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The Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening

Updated on December 2, 2013

Growing gardens in this day and age seems to be more and more difficult as time goes on. With each year, there are new products guaranteed to give better blooms and produce better yields, while we're pushed to buy genetically modified seeds and pesticides that we don't want and equipment that we don't need. And through all the toil and trouble, a garden's health can all come down to weather or not the soil is viable, making for a valuable hobby gone to waste by poor conditions.

Of course, we do gardening because we love to and love the affects, but some people have resigned themselves to the idea that they simply do not have a green thumb - even if they did everything right! They simply did not have the right soil or plants or amount of sunlight. Or perhaps they wanted to get into gardening but had no space.

Where there is a will, there is a way, and that includes with something as old as society itself - agriculture. Where we once had to own plots of land to grow the food we wanted, now we can grow just about anywhere with hydroponics. There are multiple benefits to using a hydroponic system.

Growing hydroponically is not limited to seasons or soil health.
Growing hydroponically is not limited to seasons or soil health. | Source

What is Hydroponics?

Simply put, it is the practice of growing plants in an aquatic, nutrient-filled system. The name comes from Greek, where "hydro" means water and "ponos" means working.

It's origins can be traces back to ancient Rome, where a solution had to be made in order to provide the Emperor with a garden around his palace, and cucumbers year round. In order to solve this problem, plants were frown in mineral mica, creating some of the first known hydroponics system. These systems are also said to have appeared in places like Babylonia, China, and Egypt, and even in the Americas in the Aztec culture.

After this, we can see hydroponics pop up again a few times in Western history, such as with a 17th century British scientist, John Woodward, who managed to recreate these ancient hydroponic systems, and in the 19th century, when studied by two German scientists. It wasn't until the 1900's that leaps were made in hydroponic technology, and the term "hydroponics" was coined. Since then, the practice has been seen in war zones (to grow food in unfavorable climates), homes, deserts, and already being planned for growing on planets like Mars.

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Who Can Benefit From It?

Since hydroponics can be done without soil, there are a lot of people whom, if they make the investment, can benefit greatly from this practice. After the initial investment, which can be costly, the product will help pay for itself. Growing one's own food, reducing the use of water as water is recycled, and creating healthy food without having to use gas on trips to the store, make hydroponics not only beneficial for those saving money, but also for the environmentally conscious. Having control over the food you buy and what is used in growing it is pretty priceless in itself.

People who are concerned about how far their food travel can become locavores with a hydroponic garden. Those who live in deserts, harsh climates, or simply have a place not conducive to growing also benefit. What's more, in a global sense, hydroponics could ease food shortage situations in locations where food is difficult to grow. Even farmers can benefit from a commercial standpoint as they will have to spend less on fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation, all while increasing their yield and diversifying their product if they so choose. Not to mention those with little time on their hands can save the chore of weeding their garden, as they are rare in hydroponic gardens.

You can grow virtually any plant in a hydroponics system!
You can grow virtually any plant in a hydroponics system!

Getting Started

It all starts with a seed. You may want to choose a leafy vegetable or look for the easiest foods to grow as you are just beginning.

First, you will need growing material so that your roots can take hold to something, even though you will be removing it later. Some substrates include rocks, peat, and sand. You will want to look into the benefits of growing from each material, and whether you want to use re-usable items such as clay or one-time use items like coconut husks.

Next, soak the seed in water, then place it in a wet paper towel to keep it moist. Once you see the seed opening and the root emerging, you can place the seed in the growing medium. You will want to keep the seed soaking in a solution of nutrient-rich water and a tiny amount of hydrogen peroxide.

Once the seedling is ready, you can wash off the medium from the roots and place it in the growing channel. Voila! You've just started on your hydroponics journey.

How Plants Work

Understanding the basics of plant physiology will help you understand how hydroponics works.

The plants roots are where the nutrient-accessing magic happens! In nature, when rain falls to the ground, or some other water source is introduced to the soil, the natural salts that exist in the soil break down into valuable nutrients. The water in the soil is then nutrient rich, and can be absorbed by the roots. The plant can then use the nutrients for all the chemical processes that make a plant a plant.

Of course, salt may not always be beneficial to a plant. If the wrong salts are present, the nutrients aren't balances and don't allow for proper plant growth. If too many salts are present, it is detrimental to the plant, which won't grow properly, if at all.

Of course, there are other things needed for a plant to grow and do it's plant thing other than nutrients. A light source is needed for photosynthesis and proper air circulation ensures proper respiration when the plant absorbs carbon dioxide.

Plants can be grown in a controlled environment for optimal health with hydroponics.
Plants can be grown in a controlled environment for optimal health with hydroponics.

The Benefits of Hydroponics

In hydroponic environments, one doesn't have to hope for good soil - everything can be controlled by the grower with the right nutrients and set up. Balanced nutrients and oxygen rich water flow over the plant's roots consistently. Smaller hydroponic systems can be moved to provide proper light, and put indoors during inclement weather, or even grown completely indoors for the most control over your growing environment. You can also control the air circulation, which will provide carbon dioxide for respiration and help to keep microbes at bay.

Conventional Growing
Hydroponics Growing
dependant on irrigation
recirculated water
yield dependant on a number of factors
controlled environment for greater yield
need proper soil and environment
can grow almost anywhere
crops depend on season or greenhouse
crops can grow year round
nutrients based on soil and fertilizers
complete control of optimal nutrients
grows where seed takes root
can be moved
harvesting takes place over acres
uses less space, makes an easier harvest
pests are abundant, as is pesticides
marginal risks of pests, so no pesticides
leafy greens die once picked
leafy greens can stay alive through transport
diseases caused by soil
soil not applicable
weeds are a constant battle
weeds are not common
water wasted through a number of factors
water is recirculated
cost can be a lot over time
costs are 20% less expensive
Waste through growing materials
growing materials often recyclable
dependant on climate
runs on electricity
daily maintenance includes many factors
daily maintenance is checking nutrient levels
need to land, lots of planting, and water
set up simple

Lets take a look at traditional agriculture for a moment - the practice that is said to have been the birth of civilization! It's ever important, affecting all humans, and until recent decades, was the primary job for most of the world. But many commercial agriculture set ups have succumbed to being chemical laden and even genetically modified to try and produce more food for consumption.

It all starts with a seed. Companies like Monsanto have genetically modified seeds in order to grow plants that will naturally have pesticides or grow bigger, better yields. It is a process that has not only raised concern about the food we grow and what it can do to our natural environment, but has also been patented. That means that seeds - the source of life for all of us - can be argued as property in court and growers can be sued for having plants with a patented genetic marker in them.

Then we have soil. Fertilizers are often added into the soil to provide more nutrients and give a better yield. This is arguable that in the long run, constantly adding fertilizers to the ground help consistently produce better yield, and also puts a strain on the natural processes of soil. Top soil, the nutrient rich layer that many growers rely on to grow their crops, often get wasted by inefficient farming techniques, such as industrial plowing, and can even be lost by something as simple as rain, since all the top soil is exposed and not held down by the natural plant life. Any plant not intended for sale on a plot of land is considered a weed, and stripped from the land, taking away the valuable roots that hold down the nutritious top soil. And lastly, many major farms grow mono-cultures: this is where you can see only one type of crop grown over and over again with no rotation. This strips the land of the nutrients for that one particular crop, creating a greater need for fertilizer when the land is not given time to rest. Proper farming techniques encourage crop rotation and also leaving land fallow (not growing crops) for a year or so, in order to naturally replenish the soils nutrients.

Of course, then we have pests and diseases. Growing in monoculture attracts pests for the particular crop. An entire farm could be wipes out by the right bug simply because it grows one crop in one area, and nothing else. That is why pesticides are so prevalent. And since bugs reproduce so quickly, pesticide resistant insects are giving way to offspring that won't be killed off easily by pesticides, making more and more harmful pesticides necessary. Fields sprayed with pesticides kill off not only beneficial insects like ladybugs, but also insect and rodent killing birds, and can be harmful to the farmers exposed to it. Monocultures also give way to diseases. Just as one sick person can make the entire office building sick, one mold or disease infested plant can take out a farm. So again, we rely on chemicals to try and prevent the spread of diseases.

These are just a few of the problems with how many commercial farms are run nowadays. It has led people to want to grow their own food and try and take back their choice in how their food is grown.

This is why hydroponics is promising. While the production of nutrients can be along the same lines of fertilizers, there are a lot of environmental issues that can be helped with hydroponics. The smaller space, the controlled nutrients, the decreased water use, and the ability to have many plants in one area without diseases from soil destroying the plants leads to less chemicals, and depending on where you get your nutrient solution from, even none at all!

Hydroponic gardening is definitely beneficial in many ways, and can even be a fun family affair. Teaching kids to watch their nutrient levels and showing them how food can be grown, especially in innovative ways, is fun and engaging for families to do together!

All in all, hydroponics is not something to be brushed aside easily. We will always value our soil and growing from the earth. But hydroponics opens up opportunities to those who didn't have them before. It's definitely something to look into if you are itching to flex your green thumb!

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very thorough and informative hub. Hydroponics is a great way to garden. Voted up.

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