Hydroponic Farming: Soil Free Agriculture

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Every day we are waking up to new technologies in every field, and agriculture is no different. As the world population grows, there has been a thrust in the development of new techniques to grow food in less space and with less water. One such technique that is gaining traction is hydroponic farming. It is forecasted that it will play a vital role in changing your outlook on plant growth and will be the future of gardening and farming.

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What is Hydroponic Farming?

It is a technique of growing plants using solutions of mineral nutrients in the water, without soil. In other words, it is farming without soil and growing the crops on water. 

Hydroponics means “water related” and this technology of farming has become popular and has greater applications in modern farming practices. In the hydroponic system, the plant grows in a nutrient-rich liquid solution or inside moist inert materials like Vermiculite and Rockwool. 

The nutrient-rich liquid solution is a mixture of water and essential plant nutrients. The plant roots are suspended either in a continuously flowing nutrient mixture or in the static liquid solution. 

Unlike the traditional farming methods, the hydroponic growing system requires continuous attention to the crops. 

Nutrient Film Technique, also known as NFT, is a popular and versatile hydroponics system. Deep water culture (DWC) is a hydroponic method of plant production by means of suspending the plant roots in a solution of nutrient-rich, oxygenated water.

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No doubt, the system is highly automated, but it also needs to be well managed. It is both water as well as nutrient efficient, which are delivered directly to the plant’s root structure. 

Since the levels of water and nutrients are monitored, these elements are supplied as and when needed at the required levels. Together, water and nutrients contribute to the success of and rate of growth.

Elements of Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponics farming is a technique that is a way to skip the soil and substitute it with a different material that supports the roots of the plant and grow the crops directly in nutrient-rich water. Although there are different approaches to designing hydroponic systems, the core elements of this farming are essentially the same. These five elements listed below are the most foundational elements of any hydroponic system. 

1 Fresh water

Most plants like water with a pH level of around 6–6.5. Water level pH will be maintained within the specified range, which results in better growth and production. The acidity of the water can be with over-the-counter solutions found at your local hardware, garden, or hydroponic store.

2 Oxygen

In the case of traditional farming, roots can get the oxygen from air pockets in the soil. Depending on your hydroponic setup, you will be required to leave the space in between the plant base and the water reservoir. You will need to oxygenate your container to something similar to bubbles in a fish tank. This you can accomplish by buying an air stone or installing an air pump.

3 Root Support

Your plant’s roots need something to hold on to. Typical materials include vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, coconut fiber, and rockwool. Do not use any material which might compact like sand or which does not retain any moisture, such as gravel.

4 Nutrients

Your plant is going to need plenty of phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and other nutrients to stay healthy and productive. When you’re growing plants without soil, this “plant food” should be included in the water that’s feeding your plants. You can technically prepare your own nutrient solution. But you can also easily buy mixtures online and in stores.

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5 Light

f you’re growing your plants indoors, you might have to invest in some special lighting. The wattage for the hydroponic bulbs is between 400-600 Watts. Most plants in the hydroponic setup use high-intensity discharge (HID) lights. Each kind of plant has a different requirement for the amount of light it needs and for the placement of lights. Metal Halide is a preferred all-around light, and it is used for most vegetables.

As you keep increasing the sophistication of your hydroponic farm (such as carbon dioxide supplementation), there are other elements for consideration. Adjusting and monitoring these key variables will allow you to know precisely what your plants need to thrive. Later replicate those conditions for all future harvests.

Benefits of Hydroponic Farming

1 Saves Space

In hydroponic systems, roots don’t need to spread because nutrients and water are delivered right to them. Plants grown in soil require an adequate amount of spacing as the roots spread underground. Thus, in hydroponic systems, you can grow more plants in the same amount of space.

2 Water Conservation

Hydroponics farming consumes less water compared to soil based farming. Since water is delivered in a controlled way in hydroponic systems, the amount of water usage is about ten times less. Moreover, in some models of hydroponic systems, there is recirculation of water thereby further reduction in water consumption.

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3 Fewer Chemicals

Since the hydroponic systems are highly controlled, there is minimal risk of weeds taking over your garden. This eliminates the need for herbicides. 

4 Faster Growth

Crop growth in hydroponic systems is about thirty to fifty percent faster because they receive an ideal amount of nutrients.

5 Better Nutrient Control

The plants are fed with a nutrient solution mixed with water in hydroponic systems, thereby giving the farmer better control over what nutrients their crops can take in. Farmers can have complete control of the nutrients which the plants require. You can identify the nutrient requirement of the plant at different stages and at what percentage it should be mixed with water, before planting the crop.

6 Grow Indoors

It is easy to do this farming indoors, thereby offering environmental control. This comes with benefits like the ability to grow year-round, temperature and climate control, and minimum pests.

7 Healthier Plants

Plants are healthier as there are no soil-borne diseases. In hydroponic systems, the plants don’t have to spread their roots out in search of nutrients.

8 Bigger Yields

Large numbers of plants can be grown in small spaces, so the yield is more per square foot. The growing conditions are favorable. The plants are healthier and grow faster, thereby generating more products at a faster pace. The indoor conditions are conducive for year-round cultivation regardless of season or weather. This means you can harvest plants more number of times.

9 No Soil Erosion

In the past 150 years, various agricultural practices have eroded half of the soil on Earth, thereby decreasing the availability of agricultural land. Since no soil is used in hydroponic systems, there is no soil erosion. 

10 No Weeds

The hydroponic systems are not a suitable habitat for the weeds.

11 Climate control

Hydroponic growers can have total control on climate, temperature, humidity, light, the composition of the air. This effectively means that you can grow crops all year round, regardless of the season. 

Hydroponic Farming – Growing Tips

1 Take note, almost all edible plants require at least six hours of sunlight each day. Twelve to sixteen hours is preferred. You must put your lighting system on a timer. This would ensure that lights turn on and off at the same time every day. 

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2 Plants in a hydroponics system require temperatures between 68 and 70 deg F. High temperatures may prevent the plants from growing, and if the water temperature gets too high, the roots might start to rot.

3 For a hydroponics system, the best lighting is high-intensity discharge light fixtures. These could include either metal halide bulbs or high-pressure sodium. The orange-red light emitted by halide bulbs is good for plants in the vegetative growth stage. 

T5 is another type of lighting commonly used in hydroponic grow rooms. These lights produce a high-output fluorescent light with low heat and low energy consumption. It is ideal for growing plants with short growth cycles. 

4 The humidity required for a hydroponic grow room is from 40 to 60 percent relative humidity. Higher humidity levels in rooms with poor air circulation, could lead to the development of powdery mildew and other fungal problems. You can use a humidifier or dehumidifier to adjust the relative humidity of the growing room.

Hydroponic Farming Useful Tips

5 If your grow room has an ample supply of carbon dioxide, your plants will grow faster. The best way to make carbon dioxide available to your plants is to make sure the room has a constant flow of air. To improve the airflow, you can use a fan or air circulation equipment.

6 As hard water that contains a high mineral content, it will not dissolve nutrients effectively. Whereas water with lower mineral content would dissolve minerals faster. So you may need to filter your water in case it is high in minerals.

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7 In a hydroponic system, the ideal pH level for water used for irrigation should be between 5.8 and 6.2. Meaning the water should be slightly acidic. In case your water doesn’t meet the required level, you can use chemicals to adjust the pH into the ideal range. 

8 The fertilizers or nutrients used in your hydroponic systems are available in both liquid and dry forms as well as both synthetic and organic. Try using fertilizers that are specifically designed for hydroponic gardening. You should not use standard fertilizers. The fertilizer you select should have the main macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. As well as micronutrients like iron, zinc, manganese, boron, molybdenum, copper, and chlorine.

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