BY SHANTAM SAHAI
- Hydroponics is the science of soil-less gardening
- Hydroponic gardening does not require the use of large physical spaces
- Hydroponic gardening systems can be made at home
All of us share an ideal dream of owning a personal vegetable garden. However, for most of us, that dream is shattered due to lack of physical space. You might be living in a 3BHK flat with three balconies, or the lawn in front of your bungalow might not be large enough. Here we are, with a solution to your problem. You can make your own vegetable garden in limited space and no soil!
Hydroponic gardening (also known as the science of soil-less gardening) is a technique involving growing plants without the use of soil. Instead, mineral-rich water solution is used. Terrestrial plants are grown with their roots exposed to the mineral solution; a plant just needs nutrients, some water, and sunlight to grow. Not only does the plant grow without soil, it grows a lot better!
Benefits of Hydroponics
Many governments around the world equate hydroponics with marijuana; this is one of the major reasons why commercial hydroponics industry has not yet hit the mainstream. However, with the constant decline in the availability of arable land, hydroponics is fated to foster global awareness. The benefits of hydroponic gardening are well documented as advantageous to farmers and home vegetable gardeners.
Soil vs Water
Most of us are surprised when we learn that plants can be grown without soil too. Though soil can be an inefficient medium, at times. Plants waste a lot of energy while growing roots in the soil in search of the required water and nutrients. However, in hydroponic gardening, in which constant and readily available nutrition is provided, plants grow 50% faster than they do in soil.
- There is no need for herbicides and pesticides in hydroponic gardening.
- Water used in hydroponics stays in the system and can be reused.
- Arable land is not a requirement. Even a tiny balcony or indoor gardening can work.
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How to make a nutrient solution for your hydroponic garden?
Making a water solution with precise amounts of nutrients is an essential part of hydroponics. First of all, you need to be aware of the composition of the water you are using. For example, ‘soft’ water allows you to directly add nutrients your plants need the most; while ‘hard’ water would require filtering (unwanted materials) first. To check your water regularly, you can use electrical conductivity (dissolved solids meter), also known as parts per million (PPM) meter.
Once you know what your water consists of, you will need to familiarize yourself with the different nutrients several plants need. The most basic nutrients solutions consist of:
- 25 ml of CaNO3 (calcium nitrate)
- 1.7 ml of K2SO4 (potassium sulfate)
- 8.3 ml of KNO3 (potassium nitrate)
- 6.25 ml of KH2PO4 (monopotassium phosphate)
- 17.5 ml of MgSO4 (magnesium sulfate)
- 2 ml of trace elements
Each element involved in these nutrients provides a different benefit.
- Hydrogen forms water by combining with the oxygen.
- Nitrogen and sulfur are essential to the supply of amino acids and proteins.
- Phosphorus is used in photosynthesis and overall growth.
- Potassium and magnesium act as catalysts in the creation of starches and sugars.
- Magnesium and nitrogen also play a role in the production of chlorophyll.
- Calcium is a part of the makeup of cell walls and plays a role in the growth of cells.
Though you can buy nutrients solution online or from a nearby store, making one yourself would prove to be cost-efficient in the long run.
How to set-up a homemade hydroponics system?
The most simple and foolproof method is making a ‘hydroponic raft’ system, also known the ‘lettuce raft method’. This method will allow you to grow lightweight crops such as lettuce, spinach, endives, or herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro. However, you will need three simple requirements:
The reservoir is simply a large container used to hold the water. It needs to be at least 1 ft. deep to accommodate root growth, opaque to prevent algae growth, and sturdy. It can be built at home, or you can purchase it at your nearby nursery or online.
The raft is made up of a styrofoam platform (which fits the size of the reservoir) and is fitted with ‘net pots’. Net pots are plastic containers (in which the seedlings grow) that are perforated at the bottom. You can buy them online or a nearby shop. They are usually filled with coconut coir or hydroton.
You need to aerate the water to make sure that the nutrients do not become stagnant. Aerators can be bought online or from your nearby aquarium store.
All in all, hydroponics can grow the healthiest food possible, in large quantities, in the smallest space, and in a sustainable way. It accomplishes all goals set by organic farming, and taking a step further it allows people to grow food in places where traditional agriculture is not possible.