Hydroponic Gardening: An Overview of Soilless Growing

The word hydroponic originates from the Latin words hudor and ponos which stand for water and working respectively. Combine these two terms and you get waterworking. As a side note, combine ponic and shop and you get workshop. In layman’s terms, hydroponic gardening is the art of soilless gardening, using a water/nutrient solution to provide the sustenance that plants crave! (much like Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator)

During the last few decades hydroponic gardening has become associated with high-yield, high-quality plant production. Particularly, the field of cannabis growing has embraced hydroponic growing techniques as legalization has crept across the U.S.

Origin of hydroponic gardening

So when did gardeners first begin using hydroponics? According to Wikipedia, the earliest recorded use of soilless gardening techniques was in the 1627 book Sylva Sylvarum  by Francis Bacon. In the 1920s, William Frederick Gericke utilized what we’d consider the first modern techniques associated with hydroponics. Using a mineral-only solution, he grew 25-foot tomato vines in his backyard. He then coined the term hydroponics in the late 1930s. Though he had issues securing funding and space to continue research into the soilless gardening field, he persevered and eventually published the book Complete Guide to Soil less Gardening.

You may be surprised to learn that hydroponic gardening techniques have been used extensively with success since the 1930s outside of research. At Wake Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean (also famous for the staging ground of The Battle of Wake Island), hydroponic growing was used to provide fresh produce to Pan American Airline passengers as they made a refueling stop. Hydroponic gardening was essential due to the lack of soil on the island and the massive expenditures necessary to import fresh vegetables.

More recently, NASA has researched hydroponic gardening extensively for future Mars missions. Due to the lack of nutritious soil on Mars, hydroponics is one of the primary options for creating an initial self-sustaining food system.

Perhaps surprisingly, hydroponics has been around for a very long time. While hydroponics in the form we’re used to today has only been around since the 20th century, the concept of using soilless systems to feed nutrients to plants has existed much longer. We’re already seeing benefits from an alternative to soil systems in environments unfriendly to conventional techniques.

What’s so great about hydroponic gardening anyway?

Now, you may be asking yourself what exactly makes hydroponics the better option in cases where you have fertile soil readily available? Hydroponic gardening offers several advantages over standard soil gardening. Because plant roots have easy access to nutrients, there’s nearly zero effort put into obtaining said nutrients. The plants can get any nutrients, whenever necessary. Compare this to a standard soil system, where plants need to draw water and nutrients from the ground using their roots. Hydroponic systems remove the extra energy spent obtaining sustenance from soil. Instead that energy goes into faster, larger growth.

Getting started with hydroponic gardening

Fortunately breaking into hydroponic gardening doesn’t need to be expensive. Plans are all over the internet for DIY hydroponic systems. However if you’re less than handy or simply don’t have the time we offer multiple purchasable options.

Aeroponics

General Hydroponics AeroFlo2 - 20 Site Aeroponics System

One of our favorite brands, General Hydroponics, manufactures complete aeroponic systems, and we offer several different sizes of these systems here at PonicShop. For those not familiar, aeroponics is a type of hydroponic gardening that involves the use of mist to spray plant root systems in a nutrient solution. Check out the AeroFlo2 for yourself and see if it’s what you’re looking for.  If you are leaning towards a DIY option, aeroponics systems may not be the best choice for you. It’s certainly possible, but at PonicShop we recommend looking into the next type of hydroponic setup if you want to build something yourself.

Deep Water Culture

Another commonly used type of hydroponics system is referred to as a deep water culture system, DWC for short. Deep water culture systems are some of the most simple systems out there, however they’re incredibly effective. Deep water culture systems get their name from the fact that most of the plant’s root system is submerged 24/7 within a nutrient solution. Contrast this with other hydroponic methods, where plant roots are typically only drenched in a nutrient solution a few times a day (ebb and flow systems) or are lightly misted like in the aeroponics method we mentioned earlier.

Due to their simplicity, DWC systems require little maintenance once you’re up and running. Assembly is also simple. As a DIY project, deep water culture systems are probably the cheapest, easiest hydroponics system to build. Keep an eye out for an article specifically geared towards building your own DWC system.

Recirculating DWC

For those less interested in building their own DWC system and more interested in hitting the ground running, we stock the Slucket Posiflow Complete System. Slucket 6 Site Posiflow Complete System, 2' Center - A HydroThe Posiflow Complete System is known as an RDWC. Now my goal for this particular post wasn’t to get into too much detail for any one hydroponic system out there. However it’s necessary for you to understand the benefit of an RDWC over a traditional DWC system. Traditional deep water culture systems have some of their own issues. When you start scaling your grow beyond more than a 2-bucket system, it becomes a royal pain in the ass to check every single bucket’s pH, nutrient concentration, water temperature, and water level daily. In comes the recirculating deep water culture system, or RDWC, to the rescue.

Recirculating deep water culture systems utilize a central reservoir that feeds all buckets within your hydroponic system via a pump. With this central reservoir, you only need to maintain the singular reservoir’s pH, EC, nutrient concentration, water levels, etc etc. Clearly this is ideal if you’re considering a deep water culture system.

Growing mediums

You’ve learned about the general concepts behind hydroponic gardening and some of the commonly used hydroponic methods, but based on what we’ve covered, there’s a gap (both literally and figuratively) between the plant and the nutrient solution. When we think about traditional soil gardening and soil’s role in a plant’s life cycle, the first thing that typically comes to mind is nutrient supplementation. This is a huge role, but not the only one. Soil also acts as a support system for the plant. Whether on a still day or during a thunderstorm, plants need a means of gripping the ground to stay upright so leaves can photosynthesize. That leads us to the next questions. What holds the plant upright as the roots sit in the nutrient solution? How are plants supported with a dangling root structure? Fortunately various hydroponic growing mediums address this issue.

GROW!T Clay Pebbles, 10 LHydroponic growing mediums act in a similar manner to soil, except that they don’t provide nutrients to the plants.  Instead they simply hold the plant and root structure in place as the plant matures. Some examples of hydroponic growing material include clay pebbles/pellets, vermiculite, coconut fiber, perlite, starter plugs, and rockwool. Each medium has its own set of pros and cons. Arguably the most popular hydroponic growing media are clay pebbles/pellets. As I stated earlier, my intent wasn’t for this post to be a comprehensive guide to any one subject. However, you should keep an eye out for a post pertaining specifically to growing media in the near future.

Wrapping it up

There you have it, a brief overview of hydroponics. Though not in the form we recognize today, hydroponic gardening has surprisingly been around for quite a while. As hydroponics came into being as a legitimate gardening method in the past century, several unique hydroponic methods have spawned; methods like aeroponics and deep water culture systems. All of these systems have one thing in common, they utilize nutrient solutions to grow plants in a soilless environment. You’ve gained a high-level understanding of how these systems work and how the plants support and nourish themselves.

As factors such as marijuana legalization continue to take hold across the U.S., an increased interest in hydroponics is inevitable. Regardless of what you’re growing, hydroponic methods are a solid choice for maximizing plant health and growth while minimizing growing times. This is especially true if you’re in an environment less suitable for soil growing, So get out there and start growing hydroponically!

Interested in learning more? We recommend reading up  on the basics of hydroponic gardening, such as in our upcoming post on pH maintenance and adjustment.

 

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