What is Hydroponics and why use it?
Hydroponics is an archaic methodology of soil-less gardening and crop production. Literally, hydroponics is derived from the two Greek words, “hydro” meaning water and “ponics” meaning labour. It is a subdivision of hydroculture in which plants are grown in a mineral nutrient rich solution in water. Mention the word hydroponics and most people imagine plants with roots suspended directly in water and no growing medium.
Two of the earliest examples of hydroponics gardening are The Hanging Gardens of Babylon and The Floating Gardens of China. In fact, the methodology of hydroponics came about when scientists began experimentation with soil less gardening around the 1950’s. Today, many countries such as Holland, Germany, and Australia are using hydroponics to cultivate crops and gardens successfully. This methodology provides all the nutrients that plants/ crops need to thrive by combining simple, efficient systems and contemporary horticultural lighting. This method has found great appeal among gardening enthusiasts who like to pursue a hobby without any of the cumbersome headaches associated with soil based gardening.
Hydroponics- A sustainable solution
Today, the world is faced with the challenge of feeding a burgeoning population and providing a sustainable livelihood for farmers. Land is at a premium and at present there seems to be a constant erosion of the topsoil due to modern agricultural cultivation, besides potable water has also become a precious commodity. In this scenario, hydroponics presents a highly sustainable method in which there is competent use of land, water and labour.
The crop yield is of high quality and the growth rate is nearly 30-50 percent faster than soil based crops. Scientists have found that the extra oxygen in hydroponic growing mediums stimulates root growth and there is faster absorption of nutrients. The root systems do not rummage around in the soil for their nutrients; rather it is delivered right to them. A doorstep delivery, so to speak. This way, the plant not only grows faster but also produces more fruit at a quicker rate and there are fewer plant diseases, bug invasions and growth of funguses too.
Active or passive, what’s your hydroponic system?
Hydroponic systems can be classified under an active or a passive system, both of which simply denote the type of delivery method for the nutrient system that is being used. As the name suggests, active systems lead to quicker growth and healthier plants, while the passive systems are easier to set up and maintain and usually function on capillary or wick systems.
An active hydroponic system actively moves the nutrient solution to the roots, in most cases by way of a pump or any other mechanical device. The active hydroponic system makes it easy to control the flow of nutrients and reuse them. This system is also sometimes referred to as a recovery system.
It is easier to influence the nutrient solution around the roots and is considered the best alternative as there is maximum absorption of oxygen by the roots and thereby stronger and healthier growth. The ebb and flow system is a popular form of active, recovery hydroponics.
Passive hydroponic systems utilise a slightly more long drawn system of functioning, it relies on capillary or wick systems to deliver the nutrient solution along to the roots. This system is also referred to as semi-hydroponics, non-recovery systems or passive sub irrigation and it typically uses a static, spongy medium for transporting the water and nutrients to the roots. Just like the active system of hydroponics, this method does not require soil, peat moss, or bark. The roots absorption happens via capillary action either through the medium that is being used or through the wick.
The passive system is often one of the easiest to set up and maintain, provides a constant supply of water to the roots, reduces labour and does not require any moving parts such as pumps or other mechanical devices. However, this system tends to leave the plant’s roots continuously wet, thereby prohibiting the optimum absorption of oxygen to the roots, besides there is no way to recover nutrients that are not directly absorbed by the roots. The active system allows for retrieving the nutrients again.