How Does Hydroponics Work?

Milosh Potikj | May 25, 2023 | 11 MIN READ

Hydroponics might sound like a high-tech term from a futuristic sci-fi movie, but it's actually a very cool way of growing plants without using any soil at all. Imagine a garden where plants float on water, their roots reaching down not into the earth but into water enriched with all the good stuff plants usually get from the ground.

This amazing method, known as hydroponics, comes from a Latin word that means "working water." It's all about letting water do the heavy lifting, supplying plants with nutrients, hydration, and oxygen.

What's even more awesome is that this way of growing things can produce everything from juicy watermelons and spicy jalapeños to exotic orchids. Hydroponic gardens are incredibly efficient, using 90% less water than traditional farming, needing minimal space, and even allowing plants to grow twice as fast.

The roots of hydroponics stretch all the way back to the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon and were even observed by Marco Polo in China. Fast forward to the 1990s, and scientists at NASA were experimenting with hydroponics in space! It’s clear that hydroponics isn't just an age-old concept but a futuristic solution for growing crops sustainably, whether here on Earth or way out in space.

What is Hydroponics?

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a way to grow plants without dirt. Instead of soil, plants grow in water mixed with nutrients and get oxygen too.

This method makes plants grow faster and gives more fruits and flowers because the plants don’t waste energy looking for food in the soil. They get everything they need right at their roots!

Also, plants use light and carbon dioxide to make their food, a process called photosynthesis. They don’t need soil for it, just light, air, and water. Hydroponics uses water with nutrients to help plants grow well, which can be better than old-school soil farming.

How Does it Work?

Hydroponic systems are like a plant's personal assistant, keeping everything just right around the clock. Instead of letting plants fend for themselves in a garden, hydroponics steps in to give them exactly what they need, exactly when they need it. This means plants can kick back into a comfy environment where the temperature and pH balance are always on point. They get to feast on a buffet of nutrients and water, which is way better than what they'd get from just soil.

The magic behind hydroponics is all about control. Gardeners can set the perfect amount of light for the plants and decide exactly how long they stay on. The nutrient solution that the plants soak up? It's mixed to meet the specific needs of each type of plant, making sure they have all the goods for growth. And if the pH level isn't just right, it's quick and easy to adjust. This personalised growth environment speeds things up, letting plants grow faster than they would in the wild.

But it's not just about speed. Growing plants in a hydroponic system means saying goodbye to a lot of outdoor gardening hassles. Soil can harbour diseases and pests that are bad news for plants. In the great outdoors, you never know when a rabbit might decide your veggies are its dinner or when pests might show up for a feast.

Hydroponics cuts out these unpredictabilities, protecting plants from diseases spread by soil and keeping hungry critters at bay. Plus, with no need for pesticides, the fruits and veggies that come out of hydroponic gardens are top-notch in healthiness.

What Are The Components of a Hydroponic System?

What Are The Components of a Hydroponic System?

A hydroponic system is an innovative method of cultivating plants without soil, using a nutrient-rich water solution instead. This system involves several essential components that work together to create an optimal environment for plant growth.

Air Stones and Air Pumps

Air stones and air pumps are essential components in hydroponic systems, which are defined as growing plants without the use of soil. These systems require a nutrient-rich solution to be continuously circulated around the plant roots. As plants require oxygen to grow, air stones and air pumps work together to infuse the nutrient solution with bubbles of dissolved oxygen.

One of the primary purposes of air stones and air pumps in hydroponic systems is to ensure that the plant roots receive a consistent supply of dissolved oxygen. When plant roots are submerged in water, they rely on dissolved oxygen for respiration. Without oxygen, the roots can quickly become deprived and begin to suffocate. Air stones and air pumps help prevent oxygen depletion by dispersing bubbles of dissolved oxygen throughout the nutrient solution reservoir, evenly distributing the oxygen across all parts of the growing system.

Growing Media

Growing media is an important aspect of hydroponics, as it plays a crucial role in supporting and nourishing hydroponic plants. Simply put, growing media is the material that is used to support and anchor the plant roots, as well as retain and deliver moisture and nutrients to the plants.

There are various types of growing media available for hydroponic systems and each type functions differently in terms of moisture retention and nutrient delivery to the plants. Inert media, such as clay pebbles or rock wool, do not hold onto moisture very well but are excellent at retaining nutrients. Alternatively, organic media, such as peat moss or coconut coir, work well at retaining moisture but do not hold nutrients as effectively.

Net Pots

Net pots are mesh planters that are ideal for hydroponic systems and they offer a range of benefits to hydroponic plants. In hydroponic systems, net pots are used to hold plants in place while exposing their roots to nutrient-rich water without the need for soil.

Net pots are considered a superior choice for hydroponic plants due to their unique latticed material. This material allows greater exposure to oxygen and nutrients than other types of planters, which promotes better plant growth and healthier root systems. Moreover, the net pots offer superior drainage, which ensures that the plants don't sit in excess nutrient-filled water for too long periods.

What Are the Six Types of Hydroponic Systems?

What Are the Six Types of Hydroponic Systems?

There are various types of hydroponic systems that offer unique advantages for plant cultivation. From nutrient film technique (NFT) to deep water culture (DWC), each system utilizes different methods to provide water, nutrients, and support to plants for optimal growth.

1. Wicking Systems

A wicking system is a type of passive hydroponic system that relies on capillary action to transport the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the plants. This system is perfect for beginners, small plants, and those without access to electricity or a pump.

  • How does it work?

A wick, made of materials such as cotton, felt, or nylon, is placed in the growing medium, which could be perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir, or peat moss. The other end of the wick is placed in the nutrient solution reservoir. The growing medium acts as a buffer, holding the moisture and nutrient solution, and the wick transports the solution to the plant roots.

  • What components are needed?

For a simple wicking system, you will need a container for the plant, a container for nutrient solution, a wick, and a growing medium. Optionally, you can add an air stone to oxygenate the nutrient solution.

  • What types of plants is it best suited for?

The wicking system is ideally suited for small plants, such as herbs, leafy greens, and strawberries. Larger plants may require a more substantial reservoir and a faster delivery of nutrients.

2. Deep Water Culture (DWC) Systems

Deep Water Culture (DWC) is a type of hydroponic system that allows plant roots to be submerged in a nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. This system is a popular option among hydroponic growers because it is relatively easy to set up, maintain, and can produce healthy plants with less water than traditional soil-based systems.

The plants absorb the nutrients they need directly from the nutrient solution, which allows for faster growth and greater yield. Growers must ensure that the nutrient solution level is always maintained and topped up as needed.

Some of the benefits of using a DWC system include the ability to grow larger plants, requiring less water than traditional gardening, and providing plants with constant access to nutrients. Additionally, since there is no soil involved, the risk of soil-borne diseases or pests is much lower.

3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Systems

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system is a popular commercial hydroponic system that has been around for quite some time now. It involves growing plants in channels that have a recirculating nutrient solution running along the bottom. This means that the plants are not completely submerged and are instead placed in channels using net pots and a growing medium such as perlite, coconut coir, or vermiculite.

One of the great benefits of the NFT system is that there's minimal growing medium required, which reduces waste and saves costs. Additionally, the recirculating system means that the nutrient solution can be constantly adjusted and recycled, making it both resource and cost-efficient.

4. Ebb and Flow / Flood and Drain Systems

Hydroponics is a soil-free method of growing plants that utilizes nutrient-rich water as the primary growing medium. There are various types of hydroponic systems, but one of the most efficient and widely used methods is the Ebb and Flow / Flood and Drain system.

Compared to other hydroponic systems, such as DWC (Deep Water Culture) or NFT (Nutrient Film Technique), the Ebb and Flow / Flood and Drain system is unique in that it floods the growing media with nutrient-rich water and then drains it back into the reservoir to recycle the solution. This cyclic process ensures that the plants receive the right amount of water and nutrients, promoting healthy plant growth.

  • The Ebb and Flow system is not only eco-friendly but incredibly efficient, cutting down water usage by as much as 90% when compared to the typical soil garden. This is because it recycles the nutrient solution, ensuring minimal waste and promoting a sustainable gardening practice.
  • It's a versatile gardening powerhouse, perfect for a range of plants, from crunchy root veggies like carrots and beets to hydroponic lettuce and even juicy strawberries. Adjusting the system's settings can help it meet the specific needs of almost any plant, making it a go-to choice for diverse hydroponic gardening.

5. Aeroponics Systems

Aeroponics is a type of hydroponic gardening system that is different from other methods because it does not use any growing medium for the plants. Instead, the roots are suspended in the air and misted with a nutrient-rich solution using high-pressure nozzles.

The basic components of an aeroponic system include a reservoir that holds water with a nutrient solution, high-pressure nozzles that mist the roots, and a tray or platform to hold the plants. There may also be a pump or timer to control the misting schedule and a grow light to provide artificial light for indoor systems.

One of the biggest benefits of an aeroponic system is increased oxygen exposure to the roots. Because the roots are not submerged in water, they have access to more oxygen, which promotes faster plant growth and bigger yields. Additionally, aeroponic systems use less water than traditional soil-based systems, making them more environmentally friendly.

6. Drip Systems

Drip systems are one of the most popular methods of hydroponics. Unlike traditional soil-based systems, drip systems don't rely on the soil to deliver nutrients to plants. Instead, a nutrient solution is delivered to the plant's roots through an emitter system.

Drip systems are highly effective because they allow growers to deliver precise amounts of water and nutrients directly to the plants. The system can be set up to deliver nutrients at different times of the day, ensuring that plants receive the optimal amount of water and nutrients.

One of the major benefits of drip systems is that they save water. Unlike traditional farming methods, which can be incredibly wasteful, drip systems use water much more efficiently. This is because the nutrient solution is delivered directly to the plant's roots, where it is needed, rather than being sprayed over a large area.

There are two different types of drip systems: active recovery and non-recovery. Active recovery systems use a pump to recirculate excess solution, while non-recovery systems simply allow the excess solution to drain away.

Benefits of Using Hydroponic Systems

Benefits of Using Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic gardening comes with a lot of cool advantages compared to traditional gardening. Here are some of the key benefits:

Saves Space:

  • With hydroponics, plants grow in water and don't need the large, open spaces traditional farming does.
  • This is great for city folks or anyone with limited space.

Saves Water:

  • Even though plants grow in water, hydroponic systems actually use less water. This is because the water is recirculated.
  • This is super helpful in places where water is scarce.

Faster Plant Growth:

  • Plants get all their nutrients directly from the water, which means they grow faster and healthier.
  • Since they don't compete for nutrients like in soil, you get more food faster.

Less Risk of Diseases and Pests:

  • No soil means fewer problems with diseases and pests that usually bother plants.
  • This makes for happier plants and less trouble for the gardener.

Downsides

Here are some common challenges and solutions for those who want to venture into hydroponic gardens:

  • High Initial Cost

One of the main downsides of hydroponics is that the initial cost of setting up a system can be high. However, there are ways to reduce this cost. DIY hydroponic systems can be assembled using materials such as PVC pipes, rubber tubing, and plastic containers. This can significantly reduce the cost of a hydroponic setup.

  • Monitoring Inputs

In a hydroponic system, it's essential to monitor nutrient levels, pH, and water levels regularly. If not monitored, plants could die due to either over or underfeeding. To avoid this, invest in a monitoring system that automatically controls the nutrient levels, pH, and water level, minimizing guesswork.

  • Pump Failure

The water pump is an integral part of any hydroponic system. If it fails, the plants' nutrient-rich water won't be circulated, and the plants will be deprived of the nutrients they need to grow. To avoid this, set up a backup pump or plan for manual watering during such an eventuality.

  • Difficulty Level

While hydroponics isn't rocket science, it's a bit more complicated than traditional soil-based gardening. New growers should take time to learn the fundamentals of hydroponic gardening before getting started. Fortunately, numerous resources are available online and in books to help beginners get started.

Are You Ready to Get Started?

Are You Ready to Get Started?

Hydroponics is a cool way to grow plants without needing dirt, making it perfect for places without a lot of room. It's like giving plants a super meal directly to their roots, helping them grow faster and healthier. But remember, setting up might cost a bit, and you'll need to keep an eye on things like the water and nutrients to keep your plants happy.

If you're new to this, it's okay! There's a bit to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it's not too tough. Plus, you can make your setup on a budget and still have great results.

Are you excited to start your hydroponic adventure or maybe looking for more tips to perfect your green thumb? Head over to our blog packed with all the info you need, from setting up your first system to picking the right nutrients.

Got questions? Our team loves to help fellow plant lovers, so don't hesitate to contact us.

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