Have you ever thought of growing plants without soil? A science known as hydroponics will allow you to do just this. Hydroponics systems have been used since the time of the ancient Babylonians who used them to used them to grow their famous hanging gardens. Today, all around the world, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants are grown using hydroponics. The word hydroponics was derived from the Greek words hydros, meaning water, and ponos, meaning labor, or literally, water working. Hydro-ponics is simply growing plants in a water and balanced fertilizer solution. It is rapidly becoming the most common way of growing speciality crops and crops that require special conditions to grow.
Hydroponics is also known as Soilless/Controlled Environment Agriculture. This means that plants are grown without soil in greenhouse environments in which everything from the amount of nutrients applied to the temperature and humidity can be monitored closely. Greenhouses are ideal for hydroponics systems because they have their own climate. New types of greenhouses are designed to distribute light from the sun during the day to promote better plant growth and retain heat at night which saves on fuel. These greenhouses are quickly becoming choice places for growers to set up their hydroponics systems. These set-ups are increasing yields and decreasing plant loss which is more profitable for the grower.
Speciality crops such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and hot peppers, which cannot be grown conventionally all year long, are being grown in hydroponically. These vegetables which were previously scarce in some seasons will be plentiful all year. Hydroponically grown vegetables can be harvested year ‘round so even regions that have harsh winters, or short growing seasons can enjoy these special crops anytime.
One fruit that is especially hard to find at certain times of the year is the strawberry. The strawberry industry is beginning to convert from the traditional soil grown berries to the hydroponically grown variety. This drastic change was brought about by an upcoming ban on methyl bromide, which is used to fumigate strawberry plants. If the plants are not fumigated, yields drop, pests destroy the leaves and roots of the plant, as well as, the fruit. Scientists at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virgina have transplanted many varieties of strawberries, previously grown in the soil, into a hydroponics system. They added the nutrients the plants normally received from the soil directly into the water. The results of the experiments have been good. Each of the plants were healthy and each yielded between one and two pounds of fruit.
The strawberry experiments were not totally problem free. The researchers had problems with mites, thrips, and powdery mildew on the foliage of the plant. To solve pest problem the researchers used beneficiary predatory mites to rid the plants of the tiny parasites. To get rid of the mildew the researchers regulated the humidity level in the green house so prevent the mildew from growing on the leaves.
Another industry that utilizes hydroponics is the flower industry. Holland is a main supplier of roses to the United States, and almost all of their flowers are grown hydroponically. Herbs such as cilantro, oregano, and dill are also being grown hydroponically. Ornamental plants are also being grown hydroponically. Flower shops and nurseries can have plants that are usually out of season at some time, all year long.
The advantages of hydroponically grown crops are significant. The fruits and vegetables have superior taste, appearance, and quality. There are no weeds, cultivation, and no soil borne diseases or insects. All the plants receive the same amount of water and nutrients. Due to the “closed circuit” nature of the systems less water and less fertilizer is needed. All of these things make hydroponics a practical way to grow some crops.
Commercial growers often use a product known as Perlite as a growth medium in their hydroponics system. Perlite is a volcanic glass formed when lava cools rapidly trapping water. The glass is crushed and heated to very high temperatures. From this comes a soft mineral foam. This foam can hold large amounts of water, and has a neutral pH. These two factors make it ideal for a growth medium.
There are certain nutrients that are needed to make a quality nutrient solution for a hydroponics system. These elements are Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Manganese, Iron, Copper, Zinc, and Chlorine. They are essential to a plants growth and development. Most of them are absorbed from the soil.
Many growers argue that hydroponics are not as good as organic gardening, but the majority of the results show that their is not much difference as far as yields are concerned. The main difference in the two methods of growing is the way the plant receives the nutrients.
Hydroponics has many advantages that make it an excellent alternative to conventional growing methods. With the amount of research being done to perfect the various methods of hydroponic growing, the future of many speciality crops looks bright.
Many researchers propose using hydroponics in areas where the soil quality is poor farming space is limited. Some researchers even propose using hydroponics in space, if human colonies are ever settled.
Hydroponics may not be the best way to grow for everyone but it seems to be a very feasible alternative to traditional growing. Many positive results show that hydroponics have a definite place in the future of growing.