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What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is growing plants without soil. The roots are grown in a nutrient solution that is dissolved in water. While hydroponics may be new to you, it has been used to grow plants throughout history. It was not formally called hydroponics until 1940 when William F. Gericke adopted the word from the Greek. Gericke was one of the first to grow plants in what he called “litter” where the plants were suspended above a tank of water containing a nutrient solution.

Hydroponic growing is an extremely efficient way to provide your plants with the food and water they need, when they need it, in the amounts they need which allows the plants to be as healthy as possible. Since the nutrients are dissolved in water, your plants expend very little energy taking nutrients up through their roots. The energy the plants save by taking nutrients up through their roots allows them to focus their energy on producing fruits and flowers. This allows the plants to grow faster and be ready to harvest sooner. 

If you want to see the hydroponic difference for yourself, grow two genetically identical plants, one in soil and one with hydroponics. You will see the difference in the two plants almost immediately.

Now that you know what hydroponics is, let’s briefly go over the different hydroponic growing techniques:   

  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is where a continuous flow of the nutrient solution runs over the plant roots. This setup is done on a slight tilt so gravity can aid the flow of the nutrient solution. The reason NFT systems works so well is that the plant roots are able to absorb more oxygen from the air than from the nutrient solution. The more oxygen the plant gets the faster the plant will grow.

  • Wicking is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to grow hydroponically. Wicking works by using a material, such as cotton, that is surrounded by some sort of growing medium. One end of the wicking material is then placed in the nutrient solution and the solution gets “wicked” to the roots. You can also use the wicking technique without the wicking material. In that case, you would just use a medium that is able to wick the nutrients to the roots. You would do that by suspending the bottom of the growing medium directly in the nutrient solution. If you decide you forego the wicking material you need to be careful with the grow medium you choose because some of them may absorb too much of the nutrient solution and suffocate your plant. We suggest using vermiculite or perlite in this case.

  • Ebb and Flow, also known as Flood and Drain, is great for plants that are acclimated to periods of dryness because the root system grows larger as it searches for moisture. As the roots grow larger the plant will grow faster because it can absorb more nutrients. This system works by flooding the grow area with the nutrient solution at scheduled intervals and slowly draining it back to the reservoir. A pump is hooked up to a timer so your plants receive the appropriate amount of nutrients based upon the schedule you have set up.

  • Deep Water Culture (DWC) is also referred to as the reservoir method and it is definitely the easiest hydroponic method. DWC works especially well when growing organically because organic nutrients have a tendency to clog drip and spray emitters, which are not used in DWC growing. Deep Water Culture suspends the roots in the nutrient solution. There is also an air pump or air stone in the solution to provide oxygen to your plants. It is important that your reservoir be opaque to prevent algae from growing.

  • The Drip System is very simple. It works by providing a slow feed of the nutrient solution directly to the growing medium, such as Rockwool, Coconut Coir, or Peat Moss. If you decide to go with a Drip System you’ll want to be sure you use a slow draining medium, like one of the ones mentioned above. The one downside to a drip system is the drip emitters have a tendency to get clogged by the particles from the nutrients.

  • Aeroponics is where the roots are misted with a nutrient solution while being suspended in the air. There are two main ways to get nutrients to the exposed roots. The first is by using a pond fogger. The second way is by using a fine spray nozzle to mist the roots.

Check back to learn more about hydroponic growing.

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