Canada, like many countries has a varied climate and the weather pattern is generally defined over 4 seasons. Summers can be very warm in places and winters very cold. For the avid gardener or farmer, this can pose some problems as it means that certain crops can only be grown at certain times of the year and unpredictable weather conditions, for example an extreme winter or a very cold summer can mean a poor performance in the garden or a limited or minimal yield from crops which have been planted.
Farmers are very much at the mercy of the weather and when their crop is affected, their livelihoods are too. Farmers and growers are continually looking at methods to maximise their yields. Hydroponics is a method which some growers and farmers look to master, you can learn more about it here: https://wholesalehydroponics.ca/
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a way of growing crops without the need for soil. A solution which is full of necessary nutrients for growth and water is given to the plants. When a plant is planted in soil, it is the soil which would support the growth of the plant’s roots but in hydroponics, where there is no soil, an alternative method of support has to be used.
Plants can be placed in a natural substance such as rock wool or even suspended in the air. The nutrient rich solution is delivered to the plant in different ways depending on the system you choose to employ (there are 6 main systems). Hydroponics is not a new concept, it has been around for many years. Setting up a system takes a bit of time and knowledge and requires certain equipment and maintenance throughout the process. For the farmer however it can deliver some very worthwhile yields and therefore huge financial benefits.
What Crops Can You Grow Using Hydroponics?
Hydroponics can be used to grow a large number of plants, flowers, herbs and vegetables and the restriction would mainly be to do with the space that you have rather than the technique of hydroponics. Fungi such as mushrooms cannot be grown hydroponically.
Advantages of Hydroponics
- As Hydroponics uses an artificially created environment, the farmer or grower is not dependent on favourable weather conditions, so severe winters or poor summers will have no effect on the crop.
- It allows year round growing of crops which would normally have a seasonal growth pattern.
- It allows for crops to be grown in a country which would not normally support the growth of such a species so for example, a lot of the fruit which we associate with mediterranean climates could potentially be grown in Canada’s cooler climate.
- It allows for a larger yield and hence has a financial benefit for the grower.
- Plants can be bigger, better and more healthful.
- It allows for production in Canada as opposed to having to import certain vegetables, plants, herbs and flowers and removes the seasonal aspect so that fruit and vegetables normally associated with seasons can be available year round.
- It can produce a plentiful supply of fruit and vegetables to support the needs of a growing population.
- Soils are commonly depleted of nutrients due to some of the modern methods of agriculture. In order that our fruit and vegetables be nutritious and offer healthful benefits, the soil needs to contain the proper nutrients so that the crop can grow to its maximum potential. Soil depletion means that crops will be poorer both in quality and yield. Hydroponics allows for the proper supply of nutrients to the plant and so potentially producing not only a healthier product but producing a greater yield.
- For the water saving amongst us, hydroponics reuses water so that any water which is not used by the plant is collected and recirculated through the system.
- Hydroponics allows for versatility, you can grow your flowers, vegetables, fruits etc in your spare room if you want, you do not have to use garden space so for those without a garden, it can mean that fruit and vegetables can still be grown.
- In Hydroponics, plant roots do not need to spread as much because the nutrients, oxygen and water are delivered directly to the plant. Root spread is usually as a result of the plant’s search for its nutrients. Since there is less root spread, plants can be placed more closely together meaning that you can use less space compared with conventional growing. Farmland is therefore conserved.
- In Hydroponics, you control the nutrients so that the plant can be sure of getting exactly what it needs at the time that it needs it. In soil grown plants, nutrients can be unpredictably delivered. Hydroponic growing allows nutrients to be conserved and re used.
- There are no weeds which, for the grower, means a saving in terms of their time and effort.
- Pests and plant diseases are far less common meaning again that there is less waste to the yield and for the health conscious, very importantly, the need therefore for insecticides and pesticides can all but be eliminated.
- The need for crop rotation to help with soil depletion becomes unnecessary.
- Hydroponics can be enjoyed by all. It can be a hobby for the domestic user providing endless hours of enjoyment and it can be used commercially to produce a large yield of healthy plants outwith their normal growing season.
When it comes to Hydroponics, there are choices and system requirements vary. Before beginning, it would be a good idea to educate yourself around all of the possibilities that exist so that you are able to best source what will work for you. If you are a small domestic user, your needs will be far different from the commercial producer.
There are different types of hydroponic systems available but all use the same basic principle of directly feeding the plants a solution full of nutrients, supporting their roots and allowing them access to oxygen.
There are 6 main types of systems to choose from
- Drip System
- Deep Water Culture
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
- Wick System
All systems have their advantages and disadvantages and are described briefly below,
As the name suggests, the plants are drip fed their nutrients. This type of system uses a pump which controls the water and nutrient feed to the plants, it is used with a timer. A choice of growing supports can be used, rock wool is often the preferred choice with this system. There are two types of systems, one which allows the water and the nutrients to be recirculated and one which does not and both systems have their place.
Deep Water Culture
This is a very simple system. The plants are held in a foam based material and they float above the solution, like a raft, which contains the nutrients. In this system, the plant roots are submerged into the water. It works using an air pump and an air stone which is a porous stone which is used to provide oxygen to the system. This system although simple is however limited to certain plant species, not all will do well with this type of growing system.
Nutrient Film Technique
In this system, the plants are placed in a tube like structure, in air, there is no other support. The solution containing the nutrients is passed through the tube in a steady and continuous flow from a reservoir below. The unused solution is able to drain back into the reservoir to be once again used. Air stones are used to provide oxygen.
Ebb and Flow
This system uses a reservoir and a tray which sits above the reservoir to hold the plants. The idea is to have the plants submerged in nutrient rich water or ‘flooded’ with water for a period of time, after which the water drains back into the reservoir.
This water is not rich in oxygen, it is the next cycle which produces the oxygen for the plant as after the ‘flooding’ process, oxygen is pulled into the system for the plants. A pump is used with a timer which can be adjusted to suit the cycle times which are required. The plants can be supported using a variety of different materials.
In this system, the roots of the plants are suspended in air and are regularly spayed with a fine spray of nutrients on a regular basis. The roots should not be allowed to dry out. The oxygen supply for the plants is provided from the air itself.
This is another simple system. The water and nutrients are stored in a reservoir and the plants are in a tray which is connected to the reservoir via a wick which allows the nutrients to travel from the reservoir. The system uses an air stone and an air pump to provide oxygen.
When deciding on your system, examine the advantages and disadvantages of each and find the one that best serves your purpose.