Hydroponic Farming: A Beginner’s Guide
Visitors to this website will likely already know what hydroponics is: the technology to grow plants without soil and instead finding ways to ensure a cocktail of nutrients is directly accessible by the plant roots. It's an old set of techniques and all entirely accessible to home growers and everyday farmers
If you think hydroponic farming is difficult, think again
The major aspects to consider are what you intend to grow, the space you have available, the economics and the amount of time you have.
Let’s look closer!
Starting your Hydroponics Farming System
Advantages of Going Hydroponics
The advantages are very well documented but worth a reminder:
- Yield: the amount of usable crop per square foot of space goes up 20-25 percent compared to traditional soil systems
- Time: plants grown hydroponically can grow 20 per cent faster
- Medium: no soil is needed, making hydroponics an easier solution for anyone without access to arable outdoor space - from container shipping container farmers to apartment dwellers.
- Space: as the plant doesn’t need an enormous root network to source their own nutrients, plants can be packed much tighter.
- Water: despite often using a liquid growing medium, hydroponic systems need less water as the growing tanks as usually sealed and enclosed to prevent excessive evaporation.
Setups for Hydroponic Beginners
There are three main types of system you’ll want to look at:
- Wick Systems are the easiest to set up as there are no moving parts and it’s easy to see how everything works. The system starts with a reservoir of water containing nutrients. Above this is another container with a growing medium. Between the two is a wick, drawing liquid up to the growing medium where the plant roots can easily access it. This is perfect for microgreens and herbs, but less useful for water-hungry plants like lettuce.
- Water Culture systems are also simple to set up. This time the plant sits in a styrofoam raft with holes punched through so roots can get through to the underside. The raft sits in a nutrient reservoir. This usually has an air pump in it so the nutrient solution can be oxygenated for the plants. This system is good for water-hungry plants like lettuce but less so for more long-lived plants, like tomatoes.
- Ebb and Flow Systems can be complex but the principle is simple: the growing medium is periodically flooded with nutrients which then drain back to a reservoir. The system requires lots of fine-tuning and reliable pumping. However, with practice the system can be made bespoke for the plant and is highly adaptable to space - it works for potted plants of for whole tanks
What Can I Grow Hydroponically?
Theoretically, almost anything but beginners should always start small. The best choices are herbs and vegetables that grow quickly, require little maintenance, and do not need a broad range of nutrients - microgreens are a classic example. The aim here is to learn how the systems work: don’t run before you can walk!
Room Setup for Hydroponic Farming
Even with the right lighting, the environment needs to be controlled. You may need further equipment for the following:
- Constant flow of air to make sure plants get CO2
- Temperature control to ensure an optimum 70 degrees
- Humidity controlled between 40-60%
Water for Hydroponics
As you may imagine the water quality will be critical. Most important is the ability to deliver nutrients. If the water already has too many mineral salts it will not absorb nutrients properly. You can measure this by looking at the water PPM and pH levels. If PPM is too high, you may need a filter. Water will need to be slightly acidic for most plants. The exact figure will vary according to your crop but look for PPM of 1260-1540 and pH level of about 6.2.
Nutrients for Hydroponics
This can be sourced in either liquid or solid form to be dissolved. You will need
Macronutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. You will also need micronutrients, which include trace amounts of iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and chlorine.
You will still need fertilizer but do not use general soil fertilizer! Invest in specialist hydroponic fertilizers instead or specialize natural and organic prolific living soils.
What do I grow?
Your choice is huge but for a beginner, looking to learn the ropes, consider this starter list:
- Greens: lettuce, spinach, and kale
- Herbs: basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, and mint
- Chili Peppers
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