Hydroponics Farming: Revolution for Soil Less Cultivation

Hydroponics farming has become a very popular term in the contemporary Agricultural scenario. But the most important among them is that hydroponic farming does not require soil to grow. The traditional practice of growing plants in soil isn’t giving enough yield as it used to. The exorbitant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has resulted in the degradation of soil. Agricultural lands are becoming useless around the world. 

In this scenario, hydroponics provides the best alternative. You have a system that does not use soil or other harmful chemicals but can bring in better quality produce and high yields compared to conventional farming practices. The rewards look handsome on the hydroponics side. The best sign is that you should also think about it. Remember, hydroponics is not just another method, it is the cure.

Hydroponic farming, a subset of hydroculture, is a method of growing plants without soil, instead using water-based mineral nutrient solutions in an artificial environment. The term “hydroponics” comes from the Greek words “hudor” for water and “ponos” for work, translating to “water-working”.

In hydroponics, plants can grow freely with their roots exposed to the nutrient-rich liquid, or the roots may be mechanically supported by an inert medium such as perlite, gravel, or other substrates. It’s believed that plants require just 17 nutrients to grow. Three of these — carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen — are accessible through air and water exchange. The rest, along with growth hormones designed to mimic traditional soil-based systems, can be dissolved in water that circulates around the plant’s roots.

For instance, to grow 1 kilogram of tomatoes using intensive farming methods requires 214 liters of water; using hydroponics, only 70 liters are needed. Hydroponic cultures lead to the highest biomass and protein production compared to other growth substrates, of plants cultivated in the same environmental conditions and supplied with equal amounts of nutrients.

Commonly grown hydroponic crops include tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, lettuce, and cannabis. 

Hydroponics is not a single system, it is a term given to many types of systems that follow the same principle of soil-less cultivation. There are several types of hydroponic systems. The most prominent among them are

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a hydroponic method of plant cultivation that provides a continuous flow of nutrient solution to the roots of plants. 

In NFT, the nutrient solution continuously flows over the roots, accomplished using gravity. The grow tray is placed at an angle to allow the water to flow down toward the drainpipe, and a new solution is constantly being pumped into the high end of the tube. The nutrient solution flows in a thin film over the roots, ensuring that they are watered and fed but not completely soaked. The thin film ensures that the upper part of the roots will remain dry and have access to oxygen in the air.

NFT works best if you choose plants that do not require a lot of support—lightweight, fast-growing plants that can be harvested quickly. If you want to grow plants such as tomatoes or squash, just make sure that you have proper support systems in place such as trellises. The roots are not suspended in a growing medium in this system, so they cannot handle supporting a lot of weight from a top-heavy plant.

The main components of an NFT system are the same as Ebb and Flow; the difference is their configuration. The nutrient Film Technique uses tubes or channels instead of flat trays for the grow tray. This makes it easier to set it at an angle and to make sure that the nutrient solution flows directly to the roots without wasting any of it.

Nutrient Film Technique -types of Hydroponic Farming
Nutrient Film Technique

Most often in do-it-yourself (DIY) systems, a round tube or PVC pipe is used, with holes drilled to fit the net pots and seedlings. This has the advantage of being cheap and readily available to the home hobbyist. The main disadvantage of using PVC as your grow tray is that the film will not evenly coat the roots. The roots in the middle would have access to a deeper depth of solution, while those closest to the edges would have only a shallow depth. 

In DWC, plants are grown in netted pots or baskets, allowing their roots to dangle into a nutrient-rich, oxygenated water solution.

The DWC system works in a fairly straightforward manner. A reservoir is filled with water, nutrients, and an air supply. A lid is attached to the top of the reservoir, with one or more grow sites for netted pots. Plants are positioned in the netted pots, and their roots soak in the water held by the reservoir. Liquid nutrients are introduced to the system manually, and adjustments are made to pH and EC (electrical conductivity) levels as needed. A submerged bubbler, air stone, or similar component produces air.

Deep Water Culture -Types of Hydroponic Farming
Deep Water Culture

DWC systems are popular for many different reasons, the primary one being that they’re one of the simplest types of systems to start with. Here are a few other benefits of growing in a DWC system:

  • Very low maintenance once you set it up
  • Extremely fast growing time compared to soil (I’ve grown lettuce to harvest in 30 days instead of 60 in soil)

The Kratky Method is a passive hydroponic technique developed by Dr. Bernard Kratky, a researcher from the University of Hawaii. 

In the Kratky method, plants are suspended above a reservoir of nutrient-rich water. The roots of the plants are partially submerged in the nutrient solution, allowing them to take up the necessary nutrients while also accessing oxygen. As the plant grows and consumes the nutrient solution, the water level in the reservoir decreases, creating an air gap that provides oxygen to the roots.

To set up a Kratky system, you’ll need a reservoir (such as a 5-gallon bucket), a net pot, growing media, nutrients, a pH control kit, and a PPM (parts per million) meter. The reservoir is filled with a nutrient solution, and the plant is placed in the net pot with the growing media. The net pot is then placed in a hole in the lid of the reservoir so that the bottom third of the net pot is submerged in the nutrient solution.

Kratky Method -types of Hydroponic Farming
Kratky Method -types of Hydroponic Farming

The Kratky method is not without its limitations. It’s best suited for small-scale, home-based hydroponic systems and may not be ideal for larger commercial operations. Additionally, because the nutrient solution is not replenished, this method may not be suitable for plants with longer growth cycles.

The Wick System is a type of hydroponic system that is known for its simplicity and ease of use. It is the simplest of the six types of hydroponic system designs. 

In a Wick System, there are four basic components:

  1. Growing container: This is where the plants are placed.
  2. Reservoir for the nutrient solution: This is where the nutrient-rich water is stored.
  3. Growing medium: This is the material in which the plants grow. It can be any inert substance that does not supply any nutrients to the plants.
  4. Wicks: These are used to draw the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the growing medium.
Wick System - Types of Hydroponic Farming
Wick System – Types of Hydroponic Farming

The growing container is positioned a short distance above the reservoir, and wicks are placed so they will draw the nutrient solution up from the reservoir and release it into the growing medium. 

One of the main reasons for choosing Wick System hydroponics is because it’s the most environmentally friendly hydroponics system. If located in a place where your plants will receive plenty of natural light, you don’t need any electricity to grow plants. You can choose to use recycled and renewable materials for all of your system components. Hydroponic Wick Systems consume less water and nutrients than the others.

The Ebb and Flow Hydroponics System, also known as the Flood and Drain system, is a popular method of soilless cultivation. 

In an Ebb and Flow system, there are two main components:

  1. Water Reservoir: This stores the nutrient water.
  2. Grow Tray: Positioned above the reservoir, this acts as a plant tray and a flood tray.

The process begins when a timer triggers a water pump, which pumps water from the reservoir to the grow tray. This flooding usually happens 4-6 times a day, with the roots remaining submerged in the hydroponic solution for around 15 minutes. Once the water reaches a certain height, usually when it hits the overflow tube, the pump stops and the water drains back into the reservoir.

During these flooding cycles, oxygen content also ebbs and flows. When the flood table is filled with water, oxygen is depleted. But when the flood drains, fresh oxygen rushes back to the plants. 

Ebb and Flow System -Types of Hydroponic Farming
Ebb and Flow System -Types of Hydroponic Farming

They’re generally more efficient for indoor growing due to their higher oxygen levels. When growing indoors, grow lights are generally used to give the plants light for healthy growth.

You can easily transplant plants into deep water culture, soil, or any other system. If you’re growing shorter plants, like herbs, head lettuce, or even smaller flowers, Ebb and Flow might be the best fit. 

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Aeroponics is an advanced form of hydroponics where plants are suspended in the air, and their roots are periodically misted with a nutrient solution.  In aeroponics, the plant’s roots are suspended in air and sprayed with a nutrient solution. This allows for maximum aeration of the root zone.

The aeroponics system is a unique kind of hydro-farming technique that is partly closed and partly open. Unlike other hydroponics, it does not use a grow medium. Seeds are planted in small grow pots or foam pieces. 

Aeroponics -TYpes of Hydroponic Farming

The nutrient solution is delivered to the roots via a timed sprinkler system connected to a main nutrient reservoir. The misting of the roots is usually done at regular intervals to ensure the plants receive adequate nutrients and water. The frequency of misting can be adjusted based on the type of plants being grown and their specific needs.

The Drip System is a type of hydroponics that uses a network of tubes to deliver nutrient solution directly to the base of each plant. 

In a Drip System, there are two main components:

  1. Growing containers: These are where the plants are placed.
  2. Reservoir for the nutrient solution: This is where the nutrient-rich water is stored.

The nutrient solution is delivered to the roots via a network of feeder lines. This kind of drip hydroponic setup is best suited for large growing operations. There are two types of hydroponic drip systems

1- Recirculating or recovery drip systems 

The recovery or recirculating drip systems are by far the most commonly used. The recirculating drip systems are like it sounds, it simply refers to reusing or cycling the used nutrient solution after it has wet the roots back to the reservoir where it can be recirculated through the system, and used over and over again.

2- Non-recirculating/non-recovery drip systems 

In this system, the nutrient solution is not recycled. Instead, it is allowed to drain out of the system after it has been delivered to the plants.

 Drip System Types of Hydroponics
Drip System Types of Hydroponics

These are the most prominent hydroponic systems. Now that we have understood the various hydroponics farming systems, let us see the advantages and disadvantages of hydroponics farming.

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Hydroponic farming, a method of growing plants without soil, offers numerous advantages over traditional soil-based agriculture:

Sure, hydroponics farming has several advantages. Here are some of them:

  1. No Soil Required  :Hydroponics farming doesn’t require soil. As soil degrades, it becomes more difficult to farm in it. 
  2. Optimal Use of Location : Hydroponic farming can be performed anywhere. Unlike conventional farming where the plant roots expand and spread out to search for food and oxygen levels in the soil, the roots of plants grown using this method have everything they need within their reach.
  3. Complete Control Over Climate:   Hydroponic growers have absolute control over the climate. They can adjust the temperature, the intensity of light, and the humidity levels as per their requirements. So, if you practice Hydroponic farming, you can continue growing crops all year round without worrying about the season.
  4. Saves Water : It may sound contradictory, but plants grown in Hydroponic systems use up to 90% less water than conventionally field-grown plants.
  5. Reduced Use of Chemicals :  Since there is no soil, there is no need to worry about weeds, pathogens living in dirt, or treating crops with pesticides.
  6. Increased Yields : Hydroponic farming can increase yields.

While hydroponics farming has many advantages, it also comes with several disadvantages. Here are some of them:

  1. High Initial Setup Costs  : One of the main disadvantages is the initial cost of setting up a hydroponic system, which can be more expensive than traditional soil-based agriculture. 
  2. Need for Specialized Expertise : Hydroponic farming requires knowledge and expertise in maintaining these systems.
  3. Nutrient Balance Challenges : Maintaining the correct balance of nutrients in the water can be challenging.
  4. Potential Vulnerability to System Failures : Hydroponic systems are more vulnerable to system failures compared to traditional soil-based farming. For example, a pump failure can lead to the plants not getting enough water, quickly leading to plant stress or death.
  5. Reliance on Artificial Fertilizers :  Hydroponic systems often rely on artificial fertilizers, which can have environmental impacts. Additionally, some people prefer organically grown produce, which may not be possible with some hydroponic systems.

There are various types of nutrient solutions used in hydroponic farming. Here are some of them:

  1. Standard Nutrient Solutions : Several standard nutrient solutions are commonly used in hydroponics, such as the Hoagland and Snyder, Hoagland and Arnon, Steiner, and Bollard solutions. 
  2. Pre-mixed Nutrient Solutions :  These are convenient and suitable for beginners. 
  3. Customizable Nutrient Solutions :  These allow growers to tailor nutrient concentrations based on the specific needs of their plants. 
  4. Organic Nutrient Solutions : Instead of mineral salts, organic hydroponics relies on organic materials like compost, vermicompost, coco coir, worm castings, and guano to provide nutrients. 

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Hydroponics farming is the process of cultivating plants without the use of soil. Good quality nutrient-rich soil is a rarity nowadays. But hydroponics is the perfect solution. Although capital-intensive, this technique produces the best quality products at substantially high yields. Disease and pest incidents are also low compared to traditional farming. 

Shuhaib Sherief
Shuhaib Sherief

Hi! I am SHUHAIB, an Agriculture graduate . I am deeply honored to contribute my knowledge and skills to the betterment of the Agriculture sector. Passionate in disseminating information on Agriculture in the form of creative blog articles on the internet.

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