Author: Chris is an urban hydroponic hobbyist who uses hydroponics to maximize his 400 square foot yard and extend the short Chicago growing season. Chris blogs about his hydroponic experiences at HealthSmartLiving.com.
Hydroponic gardening is a great way to grow your vegetables, fruits, and herbs under totally controlled conditions. You’ll hear many a naturalist extolling the virtues of growing food and perennials in the earth, under the sun. However, many of their arguments are misguided; defying logic and the great results obtained from hydroponic growers all over the world.
Perhaps it is more “natural” to grow using nature, but you’re also at the mercy of many environmental and pest-related variables that you simply cannot control: humidity, heat (and cold), cloud cover, wind, and pestilence.
How it Works
Indoor hydroponics gardens grow using artificial lighting, just like any other indoor garden. The difference between growing an indoor garden and growing hydroponically is that you won’t be using soil. Instead the plants are rooted in an inert growing media (see list of common media that’s used HERE)
An in-line pump then circulates nutrient enriched water through the plant’s root system, while overhead lighting allows the plants to complete the normal photosynthesis cycle they need to grow.
The inert growing media gives you the freedom and control to be much more exacting about how much fertilizer the plant gets and provide the roots with much more oxygen as well.
Soil Robs Plants of Vital Nutrients
While soil grows can be a little more forgiving, the plants always end up being robbed of vital nutrients which limits their growth potential. If you’ve ever purchase hydroponic vegetables, you’ve probably noticed how much larger, juicer, and colorful they are.
Soil based plants can’t use all of the nutrients we give them. As time wears on, certain elements begin to crystallize within the soil or are simply washed away, robbing the root system and over time, limiting the plant’s nutrient uptake.
Environmental Benefits of Hydroponics
- They take up to 50% less land to grow the same amount of crops: Leaving more land for other uses such as wildlife reserves and also saving trees, which would otherwise be cleared for agricultural purposes.
- Less water usage: In fact, less than 10% the amount that would be required for growing in soil. The only water lost with hydroponics is through evaporation, or occasional changes to the feeding solution.
- 60% less fertilizer is required: The hydroponic growing solution circulates through the plant’s roots, the plant absorbs what they need, and you never lose anything due to settling or crystallizing in the soil
- Reduced fossil fuel consumption: Food is shipped all over the world to places where agriculture is hard or impossible – or where certain foods cannot be grown due to shorter growing seasons. With hydroponics, you can grow those foods locally!
- Less pesticide use: Due to the fact that you’re growing indoors and eliminating soil (which hold bacteria and many common insects), there’s no need for toxic pesticides to protect your plants.
Key Considerations Before Starting a Hydroponic Garden
- Grow Area: Your grow area doesn’t need to be as big as it would for a soil-based garden. On average, each plant will require a 4 inch pot, with an inch or two in between each plant. You’ll also need space for your holding tank and room overhead to mount your lighting system.
- Setups: Search hydroponics on instructables.com for dozens of home made hydroponic systems with step by step directions.
I hope this provides you with additional knowledge and interest in using hydroponics to lower your environmental footprint. I can be followed @ or emailed at thecaptain[at]captainhydroponics.com.
- Progressive Plant Growing Has Bussiness Blooming (NASA.gov, p. 64)
- Hobby Hydroponics by Howard Resh (buy on Amazon)
Featured Image by Handolio, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0