Why hydroponics is so good for you… and your plants
You may have heard a little about the claims for hydroponics
- Plants grow 3 to 10 x faster than soil
- More plants per sq ft
- Less water needed
- Better quality
- Grow anytime
- Increased Pest resistance
But how do they throw these things into the ring – are they really believable and how does hydroponics work .
Hydroponics is the growing of plants in a nutrient rich water with out soil.
To achieve this you do need few other things
Like support for you plant
Light for your plant
And they do like a bit of warmth ( well most of them).
The most basic system i know is a pop bottle with the top third cut off and inverted ( after poking a few holes for drainage.
I do place an airstone into the bottom with air from an aquarium pump.
Fill the top with gravel and add nutrient rich water.
Water it a little every day and listen to the air through the airstone – you will tell when there is nothing in the bottom and you need to add extra.
This is effectively a deep water culture system (dwc).
It is the same method i use to grow tomatoes in a dwc every year outside after the frosts with huge success every year.
Also cucumbers and now inside strawberries and cilantro on a small scale.
There are other systems, like ebb and drain or flood and drain, drip, nft ( nutrient film technique), wick and aeroponics – you can check these out in another post i did.
But they all have similar traits.
Get the nutrients to the roots along with masses of oxygen.
For fast growth of the plant.
Combine that with good lighting, a bit of heat and support and the plants are growing the best they can.
How do plants grow
There are four areas of a plant
- The roots
- The stem
- The leaves
- The flowers or fruits
Each one is important and plays a crucial role in the plants growth.
The roots take the salts from the nutrient and loads of water and oxygen and pass them onto the stem.
The stem supports the plant and pumps the food up to the leaves – it can also help in the transpiration process to keep the plant cool.
The leaves use the sunlight to convert the food to sugars which are then pumped down to the roots.
Excess sugars are stored in the leaves to be pumped down after the light stops the photosynthesis action.
Excess sugars are also stored in the roots ready for the roots to find more salts and to use for the fruiting or flowering.
So what makes hydroponics so special
With soil grown plants, the roots are seeking out the salts.
Or getting bacteria to convert the soil to usable salts.
The top part of the rootball is trying to stay dry and take up air.
The middle part of the rootball can take up air or if it gets wet will take up the salts.
The bottom of the rootball is always seeking moisture.
So a lot of energy is being used just to get the food to send up to the leaves.
The stem does the same as in hydroponics – where it supports the plant and pumps the food up to the leaves.
And the leaves in turn in the light convert the food into sugars to pump back down.
So how can they claim that hydroponics is so good compared to soil.
With the roots in the soils you cannot guarantee that all of the available salts are there or in the right quantity.
You can add humus and other organic material to try to make up any defecit, but if there is too much on one salt then the plant may suffer.
With hydroponics you are adding a solution designed with the right level of salts and they are all there.
With it in solution all the roots have to do is to absorb it.
Along with oxygenating the nutrient to add oxygen to the rootball.
All of this means that the plant may not grow masses of roots, but they will thicken up as the roots start to store the excess for later use.
This smaller rootball means that the plant doesn’t need as much space as the soil based plant, so you can increase the yield per square foot.
The right mineral salts for all of the plants needs means the plant is as healthy as it can be.
This health is shown in the speed at which it grows, with an almost umlimited quantity of salts available all the time then all the plant has to do is to grow.
You get a plant that is full of flavor, fresh and large.
Anyone who has good health and has a good immune system is more resistant to bugs and diseases.
And it is the same with plants – in very good health the plants can resist bugs and diseases far better than if they are lacking in any vital mineral.
They are able to recover and defend themselves easier and you are helping them by giving them the best chance.
You can also help them fight the bugs or disease as well.
So with the help you are giving them through te right level of salts and water and oxygen and light then what your plants will do is to reward you with the best product they can.
I can still remember the first time i gave away some basil, they came back the day after and said their whole house smelled of it after they chopped it up in the kitchen and could they have some more please.
The chilli’s i grow – same plant after 12 plus years – smell like fresh peppers- but beware their bite – they also retain their fresh pepper taste as well.- they freeze well or give them away…
With the basil you will have excess, you will be harvesting every few days after about 6 weeks of growth from seed.
And one of the best things is starting clones ( cuttings).
So if you like the taste of something to be able to carry on growing it exactly like the original ( you can’t always guarantee what will come out of the seed ) is excellent.
If you have control over the length of day for your plants then you have a lot of control over what period they are in.
With a 16 hr on 8 hr off light cycle most plants are in the vegetative state and will produce masses of vegetation.
Change that time for the light to 12 hr on/off plants think that they are coming to the end of summer and start the next phase of their cycle – to fruit or flower.
Are there any downsides to hydroponics
After the above you would think everybody would be growing hydroponically.
And a lot are – especially in the European continent and for certain plants now legalized in a lot of American states.
But it can go wrong.
You can get bugs, the plants can suffer from diseases.
And there is the initial upfront cost and setup.
So it takes a little effort.
It is not quite as easy as getting a packet of seeds and a trowel and planting them.
But with that little effort the results you can get are fantastic.
The growth rates phenomenal.
Tempered with the fact that you are making a supermarket for bugs.
The plants being in top condition means that they will resist as much as possible and with examination form you and treatment the disease or bugs can be seen off.
If the reservoir is small the quality of the nutrient may suffer if the right nutrient is not used – thereby the plant may not grow as well as expected.
So a little more knowledge and learning is in order.
But the benefits – to me – outweigh the downsides.
It can be frustrating when things are not going as well as expected.
But taking each of these as a learning process, the next batch will be improved.
So, is it worth it
Personally i would say yes.
Have i had failures, yes of course.
Is it exciting, yes.
To see your plants growing almost before your eyes – the tomatoes were growing inches every day.
And to see the flowers.
To tap the stem to pollinate the tomatoes.
And then to see the fruit set.
Grow and turn red – ready for you to pick…..
And the fresh taste……
To pick the basil leaves and tear them up just before you serve the pizza, filling the kitchen with the aroma.
To cut some cilantro and stir it into the curry at the last minute.
To place a sprig of parsley on home cooked soup, with a smile knowing that you grew it….
Personally i would say yes.
Ad for a recommended starting point i would say the miracle gro aerogarden range would be a very good one.
The self contained unit takes minutes to setup.
Almost plug and play.
Adding preseeded pods, then water and nutrient.
Watching through the plastic domes as the touches of green appear.
With the lights cycling on and off during the day to give your plants the best chance of growing.
The pump recirculating the rich nutrient over the spagnum moss medium.
The daily check on the level of nutrient and top up as necessary – it becomes a habit- if more members of the family get involved then maybe a fight to care for your plants.
This maybe a time to get more units…
But you do get fantastic plants from these systems.
I have four of them, growing most of the time.
Two are continouosly growing chilli’s and adding other crops.
The other two are used for the faster growing crops to be recycled.
So if you want t grow healthy happy plants with a minimum of fuss, then i would suggest looking into indoor hydroponics.
Even growing houseplants you are not far off hydroponics – you water them every time they need it.
You feed them once maybe twice a year.
So now you know how hydroponics works are you ready to take the plunge…..