What is Hydroponics
The fascinating world of hydroponics is one where you put a plants roots in a nutrient solution and let it grow.
Ideally you don’t see the roots as this can promote algae growth and that is the last thing you want – to suffocate the roots!
The world where you have a chance to control the environment for your plants.
Depending on how far you want to take it, from a simple countertop system to a blackout tent where you control all of the environment, growing hydroponically is a hobby to enjoy.
I remember when I first started out, being nervous of killing the plants and being impatient for them to grow.
I am still learning about how to get the most out of the systems and am nowhere an expert, but i manage to grow tomatoes and cucumbers every year outside, with 10 year old and counting chilli plants inside in Aerogarden units ( they seem to like the environment and I like the chillis, tasting like bell peppers with heat).
Would I grow with soil, not if I could help it, but sometimes you need to see what you are missing.
Anyway here is my list of pros and cons of hydroponics.
Plants grow quicker
The plants have little choice in it.
As long as you have setup the conditions right then all they have to do is to grow.
They can’t help it. it is what the little seeds are programmed to do, what you are doing is giving them the best chance they have at growing.
Once they start growing then there will be no stopping them.
In a side by side comparison you can expect up to 4X quicker growth than with a soil system.
Remember that feeling after being on your knees in the garden planting seedlings.
Knees aching, back aching, fingers dirty.
Washing your hands they almost come clean but…
Well with most of the aggregates you use for hydroponics your hands will stay clean and depending on where you place your system then no more aching knees or back.
Coco coir is the messiest substrate i have dealt with and a quick rinse under the tap brings it off. It is only coconut husks ground up after all.
You can grow more
When you start with hydroponics what you will see is that more of your seedlings will survive.
Which means you can grow more.
Where you ask.
Don’t be constrained by horizontal surfaces, look upwards.
Yes you can construct systems that expand upwards and grow up walls.
You are not constrained by soil so you can almost grow anywhere.
When you water the garden how much of that water actually goes into the plants ?
10%…20% with the rest soaking into the ground and draining away?
With the contained systems of hydroponics you will be using a lot less water and know that it is surrounding the roots for the plant to use.
You will still need to water the systems and as the plants grow then this becomes more frequent, but it will all go to the plants.
Grow where nothing grows
Is there a spot in the garden where absolutely nothing grows?
What about using that to try out hydroponics.
There will be a system placed there but with a bit of imagination and ingenuity, as long as you can get electric and water to it you will be able to grow plants there.
Too dark – then add more light.
Too wet – then make sure you use a structure that will not rot.
Too dry- just add the structure, water, system and grow.
Plants are a bit like us, the healthier they are the less prone they are to disease or pests.
So using hydroponics to grow them and ensuring they are as healthy as they can be gives them the advantage of being able to resist pests and diseases.
This is a big one – the thing that puts most people off.
But nowadays don’t let it.
Have a look at the various systems that are available and see how easy it is to put a system together.
Gone are the days where you have to drill holes, cut pipes, be a designer. There are now systems for every type of hydroponics system.
But you are trading time against money.
So if you want to save some money then construct the system yourself.
If you don’t have the time or expertise then buy the equipment – to star indoors i would recommend the Aerogarden.
A nice little countertop system which you can see if you get on with hydroponics or not.
Need a little knowledge
To really make the best of hydroponics you need to do a little research intro how it works.
You need to know a little about water and nutrients.
With a seed packet and trowel you can start growing in the garden
With a seed packet, an Aerogarden, some nutrient, electric, water you can start growing in the Aerogarden.
Don’t let that put you off.
You don’t need to get too techie, with the Aerogarden the pods come pre-planted, add water , plug it in – tell it what type of plants you have planted and add nutrients.
Now let it get on with it.
You can get well into it with measuring what is going on with your water, temperature, air, humidity and control all of them within a grow room.
So the choice is totally yours as to how involved you get, how much time you can devote to the hobby and what results you want.
Need water and electricity
Unless you are using a system which needs no electricity then this is required for pumps, timers and possibly heaters.
Make sure you comply to all local regulation with your electrical installation.
If you have a power outage, dependant on the type of system and length of outage, then your plants may die.
Most of the systems need to move water around or bubble air through the water.
If the nutrient rich water gets too cold then the plants will not use them to grow, so you use a heater to increase the temperature of the nutrient.
The plants will need water and you need to keep the reservoir topped up.
If you let the water level drop too much the nutrient in the water may concentrate too much for the plant and will overload it.
So my rule is just to check it daily and top off with water for the time period of this batch of nutrient.
I keep water in a container so it is at ambient temperature and a little of the chlorine has dissipated.
Dependant on your water, you may need to do more work to it.
Check the pH ( potential hydrogen) and the EC (electrical conductivity) – it takes a couple of seconds and will give you good insights into what you may need to add to your water to get the plants to grow optimally.
The best method is to get a report from your water board to show what is in your water supply.
Noise may intrude
You maybe running a system which moves air or water around.
You may get trickling noises or a 50hz hum from the air pump – even the so called silent ones do make some noise.
With the Aerogarden you can tell when the reservoir is starting to drop as you will hear the circulating water trickling back down, just top off with water and the noise reduces – till the plants use more and you need to top off again.
Noise level are no more intrusive than an aquarium with airpumps and water pumps, so if you have had a small aquarium then you will be used to the noise.
More work to pollinate
If you are growing indoors and you grow anything which needs pollinating you will have to be mother nature.
Getting insects indoors to just pollinate your plants may not be ideal.
So using a paintbrush – gently brush the centre of the flower and move onto the next one. same again.
This way you have the best chance of fruiting.
You can look up what the plant needs, some have male and female flowers, some only one type and others like the tomato which are enclosed ( gently tap the stem to pollinate)
But to me it is part of the enjoyment of growing your own plants for consumption, it is not for everybody, but give it a try to see how you get on with it.
Return on investment
With the cost of the system and nutrients it will take time to claw this investment back.
But if you look at the fact you know what you are putting into your plants – the lack of pesticides and herbicides – then this may be good enough for you to have a go.
If I did it again would I start hydroponics
With all of the advantages and a curious mind I would start again with hydroponics.
If I was strapped for cash I would go down the build it myself route that i have.
If I wanted something to have herbs, lettuce or tomatoes to hand in the kitchen – then the Aerogarden is the way to go.
Can it all go wrong – yes in the same way as it does in the garden, but all you do is to take out the plants, clean it up and start again.
I can thoroughly recommend hydroponics even if you are a keen gardener- with the Aerogarden you get something to play with over the winter when the garden is fairly dormant and you can start your seedlings inside under the lights to get a major headstart next year.
If you are not a keen gardener, but want to try it out then i would recommend a small countertop system, similar to the (#ad) Aerogarden.
If you like tomatoes, cucumbers, then why not try out the DWC ( deep water culture ) method – essentially growing them in a bucket of oxygenated nutrients outside.
It is a fun hobby and can provide you with fresh herbs and veg throughout the year.
If you have any more pros and cons of hydroponics, leave them in the comments box.
Thanks for reading
I have been growing plants hydroponically since 2009. For years before that i was reading books and looking at systems and saying ...no way...
But once i had taken the plunge with the tomatoes outside, then there was no stopping me.
I tried out most of the systems and started to refine them, getting the plants to grow more efficiently.
Now I am more interested in indoor hydroponics and the challenges it presents. Being able to control the environment, feeding the correct nutrients and giving the correct length and type of lighting....