Growing food represents a continued challenge for the farming industry with climate issues and the need for organic methods presenting significant hurdles.
The world of agriculture has had to evolve and change in recent years, developing new methods that meet the public’s expectations. Natural and organic methods of farming are particularly desirable, with a public that’s keen to minimise exposure to chemicals.
This has led to the rise of hydroponic farming, a new method of growing food that doesn’t require soil. Yes, you read that right! Hydroponics doesn’t use soil for growing plants and they offer a completely natural approach.
Here’s what you should know about hydroponics and why it’s an important option for farming.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a way of growing food naturally without the use of soil. Soil isn’t crucial to the wellbeing of plants, it’s just the nutrients contained within.
Hydroponics offers an alternative to using soil while also providing all the things that a plant needs. Freshwater, oxygen, root support and nutrients are all essential for a plant to thrive, but there’s no reason that these need to be drawn directly from the soil.
Plants are quite delicate and if they’re not treated properly, they’ll very quickly wither and die. Using a hydroponic system isn’t necessarily an easy approach but it has lots of benefits.
When in soil, plants draw up oxygen from pockets in the soil so you’ll need to replace this. Options include using a pump to oxygenate your container (like a fish tank) or leaving a space between the bottom of your plants and the reservoir.
Soil does provide support for the plants so you’ll need to consider how best to replace this. Materials such as coconut fibre are organic while still providing enough support. Steer clear of anything that doesn’t hold moisture, such as pebbles or gravel, or anything that may compact, such as sand.
Plant food containing the right combination of nutrients, a proper light source and water with the right pH balance will also be vital components.
Just for Farmers?
Although hydroponics is something that is proving to be extremely useful for agriculture, the principles can easily be adapted for home use too.
Building your own hydroponic A-frame is easy and cheap; you can find all the components you need in the Hobby Lobby weekly ad for next week. Vertical systems suitable for use in your garden are made up primarily from PVC pipe, wood and wire. With just these few basic supplies, it’s surprisingly simple to create an effective vertical hydroponic system to grow your own organic food.
Most hydroponic systems use vertical farming and this A-frame design is perfect for home use as it’s extremely efficient on space.
Why Use Hydroponics?
Creating a hydroponics system may sound like a lot of work so you’re probably wondering whether it’s worth all the effort. The short answer is yes.
With organic farming there’s a big focus on health, and this is where hydroponics scores big brownie points. Plants grown outside soil are instantly healthier as they’re not exposed to any of the soil-borne diseases which cause a problem in traditional farming.
Hydroponics doesn’t eradicate the problem of pests completely but they’re greatly reduced. Growth is also well-controlled so there’s no risk of weeds spreading around your garden. This means that there’s no need to use herbicides or pesticides, keeping the plants free of chemicals.
When a plant normally grows in soil, its roots spread out a long distance in a search for nutrients and water. This means that farmers have very little control over what they draw from the soil. In hydroponics the plants only receive the precise nutrients they are fed, ensuring that the end result is natural and pure.
Although there are considerable health benefits, there are other advantages too. As plants don’t need to spread out to seek out nutrients, they can be planted much more closely together, saving space. They also grow 30-50% more quickly, important in an industry where keeping up with demand is key.
Hydroponic farming also conserves water, reduces agricultural creep due to soil erosion and delivers a greater yield, providing huge benefits for the industry while protecting the planet.