Hydroponic systems work well with vegetables, herbs, flowers, or any type of either flower or vegetable. Generally speaking, hydroponic systems are best suited for plants with shallow roots. For example, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and herbs are a good fit.
What kind of plants can I grow in a hydroponic system? This question has no single answer because there are various types of hydroponic systems; each one has its own limitations and benefits. However, there are some general guidelines you could follow:
- Low light plants: Plants that aren’t going to be under full sun like lettuce, spinach, radishes etc…
- Plants with small root systems: shiso (perilla), and other succulents
- Plants with shallow roots that like to form new plants from their taproot
- Upper light plants: “Root crops”: carrots, beets, parsnips etc…
The most important thing to know when plant growing hydroponically is the nutrient reservoir. The nutrient reservoir should be large enough for your plant’s vigorous growth stage. If you add too much nutrients in the nutrient reservoir they will leach faster than they can be absorbed by your plants roots.
For example, if you have a lettuce plant the nutrient reservoir will last about a month. If you have a tomato plant the nutrient reservoir may last only a few days. However, this depends on many factors including: type of plant, weather conditions and nutrient strength and quality.
The size of the root system should be kept in mind when adding nutrients to your reservoir too. Since roots have limited ability to absorb nutrients it is usually best to keep them as small as possible when growing in hydroponics for best results.
This will also help your plants grow more vigorously because they don’t have to expend energy growing big roots that do not promote growth.
What kind of results should I expect?
Assuming the right amount of light and good growing conditions, hydroponic systems usually produce about the same vegetables and herbs per harvest as soil-based gardening. However, hydroponics produce more food per square foot of ground than soil gardening due to closer plant spacing and better nutrient absorption.
If we compare a tomato plant grown in a hydroponic system with one grown in a traditional soil garden, the tomato plants grown in hydroponics will be healthier and have larger fruit that are less prone to disease.
This is because hydroponics use controlled pH environments which reduces stress on the plants which lowers their susceptibility to disease.
The soil garden tomato plants will have more insect damage because they will have to compete for nutrients with all the surrounding vegetation growing naturally in soil.
Some of the benefits over time:
- You will be free from weeding
- Save on water and fertilizer
- Save on time and money
In the beginning, hydroponic systems can be a bit more expensive than traditional gardening. The good news is that they are easier to maintain than traditional gardening, and when everything is set up properly you’ll spend less time maintaining it. The benefits of hydroponics are many, and the types of plants that can be grown in this method are diverse. Once you try using hydroponics you’ll wonder why you hadn’t given it a try sooner!
What is the easiest hydroponic system to use?
The easiest hydroponic system to use is the nutrient film technique (NFT). It is said that this method can be used by anyone who has a pot and a sponge. NFT is based on using a layer of inert material such as vermiculite inside the container, which acts as both the medium and a reservoir for nutrients.
The seed starts growing through this glaze of nutrients, called the “nutrient film”. The seed grows and sprouts roots in this reservoir of nutrients. As soon as it is big enough, you can transplant it into soil.
Deep Water Culture (DWC) is the easiest type of hydroponic system that you can build yourself. It uses a reservoir system where the roots can grow into a dense root ball.
The plants are harvested by removing the top inch of soil from the reservoir, and then pulling out all the plant and root system. This water-efficient method is said to be fairly easy to build yourself and actually produces very high quality vegetables and herbs (not just lettuce).
So what’s next?
Other types of hydroponics systems include floating rafts and bench grade systems. Floating rafts are similar to DWC that use a reservoir system with very little soil cover. Bench-grade hydroponic systems are designed for large commercial use, usually equipped with significant storage tanks for nutrients, water management systems, etc…
What about LED lighting?
The lighting system for plants has changed and it is now much easier to grow plants than ever before. LED (light emitting diode) lights are best suited for seedlings, young plants, and root crops. These lights function very well in hydroponics systems because they have an intense light output and can be placed almost anywhere in the growth area of the plant. Although these lights are adjustable, there are some challenges that hydro growers need to be aware of.
First, the longer the plants stay under LED light, the more energy they will need to stay alive.
Second, with these lights you must be careful to control their placement in a way that they do not exceed 2 feet above the plant!
Third, LED lights produce strongly colored photosynthesis which can upset mature plants and cause them to stretch and tip over in search of more light. For these reasons it is recommended that you place lights 3-6 inches above your plant canopy and only use them for 15 minutes per day.
The main benefit of LED lights are that they use less energy than HID (high intensity discharge) lighting systems.
Hydroponic vs. Traditional Soil Gardening
In the traditional gardening method, the plants are grown in a soil based environment and planted directly in the ground. In hydroponics, plants are grown through a supporting material called growing medium (e.g., coco coir, hydroton, rocks), or “nutrient film,” that is held within a container or trough of water.
The root systems of the plants grow through this growing medium into an inert medium such as rockwool, coir fiber, perlite (which is made from volcanic glass), or other organic media and can be harvested by removing the top inch of soil from the container (without destroying any roots) and pulling out all plant material.
In summary, hydroponics is a technique that is used to grow plants without the traditional use of soil. It uses a water solution (nutrient film) as its growing medium with the help of various components including air pumps, light bulbs, and tubes to support the plant’s root system.
Currently, there are many different types of hydroponic systems for different uses and needs, and it would be best to choose one that best suits your particular gardening style and requirements.