How Does Hydroponics Work?

Milosh Potikj | May 25, 2023 | 9 MIN READ

Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants without soil by using a nutrient-rich solution to deliver all the essential minerals. The plants are instead rooted in a growing media, such as peat moss or clay pebbles, and the nutrient solution is circulated around the roots by a water pump.

The hydroponic system typically consists of a water reservoir, an air pump to oxygenate the water, and a submersible pump to circulate the nutrient-rich solution to the plants. The plants themselves can be grown in a variety of ways, such as in a nutrient film technique or deep water culture system.

In a nutrient film technique, a thin film of nutrient solution is circulated through the roots of the plants, allowing them to absorb the necessary nutrients without being submerged in water. Deep water culture systems involve the placing of the plant roots in a nutrient-filled water reservoir, with the plants suspended above the water level.

Benefits

One of the primary advantages of hydroponics is that it saves space. Traditional gardening methods require a vast amount of space to grow crops, especially those that are grown on the ground. With hydroponic systems, the plants grow vertically in water, which means that less space is needed to produce the same amount of crops. This feature is especially useful for those living in urban settings, where space is a premium.

Hydroponics saves water. Water is a scarce resource in many areas, and traditional farming methods consume vast amounts of water to nourish the crops. Hydroponic systems use a closed-loop system that recirculates water, making it a water-saving option for growers. The plants require less water in hydroponic systems as the nutrient-rich water is directly supplied to the roots, eliminating wastage through drainage.

Hydroponics works by providing plants with all the necessary nutrients in the form of a nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is constantly recirculated, which ensures that the plants receive an optimal amount of nutrients at all times. Since the plants do not have to compete for nutrients, they grow faster, healthier, and produce higher yields. The absence of soil also reduces the risk of plant diseases, and pests.

Downsides

Hydroponics is a popular method of growing plants without soil, using nutrient-rich water instead. However, like any growing method, it has its 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 level 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.

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 rockwool, 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.

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.

Check out this article: What Are Hydroponics Systems?

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.

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.

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.

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.

One of the main benefits of this system is its efficient use of water and energy. Since the nutrient solution is recirculated, it reduces water usage by up to 90% compared to traditional soil-based systems. Another advantage of this system is that it is highly customizable and can be used to grow a variety of plants, including root vegetables like carrots and beets, leafy greens like lettuce, and even fruits such as strawberries.

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 can promote faster plant growth and bigger yields. Additionally, aeroponic systems use less water than traditional soil-based systems, making them more environmentally friendly.

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.

Final Thoughts

Hydroponics is a fascinating and innovative way of growing plants without soil. Overall, this method has numerous benefits such as increased plant growth rate, water conservation, and higher nutrient levels. With hydroponics, you can grow plants in indoor spaces and larger quantities, and it's ideal for commercial growers and vertical farming.

To successfully grow in hydroponics, diligent monitoring of the nutrient-rich water and a backup plan for pump failures is necessary. Nevertheless, hydroponic growers will enjoy the benefits of increased plant growth levels while using significantly less water and maintaining nutrient-rich solution levels.

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