Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a medium, other than soil, using mixtures of the essential plant nutrients, which are dissolved in water. The medium that is used keeps the plant upright and absorbs some water. It also provides the necessary oxygen for the plant roots.
Why bother with chemicals, tanks and irrigation pipes when all you have to do is put seed in the ground, water it each day and leave the rest to nature. There are various reasons why one would rather use a hydroponic system than conventional farming production system. The basics of hydroponics are:
No need to fertilize: Since all the nutrients are dissolved in the irrigation water, there is no need to add any fertilizers conventionally to the plant during its growth period.
No cultivation: Plants grow in bags or in shallow gravel beds so there is no need to cultivate the soil. Since time is not wasted on cultivating the soil, seedlings can be planted directly after the previous seasons plants are removed. Thus more crop cycles can be generated per year than conventional farming.
No crop rotation: Since plants are grown in the bags, which are used only for one growth season there is no disease build-up. The shallow gravel beds do not contain any soil except an inert gravel media which cannot contain any diseases. The only diseases that do occur are water born and are easy to control.
Very little weeds: The use of plastic sheeting or gravel on the ground reduces the occurrence of weeds. Weeds are chemically controlled outside the growing structures. Some weeds do germinate in the shallow gravel beds but these are easily pulled out.
More uniform results: Since the texture and nutrient availability of the growth medium (wood shavings or gravel) is uniform, each plant grows under the same climatic conditions, which helps with the uniformity of yields. Soil texture varies in both physical and chemical composition, which influences the plant yields in conventional growing methods.
Harvested products are clean: Since the plants do not come in contact with the soil they are clean except for some water marks from chemical spraying.
Higher yields: Since the climate under the plastic tunnels and shade cloth favours the plant and all the nutrients are supplied in the right quantities, the plants grow more vigorously with less environmental stress which results in higher yields. Even when soilless culture systems in closed environment are compared to production in soil but in closed environment, soilless systems are more economical (Campen. 2012).
Less labour: Since weeding, soil preparation and moving of irrigation lines are eliminated there is a reduction in labour. More time can now be spend on marketing and other activities, which will increase yields and price obtained for the produce.
More control: In hydroponic systems, an environment is created to suit the needs of the plants in order to produce high quality produce. Open production systems do not allow the farmer to adjust the pH or nutrient content of the soil on a daily basis.
More control over climate: Since the crop is covered with plastic or shade cloth the climate is controlled to some extent. One of the main advantages is a reduction in harmful radiation and total protection against hail and high winds. During the colder months, frost damage is eliminated to a certain extent.
No soil needed: In hydroponic systems, the quality of the soil does not matter since the plants are grown in bags or shallow beds filled with inert gravel. The medium can be adapted to suit any crop that is grown.
This book is a great read for all beginners and is highly recommended. You can never know too much, so arm yourself with knowledge before spending any capital. If you want to expand your interest to hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics, read this book by Bob Long.