What Is hydroponic farming?
Hydroponic refers to a type of agriculture that involves the growth of plants without soil by using minerals and nutrients required by the plants induced externally. Plants can be grown with their roots submerged in the nutrient liquid and soil is substituted with water.
What do you need for hydroponic farming?
- Fresh water: The water used for hydroponic farming should have a balanced ph. Most plants grow best with a water pH level of 6 to 6.5. The acidity of the water can be adjusted with external solutions that can be procured locally.
- Root support: Without soil being present, the roots of the plants need something to hold on to. This ensures that the plant root growth is not haywire. Materials that are compact or those that do not retain any water should be avoided for this. The most commonly used root support materials are perlite, vermiculite, peat moss and coconut fiber.
- Oxygen: In traditional farming, the roots of the plants get oxygen needed via pockets in the soil. This is essential for a healthy respiration of the roots. There are 2 main options available to ensure that the roots can breathe freely in hydroponics.
• Leave space between the base of the plants and the water reservoir.
• Oxygenate the container by adding an air stone or installing an air pump, similar to a fish tank.
- Light: if the plants are grown indoor, a lighting system must be installed to ensure that the plants get sufficient light to grow freely. Each plant has a different requirement for the amount of light needed and the placement of the artificial lighting system may vary in each case.
- Nutrients: This refers to the plant food that has to be included in the water which will feed the plant with various nutrients like magnesium, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients to stay healthy. Mixtures can be made at home or can be bought in a store.
Benefits of hydroponic farming
• No need of soil: Due to erosion, pollution and nutrient depletion half of the world’s top soil has been lost and the overall workable soil available is constantly reducing. There is also a big difference in the soil quality in different places which may not be suitable for the for the growth of all plants. With hydroponic farming, farmers can grow whatever crops they desire without any concern for soil degradation.
• Lesser labor: Without the need for tilling, weeding, herbicide and pesticide application, hydroponic farming offers a lighter load for laborer’s and can be successfully performed with lesser man power. This reduces the cost of production as compared to traditional farming and also reduces the time invested in the workspace.
• Conserves water: Growing plants in a hydroponic farm setting uses 98% lesser water that traditional farming. As food production is increasing globally, the water consumed for plant production is also hitting new peaks each year. Hydroponics reduces the water consumed for growing plants and this can drastically help in saving the water reserves present.
• Faster growth of crops: using traditional farming, most fruits and vegetables take several months to reach maturity when the can be harvested. Plants taking in nutrition from the soil can be a long and slow process. Hydroponic farming has shown a 30 to 50% faster growth in plants as the nutrients are much more easily and directly available for absorption. The whole cycle of plant growth can be streamlined for faster growth and higher yield by artificially controlling the light, heat, hydration, pests, nutrients and all other aspects that influence the growth process.
• Produces higher Yields: Artificially controlling and creating an environment that is perfect for the growth of a specific type of plant will ensure that the plants receive the exact kind of nutrients, light and environment they need to grow. The micro climates allow for a year-round growth and a faster crop cycle. All this facilitates a higher yield as compared to traditional farming. Studied show that hydroponic farming produces at least 200 times the yield compared to other farming techniques.
• Facilitates micro climates: Hydroponic farming creates a micro environment that is insulates from the various disadvantages of traditional farming. The plants are not attacked by pests or pesticides and can be grown on a year-round basis irrespective of the natural climatic conditions. With the availability of artificial lights and heat provided to the plants, a whole micro climate is created to ensure that the plants are grown in a conducive environment.
• Maximizes space: Hydroponic farming requires much less space for plant growth as compared to traditional farming. If hydroponics is combined with vertical farming it saves about 99% of the land required compared to traditional farming. Water and nutrients are readily available for the plants and hence the roots do not have to spread out extensively in search of the same. Since these nutrients are constantly available, the roots of each plant take up lesser space. This results in more plants grown in a smaller space.
• Seasonality and predictability: Seasonality is the main factor that influences the price, taste and freshness of fruits and vegetables. Farmers deal with unpredictable weather problems and natural calamities like floods, fires, droughts and pest infestations that may damage the entire crop production in traditional farming. However, in hydroponic farming the conditions of plant growth are externally controlled and the plants are shielded from most of the shortcomings of traditional farming. This means that the farmers can enter into long term contracts with fixed pricings as the quantity and quality of the output can be predicted beforehand.
• Reduces supply chain: Using hydroponic farming, lot of energy can be saved and cut out. Hydroponic greenhouses can be set up in neighborhoods where traditional farming can not be practiced. This will save the transportation costs and reduce the energy consumed by refrigerated trucks. Even the energy used and process of preservation of the fruits and vegetables will be saved and reduced. The simplification of the supply chain results in high quality of produce that is grown locally and then distributed to the immediate community for consumption.
• Higher quality of food: due to climatic and soil conditions it is very difficult for people to get fresh produce on a year-round basis. In hydroponic farming, the food is allowed to ripen on the plant and is harvested once it is fully ripe. The hydroponic gardens have their own microbiomes that help crops grow anywhere. Since the produce does not have to travel much it will not rotten before reaching the destination. It is proven that produce that is allowed to ripen on the plant has much more nutrient content than the produce that is plucked before and is ripened along the journey in the supply chain.
There are various advantages to hydroponics that can help solve problems without the use of excessive water or space and can produce fruits and vegetables of higher nutrient content and lesser growth periods than traditional farming. It is a highly evolving mode of farming and is set to become a primary mode of agriculture in the future.