Farming often gets a bad rap. From using pesticides and chemicals that ruin the environment to the sheer quantity of water used for crops and cattle. And what with droughts happening more readily in South Africa, finding new ways to farm that ensure steady food production is an essential task for our farmers. Enter hydroponic farming.
There are many benefits to this soilless system of farming. Can you believe that farming this way uses up to 84-90% less water than conventional farming? There are more pros too. You need far less space since your plants won’t have an extensive root system. You can grow your crops in the city. You don’t need to use pesticides. And that’s just a few of the benefits.
This post looks at what hydroponic farming is, its many benefits, and why it’s so important in South Africa.
WHAT IS HYDROPONIC FARMING?
Another word for hydroponic farming is soilless cultivation. It’s a system where plants are grown in growth media that’s not natural soil. The plants are grown in a water-based, mineral- and nutrient-rich solution instead of the earth and under LED lights, not out in the sun.
This farming system enables a farmer to produce a similar yield and crop quality as traditional farming. Macro- and micro-nutrients are dissolved in the irrigation water and regularly supplied to the plants. You’ll also see better and faster plant growth with conceivably higher yields since all the plants’ needs – nutrients, temperature, humidity, and light – are controlled more closely.
Although the plants are growing in water, water itself is used much more efficiently. Closed hydroponic systems recirculate the water, and they reportedly have water productivity up to 96% and nutrients up to 97% as compared to the open hydroponic system.
BENEFITS OF HYDROPONIC FARMING
Balanced nutrient supply
Hydroponic farming systems feed the plants a balanced supply of nutrients and water. This helps ensure faster and consistent growth, with nutritious produce and larger yields. What more could a farmer want? And, since the plants are not growing in the ground, all your focus can be directed towards nutrient supply and pest management.
Such an efficient growing system means you can keep the costs low. For example, a reticulated hydroponics system will use only about 10-16% of the water and fertiliser required to grow the same plants in soil.
Nutrients reach the plants
In traditional farming, the soil is enhanced with the plants’ nutrients by adding extra compost and fertiliser. Of course, knowing what salts and trace elements are already in the ground is difficult to manage. And so, by adding these extras, like nitrogen and phosphate, the farmer is hoping to give the plants all the nutrients they need. What happens, though, is these additional fertilisers are often never used by the plants and leach out in our water systems or stimulate the arrival of pests and weeds. But in a hydroponic system, the balanced nutrient solution is delivered straight to the plant and used efficiently, thereby removing nutrient leaching.
Suitable for use through your hydroponic systems, BIOGROW’s commercial foliar feed Biotrissol is a fertiliser that offers your plants the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Produced from natural fermentation of the sugar beet it will stimulate healthy plant growth and the flowering of fruiting vegetables.
The good news is that all the water used in soilless growing is used efficiently. The water that doesn’t godirectly into the plant’s growing method is collected in order to be recirculated back into the growing system. That means either it’s stored in the plant or released through transpiration.
Oxygen for the roots
Plants’ root systems need oxygen. It’s an essential requirement for their growth. In soilless farming, the nutrient solution bubbles as it passes through the gravel medium – this creates excellent oxygenated water for the plants’ roots.
Poor nutrient supply results in plants creating an extensive root system. Why? The plants send the roots out hunting for nutrients. When it comes to hydroponics, the plants are getting all the nutrients they need, so the roots don’t grow very big. Instead, all the plant’s energy goes into producing a strong and healthy plant in a quicker time.
Save on labour costs
Because you won’t need any soil preparation, weeding is minimal, and no watering is necessary, you don’t need to employ as much labour. Your planting and harvesting are speedy and straightforward. And, granted you have an uninterrupted electrical supply to the system, your plants will only need topping up with their nutrients and water and some very infrequent pest management.
Efficient use of space
As we mentioned, farmers can plant their crops much closer together since they don’t have extensive root systems. This means your space doesn’t go to waste. Did you know that in conventional farming, the root system is generally about twice the diameter of the plant? In a soilless system, the roots are about half of the diameter of the plant. This also means you can set up your hydroponic system can be set up almost anywhere. You can place it outdoors under a shade cloth or indoors under special lighting. You can also elevate your growing system, which will help promote air movement and save on space.
Keeping things clean
Something else that’s missing in the soilless system is plant pathogens that naturally occur in all soils. And that’s great news because it reduces the potential threat of plant disease and the requirement for pesticide intervention. You’ll have clean, hygienic plants growing in your hydroponic farm.
Some preventative pest management will always be required. But as pest pressure should be less than conventional systems it becomes easier to manage using more biological product options. Biogrows’ range of insecticides and fungicides are highly effective, environmentally friendly and can be applied up to the day you harvest your crop as they have zero negative effects towards human consumption.
Managing excessive nitrogen and fertiliser salts is also very important to ensure that you do not make the plants stressed or susceptible to diseases. Nitrogen stimulates growth but excessive nitrogen makes the plants soft and susceptible while also diluting the plants nutrient content.