What Is Hydroponic Farming?

Simply put, hydroponic farming is high-volume food production grown without any dirt or conventional fertilizers involved. It allows growing food anywhere throughout the year, regardless of ground soil conditions, water limitations, and climate. It offers increased food security, uses less water and plant nutrient inputs than traditional agriculture, allows pesticide-free farming, and makes growing some crops possible when doing so outdoors and/or in native soil is impossible.

Hydroponic Farming

Image courtesy of Maple Lane Farms

Advancements in technology also make it possible for a farmer to control important food benefits like flavor, aroma, and vitamin and phytonutrient content. But doing so requires total control of the crop’s environment, which is only possible in a climate-controlled location and a closed system. Some level of harvest quality control comes from the nutrients and supplements used in the hydroponic farming system, but fine-tuning desirable elements can also be done with grow lights, temperature, and available CO2.

There are several hydroponic systems that work well for hydroponic farming, and the crop being grown has some influence over which one is best to use and what kind of facility the farm needs. For instance, leafy greens and herbs are a wiser choice for both vertical farming and inside a building, while large fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers are better grown inside greenhouses and on a single level. The amount of sunlight needed to bring luscious tasting slow-growing fruits to harvest makes growing them under lights from start to finish too costly for market prices.

No matter what type of crop you’re growing, a recirculating system like ebb and flow limits your growing media to rock wool and aggregates. Soilless potting mix, coir, and other medias with fine particles are best used in non-circulating systems because they’ll leave deposits in your nutrient reservoir and plug up plumbing and emitters.

Hydroponic Farming

Fast-growing lettuces and leafy greens are well-suited to hydroponic farming in a deep water culture raft system, which is popular with big salad growers. But you can produce more salad per square foot in a vertical rack or hanging rack system, which calls for an ebb and flow hydroponic system. Strawberries also do well in both trough and hanging rack ebb and flow setups, and being short plants can also be grown in multi-level vertical arrangements.

Hydroponic farming of large and vining fruit-bearing plants, like cucumbers, peppers, summer squashes, and tomatoes are usually grown in recirculating ebb and flow, recirculating drip irrigation, or deep water culture buckets, though they also do very well in non-circulating hydroponic systems like Autopots passive hydroponic setup. Though it is better economically to grow these tall crops in a greenhouse, shorter days in winter and exceptionally cloudy places make it necessary to supplement sunlight with grow lights to keep production at good levels and maintain fruit flavor.

Hydroponic Farming

You can grow just about any crop in a hydroponic farming setup, though root vegetables may present big challenges. Cereal grains are also not suited to the confines of hydroponic systems and are best grown in fields as they have since the beginning of agriculture. Someday that may change as technology and our understanding of growing crops advances. These limitations are a small factor when one considers the advantages of being able to control everything about a crop’s environment. No more fruit rotting on the vine due to excessive rainfall and other inclement weather perils, the need to apply pesticides to protect the harvest from pests and diseases is greatly reduced or eradicated, and having the ability to increase the health benefits of foods we eat.

And last, but not least, without hydroponic farming, having super fresh food that is locally grown in the middle of a frigid winter, in the desert, at the South Pole and Arctic Circle, in the center of a metropolis, and other challenging locations is impossible. The alternative is paying high dollar for fruits and vegetables are grown thousands of miles away that is picked green and gas ripened. We all know that results in reduced flavor foods suspected of having lower levels of nutritional and health benefits. After all, it takes the plant the full cycle of growing that fruit to a stage of maturity to infuse it with everything it contains. Green tomatoes taste nothing like one allowed to mature on the vine while still attached to its roots!

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.