What is hydroponics?

Noun the process of growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid with additional nutrients but without soil. At its core, hydroponics is a method of growing plants. But instead of using soil, hydroponics rely on a nutrient-rich, water-based solution. The idea may seem like a novel “hack,” but it has been around for thousands of years and has helped enable population growth as farmland availability declines.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants indoors without land use. Instead of extracting mineral nutrients needed for growth from the soil, plants receive all their nutrition through a nutrient solution that is fed to their roots. Hydroponic gardens save space and require less water than gardening in the ground. Growing in water also means no weeds.

With artificial light, you can grow hydroponically all year round, including in Minnesota. Outdoor systems protect hydroponically grown plants from soil-dwelling insects, but are susceptible to the same leafy insects as the plants in your garden. Finally, the drip system distributes a slow supply of nutrient solution onto the hydroponic medium using a slowly draining medium such as rock wool, coconut or sphagnum moss. Hydroponics requires a higher level of monitoring and micromanagement than traditional crop cultivation.

The good news is that there are many ready-made fertilizers that are specifically designed for hydroponics. For example, if you want to grow a tomato hydroponically, consider the size of the canopy of a ripe tomato plant and choose a container that is about the same size. Because hydroponic systems tend to be warm and the water is full of nutrients, bacteria or viruses that enter the system can multiply rapidly. There are several approaches to hydroponic system design, but the core elements are essentially the same.

Setting up and creating a hydroponic system can be very time consuming, and there is always a concern that an unforeseen event such as a pump failure could damage the plants. This hydroponics presentation and overview includes a history of the cultivation method, advantages and disadvantages of various systems, pictures and start-up costs. If you want your hydroponic system to look more attractive than just a bucket, a simple solution is to build a frame like the Hydroponic Salad Table. Critics have pointed out that hydroponic plants have no interaction with a soil microbiome, arguing that soil health is an important part of the organic farming movement.

Think about an aquarium and how it can get slimy on the slides if it’s not cleaned regularly. The same thing can happen to your hydroponic system. The container in your hydroponic system holds the water and nutrients, but something needs to support the plant.


Hydroponics tips