Hydroponic is a subset of hydroculture, which is a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Terrestrial plants may be grown with only their roots exposed to the mineral solution, or the roots may be supported by an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel.

John Kiruthi of Farmers Trend inspecting strawberries at a hydroponic farm in Kiambu Photo by: David Gitonga

The nutrients used in hydroponic systems can come from an array of different sources; these can include, but are not limited to, byproduct from fish waste, duck manure, or purchased chemical fertilisers.

Advantages:

1. No soils needed

In a sense, you can grow crops in places where the land is limited, doesn’t exist, or is heavily contaminated. Also, Hydroponics has been considered as the farming of the future to grow foods for astronauts in the space (where there is no soil)

2. Make better use of space and location

Because all that plants need are provided and maintained in a system, you can grow in your small apartment, balcony, backyard, or the spare bedrooms as long as you have some spaces.
Plants’ roots usually expand and spread out in search for foods, and oxygen in the soil. This is not the case in Hydroponics, where the roots are sunk in a tank full of oxygenated nutrient solution and directly contact with vital minerals. This means you can grow your plants much closer, and consequently huge space savings.

3. Climate control

Like in greenhouses, hydroponic growers can have total control over the climate – temperature, humidity, light intensification, the composition of the air. In this sense, you can grow foods all year round regardless of the season. Farmers can produce foods at the appropriate time to maximize their business profits.

4. Hydroponics is water-saving

John Kiruthi of Farmers Trend inspecting crops at a hydroponic farm in Kiambu Photo by: David Gitonga

Plants grown hydroponically can use only 10% of water compared to field-grown ones. In this method, water is recirculated. Plants will take up the necessary water, while run-off ones will be captured and return to the system. Water loss only occurs in two forms – evaporation and leaks from the system (but an efficient hydroponic setup will minimize or don’t have any leaks).

While water will become a critical issue in the future when the food production is predicted to increase by 70%, hydroponics is considered a viable solution to large-scale food production.

5. Effective use of nutrients

In Hydroponics, you have a 100% control of the nutrients (foods) that plants need. Before planting, growers can check what plants require and the specific amounts of nutrients needed at particular stages and mix them with water accordingly. Nutrients are conserved in the tank, so there are no losses or changes of nutrients like they are in the soil.

6. pH control of the solution

All of the minerals are contained in the water. That means you can measure and adjust the pH levels of your water mixture much more easily compared to the soils. That ensures the optimal nutrients uptake for plants.

7. Better growth rate

Is hydroponically plants grown faster than in soil? Yes, it is.

You are your own boss that commands the whole environment for your plants’ growth – temperature, lights, moisture, and especially nutrients. Plants are placed in ideal conditions, while nutrients are provided at the sufficient amounts, and come into direct contacts with the root systems. Thereby, plants no longer waste valuable energy searching for diluted nutrients in the soil. Instead, they shift all of their focus on growing and producing fruits.

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8. No weeds

If you have grown in the soil, you will understand how irritating weeds cause to your garden. It’s one of the most time-consuming tasks for gardeners – till, plow, hoe, and so on. Weeds are mostly associated with the soil. So eliminate soils, and all bothers of weeds are gone.

9. Fewer pests & diseases

And like weeds, getting rids of soils helps make your plants less vulnerable to soil-borne pests like birds, groundhogs; and diseases like Fusarium, Pythium, and Rhizoctonia species. Also when growing indoors in a closed system, the gardeners can easily take controls of most surrounding variables.

10. Less use of insecticide, and herbicides

Since you are using no soils and while the weeds, pests, and plant diseases are heavily reduced, there are fewer chemicals used. This helps you grow cleaner and healthier foods. The cut of insecticide and herbicides is a strong point of Hydroponics when the criteria for modern life and food safety are more and more placed on top.

11. Labor and time savers

Besides spending fewer works on tilling, watering, cultivating, and fumigating weeds and pests, you enjoy much time saved because plants’ growth is proven to be higher in Hydroponics. When agriculture is planned to be more technology-based, Hydroponics has a room in it.

12. Hydroponics is a stress-relieving hobby

This interest will put you back in touch with nature. Tired after a long working day and commute, you return to your small apartment corner, it’s time to lay back everything and play with your hydroponic garden. Reasons like lack of spaces are no longer right. You can start fresh, tasty vegetables, or vital herbs in your small closets, and enjoy the relaxing time with your little green spaces.

Photo credit: Farmers Trend

Disadvantages and Challenges:

13. A Hydroponic garden requires your time and commitment

Just like any things worthwhile in life, hard-working and responsible attitude gives satisfactory yields. However, In soil-borne counterparts, plants can be left on its own for days and weeks, and they still survive in a short time. Mother nature and soils will help regulate if something is not balancing. That’s not the case in Hydroponics. Plants will die out more quickly without proper care and adequate knowledge. Remember that your plants are depending on you for their survival. You must take good care of your plants, and the system upon initial installation. Then you can automate the whole thing later, but you still need to gauge and prevent the unexpected issues of the operations, and do frequent maintenance.

14. Experiences and technical knowledge

You are running a system of many types of equipment, which requires necessary specific expertise for the devices used, what plants you can grow and how they can survive and thrive in a soilless environment. Mistakes in setting up the systems and plants’ growth ability in this soilless environment and you end up ruining your whole progress.

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15. Organic debates

There have been some heated arguments about whether Hydroponics should be certified as organic or not. People are questioning whether plants grown hydroponically will get microbiomes as they are in the soil. But people around the world have grown hydroponic plants – lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries, etc. for tens of years, especially in Australia, Tokyo, Netherland, and the United States. They have provided food for millions of people.

You cannot expect perfection from anything in life. Even for soil growing, there are still more risks of pesticides, pests, etc. compared to Hydroponics. There are some organic growing methods suggested for Hydroponic growers. For example, some growers provide microbiomes for plants by using organic growing media such as coco coir and add worm casting into it. Natural-made nutrients are commonly used such as fishes, bones, alfalfas, cottonseeds, neems, etc.

For this debate for the organic product issue, there will still be researches done currently and in the near future. And we’ll know the answer then.

16. Water and electricity risks

In a Hydroponic system, mostly you use water and electricity. Beware of electricity in a combination of water in close proximity. Always put safety first when working with the water systems and electric equipment, especially in commercial greenhouses.

17. System failure threats 

You are using electricity to manage the whole system. So suppose you do not take preliminary actions for a power outage, the system will stop working immediately, and plants may dry out quickly and will die in several hours. Hence, a backup power source and plan should always be planned, especially for great scale systems.

18. Initial expenses

You are sure to spend under twenty thousand Kenyan shillings or over  (depending on your garden scale) to purchase equipment for your the first installation. Whatever systems you build, you will need containers, lights, a pump, a timer, growing media, nutrients). Once the system has been in place, the cost will be reduced to only nutrients and electricity (to keep the water system running, and lightning).

19. Long return per investment

If you follow news on agriculture start-up, you may have known that there have been some new indoor hydroponic business started recently. That’s a good thing for the agriculture sector and the development of Hydroponics in Kenya as well. However, commercial growers still face some big challenges when starting with Hydroponics on a large scale. This is largely because of the high initial expenses and the long, uncertain ROI (return on investment). It’s not easy to detail a clear profitable plan to urge for investment while there are also many other attractive high-tech fields out there that seem fairly promising for funding.

20. Diseases & pests may spread quickly

You are growing plants in a closed system using water. In the case of plant infections or pests, they can escalate fast to plants on the same nutrient reservoir. In most cases, diseases and pests are not so much of problem in a small system of home growers.
So don’t care much about these issues if you are beginners.
It’s only complicated for big hydroponic greenhouses. So better to have a good disease management plan beforehand. For example, use just clean disease-free water sources and growing materials; checking the systems periodically, etc.
Should the diseases happen, you need to sterilize the infected water, nutrient, and the whole system fast.

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Photo credit: Farmers Trend

So would I still recommend Hydroponics? 

Absolutely!

There are downsides to Hydroponics, just like any other things in life. But you can overcome most of them with just some planning and experiences. Meanwhile considering the pros it can offer, Hydroponics is worth doing. It is always a part of modern agriculture. Compared with the soil-counterparts, Hydroponics is a highly effective growing method.

And here are the summarized winning key points of Hydroponics over soils.

Hydroponics vs. Soil

  • Space saver.
  • Effective use of plant nutrients.
  • Water-efficient.
  • No weeds, fewer pests, and plant diseases.
  • Stable and higher yields.
  • Control of the whole system.
  • Growing media can be chosen and sterilized fast.
  • Fewer fertilizers and insecticides used.
  • Easy to transplant.
  • Able to grow crops all year round.

Sound great, isn’t it?

By Max

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https://i1.wp.com/farmerstrend.co.ke/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DEDD.jpg?fit=1024%2C768&ssl=1https://i1.wp.com/farmerstrend.co.ke/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DEDD.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1#FarmersTrend#TrendingHydroponic is a subset of hydroculture, which is a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Terrestrial plants may be grown with only their roots exposed to the mineral solution, or the roots may be supported by an inert medium, such...New generation culture in agriculture