As we progress towards a society of mass development, where urbanization seems to imbibe every nook and corner of this country, it’s hard to imagine a world with wide-open lands for farming. Moreover, with the ever-increasing rate of population, and the decreasing per capita availability of land, open land agriculture seems to be a scenario much challenging to achieve.
In 1960, when the world population was still at an alarming 3 billion, per capita, land availability had touched upon a mere 0.5 ha. All things considered, it won’t be extreme to say that by 2050, we can expect it to reduce to about 0.16 ha. Also, read how to Take Care of Plants and flowers in Monsoon.
In a world of that magnitude, feeding is going to be even more difficult than what we have ever faced. It’s going to be a race between survival and luxury. As it’s evident from the world we have built around us, those who survive, are too eager to acquire amenities to ever give a second thought about the survival of others.
Hydroponics can prove to be an irreplaceable tool in such speedy times, offering ample leeway for us struggling beings to reach exponential heights, while at the same time keeping our roots well nourished and supported. Don’t miss the Interesting, fun and useful Hobbies you might consider Investing to Earn Money.
Even though the soil is an effective growing medium for plants, providing support, nutrients, water, air, etc. through their life cycle, it also tends to construct the level of growth and development those plants can potentially achieve. Factors like exposure to disease-causing microorganisms, weed attack, soil compaction, lack of proper drainage, soil erosion etc. are viable reasons for all the difficulties caused in the way of a plant to achieve full-fledged growth.
Not only can these issues be addressed with the help of hydroponics, but we can also avail a better growth cycle for our crops. Where soil fertility has attained a saturation level, and more fertilizer application doesn’t seem to show much difference in the final output, hydroponics offers a medium for efficient nutrient utilization to fight malnutrition. Not only that, with the help of hydroponics, we can conserve water to up to 90% of what we use in the regular soil cultivation method. The growth cycle of plants also becomes speedy as to achieve optimum yield well before time. And since in hydroponics plants are usually grown in a controlled environment, the challenges resulting from climate change also seem to be adequately addressed.
How does Hydroponics function?
In India, the first-ever Hydroponics system was introduced in the year 1946, by an English Scientist named William Sholto Douglas. The term ‘Hydroponics’ was derived from the Greek words ‘hydro’ meaning water and ‘photos’ meaning labour. It is defined as a Biotechnology of soilless cultivation, in which inorganic nutrients absorbed by the roots come via the irrigation water. In hydroponics plants are grown in an inert medium like coco coir fibre, and are fed a solution containing a perfected mixture of primary, secondary and micro-nutrients. Almost any type of plant can be grown through hydroponics, be it herbs, veggies, fruits or flowers.
Hydroponics works on the concept that roots absorb food and oxygen rapidly when suspended in moving water. The grower needs to be attentive about maintaining the required balance for the combination of water, nutrients and oxygen as per plants’ needs.
An active hydroponic system makes use of a pump to move water through the system several times a day, while a passive hydroponic system depends on a wick or the ability of the medium to absorb moisture. To achieve best results, parameters that need great attention are temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, ventilation, the intensity of light, pH and genetic makeup of the said plant.
Different types of Hydroponic Systems
1. Wick System
The is the simplest and most basic type of hydroponic system. Here, no electricity or pump is required to transfer nutrients to the roots of the plant, and so it has most of its applications in spaces where power cuts are of a regular occurrence.
A wick is used as the connecting part between the plant and nutrient solution. Coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite are considered as some good options for the same. This kind of system is usually preferred for smaller plants requiring less amount of oxygen and nutrients. For larger plants, this system would prove insufficient to avail enough supply of both oxygens as well as nutrients.
2. Deep Water Culture System
In this kind of system, the roots of plants are suspended in the nutrient solution to get a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. To better oxygenate the water, some external help is fitting an air pump into the system, which comes with an air stone to pump bubbles into the solution.
Glass basins, plastic boxes, ice boxes, concrete basins etc. can be used to set up the water culture. In such a system, there is very little chance to damage the plants in case of power failures, considering the plant roots are always in contact with the nutrient solution. Lettuce, Herbs, Strawberries are some of the plants that grow well in this type of system.
3. Nutrient Film Technique System (NFT)
In Nutrient Film Technique, plants are usually grown in baskets hanging in slightly sloping PVC pipes. Highly oxygenated, nutrient-rich water is run over the roots of these plants through the set of PVC channels. This part of the system is called a grow tray.
The solution being pumped is taken from a reservoir tank and transferred to irrigators fitted at the top of every sloping PVC pipe. The run-off coming from the bottom of the PVC pipes is collected back into the reservoir. This way, the nutrient solution is recycled continuously.
This kind of system is well suited only for plants bearing small root balls like lettuce, strawberries and herbs. The reason being that the space offered by PVC pipes is very confined, and there is a need for the nutrients to be flowing over the roots continuously.
4. Flood and Drain System
These systems are also known as Ebb and Flow Systems. There are two containers involved in this type of course, one at the top containing plants in their individual pots with the substrate, and the other at the bottom holding the nutrient solution. Here, the nutrient solution is pumped to the top box in large volumes, causing it to flood. There is an overflow pipe fashioned at a level in the container where the stem ends and roots begin, which determines the height of nutrients being supplied and brings whatever excess liquid is there back to the bottom box.
This type of system is well suited for plants bearing large root balls, offering them more expansive space to grow and continuous contact with the nutrient solution.
5. Drip System
This type of system consists of at least two containers at a time; one placed taller than the other. Plants remain in the higher container and nutrient solution in the lower one. Drips are fitted by the stem of each plant, through which nutrient solution pumps with the help of a water pump.
To keep the water oxygenated at all times, an Air Stone pump is used. Run-off nutrients are passed back to the bottom container through an opening in the base of the top container, once it has filtered down the root area. With this type of system, almost any kind of plant can be grown, although for those with large root balls, required support must be provided for with the help of appropriate support mediators.
Types of Growth Medium to use in Hydroponics
Growth medium serves the plants in different ways, like bringing the dissolved nutrients and oxygen in contact with the roots of plants by way of the irrigation design, circulate runoff solution through the system and provide physical support to the plants so that they remain upstanding.
Growth mediums can be both organic or inorganic, depending upon the feasibility of the growers.
Inorganic Growth Mediums
Glasswool, gravel, expanded clay, perlite, vermiculite, pumice, sand, Rockwool, sepiolite, volcanic tuff, zeolite, plastic foam, hydrogel, etc.
Organic Growth Mediums
Peat, rice husk, wood chips, sawdust, coconut coir, bark, fleece, etc.
Nutrient Application in Hydroponics
In a hydroponic system, there is only limited nutrient-buffering capacity due to which close monitoring of the system is required. The most preferred time to supply nutrients to the system is between 6:00 am to 8:00 am. It’s better to keep away from leaves of the plants while applying nutrients, or otherwise, they will be susceptible to disease attack. Nutrients should be applied in close contact with the roots so that they are readily available to the plants.
Plants have to be nourished daily, and between 20 to 50% of the solution is drained off every day to prevent the excessive accumulation of toxic ions and the unwanted increase in electrical conductivity around the roots. Also, every once a week it is recommended to provide the plants with plain water, double the amount usually applied, to flush out any excess salts that might have been left behind.
Different fertilizers to use in a hydroponic system are Potassium nitrate (provides nitrogen and potassium), Potassium phosphate monobasic (provides phosphorus and potassium), Magnesium sulfate (provides Sulphur and magnesium), Iron chelate (provides iron), Boric acid (provides boron), Calcium nitrate (provides nitrogen and calcium), etc. Other than these, there are different nutrient sources available in the market (offline as well as online) that contain a balanced combination of all macro and micronutrients. It’s always better to study the nutrient requirement of plants being grown to decide the best-suited fertilizer for your system.
Why Hydroponics is the future of farming?
As the world population booms and per capita availability of land rounds about to 0.25 ha, hydroponics requires the only 1/5th of the space and 1/20th of water supply being used for soil cultivation of plants. Not only that, with soil fertility being over-exhausted and potential health threats posing by the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, hydroponics comes as a blessing needing no such prevention and control measures against infestations threats.
It offers the possibility of higher-density planting to attain increased yield per acre to feed the ever-booming world population. On top of that, it can be practised in areas with extreme temperature condition and lacking in land fertility.
Hydroponics, if anything, is the umbrella under which modern man can stand protected from the impending threats of overpopulation and global warming.