What does the term “hydroponics” mean? Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without the use of soil. Instead of growing plants in dirt, plants are held up in some type of growing medium, such as vermiculite, coconut coir, perlite, etc., and fed continuously by an irrigation system that delivers water and nutrients directly to the roots.
There are some distinct advantages to growing plants hydroponically. First of all, since hydroponic systems have to be sheltered from the elements, plants can be grown year-round, in any climate. There are even mini-systems that fit on a countertop, so even people who live in small urban spaces can grow their own plants. Plants grown in this method grow bigger and faster than their soil-grown counterparts because the plant doesn’t have to focus its energy on growing a bigger root system to find water; all the water and nutrients it needs are already provided. Because hydroponic systems are enclosed, they use less water than soil-grown plants due to less evaporation in the air, and insects are much easier to manage and control.
There are a few drawbacks to hydroponic systems, however. These types of systems are much more expensive than dirt and require constant monitoring to make sure the pH levels and nutrient levels stay balanced. The biggest drawback though is the chance of equipment failure, such as a clogged irrigator or a pump failure. Without the equipment to maintain the proper water flow, plants can die within a few hours.
There are several types of hydroponic systems. A common system is called Deepwater Culture, where the plant roots are suspended in a nutrient solution. Another type is called Nutrient Film Technique, where the roots are enclosed in a long container and a continuous flow of nutrient solution feeds the roots. Aeroponic systems spray nutrient solutions directly onto roots suspended in the air, while Wicking systems pull nutrient solutions from a reservoir into the growing medium. An Ebb and Flow method uses a pump attached to a timer to flood the plants with nutrient solution and then allows them to dry out before flooding them again. And finally, a Drip system provides the growing medium with a constant slow drip of nutrient solution.
Hydroponic growing can be great for those with limited space or who want the ability to grow plants year-round in a climate controlled environment. Setups can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish to make them, depending on what and how much you want to grow.