Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil using nutrient solutions. The name comes from the Greek hydro meaning water and ponos meaning work or toil. The water does the work of transporting nutrients to the roots. Plants may be grown in an inert medium or simply with their roots in the nutrient solution.
Hydroponics allows the grower a high degree of control over what the plant is fed and the plant can be provided with all its nutrients in a form that makes them very easy to take up. Plants grown in hydroponic systems do not need to form extensive root systems, unlike soil grown plants which need to go out looking for their nutrients. They grow many fibrous roots and take up food and water very efficiently. This means that they can devote more energy into producing foliage, flowers and fruits.
How does it work?
The roots of all plants require nutrients, water and oxygen. There are many different ways of growing plants hydroponically but whatever system is used it must provide food, water and air to the roots. When plants are grown in natural soil, the soil acts as a mineral nutrient reservoir. When the mineral nutrients in the soil dissolve in water, plant roots are able to absorb them. When the nutrients needed for growth are introduced into a plant's water supply artificially, soil is no longer required for the plant to thrive.
Some hydroponics methods use an inert growing medium to support the plants. This may be based on perlite, vermiculite, clay aggregate, gravel or sand. Almost any solid material may be used as long as it is inert (ie it does not have soluble elements in it which could contaminate the nutrient solution) and allows air to diffuse in and out.
A growing medium protects the roots from drying out if there is an interruption in the flow of nutrient (eg power failure, pump failure, pipes blocking). A growing medium also makes it possible for larger plants to be grown in pots in a hydroponic system.
The Achiltibuie Garden uses a variety of different hydroponic systems, including our original Hydroponicum growing kits. For more information about types of growing methods, click here.
Although you might think that hydroponics is a new method of growing, this is not the case: it and was used in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and has been researched for several centuries. It was used on a soilless island in the Pacific in the 1930s to grow vegetables for airline passengers on a refuelling stop and the US Army used the technique to feed soldiers during WW2 on the Pacific Islands. It has been researched by NASA for use in their space programme and today, hydroponic installations can be found in all corners of the globe: Australia, USA, NZ, Spain, Holland, Israel, Thailand & UK. Commercial hydroponics companies supply many of the vegetables and fruit sold in supermarkets.