Hydroponic Gardening: System Types
Last week I gave an introduction to hydroponics and talked a little bit about why you might want to consider trying it. This week I wanted to give a brief explanation as to why hydroponics actually works so well. In addition I also want to cover a few of the different types of hydroponic systems.
The reason hydroponics works so well is simply because you are giving your plant exactly what it needs, when it needs it. If you give a plant exactly what it needs, when it needs it, in the amount that it needs, then the plant can realize its full potential and become as healthy as genetically possible. In hydroponics plants are grown using an inert medium such as rockwool, hydroton or coco peat and are given a well balanced and pH adjusted nutrient solution. The balanced solution is mixed into your systems water supply and delivered to your plants roots in a highly soluble form. This delivery process is much more efficient on your plants energy reserves when compared to more traditional gardening methods using soil. This saved energy will allow your plants to reward you with larger vegetative growth and overall fruit production. Now that you know a little more about why hydroponically grown plants can be grown faster with greater production let’s talk about a few of the different types of systems that are available.
As I mentioned before there are two main types of hydroponics, solution culture and medium culture. Solution culture does not use a solid medium for the roots, just the nutrient solution. Medium culture however has a solid medium such as rockwool or hydroton for the roots to grow into. Though there are many different growing techniques to consider within solution culture and medium culture I will only be covering the most widely known and popular types being used today.
Aeroponics uses a system of misters to deliver an oxygenated nutrient-rich water solution directly to your plants root system. This type of system is conducted without the use of any growing medium since the plant is typically supported with a foam insert compressed around the lower stem and inserted into an opening in the aeroponic chamber. The aeroponic chamber is a semi-closed environment where the plants root system can be sprayed with the nutrient solution by the systems misters. The misters are atomizing the water particles into a fine mist anywhere from 5 to 100 microns in droplet size. The plants canopy extend above the aeroponic chamber and typically will grow phenomenally well in a properly maintained system. On a side note it might be interesting to know that aeroponics is NASA’s favorite type of gardening when it comes to growing plants in space without the presence of gravity.
Nutrient Film Technique:
Nutrient Film Technique or NFT operates by delivering a thin film of nutrient-rich water solution along the bottom of a feeding tray where the roots are growing into. Plants in these systems are typically supported with a growing medium such as rockwool cubes and get all of their nutrients delivered through this film, and grow surprisingly well for such little water. The tray for NFT systems are almost like rain gutters, not too wide or too deep. Typically, NFT is used for shorter crops like lettuce and strawberries. When growing larger fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, you would want to use a different method because the larger root systems of these larger plants can possible clog up the smaller size tray.
Ebb and Flow, as the name suggests, is a system where a tray of plants is flooded with nutrient-rich water solution from a reservoir until the tray is full. Once full, the systems pump shuts off, and the water drains back into the reservoir by means of gravity. The number of watering in a day depends on the media you’re growing in. Rockwool, for example, holds a lot of water in it and will take a lot longer to dry out completely. Hydroton, which is another popular grow media for Ebb and Flow, will not retain hardly any water, and will need almost constant watering to keep the plants root system from drying out. Ebb and Flow would be considered the simplest form of hydroponic systems.
Drip irrigation is a classic gardening method and has been used by indoor and outdoor gardeners for a long time. Drip line and emitters are laid out and provide the plants with a constant slow drip of nutrient-rich water solution. Plants utilizing a drip system usually require a form of grow media such as rockwool or coconut coir. Interestingly enough drip systems are similar to many outdoor irrigation systems used in traditional gardening with soil.
Aquaponics stands out on its own when talking about hydroponics. It uses a traditional type of hydroponic method and couples it with aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish in tanks) in a symbiotic environment. In aquaculture, waste products produced by the fish accumulate in the water. This water is then led to a hydroponic system where the waste products are filtered out by the plants root system as vital nutrients. The naturally filtered water is then recirculated back to the fish tanks. Aquaponics is without a doubt the most symbiotic type of advanced hydroponic gardening. If you can master it then it can provide you with many rewards to enjoy and feel good about.
I hope the brief descriptions above can help provide inquiring gardeners with a quick understanding of the different types of hydroponic systems. If any of you have any further questions or inquiries please feel free to send me an email or stop by the store where we are more than happy to discuss this topic and show you our working examples that we have set up there. In closing I wanted to take a moment to quickly describe a few of the bonuses of growing plants hydroponically.
Through successfully applying hydroponics in your garden many people have enjoyed the exciting benefits and rewards that it offers. Root development happens at an accelerated rate and nutrient delivery is done with precision. Your plants leafs shoot up at an almost alarming speed and produce flowers and fruit with yields that will rival anything grown with soil. In Aeroponics you can actually look and see how the roots are growing and monitor their health and development. Disease and pest can be easily identified and controlled. Last but not least, a hydroponic garden can help humans with a solution to overcome the terrible and unnecessary starvation rate that continues to rise yearly. This is great not only on a global level but can be put to use locally as well.
Thanks for stopping in this week!