Hydroponic gardening is the practice of growing plants without soil. First discovered in the 1600s, this system began gaining popularity in the 1930s. Extensive research, and the development of various methods over the next several decades led to widespread use of soil-less cultivation in commercial agriculture and laboratory setting. In recent years, an increasing number of home gardeners have been discovering the advantages of hydroponics.
Doesn’t hydroponic gardening rot the roots?
The first question most people ask is: “Doesn’t hydroponic gardening rot the roots?” If you’re accustomed to growing plants in soil, you know how easy it is to over-water. Actually, the reverse is true. Root rot is caused by a lack of oxygen. In soil, too much water pushes out the air. With this system, the water used is oxygenated by one of several methods. It eliminates root rot.
What are the 2 most common methods used in hydroponic gardening?
There are two common methods used in hydroponic gardening. In the solution culture method, the plants are grown in a liquid solution only. It is oxygenated by many different methods such as bubbles, pumps, and conscious water flow. Alternately, the plant may be suspended high enough above the water that it will get air. This last variation is the easiest to do at home. The plant, usually in a plastic net pot, can be suspended above a bucket or tub rather easily.
The second common method, known as medium culture, is the most popular among home gardeners. The plant is grown in a soil-free growing medium such as clay pellets, coir, perlite, vermiculite, sand, or gravel. The porous nature and inability to compact of these mediums ensure the roots will get plenty of air. Most, with the exception of sand and gravel (which require a pump), are also quite absorbent. These absorbent growing mediums wick the water from its reservoir to the plants. The reservoir can be as simple as a bucket or coffee can.
For hydroponic gardening, it’s what’s in the water that matters.
One of the most important functions of soil in traditional plantings is providing a nutrient supply. Soil, amendments, and the decomposition of organic materials provide vital nutrients, such as nitrogen, to the plants. In hydroponic gardening, these nutrients are dissolved directly in the water. This provides plants with a constant and steady supply of nutrients. It also ensures perfect ratio and levels of these nutrients, producing healthier plants and faster growth.
Aside from the increased health and productivity of plants, this system has many distinct advantages for the gardener. Insects and diseases are also much easier to control because the containers are portable and you have access to the roots. Gophers and other burrowing rodents have no access to plants in containers. The garden plot needs less space because plants grow less roots, and therefore, need smaller containers. Watering costs are lowered, as there is no run-off and often little evaporation.
Lastly, the gardener’s time and effort is dramatically reduced with hydroponics. There are no weeds, and whatever medium you choose, it will be sterile and there is very little surface space to collect unwanted seeds. There is no digging up soil and digging in amendments. The hours spent watering are condensed to a few minutes of refilling a reservoir. Less plants are needed, because harvests are bigger. In short, hydroponic gardening is as close to maintenance-free gardening as you will find!