What is hydroponics? Basics, advantages and explanation

02/15/2024 - Pia from greeny+

In a world where agricultural land is becoming scarcer and environmental impacts are increasing, agriculture is facing an exciting transformation. Hydroponics, an advanced way of growing plants , defines how we might grow our food in the future. Thanks to the efficient use of water, the absence of soil and the precise supply of nutrients, this cultivation method offers a sustainable alternative that requires less space and reduces the use of pesticides.

Dive into the fascinating world of hydroponics in the following article and let yourself be inspired!

  • The essentials in brief:

    • Hydroponics allows you to grow ornamental and crop plants in a nutrient solution without soil.

    • The innovative cultivation method enables anyone to practice urban farming and indoor gardens.

    • By precisely controlling the supply of nutrients, plants are optimally supplied, which leads to efficient use of resources and higher yields.

What is hydroponics?

Hydroponics, as a form of horticulture and a subset of hydroponics, represents an innovative method of growing plants. Their main goal is to provide plants with optimal living conditions to ensure the highest possible crop yields .

Essentially, hydroponics replaces traditional soil with a special nutrient solution that contains all the necessary minerals and nutrients for healthy plant growth. The roots of the plants are suspended in a mixture of water and dissolved nutrients.

This technology-enabled system, which has been practiced since ancient times, has the potential to be a significant problem solver to the challenges of food scarcity and security by enabling a sustainable and productive way of farming crops .

Five benefits of hydroponics

The method has a number of advantages over traditional plant breeding techniques that could make it very attractive for you too. Below we have summarized five points for you:

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Hydroponics allows for precise control of nutrients, light and environmental factors , resulting in accelerated plant growth and higher crop yields.

Water saving

By providing nutrients directly to plants and effectively circulating and reusing water , hydroponics reduces water consumption compared to conventional growing methods.

Independence from environmental conditions

Hydroponic systems allow for precise climate control , allowing year-round cultivation regardless of external climatic conditions.

Space-saving and versatile

Hydroponics requires less space than traditional growing methods and allows plants to be grown in vertical systems or in limited spaces , which is particularly beneficial in urban environments.

Reduced environmental impact

Growing food locally in hydroponic systems can minimize transportation costs and reduce the environmental footprint .

Different types of hydroponic systems

Over the years, different types of hydroponic systems (active and passive) have been developed. These systems vary in how they work , but they all share the central feature of providing plants with nutrients and water without relying on soil.

Passive systems are simpler to set up because they usually work without electricity, pumps or other technical means .
A good example of this is the wick system. The plant is supplied with water and nutrients via a wick.

Active systems are more complex in structure and require electricity , but are also much more effective.

Three active hydroponic systems are explained in more detail below:

NFT system (nutrient film technology)
With the nutrient film technique, the roots of the plant are supplied with nutrient solution flowing past . This system can be designed to be circulating and non-circulating.

Aeroponics system

In aeroponics , plant roots float in the air while a nutrient solution (nutrients & water) is sprayed on them . This system ensures optimal oxygen supply to the roots and can therefore lead to extremely efficient and rapid plant growth.
An example of the successful application of aeroponics is the greenyGARDEN HOME , an innovative system that achieves impressive results and demonstrates a sustainable method of growing plants.

DWC system (deep water culture)

In deep water culture , the plant's roots are suspended in a nutrient solution that is actively enriched with oxygen , e.g. B. using an air pump. The method could also be operated autonomously without electricity, which would make it a passive system - but here there may be a lack of oxygen in the nutrient solution . The result is algae growth and rotting roots.

Each of these systems has its own advantages and challenges. By comparing these different types, it becomes clear that successful hydroponics depends on choosing the best system for the plants' specific needs . Each variety and variety can show different reactions to different hydroponic systems.

Therefore, it is important that you consider which plants you want to grow when choosing your system. Complex systems can produce impressive results, but simpler ones can also be very efficient for growing a wide range of plants. This can make hydroponics a rewarding and enjoyable hobby that produces excellent results.

What are the options for setting up a hydroponic garden?

There are various options for setting up hydroponic gardens. A basic distinction is made between vertical and horizontal cultivation , depending on the space available. The size of the plants is also crucial. They are divided into low-growing and tall-growing plants.

Planting channels & wall system (vertical cultivation) :
Lots of plants in a small area.

Planting channels (horizontal cultivation) :
Many plants can be grown in small spaces, which is particularly beneficial for large areas.

Plant pots:
Growing large and tall plants.

Choosing the right hydroponic system

If you want to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of hydroponics, you should consider a few important factors when choosing the right system. The optimal hydroponic system depends on your individual requirements and preferences.

Space requirements and scalability

When choosing the right hydroponic system, it is important to consider the space available . The choice between horizontal or vertical cultivation methods also depends on the space available. It is advisable to start with a smaller system to gain experience and later upgrade to a larger system if necessary.

Desired plant species and size

Smaller and more compact plant varieties are particularly suitable for hydroponic systems. Growing these varieties makes it possible to cultivate multiple plants in limited spaces and can thereby increase diversity and yield. It is therefore important to consider whether you want to grow low-growing plants such as lettuce and herbs or higher-growing plants such as tomatoes.

How much do hydroponic systems cost?

The cost of setting up a hydroponic system can vary greatly depending on size, type and complexity . DIY options like the Kratky method can be cost-effective, while more advanced systems that require high-quality equipment (e.g., lighting systems for indoor growing) can be more expensive. It's crucial to understand all costs , including initial investments and ongoing expenses, and plan them carefully into your budget.

Getting started with a hydroponic system

  • Hydroponic systems offer an effective way to grow plants indoors. With the right location, a suitable growing medium, and an appropriate irrigation and lighting system, you can create a successful hydroponic system that produces high yields.

    Below we give you some tips that you should keep in mind:

    Choice of location

    Hydroponic systems are characterized by their space savings, as the plant roots are supplied directly with nutrients and therefore require less space. The possibility of vertical farming makes hydroponics particularly efficient, even in limited spaces. Areas such as the kitchen often offer ideal conditions for indoor gardening as they often have sufficient daylight . An easily accessible location makes watering, fertilizing and other care easier.

    Selection of growing media and nutrients

    Plants in hydroponic systems can thrive in a variety of growing media , including granular clay, rockwool, and perlite . Each of these media offers its own benefits, so it is crucial to choose the medium that best suits the specific needs of your plants. To ensure optimal growth, the nutrient content and pH of the nutrient solution must be checked and adjusted regularly.

    Setting up irrigation and lighting

    Irrigation in hydroponic systems is typically done through a drip irrigation system or a flood system. Both systems provide the plants with the amount of water they need and ensure that the roots do not become too wet, which would lead to rot.
    Special plant lamps are recommended for lighting, especially in rooms that do not have sufficient daylight. They ensure that your plants receive the necessary light spectrum for photosynthesis.

Which plants can I grow hydroponically?

The hydroponic method is not only efficient and water-saving, but also incredibly versatile. Basically, many plants can be grown successfully in a hydroponic system because it provides a very efficient and controlled environment. However, there are some plants that may be less suitable for hydroponics, such as:

  • Plants with deep root systems
  • Plants that require a lot of space
  • Plants with special soil requirements
  • Plants with long growth cycles

The selection of plants for a hydroponic system therefore requires special attention due to the limited space available and the fact that specific soil characteristics that favor certain plants are not present.

It is crucial to emphasize that the technology and understanding of hydroponics continues to advance, and many challenges can be overcome through adaptations and innovative solutions. Therefore, the list of plants that can be successfully grown in hydroponic systems is subject to constant change and development.

In general, many types of herbs such as basil, parsley, and dill are great for growing hydroponically. Vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, chili, kohlrabi and pak choi can also be grown hydroponically. When it comes to fruit, strawberries are particularly suitable.

Tips for caring for hydroponic plants

Caring for your hydroponic plants requires a lot of attention, always paying attention to the plants' specific needs.

To produce healthy and productive hydroponic plants, it is essential to ensure constant monitoring and proper care .

Here are tips that can help you care for hydroponic plants:

  • Regular checking of pH and nutrient concentration

    In a hydroponic system, regular checking of pH (e.g. using a pH meter) and nutrient concentration is crucial for the healthy growth and development of plants. The pH value influences the availability of nutrients for the plants. A pH value outside the optimal range can cause certain nutrients to become inaccessible to plants , which can lead to deficiency symptoms.

    The optimal pH for most hydroponic plants is between 5.5 and 6.5. Regularly checking and, if necessary, adjusting the pH value can ensure that the plants can optimally absorb the nutrients they need.

    Nutrient concentration is another important aspect to monitor. An EC meter is used to measure the nutrient concentration in the nutrient solution. The nutrient concentration depends on the needs of the plants and the development phase.

  • Control of ambient temperature and humidity

    Make sure you maintain the correct ambient temperature and humidity for your hydroponic plants. You can check these factors with a water thermometer and adjust if necessary. Make sure the humidity is in the optimal range, as too much or too little moisture can affect the growth of your plants.

Hydroponics - More than just an alternative growing method

The world of hydroponics is much more than just an alternative growing method. It is a fascinating area that is continually being developed and represents a significant step towards sustainable, efficient and climate-independent agriculture.

With the necessary expertise and care, it can be an extremely rewarding and profitable way to grow plants.

In a world increasingly demanding sustainable solutions, hydroponics could be just the answer we need to meet the agricultural challenges of the coming years.