Hydroponics: Benefits and Challenges

Hydroponics is an innovative technique of cultivation and hydroponic gardening has modified itself quickly to many conditions, from outdoor field culture and indoor greenhouses to highly specific culture in atomic submarines and space stations to produce fresh crops for people.

The improved control over growing environment in hydroponic gardening makes it easier to give the finest possible environment for plants, resulting in better quality produce and higher yields.

Though hydroponic gardening has numerous benefits, it has some prominent limitations too. If you’re a beginner in hydroponics, here’s the summary for you.

Benefits

  1. Environment Independent: Hydroponics is independent of varying weather conditions, seasons, soil type etc. This is because plants are cultivated in soilless medium and completely controlled condition leading to maximum production.
  2. Continuous Cultivation of Variety Crops: With hydroponic gardening, it is possible to grow your desired crops continuously even though it is off-season. This will fetch you good market price for your crops. You can grow a wide variety of crops in your hydroponic garden without the hassle of crop rotation.
  3. Bigger Size, Bigger Yields: Hydroponic gardening simply provides optimum nutrition to plants at every specific growth phase, so plants utilize energy to grow faster, healthier, and to produce more yields.
  4. Eco-friendly: Hydroponics helps in conserving water, eliminating the need of chemical fertilizer and pesticides usage in farming methods. It produces highly nutritive, chemical-free, tastier fruits and vegetables.

Challenges

  1. Capital Intensive: Hydroponic gardening requires high initial capital investment for soilless cultivation and for buying equipments for controlling the plant’s environment. You might have to hire labor for setting up the hydroponics system if you’re doing it on a large scale.
  2. Supervision Skills: Hydroponic plants need continual monitoring of solution concentration, water levels, pH and EC levels, nutrition deficiency, aeration, and maintenance of the required growing conditions inside your greenhouse or grow rooms. If you fail to check any of these factors, you would probably kill your sensitive plants.
  3. Highly Energy Dependent: This process requires higher energy inputs to run the pumps, light, fans and other equipment. If there’s electrical or mechanical breakdown, the whole hydroponics system can stop functioning thereby drying your plants.
  4. Faster Disease Spread: Though hydroponic gardening is carried out in almost pest-free environment; still if any disease occurs it spreads really fast, if unchecked instantaneously, due to the sharing of common nutrient solution by all the plants.

Therefore, if you’re prepared to tackle all these limitations of hydroponic gardening, you would never have the fear of losing your hard grown crops.

What is Aquaponics?

Aquaponics is the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture. Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants on water while Aquaculture is the raising aquatic animals such as fish in tanks. Both aquaculture and hydroponics have some disadvantages. Removal of excess nutrients in aquaculture is done on a daily basis hence leading to wastage of water. On the other hand, hydroponics requires costly nutrients to feed the plants. Therefore, Aquaponics solve these problems by converting fish waste into plant nutrients.

Types of Aquaponics systems 

Media Beds 

This is the simplest form of Aquaponics, which consists of garden beds filled with porous rocks such as clay pellets. The vegetables are planted on these garden beds. Water from the fish tank is pumped into the beds via gravity. In this case, the plants will access nutrients from this water. The rocks hold water for a longer time to allow nutrient uptake into the plants. Also, these rocks filter out solid material and biological organisms. This prevents contamination of the water that returns to the fish tank. The clean water is drained to the container below the bed and then pumped back into the fish tank.

Nutrient Film Technique 

In this system, series of pipes are placed adjacent to the fish tank. In this case, the plants are placed into the holes in these pipes. The water in the pipes moves very slowly allowing the plants to access the nutrients. The water is pumped back into the fish tank after reaching the end of the pipes. However, an extra filtration system is needed to remove biological waste and solid from the water before it is returned to the fish tank.

This system is very efficient, but it does not support heavy plants such as cucumbers and tomatoes. Therefore, it is ideal for cultivating leafy vegetables that are lightweight and have small root systems.

Deep water culture 

In this system, the plants sit on the rafts with their roots protruding into the nutrient-rich water in the fish tank. This is system is relatively cheaper and easier to build. For instance, you can make the holes at the base of Styrofoam container and plants your crops through them. In this case, the container will float on the surface of the fish tank. However, the fish for this system should not be plant eaters; otherwise, they will destroy the roots of your plants. Deep water culture system is ideal for growing leafy vegetables, herbs and other plants with bigger root systems.

Benefits of Aquaponics

  • Cheap to operate.
  • No need for soil or fertilizers
  • No need for pesticides and other harmful chemicals
  • The Aquaponics Plants grow faster as compared to traditional farming systems
  • Healthier fish and vegetables
  • Crops are planted all-year-round
  • Most processes are automated

DIY Aquaponics

You may want to consider building your own aquaponic system. There’s extensive instructions online (see video below) to guide you along the way when building a DIY aquaponic system. If you don’t have much space or need to grow plants indoors and don’t have the motivation or skills to build your own aquaponic system, then you may want to consider one of the affordable indoor hydroponic systems (including aquaponics) available on the market.

Conclusion

Aquaponics farming has gained popularity in most parts of the world. Most of the traditional farming systems introduce harmful chemicals into our food supplies. In this case, Aquaponics is a great way to achieve a sustainable food production. The crops grown using Aquaponics system are not only safe, but they also mature faster with higher yields. Besides, Aquaponics systems are inexpensive to build and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Aquaponics Resources

Aquaponics Information

Aquaculture (growing fish) + Hydroponics  (growing plants) = Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a system of fish in tanks, whose waste water is pumped to vegetables in grow beds filled with gravel. The roots take up the nitrates and grow like crazy. The water returns to the tank, filtered clean. The organic vegetables and fish provide a complete diet, a good thing for an uncertain world.

Accesstoaquaponics.com is your portal to the world of aquaponics, so you can learn about it quickly and get started, no matter your experience, budget or available space. Even beginners on a small scale will see amazing results. Greens like lettuce or basil can grow to harvest in four weeks.

Is a Hydroponic System Organic?

Aquaponics

Are hydroponic systems organic? This question has generated a great debate in many countries. This debate has arisen from the disputed ideas on the meaning of “organic”. In many parts of the world, the system is certified as organic if soil is used a growing medium. However, certain types of hydroponic systems have been certified as organic.

Are there organic hydroponic systems?

As the debate goes on, some growers have decided to produce organic crops in their hydroponic systems. However, this can be daunting because any form of chemicals should be eliminated in organic crops. In this case, the growers have to replace the fertilizer-based nutrients with organic nutrients. Most people who have tried organic hydroponic gardening have faced serious problems that are not present in traditional hydroponic systems. Fortunately, some hydroponic systems have been used successfully to grow organic plants.

 

Aquaponics system is the most effective system for growing organic hydroponic crops. This is the easiest approach, but growers should pay attention of the plant-to-fish ration and the rate of mineralization. It is advisable to start with low-nutrient-demanding plants such as fresh herbs, salad greens, and lettuce. As the rate of mineralization increase, you can move to fruiting plants.

Also, the growers can use a natural growing substrate to produce organic plants. This substrate support a large number of microbes needed to mineralize the organic fertilizer. Also, other organic growing mediums are available at reputable hydroponic stores. The organic substrate should be inoculated before use to allow growth of beneficial microbes. In this system, growers use drip irrigation to avoid over-saturation of the root system of the plants.

EC and pH levels

EC and pH are different in organic hydroponic systems. Most organic nutrients do not conduct electricity; hence EC readings may not show the actual concentration in an organic solution. Moreover, the pH levels in the organic system are much higher than in standard hydroponics. In this case, pH-lowering acids used in conventional hydroponics are not suitable because they are not organic. Therefore, pH is left to stabilize on its own.

Organic nutrients

For most growers, it is a daunting task to get a balanced organic nutrient source for the organic hydroponics systems. There is a wide range of organic nutrients concentrates on hydroponics stores. Also, it is possible to make organic nutrient solution entirely from waste materials instead of buying bottled products.

A major problem with organic nutrients is that they are not concentrated as salt-based fertilizers. This can lead weak and diseased plants. In this case, nutrient additives such as fulvic and humic acid facilitate the proper growth of organic plants.

Pest and disease control

Synthetic pesticides and fungicides are not allowed in organic hydroponic systems. Therefore, strict measures should be undertaken to prevent the entry of pest into the grow room. Moreover, natural pesticides such as neem oil should be used in organic hydroponic systems.

Conclusion

Running an organic hydroponic system is possible only if some conditions are observed. However, there is big debate whether organic hydroponics crops are genuine.

References