What is hydroponics? How does it work? How does hydroponic farming compare to traditional farming?
Put simply: Hydroponics is a way to skip the soil, sub in a different material to support the roots of the plant, and grow crops directly in nutrient-rich water.
There are multiple approaches to designing hydroponic systems, but the core elements are essentially the same.
What you need:
- Fresh water. Were talking primo, filtered stuff with a balanced pH. Most plants like water with a pH level around 6–6.5. You can adjust the acidity of your water with over-the-counter solutions found at your local hardware, garden, or hydroponic store.
- Oxygen. Don’t drown your plants! In traditional farming, roots can get the oxygen needed for respiration from pockets of air in the soil. Depending on your hydroponic setup, you will either need to leave space between the base of your plant and the water reservoir, or you’ll need oxygenate your container (think of bubbles in a fish tank), which you can accomplish by buying an air stone or installing an air pump.
- Root Support. Even though you don’t need soil, your plant’s roots still need a little something to hold on to. Typical materials include vermiculite, perlite, peat moss, coconut fiber, and rockwool. Stay away from materials that might compact (like sand) or that don’t retain any moisture (like gravel).
- Nutrients. Your plant is going to need plenty of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, and other nutrients to stay healthy and productive –– just like plants growing in the ground need healthy soil and fertilizer. When you’re growing plants without soil, this “plant food” must be included in the water that’s feeding your plants. While you can technically make your own nutrient solution, it’s easy to buy mixtures online and in stores.
- Light. If you’re growing your plants indoors, you might have to invest in some special lighting. Each kind of plant will have a different requirement for the amount of light it needs and for the placement of lights (typically referred to as Daily Light Integral or DLI)