Basically hydroponics is dissolving plant food in water and applying it to the roots of plants, and allowing the roots to breathe.
Let's take a look at some of the ways this can be done.
Static Pool Technique
Here the roots of the plants dangle into a pool of nutrient solution. The air gap above the nutrient solution is where the roots are able to breathe.
Aerated Pool Technique
With this technique air is bubbled into the nutrient solution. This increases the oxygen content and it prevents the solution from becoming stagnant.
Aerated Deep Flow Technique
Here the nutrient solution is aerated as it flows through a system.
Ebb & Flow Technique
The level of the nutrient solution rises and falls, like the tides. Alternating between feeding the roots and allowing them to breath. The timing of the cycle can vary depending on various factors.
Nutrient Film Technique
Here a thin stream of nutrient flows across a gulley or tube where the roots of plants are growing.
Here a wave of nutrient solution floods over the roots of plants periodically. The timing of the cycle varies depending on a number of factors.
Here nutrient solution is dripped onto the roots of plants. This works much like drip irrigation systems, but with nutrient added to the water.
Here the nutrient solution is applied in a fine spray.
Here nutrient solution in the form of a very fine mist is applied to the roots of plants.
A Universal Hydroponic System
A universal hydroponic system has been an elusive dream since before Walt Disney had a vision for EPCOT in the 1950’s. Figuring out how to do it has been no small task. To quote Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
To help get our wits around this, let's divide the hydroponic industry into four areas.
1. Large commercial operations:
Measured in number of acres under glass. Compare these to mainframe computers of the 70’s. Cost is very high, so their numbers are small. Limited crop selection, produce bred primarily for appearance, not flavor or nutrition, picked early to make it through long distribution channels, and doesn’t keep very long after the customer buys it.
2. Small commercial operations:
Measured in thousands of square feet. Compare these to mini-computers of the 80’s. Improvements in technology lowered cost and their numbers were much higher. Key drivers include advances in LEDs and vertical grow systems that increase per square foot output dramatically. Located in or near cities, distance and time to market is not an issue, but limited crop selection is. Currently a lot of investment is pouring into this area. $200M in 2017 to Plenty alone!
3. Hobby hydroponics:
Thousands of retail stores cater to the hydro hobbyist. Compare this to the computer hobby field of the 1970’s. Systems are crude, require a lot of attention, and are too expensive for food production. Nevertheless, over the past few years Scotts Miracle-Gro alone has invested about $1B in this segment ($685M in the US alone).
4. Universal Hydroponics:
Universal hydroponics could be compared to microcomputers. It will be used to grow food in backyards, on rooftops, in greenhouses, and in warehouses with LEDs, and they will scale from personal to commercial applications. They could be any size, could be located just about anywhere, and will be able to grow almost anything.
Hyperlocal food will be harvested and consumed at peak ripeness with minimal to zero transportation. Universal hydroponic systems will empower individuals from all walks of life to participate at a level that suits them, in a diversity of locations we can only speculate upon. Food will still be shipped long distances, but the most nutritious and best tasting will be hyperlocal.