Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Terrestrial plants may be grown with their roots in the mineral nutrient solution only or in an inert medium, such as perlite, gravel, biochar, mineral wool, expanded clay pebbles or coconut husk.
In natural conditions, soil acts as a mineral nutrient reservoir but the soil itself is not essential to plant growth. When the mineral nutrients in the soil dissolve in water, plant roots are able to absorb them. When the required mineral nutrients are introduced into a plant’s water supply artificially, soil is no longer required for the plant to thrive. Almost any terrestrial plant will grow with hydroponics.
Some of the reasons why hydroponics is being adapted around the world for food production are the following:
- No soil is needed for hydroponics.
- The water stays in the system and can be reused – thus, a lower water requirement.
- It is possible to control the nutrition levels in their entirety – thus, lower nutrition requirements.
- No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system.
- Stable and high yields.
- Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of than in soil because of the container’s mobility.
- Ease of harvesting.
- No pesticide damage.
Today, hydroponics is an established branch of horticulture. Progress has been rapid, and results obtained in various countries have proved it to be thoroughly practical and to have very definite advantages over conventional methods of horticulture.
There are two chief merits of the soil-less cultivation of plants. First, hydroponics may potentially produce much higher crop yields. Also, hydroponics can be used in places where in-ground agriculture or gardening is not possible.
Without soil as a buffer, any failure to the hydroponic system leads to rapid plant death. Other disadvantages include pathogen attacks such as damp-off due to Verticillium wilt caused by the high moisture levels associated with hydroponics and overwatering of soil based plants. Also, many hydroponic plants require different fertilizers and containment systems.