Whenever a group of gardeners get together at least one in the group will, more than likely, bring up hydroponics. This gardener will be glad to go on about how high-tech, efficient, and easy the system is, making it sound like it is the nicest thing since the shovel. I’ve been there, standing with barely the understanding of the word hydroponic, skeptical but unable to challenge his claims. Now, after building and using a system myself, now I see that while he might have stretched the truth a bit, hydroponic gardening does present many advantages to the gardener.
Hydroponic translates into “work by water”; it does just that. Hydroponic systems require no dirt to grow plants, merely water. Plants receive nutrients through fertilizers dissolved in the water and grow normally, just much faster. Hydroponics, though not a new idea, has only recently been utilized on a commercial scale. I remember when I first saw a head of lettuce with the roots still attached and the big letters ‘HYDROPONIC’ across the top for sale at the market; I bought it as a curiosity. Environmentalists talk up hydroponic methods due to its inherent reduced use of water and pesticides. Others buy the produce because of the ease of washing (very little dirt, if you know what I mean). Growers see the demand and have, in turn, developed a supply.
Though growing hydroponically can be expensive, particularly the setup cost, several advantages the hydroponic system offers is a tribute to the system for even surviving and being economically feasible.
First, hydroponics generally grows plant much faster than conventionally grown produce. Growing by hydroponics allows more oxygen to the plants roots, stimulating the roots growth and offering more nutrient uptake. Plants get their nutrients from the water flowing by them, the nutrients already broken down and requiring little energy to use. All of the extra energy not used for digestion can now be spent on growth and production.
Second, since the system is off of the ground, insects theoretically do not have as many places to hide and complete their natural cycles, allowing for pest reduction. I do find that some species of insects continue to feed on vegetables, even when grown hydroponically, but I am able to see, and therefore resolve, the problem more quickly with the plants clean and off the ground.
Third, hydroponics also offers a gardener that grows in a small space more options. Since many systems grow plants vertically, a garden plot now grows plants several times over. A setup could easily fill the neglected corner of a patio, or act as a tasty privacy barrier against your neighbor’s junk.
The hydroponic system we built, which technically uses the nutrient film technique, continuously pumps water from a reservoir to the plants and then allows it to flow through the system and return to the reservoir to be carried on another circuit. We built this system using a wood frame with PVC spiraling around it, and it works very satisfactory. It has already given us a crop of lettuce, strawberries, and herbs and is starting to produce summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
Though my hydroponic system does not create a problem-free growing environment like my gardener friend boasted, it does have some perks. I now have more growing space, mature plants quicker, and fewer pests using my hydroponic system. Though it will never replace my traditional garden (especially growing potatoes!) it does offer a very helpful and pleasant supplement.