Hydroponics 101: What It Is, How It Works, and Getting Started

Welcome to the grower journey

Farming has evolved tremendously since its early days in the lush, fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Near East. 

Around 12,000 years ago, our ancestors, mainly hunters and gatherers, started shifting to a more settled lifestyle involving growing their own plants and domesticating animals. They began by growing wild varieties of crops such as peas and lentils and herding wild animals, including goats and wild oxen. They later advanced to breeding their own crops and animals, giving rise to fully-fledged agriculture. 

Since those first days, there have been significant innovations and shifts in agricultural practice. Most notable, however, has been the shift from soil to water-based farming. Instead of growing food on soil, farmers can now use water only to grow their crops in what is known as hydroponics. 

What is Hydroponics Exactly? 

Simply put, hydroponics is the use of a nutrient-rich water solution to grow crops without soil. 

In the 19th century, Julius Sachs, a botanist at the Germany’s University of Wurzburg, established that plants did not need soil to grow. By examining plants grown in soil and those grown in water, Sachs noted that it is not paramount to grow crops in the soil if you could provide the nutrients and micro-organisms found in soil that plants need using a nutrient-rich water solution.

Therefore, instead of the traditional use of soil to support root and plant growth, hydroponics uses a variety of materials or grow media for the same, where water rich in nutrients is fed directly to the plants’ roots. The nutrient-dense water solution ensures that plants get the nutrients they need without much hassle as it would be if grown in soil. Plants do not have to scour through the soil with their roots in search of nutrients. 

Hydroponics can also be viewed as a controlled method of farming where the farmer controls various factors of plant growth. 

But how exactly is that so? 

Growers for growers

How Hydroponics Works

Hydroponics works through a system that allows some control over environmental conditions such as temperature and pH levels and ensures the supply of nutrients to plants when they are needed and in the right quantities. A farmer can control the amount of light received by plants, track pH levels, and adjust them to ensure optimal plant growth. Depending on the setup of the hydroponics system also, the farmer feeds nutrients to plants through channels that help circulate and hold the nutrient-rich water solution. The solution only contains the nutrients needed by the plants. 

Through the control afforded, hydroponics allows farmers to optimize plant growth and yield and helps eliminate the various risks involved with traditional soil farming. Plants grown in the open fields are exposed to many negative influences that impact their growth and yield. They face pests, diseases, and harsh climatic conditions, which hamper their growth. In a hydroponics system, crops are treated to optimal growth conditions that boost their yield. They receive nutrients on time and in the required quantities and are shielded from many pests and diseases. This ensures optimal production of healthy and quality foods. 

How to harvest

What You Need to Set Up a Hydroponics System 

Given the appeal of hydroponics, you may want to set up your own hydroponics system. To do so, you will need to familiarize yourself with a few components of an effective hydroponics system you will need. 

  • Water: As apparent as this is, it goes without saying you will need water for your hydroponics system. The water should be fresh and of a suitable pH (between 6 - 6.5). Optimal pH levels in the water can be achieved using solutions sourced from an online or local gardening store. 
  • Grow Media: A hydroponics system eliminates the use of soil. However, plants still need something to anchor on and support their weight. Grow media are used for that purpose, and a variety of them exist. Depending on your hydroponic system, you could use perlite, clay pebbles, gravel, or even sand. Unlike soil, grow media do not have any nutrients 
  • Nutrients: Since plants in a hydroponics system do not have soil to source nutrients from, one needs to provide them with nutrients through a nutrient-rich water solution. Some nutrients needed for optimal growth and production are potassium, calcium, and magnesium, among others. These can be purchased online or at the local gardening supplies store. 
  • Air Pump and Air Stones: Plants need oxygen to thrive. Without it, they might even drown. An air pump is used to produce oxygen in a hydroponics system. On the other hand, air stones disperse the dissolved oxygen in the form of tiny bubbles in the nutrient-solution reservoir that also ensure the even distribution of the nutrients. 
  • Net Pots: These hold the plants in place in the hydroponics system. They are mesh planters that allow roots to grow out of the sides and bottom to access nutrients and oxygen. Net pots offer the best drainage. 

With this knowledge of hydroponics, how it works, and what you need to set up a hydroponics system, you can easily set up and operate your own hydroponics system. And in case you get stuck making your own, you can always get guidelines on setting up the hydroponics system online.