Beginner's Guide to Hydroponics

April 11, 2021 7 min read

Beginner's Guide to Hydroponics

Due to COVID, there’s a massive change in people’s lifestyle all around the world. There are new possibilities that most of us discovered to avoid going outside and be safer from the virus, like working at home, preparing and cooking food, and shopping online.

 

With the current situation, most people preferred to stay at home and embrace a healthy lifestyle which has caused a massive surge in demand for locally produced food.


Because of this, lot of people have now been hooked up with home gardening, but this requires more time and effort, not to mention space and a green thumb.

 

Hydroponics gardening is the future! It addresses this concern by facilitating the production of healthy, organic, and local crops right from the comfort of one’s home.

 

Nothing tastes better—or makes prepping dinner easier—than walking out your back door to grab lettuce or tomatoes from the garden. Fresh produce contains more nutrients, tastes better, and is often cheaper than the fruits and veggies at your local grocery store. ​But what exactly is hydroponic gardening all about and how it can help you?

 

What Is Hydroponic Gardening?

Instead of soil, hydroponic gardeners use different types of growing media, like coconut coir, vermiculite, perlite, and more. In a nutshell, the soil is substituted by alternative nutrients and water. Aeroponic gardens, for example, use misters to bathe plant roots in nourishing water vapor. The process is quite simple and since the soil is not involved here, it is also low-maintenance and hassle-free.

 

Hydroponics also uses a number of different types of systems. Which to use will depend on what you’re growing and the space you have available, but tower systems—vertical hydroponic growing stands—are often the most popular, and make the most sense for backyard gardeners.

No matter how you grow, your crops are nearly guaranteed to be more flavorful and nourishing than anything you’ll find at the supermarket.

That’s partially because keeping plants alive until they’re ready to be consumed prevents them from losing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. That could mean store-bought produce has less than half of its original nutrients, according to Troy Albright, co-founder of True Garden and Tower Farms in Arizona.

 

So, that spinach or kale you picked up at the store probably isn’t as packed with as many vitamins and minerals as you think.

 

Another bonus of hydroponic gardening? Plants in hydroponic systems get just the right amount of water—it’s easy to over- or under-water traditional beds—so they tend to grow faster. Sometimes as much as 20-30% faster, which means more greens, tomatoes and herbs for the family table in a lot less time.

 

This is supported by a 2014 University of Mississippi study that found hydroponic tower gardening yields were up to 53% higher than traditional in-soil crops and that the nutritional content of the aeroponically-grown leafy greens and fruits far surpassed their store-bought counterparts.​​

Gardening Without Soil


Since hydroponic farming involves growing crops without soil, it is an ideal option for anyone who has limited accessibility to land. During the mid-nineties, hydroponics were used for supplying fresh crops to the troops in the distant Wake Islands.

For the uninitiated, the Wake Islands is a distant arable area located in the Pacific Ocean. In recent years, hydroponic is often deemed as the farming method of the future as several astronauts in NASA have considered this possibility for growing crops in the space.


Hydroponic Gardening Saves Water

The plants grown in a Hydroponic system barely lose less than 10% of the water use to evaporation when compared to the conventionally field-grown plants which lose closer to 95%. This could mean using less than 1 gallon per head of hydroponically grown lettuce instead of 20 or so on a head planted in the ground. The water used here is drastically less because unlike conventional farming water is reused or re-circulated.

 

It is assumed that agriculture involves 80% of groundwater and surface water used in the United States. Since water is already becoming a critical issue amid the growing need for food production, hydroponics is deemed to be an excellent solution for addressing this issue.

 

Vertical Hydroponic Farms Save Space

 

Since every requirement of the plant is provided for and duly maintained in a structured system, Hydroponic Farming can be performed anywhere. So, if you live in a space-crunched apartment, you can always consider Hydroponic Farming where the plants will be grown in your bedroom or balcony. Albright, for example, is able to grow 10 times more in his vertical hydroponic greenhouse than if he used traditional planting methods.

Growing vertically also means you can use rooftops, balconies, and even sunny corners of your living room (or not-so-sunny corners if you have the proper LED lights), to grow vegetables and flowers year-round.

 

When it comes to conventional farming, the plant roots expand and thoroughly spread out in a bid to search for food and oxygen levels in the soil. However, such is not the case with Hydroponics. Here, the roots are already submerged in a tank of oxygenated solution that has direct contact with the vital minerals.

 

That means you can grow multiple plants in proximity without having to worry about space.

 

​Easy Growing

 

If the water and space savings aren’t enough to convince you, maybe the reduced effort involved in planting a backyard garden will. Whereas traditional gardening requires raised beds, numerous bags of heavy soil, fertilizers, compost, and constant weeding, hydroponic systems require none of that.

 

“Watering is automated, weeding is eliminated, plants are more resistant to pests and disease, so the farmer isn’t constantly battling them,” says Jacob Pechenik, co-founder of Lettuce Grow with wife Zooey Deschanel and MIT graduate Greg Camp bell. “There’s no green thumb required”.
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But there’s still a learning curve. While you can skip traditional fertilizers and pesticides (which means no chemicals on or in your food), you’ll still have to determine what nutrients you should add to your system to help the plants thrive.

 

This is important because nutrient concentrations can change more rapidly in hydroponic setups than in soil. An imbalance of minerals like nitrogen, calcium, and iron can mean lackluster growth or none at all.

 

The best source for this kind of granular advice is often the people who have been getting their hands dirty for a while, so if you want flourishing greens, check with experienced farmers or growers if you can.

 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Hydroponic Garden


To get started with hydroponic gardening, figure out what plants grow best in the season, system, and region you’re looking to grow them in. Once you’ve got a list, “grow what you love to eat,” Albright says. That way, tending to and harvesting the fruits of your labor will be a joy. Then, plant seedlings instead of seeds.

 

“Germinating seeds can be tricky, and success unpredictable,” Pechenik says.
Buying seedlings from a local nursery will not only get you off to the best possible start, but it’ll mean you’ll be harvesting your produce in much less time.

 

“With hydroponics, we are able to bring food production closer to population centers with limited outdoor space,” Pechenik says. “It's a more efficient use of time, resources, and space. And the flavor of the veggies you grow will be the icing on the cake, because they taste best—and deliver the most nutritional value—when you can harvest just before eating.”


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):


1.What are the different types of hydroponics?

  • Wick Systems
  • Deep Water Culture (DWC)
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT).
  • Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
  • Aeroponics
  • Drip Systems

2. Can I grow organically with hydroponics?

Yes, there are many organic nutrients available for use in hydroponic gardens. A good one is Dutch Nutrient Formula’s Hydro Organic line. More care will be needed to ensure a clean system when using organics for hydroponics.


3. Are all types of plants suitable for hydroponic gardening?

Most plants grow well in hydroponic applications, although some are more difficult than others. Some plants such as varieties that product bulbs are better suited for soilless mediums than they are for say deep water culture. However, almost every plant that grows from seed will excel in a hydroponic garden.


4. Can I grow different plants in the same hydroponic system?

Yes, however it may be difficult to satisfy the nutritional requirements of different
plants in the same system. Gardeners are best off to grow similar plants in one system or even a mono crop (all of the same). It is possible to grow green leafy vegetables in one system for example and tomatoes or flowering vegetables in another. The more variation between plants in a system, the more difficult it is to accommodate.


5. What size pump do I need for my Flood and Drain system?

A good general rule of thumb is: • 170 GPH water pump for a 4’x4’ Flood and Drain tray. • 300 GPH water pump for 4’ x 8’ Flood and Drain tray.


6. What is the down side of Hydroponic Gardening?


The only potential downside to hydroponic systems is that they generally have to be plugged in. That means a continuous supply of power is required to keep the pump circulating water. However, the cost of electricity is usually quite manageable, Pechenik said.

 

There’s also the price tag to consider. Many all-inclusive, vertical hydroponic systems with pumps, lines, nutrients and 20-plus plant ports hover in the $400-$600 range, but smaller versions are available for as little as $200. Still, for raised beds, soil, irrigation lines, fertilizer, and gardening tools, you can often expect to invest at least twice that amount.

 

Some systems can be purchased as a kit, while others, like those from Lettuce Grow and Tower Farms, come with memberships and Community-Supported Agriculture programs, or CSAs, that also provide seedlings and advice to maximize successful harvests.


Think you’re ready to try it out?

 

You don’t need to do it alone, join our community and get some more ideas about planting.

And send us a snap of your new garden! You can hit us up on Instagram @kitchenbotanicals.

We can’t wait to see how it goes for you.


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