Hydroponics is a growing technique that uses a nutrient-enriched, water-based solution in place of soil. Hydroponic systems can be commercial in scale, or made at home using something as simple as a tupperware container or jar.
Rather than harvesting nutrients from soil, plants are provided with all their essential nutrients via a water-based solution. This streamlined form of nutrition allows them to grow taller and fuller at an accelerated speed.
In hydroponic systems, the growing solution and plant roots are housed in an opaque container that blocks out light and prevents the growth of harmful algae and bacteria. A hole is present at the top of the container to allow the plant to grow, but air exposure is typically limited. As an added bonus, this enclosure also slows evaporation, making hydroponics much more sustainable and cost-effective than traditional growing techniques. The fact that plants are cultivated in an enclosed systems rather than on open-air farms also reduces susceptibility to environmental risks.Learn More
All the benefits associated with hydroponic systems are contingent on the grower’s ability to maintain specific water quality levels. If the nutrient balance is altered or the growing solution becomes too acidic or basic in nature, plants can die at a rapid rate. For commercial operations, any changes in water quality can translate to serious financial risk.
In addition to maintaining strict pH and nutrient levels, oxygen levels are also important. Despite the fact that plants perform photosynthesis (converting carbon dioxide into oxygen) they also respirate (take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide) at a very low rate. In order to survive, they must intake a certain amount of oxygen from their environment. In a traditional soil-based growing system, a plant absorbs all the oxygen it needs to survive from the air and loosely-packed soil. In static hydroponic systems, however, the growing enclosure and solution limits the amount of oxygen available.
To solve this problem, some growers choose to create aeroponics systems (whereby the nutrient solution is continuously drained and refilled to expose the roots to oxygen) or a continuous-flow system (in which the solution is circulated and aerated through constant movement). Other growers choose to use a static solution culture (a hydroponic system where the solution remains fixed) that’s been equipped with an underwater aeration system.
In a static and continuous-flow system, testing dissolved oxygen (DO) levels is the key to ensuring that the solution is working effectively. Because hydroponic systems are fully enclosed, it can be challenging to access the solution in order to manually test pH, nutrient, and DO levels.
Water temperature is also important to hydroponics for a couple reasons. Firstly, temperature directly influences pH readings, so compensating for temperature is vital in order to maintain accurate and consistent measurements. Secondly, if the solution becomes too warm, the nutrient-rich environment can become a breeding ground for algae and bacteria that will harm the plant.
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