Have you ever heard of growing plants without soil? Today it’s possible thanks to hydroponics, an innovative and practical way of growing plants indoors or outdoors with zero soil. The name hydroponic derives from the Greek hydro, meaning “water,” and ponein, meaning “to labor or toil.” While in traditional gardening, plants get their nutrients from the soil, in hydroponic gardens, nutrients are dissolved in the water surrounding the roots. This way, plants have an easier access to their fundamental nutrients and grow faster. Hydroponic gardens don’t take a lot of space, and plants can actually grow faster than if they were rooted in soil.
There are different types of hydroponic systems. All of them include a container, a solution that contains the nutrient source, and water. The containers’ size varies, depending on the amount of plants one wants to grow. It can be a small reservoir that includes one single herb, or a big container to grow larger plants. In some hydroponic systems, the plants’ roots are completely immersed in water, while in others, the roots are covered by some sort of soil substitutes, such as coconut fiber, aged bark, clay pebbles, and peat moss. Many systems also feature an air pump to oxygenate the plants and a light mechanism that acts as a grow lamp.
1. Advantages of hydroponic gardens
They can grow anywhere at anytime. Some hydroponic gardens are specifically designed for outdoor uses, while others can be used indoors only. The use of hydroponic gardens extends beyond home gardening. Since they can be placed basically anywhere – even in areas with adverse conditions for farming – today, hydroponic projects are being implemented at a larger scale in several facilities, from restaurants to university dining halls to hotels. Additionally, since hydroponic gardens can be placed indoors and lightened with a lamp, they enable gardeners to grow any type of plant at any time.
They require less space. Since soil is not needed, hydroponic gardens do not require tons of rooms. Some hydroponic gardens have been designed with a vertical structure, which allows gardeners to grow plants in a tight space.
They reduce water waste. What is even more surprising is that many hydroponic gardens actually require less water than regular soil-based gardens. Indeed, in most hydroponic systems, water can be constantly filtered, re-populated with nutrients and recirculated. Conversely, in traditional gardens some of the water will inevitably be wasted in the soil as it might reach some points where there aren’t any roots to soak it up. Additionally, closed systems are subject to lower rates of evaporation.
They reduce pest problems. Since most pests survive only in the soil, the water-based solution is an optimal way to reduce pest infestations and other related issues.
2. Disadvantages of hydroponic gardens
They have a high initial cost. Hydroponic gardens are expensive to set up. Although the cost varies depending on the type and size, any kind of hydroponics technology will need a high initial investment.
They must be constantly monitored. Even after the initial set up process is done, hydroponic gardens will need constant monitoring and maintenance. Making sure that the water doesn’t lack nutrients, controlling the lights and the temperature, checking the pH, and replacing the water solution are just some activities that must be performed regularly.
They are subject to waterborne diseases. Although pests and soil-related diseases are reduced, hydroponically grown plants still have to face waterborne issues. Since the water circulates continuously through the system, the diseases can spread quickly throughout the entire garden, posing a serious threat to all plants.
They depend on electricity. Any kind of hydroponic garden is highly dependent on electricity to power the different parts of the system, including water pumps, air pumps, lights etc. This makes them extremely vulnerable to power outages, especially if the growers do not promptly notice the problem and they last for a long time.