Most people have probably heard or seen the word ‘hydroponics’ in films or in the news, but although this strange term has been around for decades, it still seems shrouded in mystery. While this revolutionary method of hydroculture has become increasingly popular in horticultural circles, many people still may not know what it means, let alone how it works. For example, you might not have known that it requires food-grade CO2 or that Adams Gas provide refillable, bottles and canisters that are ideal for this purpose. We’re proud to be a part of a sustainable and environmentally conscious approach to what very well may be the future of horticulture. So here we take a look at what hydroponics is, how it works and its advantages over more traditional forms of horticulture.
What is Hydroponics and How Does It Work?
Hydroponics refers to the method of growing plants without soil. Instead, the root systems are supported in an inert growing medium and administered a water-based, mineral/nutrient solution – hence the name! As these systems are designed for indoor use, specialised UV lighting is required to provide plants with photosynthesis. Although certain equipment, such as lighting, is required for all hydroponic systems, there are various techniques for growing plants hydroponically.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
While there are countless methods and variations of hydroponic gardening, there are six basic types of hydroponic systems which are categorised as either active or passive.
Commonly viewed as the most simplistic type of hydroponics, the Wick System is known as a passive system, which simply means there are no moving parts. Instead wicks, which hang down into a water reservoir, are used to draw nutrient solution into the growing medium. This system can be used with a variety of different growing mediums – Perlite, Vermiculite, Rockwool and Coconut Fibre are among the most popular. Although this is the simplest system, it is not well-suited for growing large plants or ones that require large amounts of water, as they may use up the nutrient solution faster than the wicks can supply it.
This system has moving parts and is therefore referred to as an active system. However, Water Cultures are still considered to be the simplest form of active systems. With this method, the roots of the plants are completely immersed in the reservoir of water containing the nutrient solution. A pump is typically used to help oxygenate the water, allowing the roots to breathe. Although this method is typically considered the simplest form of active system, very few plants are suited for this type of system. As with the Wick System, this method is also not well-suited for large plants.
Ebb & Flow System
These systems work by temporarily flooding the grow tray with the water-based nutrient solution. After surrounding the plant roots with solution, it is then drained back in to the reservoir, by using a pump that is submersed in the solution. This process is usually automated with a timer. These versatile systems can be used with a variety of growing mediums.
This is the most popular type of hydroponic system in the world. A timer is used to control a submersed pump that pumps water and nutrient solution from a reservoir through a network of elevated misting jets that spray the plants from above. There are two basic variations of this system: one with a recovery system that collects nutrient solution back into the reservoir, and one without. While recovery systems are able to utilise the nutrient solution more effectively, non-recovery systems require less maintenance, as they prevent the pH level of the reservoir from varying.
This is probably the kind of system that most people picture when they think of hydroponics. NFT stands for Nutrient Film Technique, a method that utilises a constant flow of nutrient solution, which is pumped from the reservoir into the growing tray. One big advantage of this system is that it requires no growing medium; with the plants being supported in small plastic baskets, the roots hang down and draw up the nutrients directly from the solution. This kind of system can be rather high maintenance in order to avoid technical issues; once the flow of nutrients stops, plant roots can dry out rapidly.
This is commonly viewed as a high-tech method of hydroponics. As with the NFT system, there’s basically no growing medium; the roots hang in the air and are misted every few minutes with nutrient solution. Like the NFT system, this method also requires quite a bit of vigilance, as the roots dry out rapidly if the misting cycle is interrupted.
What are the benefits of hydroponics?
There are many advantages of hydroponic gardening. Here are some of the main ones:
- Complete control of nutrient supply: Since soil is not being relied on to supply minerals or nutrients, you can easily adjust mineral / nutrient levels to suit the needs of specific plants.
- Not limited by climate or season: With hydroponics you can grow any time of year; in fact, you can grow all year-round, regardless of the weather outside.
- Higher yields and better results: A finely calibrated and well-maintained hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil-based system in terms of both quality and amount of produce yielded.
- Huge environmental benefits to hydroponics: In addition to requiring much less growing space than traditional horticulture, hydroponics use significantly less water and enable the recycling of nutrient solution.
- All plants can be grown hydroponically: Even root vegetables that traditionally grow beneath the soil – potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. – can be grown with hydroponics.
How is gas involved in Hydroponics?
Along with sunlight, CO2 is an essential ingredient in photosynthesis. While UV rays from sunlight can be adequately replicated by hydroponic lighting systems, providing the correct levels of CO2 that are normally found outdoors is another matter. Administering the correct amount of any gas is a much trickier and demanding procedure than measuring levels of light. This is where Adams Gas comes in.
Just as different types of hydroponic plants require different levels and lengths of UV exposure, they also need certain levels of CO2; the most accurate way of administering this necessary ingredient is by using pressurised CO2 for hydroponics. If you’re interested in getting into hydroponics, get in touch with Adams Gas today for more information about the canister size that’s right for your project.