Growing Food with Hydroponics

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” the old saying goes, and it could not be more true in regards to growing your own food. While many techniques and ideas arise and gain new popularity, few of them are brand new. This is true of hydroponics, the technique of growing plants in water. The practice has been shown to date back as far as the Aztecs, who grew food crops on rafts in nutrient-rich lakes and streams. Some historians believe that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have also been an attempt at hydroponics.

hydroponicsPhoto Credit

The premise behind hydroponics involves growing plants in a nutrient-rich water solution rather than in soil. In order to anchor the plant (in the absence of soil), hydroponic growing involves the use of one of several different mediums: coconut fibers (also called coir), rockwool (which is made from basalt rock), hydrocorn, and growstones (made from recycled glass). The nutrients in a hydroponic system must be supplied by the grower. Fertilizers exist that are specifically designed for hydroponic growing.

Some of the advantages of hydroponics are as follows:

  • Because the plants grow in water, they are not dependent upon any form of outside watering. Given the arid climate of the Llano Estacado region, this is a definite advantage.
  • The water in hydroponics stays within the system and can also be reused, thereby requiring less water overall.
  • Because the structure of hydroponics is more rigid than growing plants in the ground or a raised bed, it can be easier to control the variables of the system, such as nutrition levels, pests, etc.
  • Hydroponics tends to result in higher, more stable yields than traditional growing methods.

While hydroponics has many advantages, there are some disadvantages to the system.

  • Setting up a hydroponic system can be somewhat time extensive and will involve an upfront expense.
  • Figuring out the fertilization system can take some time to figure out and decipher.
  • Some reports share that any failure in the hydroponic system will lead to a rapid plant death.

Local producer Mark Hilliard has recently built his own hydroponics system. Below he shares a bit of the details behind his design. He plans to begin growing lettuces and herbs in August.

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It’s 3″ PVC with 2 1/2″ holes every 12 inches. The middle rail alternates the spacing so I can keep them 24” apart.

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I made the ‘net’ cups from 2″ solo cups perforated with a soldering iron. The growing media is homemade ‘hydroton’ or clay pebbles. I made it from a high temperature stoneware that I fired to just over red heat or about 1400 degrees F.

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I also wedged in some fine sawdust from our theatre shop to make it really porous. It’s supposed to have a wicking action to store moisture for the bare roots and provide an environment for beneficial root bacteria to grow.

You can learn more about Mark Hilliard at his blog “Running Water Pottery”.

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