Plants have been raised in soil since the beginning of time, where they naturally obtain all the water, minerals, and nutrients they require. Different types of soil are required for the growth of each plant. Some plants that need a lot of water need clay soil, while others prefer sand where standing water can be easily drained. Even some plants prefer loamy soil, which neither holds nor drains water well. As a result, this requirement inevitably limits crop diversification, allowing an area to produce just a certain number and type of crops. Therefore, hydroponics refers to the process where this soil type-specific requirement can be abolished while maintaining the crop’s need for nutrients, minerals, water, etc.
Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, which is the practise of growing plants without soil by using mineral fertiliser solutions dissolved in water as a solvent. The method of growing plants without soil is called hydroponics. The roots can grow in water that is thoroughly aerated, in air that is kept very humid, or in some other solid, non-soil media that is kept moist. A carefully crafted combination of nutrients is present in the water surrounding the roots, feeding the plant.
Hydroponics is based on the idea that if you can give plants what they need, they will flourish. In this way, hydroponics was created to combat Mother Nature’s effect because it can be used in a regulated growth environment. In hydroponics, the growing medium and water take the place of the soil. Typically, hydroponics is cultivated inside or in a greenhouse. This implies that growers will fully control the environment, including the weather, temperature, lighting, ventilation, and other factors.
Why should we use hydroponics?
- 365-day production
- Technology that is gender-neutral
- Increase output from a limited space
- Decreased incidence of diseases and pests
- Boost peri-urban agriculture output
- Safe food sources
- Lower weed growth
- Efficient use of fertilisers and water
- Space-saving because it requires vertical cultivation
- High value crops
History of Hydroponics
The word hydroponics comes from two Greek words: hydro meaning water and ponos meaning labour. This word was first used by Dr W.F. Gericke, a Californian professor who in 1929 began to develop what had previously been a laboratory technique into a commercial means of growing plants. Throughout the 19th Century a number of scientists undertook significant research into the nature of plant nutrition. Classical experiments conducted by German plant scientists, Sachs in 1860 and Knop between 1861 and 1865, led to our first understanding of what were essential plant nutrients. Chemical formulae developed by Sachs and Knop, and several other researchers who followed them, provided Dr Gericke with the knowledge to make an effective nutrient solution, thus overcoming the major restriction to the development of hydroponic culture.
At the beginning of the 21st century commercial crops of vegetables, berry fruit, and cut flowers are grown extensively by hydroponic culture in many countries. The most popular technique worldwide is rockwool culture, though NFT (Nutrient Film Technique), perlite and gravel bed culture are all very significant techniques in use in commercial hydroponics.
Scope of Hydroponics
The practise of growing hydroponically is expanding. India’s farming practises are essentially conventional. As a result, there is a limited market for this form of farming in urban centres. The forward-thinking farmers in India today are using this creative and unique farming method.
India has a very broad application for hydroponics due to the country’s indiscriminate population growth and decreasing quantity of arable land. Because of this, it is challenging to produce enough staple foods to feed an expanding population. Farmers can soon find a solution to the issue of arable land availability by utilising hydroponics techniques. This could be the beginning of a new green revolution.
In addition, a major advantage of this growth of the Indian agricultural system is that it will lighten the burden on farmers. Since hydroponic farms require less room and water and have much faster crop growth rates than conventional farms, There won’t be any hunger due to the abundance of food produced via hydroponic gardening.
The use of hydroponic farming will lessen weed growth and pest and disease attack. As a result, less pesticide and herbicide will be used. As a result, there won’t be much environmental damage or cultivation expense.
Agriculture in India is being impacted by climate change factors as hailstorms and unseasonal rain. In contrast, a hydroponic farming system uses an artificial atmosphere to allow plants to grow under controlled conditions.
Difficulties in Hydroponics
- Expensive initial investment
- To operate the system, you must have the requisite technical expertise.
- Rigorous sanitation is necessary to prevent the spread of illness and pests.
- Daily observation is required.
Types of Hydroponic System
A straightforward approach is the Wick system. This passive system has no moving parts. The growing medium is filled with nutrients that are drawn from the reservoir solution using a wick. The most common growing mediums used in this technique are Perlite, Vermiculite, Pro-Mix, and Coconut Fiber.
Of all active systems, the water culture system is the most straightforward. The plants are kept directly on the nutrient solution using a floating platform. Styrofoam is typically used to create this platform. The roots of the plants receive oxygen. Here, air is pumped to the air stone using an air pump in order to create bubbles in the nutritional solution. Fast-growing, water-loving plants like lettuce use this strategy.
EBB & Flow – (Flood and Drain)
In this technique, the nutrient solution floods the growing tray before being emptied back into the reservoir. For this, a submersible pump with a timer is employed. The pump is activated by the timer in order for the nutrient solution to reach the grow tray. The solution returns to the reservoir once the timer turns off the pump. How frequently the timer will sound during the day will depend on the kind and size of the plants. Other parameters include the type of growing media, temperature, humidity, and both.
Drip Systems – Recovery / Non-Recovery
The drip system is a popular one worldwide. A timer is used to operate a submerged pump. When the timer activates the pump, a little drip line that is attached to each plant drips the nutrient solution onto its base. If there is extra solution in a recovery drip system, the runs off will return to the reservoir for reuse.
Because a recovery system can avoid exact regulation of the watering cycles, excess solution can be reused, allowing for the use of a less expensive timer. The non-recovery method, however, requires an appropriate timer because the watering cycles must be regulated to provide the plants with enough nutrient solution while minimising runoff.
N.F.T.(Nutrient Film Technique)
N.F.T. systems ensure constant flow of nutrient solution, so the submersible pump is not connected with any timer. The fertiliser solution pours over the plant roots after being pumped into the growing tray, which is often a tube. Afterward gathered once more into the reservoir.
In order to save the additional expense of changing the medium after each crop, air is typically employed as a growing medium. To support the area where the roots dangle into the nutritional solution, a little plastic basket is typically employed.
How Plants Grow
The grower must have a thorough understanding of plant growth in order to correctly understand and use hydroponics. Hydroponic plants are almost exclusively flowering plants. These plants have four main parts:
- Roots – the parts which grow below the soil
- Stems – the framework
- Leaves – required for respiration, transpiration and photosynthesis
- Reproductive parts – flowers and fruits.
The plant’s other components are fed by the nutrients, water, and gases that the roots absorb and deliver. The plant’s roots keep it in place and prevent it from toppling or being blown away. In order to grow a plant hydroponically, we must ensure that it receives the same amount of nutrients, water, and air as it would if it were growing in soil, as well as support. Contrary to hydroponics, the provision of nutrients in soil is a more complicated issue.
The framework that supports the leaves, flowers, and fruits is made up by the main stem and its branches. The process of photosynthesis is used by the leaves and green stalks to produce food, which is then transferred to the flowers, fruits, and roots. The plant’s stem contains a vascular system that consists of canals or vessels that move nutrients and water up and down the plant. This is comparable to how animal blood systems work.
Photosynthesis, a process in which light energy from the sun is captured and stored in the form of carbohydrates like sugars through a chemical reaction, is the main purpose of leaves. The process is known as respiration, and it allows the energy to be recovered and utilised if necessary at a later time. The primary plant component involved in the process of transpiration is the leaf. During this process, water evaporating primarily through the leaf pores (also known as stomata), but occasionally also through the leaf surface (also known as the cuticle), passes out of the leaf and into an external environment that is drier. This water’s evaporation aids in maintaining the plant’s temperature under control.
The opposite of this process, where water vapour from a humid exterior environment enters the drier leaf is also possible. Because it produces a water gradient or potential between the upper and lower sections of the plant, the act of water evaporating from the leaves is crucial. More water is pulled from nearby cells to replenish the water lost when it evaporates from plant cells in the leaves. The neighbouring cells’ neighbours and conducting vessels in the stems then draw water into those cells. When the water gradient has been sufficiently decreased, this process eventually draws water from the ground into the roots.
The water transports enzymes, hormones, and other substances as it circulates throughout the plant. In essence, this flow of water through the plant has a function similar to that of a water pump in that it draws water from the ground, moves it through the plant, and then eventually lets it out into the atmosphere.
These reproduce by fertilising eggs with pollen, which are male parts (i.e. female part found in the ovary of a flower). The fertilised egg(s) will grow to create seed, and the ovary will grow to produce a fruit. Sometimes it can be difficult to get a good crop because not enough pollen gets to the female parts, which leads to not enough fruit growing.
Commercial hydroponics is a lucrative and rising sector of the economy. The past ten years have seen unusually rapid industry growth. Australia is the top producer of fancy lettuce and the tenth largest producer overall. Although other techniques are employed for commercial production, NFT and rockwool culture are the most well-liked systems globally. All systems are heading toward recirculation since run-to-waste systems have the potential to produce environmental issues.
Advantages of Hydroponics
- You can grow anywhere: Even in the absence of adequate soil or on diseased soil, crops can be produced.
- Culture is intensive: In a short amount of time and a small area, much can be grown. Additionally, multi-level growth is an option. Hydroponic farms might be profitable regardless of the value of the land in areas with high transportation costs to the market, like the centre of large cities. For instance, in the middle of big towns in Japan, supermarkets grow hydroponically grown vegetables. The benefits of having fresh produce and the reduced cost of transportation balance out the rising cost of real estate in these cities.
- Heavy work is reduced: It is possible to cut back on, and sometimes even do away with, labor-intensive traditional methods including cultivating, fumigating, watering, and tilling the soil.
- Water is conserved: Gardening needs more water than a hydroponic system that is well-planned and maintained. In locations with poor water quality or insufficient water supply, this is a significant benefit. Particularly, hydroponics is thought to have advantages in reducing water contamination in poor nations.
- Pest and disease problems are reduced: There is less of a need to fumigate. Many nutriculture techniques make it easier to remove soil-borne plant illnesses. In “closed systems,” which can be completely saturated with an eradicant, this is especially true. Human disease transmission through the soil is also less likely. Although uncommon in affluent nations, illnesses can spread from animal manures or soil microorganisms to food plants cultivated in soil, which can cause illness.
- Weed problems are almost eliminated: Weeds are a major problem in most soil-based systems. Weeds are almost non-existent in hydroponic setups.
- Yields can be maximised: The technique is economically viable in places with high land costs and potential for maximum yields.
- Nutrients are conserved: Because useful chemicals don’t have to be lost, pollution of land and streams may be reduced as a result.
- The environment is more easily controlled: For example, in greenhouse operations the light, temperature, humidity and composition of the atmosphere can be manipulated, while in the root zone the timing and frequency of nutrient feeding and irrigation can be readily controlled.
- Root zone chemistry is easier to control: Additionally, most hydroponic media do not chemically bind to salts, thus issues with salt build-up that may arise in soil, particularly when highly soluble nutrients are employed, are unusual in hydroponics.
- New plants are easier to establish: Transplant shock is reduced.
- Crop rotation/fallowing is not necessary: There is no need to periodically leave a pasture fallow for a year; all areas can be utilised at all times. Hydroponic systems are suitable for use at home, even in tall structures, by amateur gardeners. A nutriculture system can be hygienic, portable, and automated.
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
- Initial cost is high: The original construction cost per hectare is great. This may limit you to growing crops which either have a fast turnover or give a high return.
- Skill and knowledge are needed to operate properly: Trained plantsmen must direct the growing operation. Knowledge of how plants grow and the principles of nutrition are important.
- Diseases and pests can spread quickly through a system: Introduced diseases and nematodes may be quickly spread to all beds using the same nutrient tank in a closed system.
- Beneficial soil life is normally absent
- Plants react fast to both good and bad conditions: In hydroponics, plants respond to changes in growing circumstances more quickly. This implies that the hydroponic gardener needs to keep a closer eye on his plants for modifications.
- Available plant varieties are not always ideal: The majority of cultivable plant species have been bred to thrive in soil and in the open. It can take some time for variations to develop that are specifically suited to more controlled environments.
The primary concern of any crop farming strategy should be not only profit but also environmental safety. The farmer should keep in mind that increasing production and productivity will always have some negative implications. As a result, he must maintain the equilibrium. Hydroponics is one of those underappreciated techniques that can address all of these concerns if the farmer is ready to take some initial risks and investments.