We all know that plants grow in soil, but what is soil? Well, this is by far our most common cultivation medium, but it also contains the typical macronutrients that are needed for plant growth. When water passes through the soil, it delivers these nutrients to the roots of the plants. In baseless agriculture, such as hydroponics, we simply supply the same nutrients that were pre-mixed in the water tank, along with high oxygen levels, effectively to the roots of plants. When it comes to groundless farming, you need to unpack so much, and therefore this article is going to shower some light on the typical hydroponic cultivation methods that you can use, their advantages, as well as some aquaponics and organic methods.
Faster growth: A more optimized growing cycle means more growth cycles per year, more yield, more food.
Extreme decrease in water and nutrient use: By closing the loop and recycling water through the system, hydroponics generally uses at least 90% less water than soil-based methods. Much of the water and nutrients are wasted on traditional outdoor soil farms because only a small portion reaches the roots and the rest ends up in the local water supply.
Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA): CEA is an agriculture method that optimizes temperature, humidity, air flow, and light within a farm's growing environment. Producers who operate using greenhouses or vertical indoor farms can create optimal growing conditions 365 days a year, anywhere in the world. This is how landless agriculture is applied. Growing in a controlled environment also greatly improves a farm's ability to predict growing time, grow high-quality plants, and maintain high food safety standards. There are no birds flying overhead or animals digging in the field, and pesticides can be avoided. Many CEA farms use integrated pest management (predatory insects) to prevent or treat any pest problem. The weather will not change the farm's production capacity, but energy consumption will be higher than traditional farms (due to lighting and HVAC).
Location: The farm can and should be significantly closer to the final consumer, decreasing the carbon footprint of the delivery and increasing the freshness of the product. Since there is no dependence on soil fertility, this type of cultivation can be done anywhere.
Use significantly less space: With stacked or vertical systems, performance per square foot increases dramatically. This is crucial to produce enough food for growing populations without the need to expand farmland into wetlands, forests or other important natural ecosystems.
Within hydroponics, there are many technologies to allow optimal allocation of a growing process. Whether you are a manual farming enthusiast or looking to start a huge commercial farm, there is a growing technology that is well-suited to your goals. And the best part is that you don't have to pick just one! With enough space, you can use any or all of these technologies side-by-side.
Simply put, this is floating plants on recycled water. There are many ways to do this, but most often this is done on Styrofoam insulation panels (4 feet x 8 feet). By drilling pointed (conical) holes in the panels the size of the growing media that you select, you can drop the sprouting plant and it will not fall off. The roots are suspended in about 6 to 18 inches from a well fed oxygenated solution until harvest. They are ideal for foliar and short tall herbs as they do not require much root support. DWC systems often retain a large amount of water which slows down any fluctuations in solution chemistry. In addition, if there is any pump malfunction in the DWC system, you will have many hours to fix it before you encounter any major problems, such as root drying.
This versatile method uses channels or troughs, which are created at a slight angle for drainage purposes, and run a very shallow stream of water to the roots. It can be done on a timer or with a continuous flow. The solution is kept at the lowest point in the tank containing a submersible pump and is usually air stone is used for optimal dissolved oxygen levels and preventing stagnation. Once the water has saturated the roots, it flows back into the tank. NFT is best for short tall plants like DWC, but these systems contain much less water per plant and are stackable, cleaned and more easily allocated to your growth space.
Basic Ebb&Flow systems can be like a small plastic bucket with some expanded clay pellets or other rock media that distributes and drains water. It can also be as complicated as adding a large media-filled bed to an aquaponic system and submerging it with effluent from the system. In each case, the growth tray is temporarily immersed in solution every few hours, causing the roots to be submerged before returning to the tank. Because of the root support and the oxygen levels it can provide, tidal systems are great for growing almost anything, but especially for fruit crops. You just have to make sure that though, the setup can fully support the weight of all these media and water and drain your containers. This article from Upstart University explains how easy it is to get started with Bato Buckets. Low maintenance flow and flow systems produce high yields, but like NFT systems, pump failure can quickly become catastrophic for your stations.
Drip systems are another popular and simple technique in which the pump on the timer provides slow solution feeding to the base of each manufacturer separately. Excess solution can be returned to the tank or not collected. It works well with growth media with high water retention (such as coconut, algae, or rockwool). When the system is working properly, maintenance is very low and production is high, but drip lines can clog, drying plants. Synthetic nutrients are the logical choice for these systems because organic matter closes the lines more quickly.
This is an innovative technique of misting the roots, which are suspended in the air, with a hydroponic solution. These systems are very accurate with nutrient supply and water usage, but if you are designing your own system, aeroponics might not be the place to start. Clogging problems can be even worse than the drip system, since the emitters have very small holes. But the roots are abundant in oxygen and high oxygen levels means faster growth. A-frame aeroponic systems are common, using tall cones made of PVC frames, giving the root chamber a perfect environment.
Wicking systems are the most basic and passive growth technique and another excellent starting point for beginners due to their low maintenance. The solution is delivered to a tray through the wicks and then to the roots through the capillary action of the plant. It has no moving parts and works very well on a hobby scale, but it's not the most efficient when it comes to nutrient usage.
Hydroponics is not a new invention, it has been used and perfected for thousands of years throughout human history. Primitive examples of soilless techniques were discovered in the floating gardens of China and the hanging gardens of Babylon. These civilizations in many cases used aquaponics, which is raising fish and plants in the same water source. The fish actually provide the fertilizer for the plants, and the roots of the plants filter the water for the fish. When fish are introduced to a freshwater source, they emit ammonia through their gills and debris (pee and feces!) Over time, nitrifying bacteria, natural microorganisms, begin to grow on the entire surface under water. This bacterium converts fish waste into nitrites and eventually nitrates, which are plant foods. So aquaponic farms actually produce three equally important separate things, plants, fish, and beneficial bacteria. With the correct ratio of plants to fish, an aquaponics system can be a very sustainable and fun way to grow food.
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