Agriculture

4 Types of Hydroponic Farming – Advantages and Disadvantages

Hydroponic Farming
Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponic farming involves growing of plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. Hydroponics  does not use soil, instead, the root system is supported using an inert medium such as perlite, rock  wool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite.

The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plant’s roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth. Since hydroponic farming is practiced in a controlled environment  (it is also called controlled environment agriculture), it is a perfect fit for indoor growing. Other growing  factors, such as air, light, space, and time, are also controlled indoors.  

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Types of hydroponic Farming

1. Wicking Hydroponic farming

2. Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic Farming

3. Deep water culture/reservoir method

4. Aeroponics

1. Wicking hydroponic farming

Wicking hydroponic farming is one of the easiest and lowest cost methods of hydroponics. The concept behind  wicking is that you have a material, such as cotton, that is surrounded by a growing medium with one  end of the wick material placed in the nutrient solution. The solution is then wicked to the roots of the  plant.

This system can be simplified by removing the wick material altogether and just using a medium  that can wick nutrients to the roots. This works by suspending the bottom of your medium directly in  the solution. It is recommended that one use a medium such as perlite or vermiculite.

Avoid using  mediums such as Rockwool, coconut coir, or peat moss because they may absorb too much of your  nutrient solution which can suffocate the plant. 

2. Nutrient film technique hydroponic farming

Nutrient Film Technique, or NFT, is a type of hydroponic system where a  continuous flow of nutrient solution runs over the plant’s roots. This type of solution is on a slight tilt so  that the nutrient solution will flow with the force of gravity.

This type of system works very well because  the roots of a plant absorb more oxygen from the air than from the nutrient solution itself. Since only  the tips of the roots come in contact with the nutrient solution, the plant can get more oxygen which  facilitates a faster rate of growth. 

3. Deep water culture/reservoir hydroponic farming

Deepwater Culture (DWC), also known as the reservoir method,  is by far the easiest method for growing plants with hydroponics. In a Deepwater Culture hydroponic  system, the roots are suspended in a nutrient solution. An aquarium air pump oxygenates the nutrient  solution, this keeps the roots of the plants from drowning.

Remember to prevent light from penetrating  your system, as this can cause algae to grow. This will wreak havoc on your system. The primary benefit  of using a Deepwater Culture system is that there are no drip or spray emitters to clog. This makes DWC  an excellent choice for organic hydroponics, as hydroponics systems that use organic nutrients are more  prone to clogs. 

4. Aeroponics hydroponic farming:

Aeroponics is a hydroponics method by which the roots are misted with a nutrient solution  while suspended in the air. There are two primary methods to get the solution to the exposed roots. The  first method involves a fine spray nozzle to mist the roots. The second method uses what’s called a pond fogger. If you decide to use a pond fogger then make sure you use a coated disc, as this will reduce the  amount of maintenance required. 

6 Advantages of hydroponic farming. 

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Picture Credit: おにぎり 

The following are advantages of hydroponic farming:

1. Less water usage:

Hydroponic systems can use up to 10 times less water than traditional crop watering  methods due to the way the system is designed. By capturing and using water in a closed-system (and  not allowing run off to drain into the environment), hydroponics are very water efficient. 

2. Less usage of chemicals:

It’s not necessarily that all chemicals are bad, but rather that consumers are  trending towards knowing more about what goes into their food. In the controlled growing environment  of a hydroponic farm, it’s easier to keep track of what goes into growing the plants.

Plus, plants are able  to grow faster and are less stressed due to less pest pressure. This is better for both growers and  consumers, because there are quicker yields, and less chemicals required to treat potential pests.  

3. Limited usage of land:

Another limited resource that hydroponic farming helps to save is arable land.  Conventional farming only has one layer of planting, on the ground, and therefore requires large  acreages for bigger yields. With hydroponic farming, you can take advantage of vertical space as well, by  stacking plants on top of each other.  

4. Growing all year round:

In many climates, growing year-round isn’t possible with traditional farming  because vegetables can’t survive in extreme conditions. For example, in Ottawa, Canada, on average,  your frost-free growing season is 152 days. For the other 213 days, the temperatures can dip to as low  as -30 C making it hard to grow vegetables. With hydroponic farming, plants are being grown indoors, in  a controlled environment. That means they can be grown year-round in any climate zone.  

5. Minimum labour required:

Hydroponic farming is less labour intensive, which allows more food to be  produced by less people. It can also participate in the conversation about labour in agriculture and how  we can continue to advance technology and working conditions behind food production.

Recently, a  small percentage of agricultural employers were under scrutiny for not adhering to their responsibilities  and employing temporary foreign workers with minimal benefits, protections, and poor standards of  living.

While the majority of agricultural employers treat workers fairly, advocacy efforts won’t stop until  this is the case for all. New ways of growing can have us reflect on the ways things have always been  done in the industry, and advance production methods and labour equity. 

6. Can be grown hyper locally:

Hyper-local food is even more local than being from the same province, or  being Canadian-grown. It is usually grown within the same town or city, or a short distance from where  it’s being sold. This benefits the environment, community, and consumers. Lowers transportation costs,  fresher produce, adoption of underused-land (parking lots, poor soil sites, arctic climates) are just a few  of the reasons that hyper-local food is trending. 

4 Disadvantages of hydroponic farming. 

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Picture Credit: Emile-Victor Portenart 

The following are disadvantages of hydroponic farming

1. Waterborne diseases:

Waterborne diseases happen at a much higher rate in a hydroponic system,  compared with conventional soil growing. Since water is continuously being circled through the system,  diseases can spread through plants quickly. This means that hydroponic growers need to keep a closer  eye on their plants and good sanitation is essential.

However, since plants are grown solely in water,  growers don’t have to worry about soil-borne pests. Luckily, there are ways that hydroponic farms can  manage waterborne diseases, including regular sanitation and advanced filtration systems. 

2. Expensive to run:

Getting started with hydroponic farming can be cost prohibitive, because you will  need to invest in specialized equipment and training. Unfortunately this can mean that the technology is  not yet accessible to all of the communities that may benefit from it.

So while hydroponic container  farming allows for fresh food to be grown year-round in any location or climate, including the arctic and  deserts, some communities may not always be able to afford hydroponics as a solution. Thankfully, 

there are options to combat the cost of a hydroponic farming system, if it’s a prohibitive factor, such as  grants and loans.  

3. Shortage of electricity:

Powering grow lights through the electricity grid means that there is a risk of  power outage. Luckily, plants are very resilient and will come back to life even if the power is out for 24  hours. There are also foolproof ways to avoid power outages affecting your hydroponic farm, including  the use of off-grid power (such as solar) and generators with redundancies built in them. 

4. It is energy intensive:

A common argument against growing food using hydroponics was that it was an  energy intensive method and required too much power to fuel the lights instead of harnessing the  natural power of the sun. Hydroponic plants grow under grow lights that mimic natural sunlight.

These  lights require energy to stay on and stimulate photosynthesis in the plants. In the past, energy intensive  light sources were used as grow lights (High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, such as Metal Halides or  High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights).

Over the past 20 years, LED technology has come a long way in creating bespoke grow lights for the specific plants that are being grown, allowing only the right  spectrum of light that the plant requires. This means that the plant is able to flourish, without needing  to produce unusable light and excess heat.

In other words, the lights evolved to be more efficient for  plant health and energy consumption. Like humans, plants don’t want the lights to be on 24/7 either.  Most plants require a minimum six hour period of darkness to allow them to metabolize (rest) properly.  Among growers, the most common lighting schedules are 18-6 (18 hours on, 6 hours off), and 12-12 (12  hours on, 12 hours off). This means that the lights aren’t on and using power all the time.  

Renewable energy is also increasingly being used to power hydroponic systems. Wind, solar, and water  power are all being leveraged to reduce the energy footprint of hydroponic farms. Carbon emissions are  also reduced when the supply chain is shortened, by growing locally.

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