems, nutrients are dripped directly to the growing medium using a small drip line and excess water may/may not be recaptured and resent to the storage.
4. Aeroponic System: This process involves hanging crop roots in the air, and providing them with dilute nutrient solutions through mists every few minutes.
Elements Of A Hydroponic System
There are various elements and materials that are required to increasing the efficiency of a hydroponic farm. The common examples include:
3. Nutrients like Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium etc.
4. Fresh Water.
5. Root Support.
6. Growing Mediums like rock wool, coconut fiber, hydro corn etc.
7. LED Light bulbs for energy-efficient growing.
Advantages Of Hydroponic Systems Of Farming
1. Decrease in Water Usage.
2. It allows you to grow food at any time of the year, anywhere in the world.
3. It produces higher yields.
4. It does require the use of potentially harmful resources like pesticides.
5. Using a hydroponic system gives you certainty on the conditions in which the plants are being grown.
6. Plants grow more rapidly in hydroponic systems than in fields.
7. It saves space.
8. Farmers don’t need soil to grow crops.
9. Reduced Transportation.
10. Nutrients cannot be leached.
11. Due to the absence of soil, hydroponically grown crops can’t be affected by soil-borne diseases, viruses or pests.
12. Less Energy is required.
Disadvantages Of Hydroponic Systems
1. High set-up costs.
2. Hydroponic farming requires technical skills and adequate knowledge of the hydroponic system and crop nutrient interaction, and that could be a major challenge for some farmers.
3. Vulnerability to Water-borne diseases and Power failure.