Hydroponic Systems: What & Why?
Hydroponics refers to growing plants in a nutrient rich water solution without soil. It is proven to ensure faster growth,
higher yield and a more nutritious produce. This is simply because the plants are given exactly what they need when
they need it. It is the best way of growing plants for city dwellers who don’t have much land to themselves. Moreover,
hydroponics helps you conserve almost 90% of water in comparison to when growing plants in soil. If you want to read
more about hydroponics and the science behind it, check out our blog – “Hydroponics and its Benefits”.
In India, we are seeing a rise in interest towards hydroponics from home growers. This is majorly because of the recent
shift of people towards cities where you only have a balcony or a small terrace to grow anything. Also, given today’s
busy lifestyle, many find it difficult to grow vegetables or even maintain a garden using traditional methods, i.e., in
pots or grow bags with soil. So, as our way of living changes its only natural that we look for more advanced and
evolved methods of farming for ourselves that is more suitable to our lifestyle.
Requirements for a Hydroponic System
To grow plants hydroponically you will need a couple of basic things:
i. Reservoir : An opaque air tight container. The capacity of the container depends on how many plants you wish to grow. For example, if you are growing small plants like Spinach, you require around 2 litres per plant.
ii. Air pump: This is to provide oxygenation for better nutrient absorption.
iii. Net pots: These are required so that the roots can easily grow out of the pot. Net pots are available in various sizes: 2″, 3″, 4″, 6″, etc. Most commonly used one is 2″ diameter netpots.
iv. Clay Balls/Rockwool/Coco peat/Foam: These are to hold the plant firmly in the pot. The main requirement is that it should be able to hold moisture and shouldn’t alter the pH of the solution.
v. Hydroponic Nutrients: Hydroponic nutrients should consist of all the essential elements required for plant growth as the plants are completely dependent on it. Plants mainly require Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (N-P-K) along with a
range of micro and macro nutrients. Hydroponic nutrients are available in different ratios of the required elements.
vi. TDS Meter: A TDS (Total Dissolved Solute) meter is used to measure the nutrient concentration in the solution.
If you want to set-up a hydroponic system on your own for your home, the easiest type is a Deep-Water Culture (DWC)
System (Explained in detail below). In a DWC system you can grow small plants such as Mint, Spinach, Amaranth, Kale,
Lettuce, etc. You can get seedlings of the plants of your choice from a local nursery and simply wash the soil of the
roots and place it in your system.
There are different types of hydroponic techniques: Deep Water Culture, Nutrient Film Technique, Aeroponics, etc.
Our system- Vertigrove-hydro uses a combination of DWC and NFT technique for optimum results. Let’s get into the
details of each technique and understand their respective set of advantages and disadvantages.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
1. Deep Water Culture (DWC)
DWC is ideal for beginners as it is the simplest way to start learning hydroponics. The plants in net pots are placed on the lid of the reservoir such that the roots are dangling inside. The reservoir will be filled with nutrient rich oxygenated solution. The solution is oxygenated using the air pump and stone. Since the plant roots are submerged in water constantly proper oxygenation is very essential.
You need to ensure that only the plant roots are exposed to the nutrient solution and not the stem or any vegetative part of the plant.
It is also advised to maintain the water level in the reservoir such that about an inch of the root remains above the waterline.
- Budget friendly system that can be easily made at home.
- Ideal to learn hydroponics
- Very Low Maintenance
- DWC systems are only good for growing herbs and leafy vegetables. It is not recommended for growing
any kind of flowering or fruiting plants.
- If the air pump does not work for a long time, the plants will suffer.
2.Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Unlike in DWC systems where the plant roots are completely submerged in water, in an NFT system the plant
roots are exposed to only a thin stream of nutrient rich solution that is constantly being circulated.
An NFT system consists of a reservoir with rectangular or cylindrical channels to hold plants connected to it. Plants in net-pots are placed on the channel such that the roots are inside. A submergible pump is placed in the reservoir which will pump the solution to the channels. The channel is placed slantingly such that the solution flows downwards and back to the reservoir. An air pump and stone are also placed in the reservoir to ensure proper oxygenation.
A thin stream of the nutrient solution passes through the channels such that only the edge of the plant roots is in contact with it. This also means that a good part of the roots is exposed resulting in plenty of room for oxygen. NFT systems are very popular among commercial growers. These are mostly suitable for light weighted plants like lettuce, kale and spinach. To grow heavier fruiting plants, you would require to provide extra plant support.
- Requires less water. Since water is being constantly circulated.
- Consistent flow also prevents salts accumulating at the roots.
- Ideal for large scale commercial growers due to its modular design.
- Plants likely to die during power failures. Since only a thin stream of the nutrient solution is being
circulated, during a power failure the plant roots would remain dry and die soon.
- Not suitable to grow heavy fruiting plants.
In an aeroponic system the plant roots are exposed to a nutrient filled mist. In this technique plant roots are not supported by any solid growing medium (such as clay balls, rock wool etc.). Instead, the roots would be dangling in air inside a closed loop system. Hence, a collar (For eg. Made with foam) is to be added to the plants in the net pots to hold the stems firmly.
Plants in net pots are placed on the lid of the reservoir. The reservoir will be filled with the nutrient rich solution. A pump placed inside the reservoir will pump the solution to the sprinkler system. These sprinklers will periodically spray the solution to the dangling roots.
Compared to other hydroponic systems, plants grown aeroponically grow faster as they can absorb nutrients more efficiently. This is simply because the plant roots are exposed to more oxygen.
- More water efficient compared to other hydroponic systems.
- Supports vertical designs, hence it lets you grow more in less space.
- Faster plant growth and higher yields
- Ideal for commercial growers.
- Requires high level of precision and maintenance in comparison to other hydroponic systems.
- During power failures, plants will die out quickly as the roots would be left dry instantly.
- Requires technical knowledge to set-up and maintain.
Compact, Easy & Efficient Hydroponic System
All these hydroponic systems have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you wish to start growing plants
hydroponically, depending on your budget, time and space you can choose the technique suitable for you.
We have extensively studied each technique before designing Vertigrove-hydro. Hence, we have tried to incorporate
the advantages of each technique and tried to eliminate the disadvantages.
Sustains Power Cuts
One major disadvantage common in all is that during power failures the plants are adversely affected. So, Vertigrovehydro is designed such that it can withstand power-cuts upto 12 hrs. This is because it uses a combination of DWC and NFT techniques, wherein the water is collected in each pot and at the same it’s being circulated as well. The water collected in each pot drips down to the pot below very gradually, hence the pots are able to hold water in it for a long time. This ensures that plants have access to nutrient rich water at all times.
Supports Fruiting Vegetables
Another advantage of Vertigrove-hydro is that, because of its structure, it can easily support fruiting vegetables and creepers. The pots are designed such it’s diameter and height are suitable for the extensive root system of fruiting vegetables.
A person trying hydroponics for the first time might find the concept a little technical and could have a tough time trying to navigate through the pool of resources available on the internet. So, we will handhold you throughout your journey till you are an expert of hydroponics yourself!
If you are interested in setting up your own hydroponic garden in your home balcony,
give Vertigrove-hydro a try!
Vertigrove-hydro is a vertical hydroponic system in which you can grow upto 36 plants in just 4 sqft.
It is designed exclusively for urban dwellers who have space and time constraints.
Contact us here to know more.
Hydroponics is a fast-growing concept and is reaching commercial and home growers at a fast rate. The increase in popularity of the technique is simply because of its significant advantages when compared to soil farming. A better understanding of the science behind hydroponics is helping growers to maximize their yield with minimum resources.
Let’s get into the basics of hydroponics. Hydroponics is basically a technique of growing plants without soil! It is a method of growing plants in water with the essential nutrients dissolved in it. The plants are placed in net pots such that their roots are in touch with nutrient rich water and the plants are secured in the net pot usually using clay balls.
But, how can plants grow without soil?
A lot of people are surprised to know that plants can grow with out any soil! So, let’s dive into how that’s possible. For this, first we need to understand what a plant needs to grow. As we all know, plants grow through a process called photosynthesis, in which they convert water, minerals and carbon dioxide in the presence of sunlight and chlorophyl into glucose and oxygen.
If you have noticed, there’s no mention of soil here! Plants grow in soil because it contains water and minerals. So, if plants get these by standing with their roots in a mineral rich water solution, they can do without soil altogether.
There are variety of hydroponic systems, but all have certain basic common requirements for plant growth:
- Light: Both fruiting and leafy vegetables require a minimum of 6 hrs. of sunlight for proper growth. In case of indoor hydroponic system this will be substituted by artificial lights.
- Water: Water used in hydroponic system is very crucial. Filtered water with a balanced pH is required. Most plant grow best at an optimum pH between 5.5-6.5. The pH of your water can be adjusted using pH up & down solutions.
- Nutrients: Plants require 17 essential nutrients for proper growth and development. Since the plants aren’t growing in its natural environment, the grower needs to provide it “food” in the form of nutrient solution. Pre-mixed nutrient solutions are available and it simply needs to be added to the water.
- Root Support: Since in hydroponic systems there is no soil involved it is necessary to provide the plant roots support so that the plants stand straight. For this we need to use materials that can retain moisture, such as clay balls, leca balls, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, etc.
- Oxygen: Plant roots need access to oxygen in order to absorb nutrients efficiently. When grown in soil, plants get oxygen from air pockets present in the soil. In hydroponic systems, many growers make the mistake of drowning their plant roots in water. This will adversely affect plant growth. To avoid this, we need to ensure that there is sufficient space between the base of the plant and the water level, or add oxygen using air pumps or by creating bubbles.
Do plants grow better hydroponically than in soil?
Yes, it’s proven that plants show much better growth when grown hydroponically. This is simply because the plants are getting the right nutrients at the right stage in the form that it can be easily absorbed. Plants can absorb nutrients only in its ionic form. The major difference in the nutrients in soil and in hydroponic method is that the former requires bio-active intervention before it can be absorbed and the latter is ready for immediate uptake.
Plants require mainly 3 elements for proper growth: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium.
Plants cannot directly absorb nutrients from fertilizers or manure present in the soil. For example, let’s look into how plants absorb nitrogen.
What we need to understand is that the nutrients that plants absorb in hydroponics are exactly the same as the ions resulting after this complex process. So, in hydroponics plants can absorb the nutrients faster and much more easily and hence they grow faster, produce higher yields and are much more nutritious as well.
Advantages of hydroponics
- Space saver
Unlike soil farming, where you need a large area to set-up a farm, hydroponics requires significantly less space to set-up the same number of plants. Moreover, if hydroponics is coupled with vertical gardening it is possible to grow in 90% less area in comparison to conventional farming techniques.
It is possible to crowd plants in hydroponics mainly because plant roots don’t have to go very deep in search of nutrients. Water and nutrients are available for uptake at the roots constantly or intermittently depending on the type of hydroponic system. This means that each plant’s root system will occupy far less space in comparison to when grown in soil. Hence, you can grow a greater number of plants in the same space.
- Conserves Water
Even though in hydroponics plants are grown in a water medium, it uses much less water in comparison to soil farming. In fact, it is proven that plants need 90% less water when grown hydroponically. In hydroponic
systems water is constantly being circulated and hence can be recycled and replenished with nutrients. This means that plants absorb the water they need and the rest of the water remains in the system and is re-circulated.
- Less pest attacks
Plants grown hydroponically are healthier and thus have a greater immunity. This makes them able to resist pest attacks to a certain level. Also, there is no question of soil borne pests in hydroponics and hence that can be completely ruled out.
- Less labor intensive
In hydroponic systems there is no need for weeding, tilling, watering each plant, etc. Since, no soil is involved there is no weeding or tilling that needs to be done. In most hydroponic systems, water is constantly being circulated, hence there is no need to manually water each plant. The reservoir needs to be topped off with water and TDS (nutrient levels) need to be adjusted once in a while. Since these can be done centrally for all plants, it makes hydroponic farming much less labor intensive.
- Faster growth and higher Yields
Since plants are getting the right nutrients at the right time, plants grow 30-50% faster in hydroponic systems in comparison to traditional methods of farming. When grown in soil, plants take months to reach fruiting and ripening stage. This is simply because in soil, plant roots have to go deep in search of nutrients required for proper growth. Whereas in a hydroponic system, the required nutrients depending on the stage of growth is made available to the plant at its root.
- Nutrient Control
The grower has proper control on the nutrients that the plants absorb when grown in hydroponic systems. In hydroponic systems, the grower can measure the level of nutrient available in the solution using a TDS meter and can adjust the quantity according to the stage of plant growth. Also, pH of the medium is very critical to ensure that plants can optimally absorb the nutrients. In hydroponic systems, you can easily measure the pH and make correctives using pH up or pH down solutions that are available easily.
If you are interested in setting up your own hydroponic garden in your home balcony, give Vertigrove-hydro a try! Vertigrove-hydro is a vertical hydroponic system in which you can grow upto 36 plants in just 4 sqft. It is designed exclusively for urban dwellers who have space and time constraints. Contact us here to know more.
Vertigrove-hydro is designed to grow the maximum number of vegetables and plants in minimum space with highest productivity consistently. Based on our 3 years of extensive research we have developed various features in Vertigrove-Hydro to address the needs and concerns of an urban farmer.
- Maximum plants in minimum space with highest Productivity
Vertigrove-Hydro is designed on a vertical structure to grow maximum plants in minimum space (up-to 48 plants in 4 sqft). But crowding plants together will adversely affect their growth and productivity as plants don’t have enough space for root growth and also the amount of nutrients that any of the plants can absorb would be less.
So, we choose to use hydroponics technology as plants can be grown very closely. Also the productivity of Hydroponically grown plants is 50% more and is consistent. Leveraging hydroponics not only ensures maximum productivity of plants in less space but will also lead to faster growth, higher yields and a more nutritious produce.
- Access to Sunlight, Oxygen & Nutrients And Protection from Heavy Rains
Vertigrove-hydro can be placed outside under direct sunlight. The pots are made of high-quality plastic resin that ensures all-weather durability and is 100% UV stable to prevent fading and cracking. Also, sunlight comes in patches, so Vertigrove-hydro is designed with castor wheels to make it portable. You could either move it around to ensure plants get maximum sunlight or even move it indoors in case of heavy rains.
Plant roots need oxygen to better absorb nutrients and even water. Without enough oxygen, plants are likely not to grow to their full potential, in part because they aren’t taking nutrients in effectively. In Vertigrove water is constantly falling. This falling water agitates and causes bubbles to form in the water being collected in each pot, thereby it provides aeration to the roots by increasing the dissolved oxygen levels. The height at which the water falls is optimised to ensure perfect aeration. Also, the airtube fixed in the pump will provide additional aeration to the plants. Also protection is provided to prevent heating up of the air bubbles as this is critical for growth of the plants.
The plants receive nutrients through the nutrient rich water in the water tank. The nutrients are to be added as per the chart that we provide.
- Protection from Power Failure
Most hydroponic systems need to be plugged in 24*7. So, in cases of power failures the system would stop functioning and if the power is gone for longer durations the plants may even die. This would affect the efficiency and productivity of the system. Hence, Vertigrove has a provision wherein a certain amount of water would be collected in each pot as the water flows. This will ensure that even in case of a power cut the roots will have access to the nutrient rich water.
- Supports Leafy and Fruiting Vegetables
Most hydroponic systems let you grow only leafy vegetables. This is because in these systems, the plant roots do not have much space to grow and leafy vegetables being shallow rooted are the only ones possible. Whereas Vertigrove-hydro is designed such that the roots have sufficient space to grow as long as needed. So, it can easily support deep rooted plants such as tomatoes, okra, beans, cucumbers, etc.
Now unlike leafy vegetables, fruiting plants grow big in size and also could be creepers. To support such plants, Vertigrove-hydro is designed with creeper guards. Thereby you would not need to tie the plants or provide any external support and the system can continue to be portable.
- Hassle-free and Aesthetic
We want Vertigrove-hydro to present to our customers a hassle-free farming experience. The major inconvenience for urban growers is cleaning their balcony or terrace after each rain or taking out time often to water each and every plant.
Vertigrove-hydro is designed to be spill proof and mosquito proof; it can be easily moved around for cleaning purposes as well. Also, because it uses hydroponics there is no question of watering each plant or even weeding. All that needs to be done is to check the nutrient level in the water (TDS Level) and pH levels once in a while.
The pots are aesthetically designed and available in different colours and are attractive hence they can be kept inside the living room or bedrooms of the house.
- Easy Maintenance and Repeatable Process
For busy executives who don’t have the time for this, there is an optional feature of integrating with IOT. In this, the TDS and other parameters can be checked remotely by connecting to the IOT sensors from your SmartPhone using the Vertigrove App. These sensors will read the parameters and display it on your smartphone.
Customers need to follow a standard procedure for providing the nutrients. Pest control solutions to the plants and required nutrients are easily available in the market.
Vertigrove is not just a product, but through it we wish to build a community of urban dwellers who can reconnect with nature and thereby sustainably grow their own food. For this we have a support app that lets our customers stay connected to us. The app has a provision for customers to raise a ticket in case they are facing an issue. They can simply click an image of the problem and upload it. Our team of experts would get back to them immediately with a resolution. The app would also be used as a platform to share the latest advances in urban farming with our community.
Improving customer experience is a constant process and we are always looking for new ways to enhance how our customers would farm using Vertigrove. Our aim is to enable urban dwellers who lead extremely busy lives to experience the joy of growing their own food and reconnect with nature.
Backyards are places where we spent most of our daily lives. Kerala in the eighties had cosy backyards with a well, cowshed, fruit trees and a kitchen garden. Children grew up in this space, grandparents rested here and this area bustled with activity during the harvest and festival seasons.
Today our backyards are smaller balconies. A much-needed private space in flats, this is where a little boy practices his penalty shots, its where we dry our clothes and sometimes kitchen spices, our grandparents catch a little sun while reading the paper and at dusk this balcony is a moonlight haven for a romantic teen. Some of us who grew up on farms sometimes squeeze in a kitchen garden here. The difficulties before a balcony farmer are the following.
Chasing the Sun!
The little patch of sunlight moves during the day and one would practically want to move the entire garden to catch the sun. Green leafy vegetables need at least 4 hours of sunlight and Fruiting vegetables need 8 hours of sunlight in a day. Unless we have a mobile unit that can pull the plants to catch maximum sunlight all the work that is put into farming is futile.
The rains and the muddy balcony
The monsoon woes of the balcony farmer! The intense rains completely soak the Grow bags and the muddy water messes the balcony. Cleaning the mess is a chore and energy draining. One then has to restore the garden. That means getting more potting mix all the way from the local agricultural farm, shoving it up to your high-rise nest and then adding it on to the grow bags and replanting the vegetables. Only to have the next shower wreak havoc!
Tussle for space
Balconies are the only outlet for nature in an otherwise overcrowded living space. It is the little one’s playground, the elders’ gym, the housewives work area and the urban farmer’s garden. All in one. The more compact the garden the more the balcony is utilized and the small patch of green enhances the other utilities but grow bags that occupy too much space reduce the balcony into a neglected corner.
Every farmer dream is a plentiful harvest. The hours of weeding, nurturing and labour is fulfilled when a bowl of tomatoes, a handful of beans and cucumber or 2 grace the kitchen counter. Sometimes however one tries a bountiful harvest evades the urban farmer. If backyard farmers have to thrive, they need innovative technology that can help boost the productivity so that farmer is inspired to carry on.
Kitchen Gardens of today
The kitchen gardens need to be compact, highly productive, soilless and easy to manage. Vertical farming solves the issue of space constraint. Hydroponics and good nutrient management gives a better yield . Soilless farming removes the challenge of muddy terrace. And IOT technology can cut the time spent on the garden and make it all a lot easier. As Theodore Roosevelt rightly said – “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”