Hydroponic gardening is the method of growing fresh vegetables without using soil. The growing method has several applications including vermiponics and aquaponics, which we will dive into a little later. All hydroponic applications have the capability to produce successful harvests. As the trend continues to grow towards sustainable living, the demand for alternative gardening methods producing food year round will grow as well. Hydroponic gardening can produce fresh vegetables and fish year around and help promote a sustainable life style.
Benefits of Hydroponics
This form of gardening can be done indoors, a plus for many people who lead busy lives or who don’t have land space. Indoor gardening allows you to tend to the growing vegetation after dark or before daylight, since you control the light. Hydroponic gardening also allows those who have no outdoor space to grow their own fresh vegetables year around. A hydroponic gardening system can be set up inside a home, in a spare bedroom, in a garage, on a lanai or inside of any other sheltered location.
Some regions have weather or soil conditions that are just not conducive for planting and growing vegetables outside in the available soil. The soil may have been depleted of nutrients (which is caused from several different reasons) and/or the summer season may be too short for many fresh vegetables to be able to reach maturity.
A benefit of soilless growth is that it that you are able to be incredibly accurate with the nutrient levels being absorbed by your plants. Growing in soil makes it very difficult to know the exact amount of nutrients it’s getting. Measuring out the amount of nutrients that goes into your nutrient solution is easy. All you need to do is follow the measuring directions on the nutrient bottle or instruction card and add to your nutrient reservoir. Growing in water means you can easily test your nutrient solution for certain things like pH level. This makes hydroponic gardening much more accurate. With soilless growth systems that keep the vegetable plants in nutrient-rich water for their entire life cycle, fresh vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers can be grown year round regardless of what the weather or soil conditions are outside.
Those who are making the move to off-grid living often select living locations that are heavily shaded or on mountainous terrain, neither of which makes for ideal outdoor garden locations. Hydroponic gardening can rise to the occasion and provide a sustainable food source even in heavy shade or on the side of a mountain. A hydroponic system does need a steady supply of power to operate, but that can easily be supplied with solar panels. The same water in the tank(s) is continuously recirculated, so an indoor gardening system can easily be made into an outdoor, off-grid gardening system.
Hydroponic gardening is environmentally friendly and takes nothing from the land. Land space is not used, soil is not depleted of nutrients, erosion does not occur due to plowing, chemicals are not placed into the soil to ultimately make their way into the water supply.
Plants are grown organically and the water is recycled when using a soilless indoor gardening system to grow fresh food. Hydroponic systems use about 90% less water when compared to soil. This is a HUGE savings! Living in a time of drought, especially in California, means that we must do everything we can to conserve. This has encouraged people to find smarter ways to farm. Not only are we now saving water by growing hydroponically but we are now in the business of saving space! A new craze is hitting every major city and it is called vertical farming. Vertical farming is a hydroponic growing process that stacks light systems and plants on top of each to save space. This incredibly efficient way of growing is extremely beneficial for those living in cities who don’t have much room to grow. Right now one of the most successful vertical farms is in Anchorage Alaska. Late 2015 Alaska Natural Organics shipped their first batch of hydroponically grown basil to be sold in supermarkets. The Alaska Natural Organics vertical farm hopes to produce 20,000 plants a month when running at full capacity.
Because of the ready supply of water soluble nutrients that are constantly circulating around plant roots, plants grown in hydroponic gardens grow faster and produce yields earlier. The nutrients are coming to the plants instead of the plants having to send out feeder roots in search of food and water. The steady supply of water also creates a stress-less environment in which the plant can grow and thrive. No drought conditions or feast/famine conditions for the plants to contend with, all they have to use their energy for is to produce the food they were meant to produce.
Aquaponics is a very unique growing applications that utilizes both aquatic animals like fish and snails with hydroponics. This create a symbiotic growing environment between the plants and the fish. Aquaponics provide two food sources in one location. Plants grow above the water while fish grow beneath the water. Protein, vegetables and fruits can all be grown in one indoor garden system. The symbiotic relationship between the plants and fish keep both growing strong and healthy. The constantly circulating, oxygen-rich water for the plants provide the ideal home for fish. The fish in turn supply ammonia in their waste that feeds the plants.
Vermiponics operates on the same principal – two things being grown in one space. But there is a slight difference; vermiponics uses worms in the hydroponic garden tanks and the worms are not for human consumption like the fish are. The worms live in the bottom of the tanks under a layer of gravel and provide the ammonia needed in the water of the hydroponic garden to promote healthy plant growth. Using worms in the tank instead of fish does provide one advantage – in the event of a power outage, the worms would survive much longer than fish!