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Hydroponics and hydroculture name the process of growing plants in nutrient-rich water. Hydrofarming refers to using this process on a larger scale. Various soilless media are often used to support plants grown by hydroponics.

Grant Park Rose Garden
Photo by Elaine C. Shigley

This type of gardening dates back to the 1700s, when it was discovered that plants absorb nutrients regardless of the presence or absence of soil. It was also discovered that most land-dwelling plants will grow using this process. Later it became the standard technique in laboratory research and biological instruction.

Sometimes other soilless media are used in addition to water. These kinds of media are perlite, gravel, biochar, mineral wool, expanded clay pebbles and coconut husks. Perlite is a grayish volcanic glass that looks like tiny pearls. It can be used as a soil replacement, soil conditioner or a heat insulator. Biochar is the product of slow-burned, hard-to-compost, organic material, like branches and tree trunks. Mineral wool is created by burning molten rock, or it can be synthetically produced.

Hydroponics has many gardening advantages. Some obvious ones are the ease of feeding and plant maintenance and the avoidance of problems associated with handling soil. Using hydroponics to grow fruits and vegetables produces steady, high yields of crops, and harvesting is less strenuous. Plants are healthier and better for eating. Diseases and plant pests can be more easily controlled when plants are grown in containers. Soil-borne insects are limited when certain kinds of hydroponic media are used. The environment is protected because pesticide damage is limited.

The disadvantages of hydroponics are few. The rapid growth of plants often needs to be controlled, and sometimes plants experience damping-off due to verticillium wilt. Hydroponics also requires special fertilizers and plant containment structures.

To be continued…

Live long and well—garden.

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