What is Hydroponics?
Put simply, hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil, also known as "soil-less culture". The same natural elements necessary for plant growth in soils are used, with the advantage that plants are not restricted by weeds or soil-borne pests and diseases. Hydroponics employs technology that converts a greenhouse into a type of agricultural factory, with calculated processes and proprietary knowledge, resulting in predictable production schedules and quality output ? much like any other industry.

Brief History
Hydroponic techniques, although use of the method is the latest trend, have been in use for centuries. The earliest known use of hydroponics are in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, in the Floating Gardens of Kashmir and by the Aztec people of Mexico, who used rafts on shallow lakes to grow plants. Also, hieroglyphic records in Egypt dating back to several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water. More recently, mobile hydroponic farms had been used to feed soldiers during the Second World War in the South Pacific.

Today, hydroponics is beginning to play a more important role in the world's agricultural production. Increasing populations, climatic changes, lack of water and poor water quality are all factors influencing the trend towards alternative methods of horticulture. Hydroponics enables many to have fresh food, rather than having to have it shipped in or stored for long periods. A prime example of this is on naval submarines, where hydroponics is used to supply the crew with fresh fruit and vegetables. Of wider benefit is the use of hydroponics in developing countries, where it provides intensive food production in areas of limited growth potential. The only restraints to a viable hydroponic system are the availability of water and nutrients. In areas where fresh water is not available, desalinated seawater can be used.

Hydroponic gardening has been used commercially since the 1970s, although it was not until recently that it has become more popular for the home grower. The demand in the community for environmentally-friendly products has been a major factor in the growth of this trend. By growing plants in a hydroponic system, growers know exactly what has gone into the plants and can ensure that no harmful pesticides have been used that could damage people?s health and the health of the environment.

How it Works
Hydroponics is a highly efficient method of growing plants. In soils, nutrients and water are randomly placed, and often plants need to expend a lot of energy to find the water and nutrients by growing roots to find them. By expending this energy, plant growth is not as fast as it could be. In a hydroponic garden, the nutrients and water are delivered straight to the plants roots, allowing the plants to grow faster, and allowing harvesting to be done sooner, simply because the plants direct more of their energy into growing above the ground, instead of under it.

Once a plant is established, it gives higher than average yields, whether being grown in a greenhouse, a backyard or a balcony. Also, hydroponics allows growers to increase plant growth per square meter, because the plants do not need to compete with weeds and each other for the food and water that is in soil, as food and water is delivered straight to them.

It is also very important to note that plants grown using hydroponics have the same physiology as plants grown in soil. Plants grown in a hydroponic system require the same nutrients as those grown in soil, though the content can be more accurately controlled. The basic difference between the two methods is the way in which nutrients and water are delivered to the plants.

In hydroponic systems, the nutrient salts are already refined and the plants do not need to wait for the nutrients to break down into their basic form. However, with soil-based agriculture, plants are fed nutrients via manures and composts which must break down into their basic form (nutrient salts) before the plants can use them.

Commercially, hydroponic systems often use artificial lighting. This can make the initial cost of a lighting system much more expensive, but is generally not the major hassle and ongoing expense growers may expect. If sunlight is readily available, then this is unnecessary

Among its advantages, hydroponic systems enable more efficient plant growth, using in some cases up to 95% less water than soil based horticulture. With many plants, hydroponics will result in a higher quality plant, and a higher yield.

Other advantages are as follows:

  • Slightly denser planting, allowing greater use of available space
  • Produce looks better and lasts longer
  • Water stress in hot conditions is reduced
  • Suited to areas with non-arable land
  • Plants reach maturity in much shorter time
  • Soil pests and diseases are significantly reduced
  • Hydroponic gardens require less maintenance

Although hydroponics is still less common than other methods of growing plants, it is an efficient and economical option and is certainly no more difficult than growing plants in soil. Top Greenhouses has vast experience with hydroponics and proposes its use to customers in a variety of circumstances, when it presents an advantage over other cultivation methods.

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