Hydroponic gardening is ideal for those wishing to grow plants or vegetables without access to adequate farm land, or in small spaces like apartments. In essence, hydroponic gardening allows you to grow plants without the use of soil, instead using a “nutrient solution”. In the absence of dirt, many of the problems faced by ordinary gardeners are largely eliminated, such as insects, dirtiness and expense.
Nutrient solutions are varying types of fertilizers mixed into water, which are used in place of soil for hydroponic gardens. By alternating air flow/nutrient solution to the roots of your plants, the soil is completely bypassed, allowing indoor gardens to grow vegetables year-round without messy, expensive soil. There are numerous online references to help you decide which nutrient solution fits your needs, as well as how to balance the pH of your solution.
There are many different hydroponic garden designs, each effective in its own way, and each able to be altered as you see fit. Since these systems would take a very long time to describe in their entirety, I will instead give a brief outline of the most popular methods, and allow you to research the system of your choice from there.
The Ebb and Flow System
The plants being grown are suspended in a tray above a shallow container, allowing the roots to dangle under the tray to the floor of the container. Beneath the container is the reservoir, filled with your choice of nutrient solution. A submersible pump (available anywhere aquariums are sold) pumps the nutrient solution up to the tray, bathing the roots of your plants in fertilizing goodness. At a certain point in the fill-up, an overflow pipe drains the solution back down to the reservoir, allowing the roots the oxygen they need. After a moment the pump kicks on, and the cycle starts over.
The Nutrient Film Technique
This hydroponic gardening system has a lot in common with the Ebb and Flow system, but with one key difference. Instead of an overflow pipe draining the nutrient solution back to the reservoir from a flat tray, the nutrient solution is pumped to the top of a series of angled trays, where it runs down the slope, across the roots of the plants and back to the reservoir. This constant, stream-like movement allows plenty of oxygen to hit the roots, and also keeps the nutrient solution mixed-up and pH balanced.
The Continuous Drip System
This one can be either an active-recovery or non-recovery system, depending on your preference. In either case, the basic idea is a submersible pump that pushed nutrient solution through piping which is suspended over the roots of the plants. Holes in the piping allow you to control the size of the drips that fall on each plant.
In the active recovery version of this system, the pipes lead back to the reservoir, which is located beneath the roots to catch the drips. As a non-recovery system, the used nutrient solution would get pumped to potted plants.
Now that you have a basic understanding of hydroponic gardening, go out and try it for yourself!
Jordan Gaither: I’m a Communications major by trade, an artist by choice, a welder by day and a dancer by night (Okay, I made that last part up). Having lived in a succession of cramped, oddly-shaped apartments, I have a wealth of personal experience in apartment living, as well as arranging and decorating to maximize effect and livable space.