Hydroponic gardening is a popular technique that has become widely used in residential landscapes as well as commercial production in recent years. Hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil; this not a new concept, it can be traced back as far as the Roman Emperor Tiberius in the first century. When using hydroponic techniques, it is important to remember that the only nutrients available to the plant are the ones you provide, so regardless of the media you choose (rocks, perlite, rockwool, air, or water), you must provide a source of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients. There are numerous companies that sell ready to use nutrient formulations or if you are doing large scale production it may be cheaper to mix your own.
There are 6 main types of hydroponics:
- Aeroponics: In these systems the nutrient solution is misted up or from the sides directly on to the root systems and any excess solution will collect back in to the reservoir. This system is the most high tech, but it does not require a growing medium.
- Deep water culture/ floating raft system: This is an open system with floating Styrofoam but can use netty pots or a 5 gallon bucket. This is an inexpensive method which can be built with 2×4’s and 6 millimeter plastic lining.
- Vertical Drip system: This is the technique used in conjunction with vertical tower systems. You can grow your choice of crops in a substrate such as coconut core or vermiculite. The system drip nutrients into each container and you determine the frequency and concentration that you want to use. With a vertical system you can grow more in a smaller space because you’re growing up.
- Ebb and Flow Systems: Place a tray on a table which allows the filling of nutrient rich water through one port and another port prevents it from over flowing. A timer is used to fill the tray and then allow it to empty, recycling the nutrients to the reservoir. This system does require a growing medium such as rockwool, netty pots with hydroton, or shale.
- Nutrient fill technique (NFT): This system constantly flows a stream of nutrient rich water through a grow tray (you can use rain gutters). Plant roots are partially exposed to both nutrients and air so oxygen does not become a problem. This system works great for lettuces and herbs.
- Wick systems: You have a series of wicks that constantly pull solution form revoir into a growing medium in the tray where your plants live. No pumps or timers are needed for this system, only a reservoir, growing media and an air stone.
Hydroponics can be a fun, innovative, and effective growing method for home gardeners. There are very few limits on what you can do or use to build the system and often you can upcycle materials to build your own. You can grow an assortment of crops including herbs, lettuce, flowers, and vegetables; the only limits you have on what to grow include difficulties with root crops, acid loving plants, and plants that grow large and need structural support. If you would like to learn more check out: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh030 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs405