What is a hydroponic system?

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What is a hydroponic system

A system that provides the essential elements for successful plant growth, without using soil as a growth material, is called a Hydroponic system. The essential elements are: Nutrient solution,  Proper exchange of gases, Lighting and  Growth / Support material like Perlite, Rockwool, coconut coir, and so on.

The ancient Babylonians, the Aztecs and the Egyptians are said to have used Hydroponic irrigation to grow plants; the famous ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ is one such example. Experiments in Hydroponics started in 1936 – Dr. Gericke from University of California, Los Angeles, successfully grew tomatoes in water culture.

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During World War II, Hydroponics was used to grow plants in non-arable areas. However, it was not until the 1970s when farmers and gardeners started showing interest in Hydroponics. But, even to this date, the potential of Hydroponics is not used to its fullest; many gardeners are still unfamiliar with the terminology.

Currently, Hydroponic systems are used to grow a variety of plants such as lettuce, green pepper, lettuce, basil, and so on. The Hydroponic system of cultivation is seen as a possible solution to the hunger problems of the world. The beauty of this system lies in its simplicity. You can use your garage, rooftop or any available space to grow plants.

Continual research and development has led to the use PVC material that is reusable and long lasting; Middle Eastern countries, where water is a scarce resource, are adopting Hydroponic system for cultivation. Huge buildings with desalination systems are built to help in crop cultivation. The future of Hydroponic cultivation is getting brighter by the day and it would not be a surprise to see this method of cultivation becoming the norm!

PROS AND CONS OF HYDROPONIC FARMING

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Hydroponic farming is embraced by many people all over the world and as mentioned before, it has a bright future. However, before you consider getting into Hydroponic farming, you must consider all the pros and cons of such a system.

PROS:
• You can grow good-quality crops in a smaller space such as your garage, backyard, or condo balcony.
• The nutrient solution supplied to plants can be altered to suit the various growth stages; this gives us better control over the plants and crops.
• Hydroponic gardening does not need soil preparation before sowing seeds; it does not require you to pull out weeds or water them.
• Nutrient solution can be recycled thereby reducing pollution
• You can avoid soil erosion, soil-borne insects and pests in Hydroponic gardens
• Transplantation shock in seedlings is reduced

CONS:
• Initial set-up cost is high
• You must understand the basics behind nutrient solution, cultivation and harvesting of crops
• Ideal moisture control, lighting and oxygen level must be present always in a Hydroponic garden. Even a slight imbalance in any setting can cause irreversible plant damage

HOW DOES A HYDROPONIC SYSTEM WORK?

A Hydroponic system must satisfy three basic requirements for plants to grow and survive:
• Efficient supply of water and nutrients
• Protection for plant roots from dehydration in the event of a pump or power failure
• Maintenance of proper gas exchange levels between roots and nutrient solution

Seed selection has a significant effect when deciding on the taste, flavor, color and texture of your produce. If your neighbor grows tasty and juicy tomatoes in the backyard, your best bet is to get seeds from their plants to get the same results. When plants grow outdoors, nature introduces genetic material that alters the result. When you grow plants indoors, you can introduce the same genetic material to grow produce according to your choice. You can alter or retain the same genetic coding in your next generation plants to maintain good quality.

Soil material in Hydroponics is replaced with loose growth / support material to drain nutrient solutions quickly. If you have a system that recirculates nutrient solutions frequently, use a material that drains the solution quickly. If you have a system where recirculation of nutrient solution is minimal, use a slow draining material. Apart from efficient draining, maintaining a good nutrient to air ratio is important. You can combine various materials to achieve high draining efficiency while maintaining a good nutrient to air ratio.

Based on your nutrient circulation method, you can either opt for an active system or passive system. An active system uses mechanical pumps to circulate nutrient solution and air; you can use timers to water your plants. A passive system is a closed system where nutrient solution is not recirculated. You can buy nutrient solutions or prepare it at home. When you prepare nutrient solution, care must be taken to use an accurate measuring system, and check and balance the pH frequently.

Plants require light for photosynthesis – a process that provides food for plants to grow. In outdoor gardening, this light is provided by the Sun. With indoor gardening, you must provide alternate sources to help photosynthesis in your plants. This can be provided using HID – High Intensity Discharge lighting. HID lamps provide maximum PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) for the amount of power consumed.

As a rule of thumb, 20 to 50 watts lighting is required for every square foot. An indoor garden is free of many pesticides that are used outdoors. Also natural elements, such as rain, water and wind that keep the outdoor plants pest free, are absent in indoor gardening. However, one of the easiest ways to combat pests in your indoor garden is to keep it clean from dust and debris. Avoid going near your plants with unclean slippers.

Keep a separate toolbox needed for your gardening and always remember to clean your tools with 10% bleach solution. Molds and mildew thrive in damp and humid atmosphere. Therefore, good air circulation is required to remove excess humidity.

Maintaining excellent air quality is important to stop spores in the atmosphere from forming fungi. The indoor growing area must be clear of dust and debris. Maintaining correct watering levels is vital with indoor gardening. Humidity must be maintained between 60% to 80% and air must be continually circulated in the garden.

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