What exactly is hydroponics? How does it work? Well, it is a system in which plants are grown using a nutrient solution in place of soil. Most of the time, they are planted indoors within the greenhouses. Be it through the conventional way of growing or by hydroponics, there is no difference between the greenhouse and its environmental control system. However, the distinction lies in the support system and the approach to how the water and nutrients are being supplied.
Advantages of Greenhouse Hydroponics:
- It allows greater density plants to be more manageable in moving from place to place.
- In comparison to the traditional soil production, space is more optimized as less area is required per plant. This is due to the efficient spacing of crops and the presence of a growth room for seedling production and germination.
- Greater yields and higher quality of plants are observed.
- There is a reduced water consumption as the room system is confined within a closed tube and this helps to prevent rapid evaporation from taking place. Therefore, less water is required.
Disadvantages of Greenhouse Hydroponics:
- It requires a greater initial cost due to investment in equipment such as tanks, pumps, controls, and support systems. Furthermore, the need for additional lighting and a growth room would add on the list and raise the cost higher.
- It will incur greater energy costs to supplement the lighting and pump operation, therefore making the electricity bills more expensive.
- Technical skill is very much essential as it might be hard to set up for someone with no chemical knowledge and relevant background in plant production.
Common crops grown under hydroponics are tomatoes, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, celery, strawberries, leaf lettuce, and watercress. What differentiates the method of planting for these various crops is the support received in the nutrient solution.
Forget about the conventional gravel beds, there are now many newly developed systems that are just as effective. As such, it is important to internalize some special considerations before deciding on one and installing it. Factors to take note include, the type of crop, the amount of space required, and personal financial constraints. Such systems can be hosted in greenhouses or a growth room. Even though some choose to utilize both, the growth room is targeted for germination and seedling production while the greenhouse is meant to be a place for the crops to grow. The additional heat generated from the lights in the growth room can be used to heat the greenhouse.
The Use of Sand or Stone
Sand, stone, or rock can be used as the bed for growing a huge variety of plants. Position them on a plastic-lined trough or bed which has a slope to remove away the excess nutrients. Most systems should have a minimum requirement of 2% for their slopes and the seedlings are to be planted directly into the medium and watered together with nutrient solution a few times daily.
Troughs and pipes
Plastic troughs or PVC pipes are usually used for crops such as lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They are then filled with either nutrient solution, perlite, or even peat moss and vermiculite. In terms of positioning, they can be mounted on rollers or mobile racks that help to space out the plants as they become mature. The pipes are often in lengths of 10 to 12 feet and three-inch with holes for leaf lettuce. Sometimes, carts are employed to transport the pipes from the grow room to the packing room.
Flooded trays are essential for the growth of lettuce. Plants that have been set in growth blocks are to be spaced out physically as they grow. Recommended trays to use are those made from plastic or waterproof plywood.
Many hydroponics gardeners have experimented with the best bed configurations and one way to do it is to have the bed lined in plastic with the nutrient solution being injected to at one end and the other having it drained off. Particularly for lettuce, which is lifted on foam polystyrene flats which are low in density and hence possess the ability to float on a liquid surface.
Nutrient Film System
This is a specific technique that utilizes thin plastic film to make channels. These channels are then positioned on the bottom where nutrients are delivered to using plastic tubes which are inserted from both ends, allowing one end for receiving and the other to drain off excess solution to return to the reservoir. Seedlings are commonly grown in pots and the use of grow blocks and poly bags helps to assist those plants in the channel.
Bags can be taken advantage of to mimic the hydroponic system. In particular, polyethylene film bags are used and they are filled with a peat-vermiculite mix. They are later placed from one end to another with a drip tube inserted to transport the nutrients to the plants. Such bags come in handy for some plants that are meant to be replaced soon.
On the other hand, aeroponics is also a modified system which utilizes a plastic cover into a closed tank to support the plants, nutrients are then delivered to the roots by fog or mist.
Aside from the plant support system, equipment such as pumps, tanks, and controls are required. In the list of equipment that has been mentioned, we would suggest purchasing some materials over the others. For example, we would recommend concrete material for the tanks, if not plastic and fiberglass are also good options. As for the pumps, selecting those that are submersible and have been formulated for chemical solutions are extremely crucial because otherwise, corrosion is likely to take place due to the fertilizer salts. On the other hand, controls can simply be in the form of a time clock. If not, you can also go for something more complex such as a computer that is automated for adjustments of the chemical content found in the nutrient solution.
All in all, hydroponics is becoming increasingly popular among people who specialize in plant production and we can all see why that is the case due to its benefits. We hope that you have achieved a greater understanding of the hydroponics system after reading our article and we sincerely wish you all the best if you decide to set up one yourself. Have fun and good luck!