The term “hydroponic gardening” may sound fancy or high-tech, but the concept is really pretty simple. While the practice of hydroponic gardening dates back to ancient times, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it started to gain prominence.
What makes hydroponic gardening different from traditional growing practices? It does not involve the use of soil. Instead, plants are grown using either a nutrient-rich water culture or a soilless medium such as clay aggregate, coconut coir, perlite, sand or gravel. Some of the benefits of hydroponic gardening include higher yields, reduced water consumption, greater control of nutrition levels, and easier harvesting.
Choosing the Best Hydroponic Growing System
While there are several types of hydroponic growing systems, the three that are often recommended for beginners are water culture, wick, and ebb and flow.
A water culture system does not require the use of a soilless medium. Plants are placed into a Styrofoam platform that rests atop a water-filled reservoir. An air pump is used to deliver water and oxygen to the plant roots.
A wick system consists of a reservoir filled with water and nutrients, which is connected to a large pot containing the plant and growing medium via a cotton wick. The nutrient solution is drawn into the medium through the wick where it nourishes the plant roots.
Ebb-and-flow systems are slightly more complex, although still relatively easy to implement. Plants are placed on a drain table that is filled with two to three inches of water and nutrient solution. A submergible pump, equipped with a timer, is used to pump the solution through holes in the bottom of the plant pots. After the plants soak for several minutes, the reservoir is then drained. The process is repeated several times during the day.
Selecting the Best Plants
Just about any plant can be grown hydroponically. If you’re a beginner, it’s good to choose plants that can grow quickly and require less in the way of nutrients and maintenance. Excellent starter plants include tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and greens such as lettuce, spinach or kale. It’s also a good idea to start small until you have mastered your hydroponic growing method of choice.
While there are many different types of soilless mediums to choose from, beginners often achieve the best results with lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA) or coconut coir. LECA, which is produced by heating balls of clay at a high temperature until they expand, works extremely well with an ebb-and-flow system. Coconut coir is a sponge-like material made from coconut husks and provides excellent absorbency. Coconut coir is a good choice for a wick system, but it not recommended for use with an ebb-and-flow system.
Safer® Brand offers a wide range of hydroponic gardening supplies for beginners and experienced hydroponic growers alike. With easy-to-use organic solutions, including neem oil, fungicide and insect control products, you can maximize your hydroponic growing effort the all-natural way.
Photo: colorfulfoxes via Flickr
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