What is a hydroponic system? How does it differ from traditional growing of plants? How can we try it at home? Last Water Wednesday, we invited the Sustainable Ag and Food Systems Agent in Seminole County, Dr. Morgan Pinkerton to give an introduction to hydroponics as it relates to urban agriculture.
What is hydroponics?
The word hydroponics is derived from Greek; “hydro” meaning water and “ponics” meaning labor. This term was first coined in the 1950’s by Fredrick Gericke, though we have seen plants grown hydroponically long throughout history. Since the 1950’s to today, we have seen an increase in botanical research and technologies associated with growing plants including hydroponics.
Some hydroponics systems include:
- Deep water culture
- Wick system
- Nutrient film technique
- Ebb and flow
- Drip hydroponics
These systems can range for very simple, passive systems all the way to very complex, automated set ups. In recent years, there has been increased interest in hydroponics to produce food crops and we have seen more and more commercial hydroponic operations. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to be learned about growing our food hydroponically!
What are some advantages of hydroponic systems?
Better use of space
In hydroponic systems, we can use up to 80% less space to produce the same amount of food as traditional plant systems. We can also use land that is otherwise unsuitable for plants or even grow plants in highly urban areas with limited green space.
More efficient water use
Hydroponics can use 95% less water than traditionally farming. For every gallon of water used in hydroponics, we would need nearly 20 gallons on a traditional farm.
More efficient use of fertilizer
In a closed system like hydroponics, we recycle nutrient solution to prevent loss of fertilizers to the environment and areas where they would be unavailable to our plants. This helps prevent nutrient pollution to our environment while maximizing our use of nutrients we apply.
Faster production time
By optimizing our plant growing conditions and providing the right amount of water and nutrients, our plants can grow faster in a hydroponic system than on a traditional farm. This allows us to grow more food in a shorter amount of time to feed an ever growing population.
Reduced use of pesticides
Although pesticides are a great pest management tool, many are dangerous chemicals if used improperly. Reduced pest and pathogen pressure in hydroponics systems lowers the need to use pesticides. Effectively, this lowers the risk of environmental contamination, non-target effects, applicator injury or other risks associated with the use of pesticides.
How can I try hydroponics at home?
An easy way to start off in hydroponics is with lettuce using the Set It and Forget It method. Hannah Wooten, the Commercial Horticulture Agent in Orange County has an excellent video tutorial of what you need and how to set up your Set It and Forget It lettuce. The direct link to this tutorial can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQey35Tt24I.
Watch the recording to learn more about hydroponics:
To watch other Water Wednesday recordings, please visit UF IFAS Extension – Water Resources YouTube Channel.
More resources on hydroponic systems:
- Building a Floating Hydroponic Garden
- Hydroponics for Small Farms Website
- Hydroponic Vegetable Production in Florida