Ninjas lets all say it together “Hydroponics.”
I first learned about hydroponics in my high school horticulture 101 class. It was me and a bunch of zit faced awkward teenage boys in that class. But, that is where my nerdiness showed for sustainable agriculture, forestry, and aquaculture.
Spring has finally arrived in Minnesota and that means its planting season. Well sort of, we’ve had a very cold spring and it doesn’t want to make me put my hands in the soil. So I’ve started my plants in doors with out soil.
What No soil? Trust me this isn’t star trek technology and no it’s not some new age science. Its called Hydroponics, a method of growing plants in a nutrient rich water solution instead of soil.
Some of the reasons why hydroponics is being adapted around the world for food production are the following:
No soil is needed
The water stays in the system and can be reused – thus, lower water costs
It is possible to control the nutrition levels in their entirety – thus, lower nutrition costs
No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system
Stable and high yields
Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of than in soil because of the container’s mobility
The hydroponic conditions (presence of fertilizer and high humidity) create an environment that stimulates salmonella growth. Other disadvantages include pathogen attacks such as damp-off due to Verticillium wilt caused by the high moisture levels associated with hydroponics and over watering of soil based plants. Also, many hydroponic plants require different fertilizers and containment systems.
The two main types of hydroponics are solution culture and medium culture. Solution culture does not use a solid medium for the roots, just the nutrient solution. The three main types of solution culture are static solution culture, continuous-flow solution culture and aeroponics. The medium culture method has a solid medium for the roots and is named for the type of medium, e.g., sand culture, gravel culture, or rockwool culture.
There are two main variations for each medium, sub-irrigation and top irrigation. For all techniques, most hydroponic reservoirs are now built of plastic, but other materials have been used including concrete, glass, metal, vegetable solids, and wood. The containers should exclude light to prevent algae growth in the nutrient solution.
I prefer the Ebb and flow or flood and drain subirrigation method of hydroponics. In its simplest form, there is a tray above a reservoir of nutrient solution. Either the tray is filled with growing medium (clay granules being the most common) and planted directly or pots of medium stand in the tray. At regular intervals, a simple timer causes a pump to fill the upper tray with nutrient solution, after which the solution drains back down into the reservoir. This keeps the medium regularly flushed with nutrients and air. Once the upper tray fills past the drain stop, it begins recirculating the water until the pump is turned off, and the water in the upper tray drains back into the reservoirs.
Hydroponics gives a solution to create a sustainable food source for the world population. A Minnesota company Bushel Boy Tomamtes is currently using hydroponics to grow their delicious bright red tomatoes. If one small company can harness the power of hydroponics to provide in season tomatoes to all Minnesotans. Imagine what you could do with this technology in your own lives. My parents grow herbs hydrologically throughout the winter. Everyone loves having fresh herbs at their finger tips.
So the next time you’re at the farmers market look for hydrologically grown fruits, veggies, and herbs. There out there, trust me. You may of just eaten a hydrologically grown plant for dinner. Heres to community supported agriculture and harnessing the power of hydroponics.