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Interest in hydroponics has become increasingly prevalent as people become more aware of the benefits of green living. Concerns over the way produce is grown sparked a rise in the use of hydroponics for growing organic food by individuals.
Organic Nutrients for Hydroponics
One of the main concerns that crop up in food production is the usage of pesticides and fertilizers and their effects on local ecology and nutrition. Hydroponics acts as a straightforward solution to both issues.
With hydroponics, people can grow their food with indoor gardening, separate from the local environment. The vegetables, herbs and leafy greens remain naturally grown and untouched by outdoor concerns. This form of agriculture works well in urban or harsh environments where it is uncommon to find a good-sized chunk of farmable land.
There is an ongoing debate whether hydroponic growing can be considered organic. The discussion mainly centers around whether the official term of organic should be applied to the growing methods used in hydroponics.
Can Hydroponics Be Organic?
Typically, when people mention organic food, they mean something grown without pesticides or synthetic modifications. Hydroponics is an easy solution to reaching the goal of cultivating general organics. For the most part, hydroponics exist separate from many of the concerns found in traditional forms of growing like pest problems.
Hydroponics is generally an indoor form of cultivation. Meaning it exists away from many potential pests, effectively removing the need for synthetic pesticides in most instances.
When it comes to the official label ‘organic,’ there is room for discussion. The main concern of the debate revolves around the qualifications of receiving organic certification. Organic certification is necessary for labeling and marketing purposes.
While it may seem as simple as giving hydroponically grown plants organic nutrients, consider other factors.
The main concern with labeling hydroponics an organic method of growing is how natural it truly is. Many people believe that methods of growing without soil, such as with hydroponics, can not be considered an organic method.
A key element surrounding the organic debate is the effect a cultivation method has on the ecology of an area. Fundamentally, hydroponics are separate from the local ecosystem and are a closed environment. Elements usually supplied to a plant through the soil would instead be introduced by the cultivator managing the hydroponics.
While many people still debate, hydroponics can be organic. The U.S.Department of Agriculture has declared that hydroponically grown crops can be labeled organic. Hydroponic growers still have to follow the same regulations as soil growers to recognize their crops as organic products.
Benefits of Hydroponics on the Environment
Hydroponics helps maintain the ecosystem of an area. Most hydroponic endeavors are indoor endeavors, eliminating most of the connection to the local ecology.
Hydroponic set-ups are typically built in already developed spaces, lessening their overall impact on the environment. That is not to say that hydroponic growing has no effect- space used for hydroponics is space taken from the local landscape. The results of this are generally negligible relative to large-scale commercial farming.
Indoor gardens are much more efficient than soil-grown gardens with water usage. General hydroponics uses around ten times less water than traditional forms of crop cultivation.
Hydroponic fertilizer use is also more efficient due to the increased ability of hydroponically grown plants to intake nutrients, meaning they need less fertilizer to be effective.
Hydroponic plants have a high absorption rate of nutrients. Crops resulting from hydroponic cultivation are naturally rich in nutritional value.
Hydroponics creates better harvests with fewer raw materials.
Why Use Organic Nutrients As Hydroponic Fertilizers
Traditional farming techniques use pesticides to eliminate bugs and synthetic fertilizers to help crops grow quickly and fully. Organic nutrients are safer and alleviate concerns over any unknown side effects or consequences stemming from traditional fertilizers.
Those most serious about organic hydroponic solutions might measure the EC and pH levels. Sometimes the pH level is imbalanced when organic nutrients are first added, but these will often even out after a few days.
EC may be a less familiar measure, but it simply represents the electrical conductivity of the grow medium (water, and perhaps a substrate, in this case). Mineral salts are often a supportive measure for hydroponically grown plants to avoid deficiencies, but mineral salts can impact the overall EC level.
This is one of the benefits of using an indoor gardening system like Lettuce Grow, Click & Grow, AeroGarden, or Gardyn. They may not use organic nutrients; however, a major difference between using one of these systems and developing your organic hydroponic nutrients is that the plant nutrients are pre-balanced.
Can I Make My Own Hydroponic Nutrient Solution?
Hydroponic nutrient solutions can get made by anyone. The process and planning to create a viable nutrient solution may take considerable work.
Hydroponic nutrients can get made through many different methods and raw materials, and not all will work for every plant.
Organic hydroponic nutrients can get produced by using organic materials. Popular forms of organic homemade nutrient solutions are made from materials commonly found in soil.
Solid worm castings are organic waste produced by worms or worm manure. Worm tea is a liquid fertilizer made from soaking solid worm castings in a liquid.
A popular form of organic nutrient is known as compost teas or compost extract. Like worm tea, compost teas are created by soaking compost in water. The exact nutrients provided by compost tea will depend on the compost it gets made out of.
Compost tea is an excellent organic fertilizer for hydroponics as the compost acts as a breeding ground for beneficial bacteria and microorganisms. Compost tea is a highly effective nutrient solution, providing plants with an abundance of nutrients to use.
What is a Hydroponic Substrate?
A hydroponic substrate is a non-soil grow media that roots can attach to in a manner that fosters healthier plant growth. This helps with aeration and moisture retention in the root system itself.
Rockwool (also called stonewool) is an ideal substance to use as a substrate. Rockwool contains at least 18% of air space, which provides plenty of oxygen to the root system, fostering plants growth.
Clay pellets and pebbles are also combined with Rockwool as a soil replacement in hydroponics. This will give the root system something to grab onto without exerting too much energy.
One of the beauties of hydroponic gardening is that because the nutrients are provided directly to the root system, the plants can exert energy toward growing vital plant parts other than the roots. Energy and nutrition are averted upward away from the root system in a manner that often results in a 25% greater yield.
Do You Have To Use A Grow Medium For a Hydroponic Garden?
If you are interested in organic hydroponics, there is a good chance that you plan to DIY your organic hydroponics set-up. The easiest path toward accomplishing this is to plant your favorite veggies, and leafy greens in a grow medium such as pebbles before filling the pot with a water nutrient solution.
Once you’ve accomplished this, the next important step is to ensure you provide different nutrients necessary to avoid proper growth while avoiding deficiency and decay.(I know… Easier said than done.)
Still, this might be different than what you were envisioning if you saw an advertisement for indoor gardens such AeroGarden or Click & Grow. In those systems, the roots swim freely in a water basin, while the plants sit in pods atop a deck.
Those systems come with their own strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, they are easy to use because the pods are mostly plug-and-play, but the water basins need to be cleaned, and most systems don’t support organic hydroponics.
Of course, hydroponic farmers seeking an organic certification grow crops at a much larger scale than one of these indoor hydroponic set-ups could support. Serious farmers dial-in liquid biodigesters, worm castings, and other technical concepts that are important for organic hydroponics.
Hydroponic growing doesn’t have to be that complicated for most of us. Deciding on a grow medium and how you will source organic nutrients for hydroponics are the most important places to start. Once you decide on these factors, you might research which plants grow most proficiently in hydroponic set-ups.
Are Hydroponics and Aquaponics the Same?
Aquaponic is a form of hydroponic farming in which fish are cultivated alongside crops. This hydroponic system makes use of the beneficial cycle that exists between fish and plants growing in water.
An aquaponics setup is great in regards to creating usable nutrients. This is because it naturally produces organic fertilizer with high amounts of microbial activity.
An aquaponics system utilizes fish waste to create organic nutrients for hydroponic plants. The presence of the fish helps regulate the oxygen and nutrition balance in the system. Waste material from the fish helps provide a usable form of nutrition for the plants. The plants, in turn, prevent the fish waste from building up to harmful levels. Both organisms function to benefit the other.
Aquaponics is an example of sustainable and eco-friendly cultivation. An aquaponics system is a year-round provider of two different sources of food. Overall the system receives boosted benefits from combined cultivation.
Organic Hydroponic Nutrients
Many of the pitfalls that hydroponic farmers face relate to nutrition. They come from overlooking vital elements regarding plant nutrition. While hydroponic crops can absorb nutrients more efficiently, they still need their nutrients in a usable form.
Hydroponic systems require a delicate balance to function properly. Either too much, too little, or the wrong kind of nutrients introduced into a system may destroy an entire crop.
Not Enough or Unusable Nutrients
Not all kinds of nutrients can get absorbed by plants. Without undergoing specific processes, some nutrients can not get used.
In traditional cultivation methods, nutrients get processed into usable forms through bacterial or microbial activity in the soil. Bacterial activity helps the plants through pre-digesting the nutrients and ensures they can properly absorb them.
When the plants can not use the nutrients, they are given, they can suffer from nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient deficiency in hydroponic plants can result in stunted growth and wilting. This can also occur when not enough nutrients get added to the system.
Too Many Nutrients and Anaerobic Degradation
A typical issue using homemade nutrients in hydroponic systems is anaerobic degradation. When too many nutrients build up in a hydroponics system, oxygen levels decrease and affect the root zones of the plants grown.
A lack of oxygen in the root zone of a hydroponic system can kill beneficial bacteria and drown roots. Anaerobic conditions can cause plants to die, roots to rot, and diseases to fester. Properly ensuring that excess and unusable nutrients get removed from a hydroponic system is essential to plant health.
System Incompatible with Nutrients
Unfortunately, some hydroponics just are not designed for organic nutrients. Organic nutrients tend to clump up and clog hydroponic systems not designed for their use. Not considering this is a significant factor in why many people fail to switch to organic hydroponics.
Ensuring that a hydroponics system can handle the nutrients getting used can save a hydroponic farmer from frustration and crop loss down the line. Commercial organic fertilizers may also be available that can reduce these issues.
Can I Use Homemade Nutrients with Commercial Hydroponic Gardens?
Hydroponics can be a challenging field to break into for the average person. Managing a hydroponic garden requires skill and knowledge, and more importantly, time. Due to this, there are a variety of hydroponic gardens designed for more casual hydroponic growers.
Brands such as AeroGarden, Click & Grow, Gardyn, and Lettuce Grow cater to people interested in starting indoor gardens without investing in designing a system from scratch. They use various growing medium and nutrient combinations to make successful plant growth easy.
While it may be possible to use homemade hydroponic nutrients in these systems, it will require tampering with their designs. Using these products outside their intended purpose may cause failure. Combining homemade nutrients with these products would require research and experimentation to work.
The products offered by these brands have been designed to be used by beginners in hydroponics. If you have started with one of these systems and wish to expand your hydroponics, it may be wiser to invest in a more extensive or self-designed system.
Organic Hydroponics: Healthy and Doable
It is possible to grow organic crops with an organic hydroponic system, so long as no synthetic fertilizers or nutrients are used. Fortunately, organic solutions and organic fertilizers are all you need to grow plants.
Organic gardening might seem intimidating, but the key to simple organic farming is to understand the essential nutrients necessary for growing plants. Hydroponic gardening is a great way to give your produce all the proper plant nutrition needed to thrive.
There are many benefits to hydroponic farming that align well with many of the core concerns behind organic cultivation. Organic hydroponics offers many solutions to problems traditional agriculture faces and allows for the efficient use of resources such as water and space.
Homemade nutrient solutions can get created to grow organic crops through hydroponics, though it takes considerable skill and knowledge. Maintaining the proper nutrient levels is one of the critical elements to growing food hydroponically.
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