When thinking about growing indoors, more often than not you will come across the search term: Hydroponics.
A hydroponic set-up can seem quite daunting to most, so in this article, we’ll try to explain the basics and answer some of the questions you may have about hydroponics indoor gardening.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants indoors mainly in a soil-free environment using a medium and mineral nutrient in a water solvent, the nutrients used in indoor hydroponics can vary but may include byproduct from:
- Fish waste
- Various manures
- Chemical fertilizers
Mediums can also be used in the growing process for things like drainage etc, this is called medium culture, some commonly used ones are:
- Expanded clay pebbles
- Grow stones
- Coir peat
- Rice Husk
- Wood fiber/wood wool
- Sheep wool
- Rock wool
- Brick shards
- Polystyrene foam peanuts
Organic fertilizers are sometimes used to either supplement or entirely replace the compounds used in hydroponic indoor gardening solutions. However, the introduction of organic fertilizers can sometimes produce a number of challenges in itself.
Sourcing micronutrients from organic fertilizers are sometimes preferred, in addition, humic acids may be added to increase the plants’ intake of nutrients.
The mixing & creating of indoor hydroponic solutions by home growers is often impractical, as commercial products are reasonably priced and readily available.
Pros & Cons Of Hydroponics Indoor Gardening
Hydroponics compared to traditional farming is now seen by some to be more efficient, and more often than not requires less water for a full crop cycle than traditional methods, on average though, hydroponics consumes more energy.
People have been experimenting and had various successes in hydroponic growing for hundreds of years. In more recent times it caught the attention of NASA, who after conducting in-depth research, used it for it’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS) NASA’S belief is that ongoing advances in hydroponic indoor gardening will lead to advancements in space travel, as a bio-regenerative life support system.
The recent surge in popularity that hydroponics has seen in the last few years, means it is one of the fastest growing markets today, and its value is expected to keep on rising, so much so that by 2023 it’s predicted its value could be somewhere in the region of two billion dollars.
There are two main types of techniques in hydroponics:
For both of these techniques, the hydroponic reservoirs are generally built of plastic. But other materials have been used, including:
It is imperative the containers used in these techniques exclude light, as this prevents algae and fungal growth in the nutrient solution.
These techniques can be further broken down into two cultures:
- Static-solution culture
- Continuous-flow culture
Static – Solution Culture
In static solution culture, plants are typically grown in containers of nutrient solution. The containers in home set-ups are mostly made from mason jars, plastic buckets, tubs or tanks etc. Generally, the solution would be carefully aerated but can sometimes also be unaerated. If the grower opts to keep the solution unaerated then the level needs to be kept low enough, exposing the roots above the solution, this will then allow them to get an adequate intake of oxygen. Holes should be cut into the lid of the reservoir, this is usually done for each plant, reservoirs can be used for a single plant or multiple plants, the size of the reservoir will normally be increased as the plants’ size increases.
Continuous – Flow Solution Culture
Continuous-flow solution culture is generally easier than static-solution culture, this is due to the fact that continuous-flow solution culture has the potential to house thousand of plants where any adjustments can be made to all. When using this system the plants nutrient solution will constantly flow past the roots.
A variation to the above culture is the nutrient film technique developed in the 1960s by Dr. Allen Cooper. When applying this technique, a shallow stream of water containing the plants’ nutrients is recirculated past the plants’ roots in a thick, watertight root mat, a supply of oxygen is then provided to the plants’ roots.
One of the main advantages of the nutrient film technique over other hydroponics techniques is the plants’ exposure to adequate supplies of oxygen, water, and nutrients, because of this, higher yields are produced over a longer period. Overall, the nutrient film technique is one of the more productive techniques available.
Ebb & Flow System
In the ebb & flow system, a tray will be positioned above a reservoir of nutrient solution. The tray is then filled with a medium of your choice and then the plant positioned directly on top. The nutrient solution will then be applied at regular intervals, a timer will be used to signal when the tray should be filled up. After the process is completed the solution will then drain back into the reservoir, by using this system the medium is regularly flushed with nutrients and air.
Other systems and cultures commonly used are:
- Run to waste system/Bengal system (Commonly used in commercial hydroponics)
- Deep water culture
- Top-fed deep water culture
- Rotary hydroponic system (Commonly used in commercial hydroponics)
No hydroponic set-up would be complete without the tools needed, some common tools used are:
- Electrical conductivity meter
- pH meter
- Litmus paper
- pH indicator strips
- Graduated cylinders
- Measuring spoons
HYDROPONICs Indoor Gardening Summary
In the above, we’ve tried to cover the very basics, from what hydroponics is, to some history and the systems used when implementing hydroponics indoor gardening, and in doing so hopefully made it a lot more accessible to you, our readers.