Hydroponics may sound like a new idea, but actually, the use of water to grow plants instead of soil has been in practice for centuries. The first book about water-based gardening was not written until the 1600s, but there is evidence that hydroponics was used at least as early as 372 B.C.
Proponents of hydroponics claim that it is the best way to grow vegetation. According to its champions, it is suggested that hydroponically-grown plants reach maturity up to 50 percent faster than soil-grown plants and that the yield is generally greater for the water-based, as well. While there is some dispute over these claims, most scientists agree that hydroponic agriculture has definite advantages over regular soil-based gardening or farming.
Hydroponics allows plants to be grown in a smaller space than soil gardening would necessitate, and in climates not normally so conducive to plant life, such as deserts and colder climates. Other benefits include the lack of weeds, reduced maintenance, drastically reduced risks of soil-based diseases, and when done properly, there is no risk of over- or under-watering.
Hydroponics is relatively simple and perfect for an individual with limited space who wants to start their own garden. There are many different types of hydroponics, but for home gardening, the simplest and least expensive choice is probably the best. To that end, a home gardener would probably want to start out by trying what is known as “static solution culture”. “Solution” meaning only liquid is used and “static” referring to the water being stationery rather than flowing through a system.
For a static solution culture, virtually any type of container with a lid can be recycled into a hydroponic growing container, so long as clear containers are covered with something opaque to reduce the risk of algae growth in the solution. Aeration is helpful, but is not necessary, provided the solution level is kept low enough to allow the root system to access adequate oxygen. The solution can be changed out on a scheduled basis, or a gardener can purchase a meter to determine when the nutrient concentration needs adjustment.
There are numerous “recipes” for hydroponic solutions available. The most common additives for the growth medium are calcium, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, nitrate and sulfate and there are various ways to obtain the proper balances, such as using saltpeter, epsom salts, fertilizer – and even dissolved vitamins. There are also pre-mixed solutions available at gardening stores, available in one or two part mixtures, for relatively low cost.
Whether or not a gardener chooses to invest in meters and such to determine the change in concentration of solutions, it is important not to allow salt concentrations to become too high. Therefore, if a home gardener has no way to measure levels, the water solution must be changed out on a regular basis to maintain the appropriate concentration of nutrients, oxygen and water.
The best way to determine how often to change the solution might be to mark the container at the starting water level. Watch the container every day or two to see if the water has dropped and how much. Once the level has dropped ¼ inch or more, it is probably time to change the solution. The number of days it takes to reach this level is how often the solution should be changed. Mark your calendar or set an alarm on your computer or cell phone to make sure you change it out promptly.