What is a Hydroponic System? Definition, types and everything you need to know

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The definition of hydroponic system​

Hydroponic system, I reckon you’ve heard that term quite a few times. Especially if when you are eating salads. By definition- Hydroponics is the art of growing plants without soil. Yes, you heard it right. Also, it is very doable and can be the new way of growing plants in your home. Let’s understand all about it.

The definition of hydroponic system

Hydro translates to water and ponos means water working. Also known as nutri-culture, aquaculture, soilless way or the tank method. Traditional way of growing plants requires about 50L of water per 10 plants. Whereas, it only takes 20L using the hydroponic system. 

The history of hydroponic system

To understand how Hydroponic system works, let’s get back to the history of how Hydroponics was invented:

Plant scientists started looking into plant illnesses in the 1930s, and in doing so, they noticed symptoms that were connected to existing soil issues like salinity. William Frederick Gericke of the University of California, Berkeley, first publicly advocated for the application of solution culture concepts to crop production in 1929. 

Gericke used mineral fertilizer solutions rather than soil to produce tomato vines that were 25 feet (7.6 meters) high in his backyard. When W. A. Setchell, a phycologist, presented the term hydroponics to him in 1937, he used it for the first time. 

Hydroponic system either uses sand or gravel and added nutrients to grow plants. You might wonder about the benefits of this new method. However to your surprise, it is really not that new. The Aztecs and the Chinese have been using Hydroponic system through the 10th and 13th centuries. However, being nameless back then, the Chinese used hydroponic system to grow rice on fields deprived of soil. It was only in the 20th century when the term ‘Hydroponics’ was coined.

Let’s see how hydroponic system is different from the traditional way of growing plants.

Hydroponic system v/s traditional methods

The term Hydroponics clearly indicates no use of soil, which is the basic structure of growing plants using a traditional method. Henceforth, better yield can only be expected if the soil is of a good quality. Opposite to the soil dependence, hydroponic system is completely dependent on the nutrients. It produces 35-50% better yield compared to traditional farming. This is only because the plant is directly infused with nutrients which ensures a better nutrient quality in the crop.

Hydroponic system is additionally quite simple to maintain. Once the setup is done, it requires no pesticides, manure, regular water or even the ever-blazing sun. This also implies that all additional expenditures associated with the conventional method of producing plants become null once you become adept in mastering hydroponics.

Image courtesy: www.growingproduce.com

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Agriculture and traditional farming practices have significant carbon footprints. Despite the fact that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, there is a huge discrepancy in the production methods. In terms of agricultural emissions, India is not further behind China. The degeneration of nutrient matter in the soil, farming techniques, crises like soil erosion, stubble burning, transportation of harvest are some of the reasons why.

In this scenario, Hydroponic system can be the torchbearer when it comes to achieving zero-carbon production. Since crops are exposed straight to water without the use of soil, hydroponic farming absorbs carbon from the atmosphere without damaging the land. Furthermore, Hydroponic farms can survive in urban settings or places where agricultural grounds are unsuitable for conventional techniques. This is because they can grow indoors with little space. Transportation issues and soil erosion are both resolved by such a technique.

Going net-zero is how we can prevent the climate crisis from taking over us. We are able to expand in that way by using carbon-neutral methods. As a result, we must use more renewable resources, avoid using non-renewable ones, and ensure that we leave the earth in better shape than when we found it. 

Let’s see how we can use Hydroponic system in our daily lives.

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How to setup a hydroponic system?

Hydroponics can come with its own set of jargons and techniques. But let’s break it down to its most original form. In a layman’s language, you grow lettuce and allow the roots of the lettuce to sit in water which is rich with nutrients. You allow the proper amount of light and ensure a great pH balance (which is not quite hard) and watch your plant bloom. 

Again, what is Hydroponics? It is basically a water-based technique of growing plants in a controlled environment, where you can configure your variables aka the nutrients, sunlight and water.

To suit every environment and structure, there are different systems of using Hydroponics. All of the systems work in the same principles however are only different in ways of appliances, application and structure.

Types of hydroponic systems

Hydroponics can be practiced with varied different techniques. I’ve list down the six types of methods which will help you grow food – the sustainable way. 

6 types of hydroponic systems

1. Deep Water Culture (DWC)

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By immersing the plant roots in a solution of nutritionally rich, oxygenated water, deep water culture (DWC) is a Hydroponic technique for growing plants. This approach, sometimes referred to as deep flow technique (DFT), floating raft technology (FRT), or raceway. This is because it makes use of a rectangular tank that is less than one foot deep. This tank is then filled with a nutrient-rich solution. The top of the tank has Styrofoam boards in which the plants are floating.

2. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

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Let’s understand the process of NFT. It contains a pretty shallow stream of water containing all the nutrients needed for plant growth. This water is pumped past the exposed roots of plants in a waterproof trench, also known as channels. The roots of the plants are exposed to sufficient amounts of water, oxygen, and nutrients. This whole process of the hydroponic technique is called nutrient film technique (NFT). 

One has to make sure to use the appropriate channel slope, flow rate, and length. This decides the foundation of a properly constructed NFT system.

3. Aeroponics

Image courtesy: www.modernfarmer.com

Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in air or mist. This does not involve any foreign substrate or medium. By sprinkling a nutrient-rich water solution onto the plant’s lower stem and suspended roots, the primary idea behind aeroponic growing is to grow plants dangling in an enclosed or semi-closed atmosphere. 

The plant support structure separates the plant’s roots. To reduce labour and costs, closed-cell foam is frequently squeezed around the lower stem and placed into an aperture in the aeroponic chamber. 

For larger plants, trellising is employed to sustain the weight of the foliage and fruit.

4. Ebb and Flow technique

Image courtesy: www.maximumyield.com

One of the most well-known hydroponics systems is ebb and flow, sometimes referred to as flood and drain.

The adaptable system may be set up for a reasonable price and only requires maintenance expertise at the intermediate level. The basic idea is similar to other techniques in that crops are positioned in a dish, which is routinely supplied with water pumped out of a tank below that is rich with nutrients. The water is returned to the tank by the mechanism using gravity so it can be used again.

A submersible pump that is linked to a timer is typically used for this operation.

5. Wicking

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The most fundamental type of hydroponics is a wick system, which is relatively simple to put up. Quickly growing lettuce or herbs are the finest plants to utilize in this arrangement. This system demonstrates fewer moving parts. It doesn’t call for highly complex machinery or apparatus, such as motors and pumps, or extraordinary technical accomplishments. 

A wick system is therefore quite simple and basic in relation to active systems like ebb and flow or drip systems. Capillary action serves as the foundation for the wick system’s operation. This is a typical, natural occurrence associated with water flowing through sealed tubes.

6. Drip system

what is hydroponics - drip system
Image courtesy: www.agrifarming.in

One of the most commonly heard systems of irrigation is the drip system. Of all hydroponic systems, drip systems are the most widely used. In drip hydroponic system, drip irrigation is used to supply the water-based nutrition mixture to the root zone of the plants. 

This type of Hydroponics adapts the most water-efficient irrigation method used in conventional horticulture to a growing system without soil. By slowly dripping moisture onto the roots of the plants rather than simulating precipitation from above, this kind of low volume treatment prevents water loss through evaporation.

Now that we know about the various systems in short, the main question arises whether hydroponics can help us achieve net-zero carbon?

Can hydroponic systems help us achieve net-carbon zero?

The balance between the amount of carbon gas released and the amount taken from the atmosphere is known as net-zero carbon. Additionally, the word “carbon” is used to refer to all of the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. 

The phrase “carbon footprint” may be familiar to you. The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of a specific person’s, group’s, or community’s activity is described as their “carbon footprint” in the dictionary.

Eating vegan food, taking the bus to work or even electric vehicles allow you to reduce your carbon footprint. So, yes. Using hydroponics to grow your own produce is a very big step in ensuring net-carbon zero at your home. 

As discussed previously, hydroponic system leads to lesser emissions and less pollution thereby proving to be better than the traditional methods of farming. WWF devised a calculator to estimate what your carbon footprint is. According to researches, food accounts for 10-30% of a household’s carbon footprint, typically a higher portion in lower-income households. Production accounts for 68% of food emissions, while transportation accounts for 5%. Thereby, improving the methods of producing and making food will cut down your carbon footprint and help you get one step closer towards a net-zero carbon home.

Amount of carbon absorbed by common houseplants in 24 hours. (source) This research also proved that 30 prayer-plants have the capacity to offset the carbon emission from charging your phone in 24 hours.

However, setting up a hydroponic system is not the only way it can happen. One has to make sure to be aware of his carbon footprint and make sustainable lifestyle choices. Like the SMU-X net zero energy building already working in Singapore, several other projects are building around the same concept. The process of going net-zero carbon is holistic and so must be the education and awareness behind it.

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