When it comes to the typical concept of farming, many people often envision farming as farmers planting and harvesting their crops across stretches of rolling plains and flatlands. However, to meet the demand for an ever-increasing global population, the demand for land has also likewise increased and this has come at a cost. Resource on earth is limited and scarce and will only continue to deplete. As a result, this has spurred people to innovate and create new methods to be more efficient and effective in yielding comparable quantities of crops for significantly less space.
Thus, the idea of hydroponics was born within the last century. It utilizes the simple concept of growing plants in nutrients and water instead of soil, thereby removing the factor of land space from the equation and adopting a more vertical approach to farming. This revolutionary approach has transformed the farming industry to enjoy increased productivity, reduced the labor-intensiveness of farming on a whole; mobile, and beginner-friendly for anyone keen to enter the field of farming.
The standard hydroponics system layout is a structure of horizontal pipes elevated on a structure that supplies a flow of water and nutrients to your plants. To set it up, it’s recommended to identify an enclosed, sheltered area suitable for it. This could range from a proper greenhouse to an outdoor patio or even your home basement. If you’re unable to locate a sheltered space for it, fret not. You can always use wind barriers or construct a simple shelter structure to protect the system from the natural elements. Additionally, more frequent water checks are needed to account for increased evaporation rates if shelters are not possible. Conversely, if temperatures drop, the mobility of the hydroponics system enables you to easily transport it indoors. Arguably, however, the most important condition for the system would be even ground. This way, water, and nutrients can be evenly distributed to all plants within a single pipe.
2. Assembling it
The materials you’ll need consist of six 15cm pipes, stand and trellis all made from PVC, a 190-liter nutrient tank, a pump, and a manifold. Arrange the pipes horizontally as if across a table.
Assemble the tank and pump together accordingly and place it underneath the “table” of pipes.
Fill it up with a mixture of water and nutrients (roughly two cups) as instructed by the fertilizer package.
Connect a drainpipe and separately attach the manifold of pipes to each of the main pipes. They both help channel water — the drainpipe channels water waste away while the manifold channels pressurized water and nutrients towards the pipes. The water pressure is essential for providing mini air bubbles to boost the oxygen intake of the plants’ roots.
The drainpipe also sits beneath the “table” whereas the manifold sits on top of it while the nutrient tubes of the manifold PVC tubes are tiny tubes that run through the main pipes, individually spraying nutrients to each plant’s roots.
After the set up is done, proceed to turn the pump on in the tank to properly mix the nutrient solution for about half an hour.
3. Introducing Your Plants to Their New Home
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to grow your hydroponic plants from scratch. Instead, you can opt for seedlings for faster growth results. When you select your seedling bunch, ensure to clean their roots of all the remnant soil before submerging their roots into lukewarm water. This condition is important so as to prevent them from going into shock due to extreme temperature changes.
After they’re done soaking, conduct a final inspection for any leftover soil previously missed. Performing a thorough clean of your seedlings’ roots will prevent future problems of the tiny PVC spray tubes in the system getting clogged up.
Once all the necessary checks are done, you can begin the planting process. Pull as many roots as possible through the bottom of your planting cups in the main pipes and follow up by adding expanded clay pebbles to secure the plants perfectly in place. Do note that expanded clay pebbles are recommended because they’re both sturdy yet light, hence making it very suitable for gentle roots.
Optionally, you can use plant clips and strings to tie your seedlings to the trellis for extra support. Remember to loosely tie your seedling with a string to the top of the trellis before attaching the rest of it and clip it to the base of the plant. This will promote better growth upright in the future when they’re more mature. It’s also an excellent way of maximizing the minimum space we have using hydroponic systems.
4. Performance Checks
Although the pump runs continuously 24/7, it’s still pertinent to conduct systematic checks on the tank regularly. Perform daily, routine checks on it to check the water level daily and replenish accordingly. In some cases, more checks might be needed if you live in a region experiencing harsher temperatures and thus, higher rates of evaporation.
For nutrient levels, the frequency of checks isn’t as rigorous. You’ll typically only need to check the pH and nutrient levels every couple of days.
5. Enjoy the fruits (vegetables) of Your Labor
Finally, once the bulk of the hard work is done, sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor (quite literally). After a few weeks of your seedlings’ induction into their new hydroponic home, you can expect significant growth from them, to the point where they cover the trellis entirely. Should some of them become overgrown, perform the relevant plant maintenance such as tying or clipping their stalks as needed.
6. Keep Unwanted Visitors at Bay
No farmer would want their hard work and effort go to waste at the hands of unwanted pests and diseases destroying their crops. Keep in mind, hydroponic plants are even more susceptible to these problems due to their shared usage of water and nutrients through the same tubes. Thus, it’s imperative to remove any sickly plants at once to prevent the spread of diseases from one plant to the next.
On the bright side, hydroponic plants are known to be more hardy and resilient because they expend less energy ‘finding food’ since it’s already directly channeled to their roots through the system unlike regular soil-based plants. Hence, they become more predisposed and are better equipped to fend off diseases through this additional stored energy.
With that being said, don’t become complacent. While they’re less susceptible to diseases, pests are still a prevalent issue. Look out for chewed leaves and stems committed by insects and immediately remove them from your plant to impede further damage.
As available land continues to be an extremely viable but limited resource, the ingenuity of mankind has constantly proven to transcend these physical boundaries through creative solutions like hydroponics. Indeed, this new method of farming has revolutionized the way we grow our food and acts as a stepping stone for other future farming alternatives.