In the past ten years or so, hydroponics have blown up. Everywhere is implementing hydroponic farms — even here in Bali.
However, many people still don’t know what it is or how it works, so let’s tackle those issues before we get to the Do-It-Yourself part of this blog.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the farming of plants without using soil.
It seems surprising, as we all know that plants grow out of the earth and need the soil to dig roots and get nutrients, right?
Well… yes and no.
Yes, the benefits of soil are a necessity. They store nutrients, water, and hold roots, which a plant needs to survive. However, the soil itself is not a requirement. Plants can lay their roots gain all their nutrients in other environments — in the case of hydroponics, normally water, oxygen, and nutrient-rich liquid fertilizers. The liquid fertilizers are a necessity, as they allow the plants to gain all the nutrients they need. They are applied directly to the root system of a plant, normally through immersion or flooding.
Some claim it is an even more effective farming method than traditional soil-based practices! Hydroponics does have the extreme benefit of being able to be applied in area with poor soils or limited land area. It has the potential to greatly increase our capacity to grow food.
How does it work?
In a word: controlled.
Everything in the hydroponic system is controlled to allow for maximum production and minimal resource use. Temperature, pH levels, nutrient requirements, hydration levels — all are constantly examined so that the farmers can give the plants everything they need. Exactly what they need, when they need it, and precisely the right amount. Nutrient-rich formulas are applied directly to the root system and get efficiently absorbed, along with all the hydration a plant could need.
This is what allows plants to thrive even without soil. In fact, even better than soil. Without the resistance of the physical presence of soil — a dense and heavy thing — seedlings can mature and sprout much faster!
Furthermore, the issues of pests, diseases, weeds, and competition are magnificently reduced. The unpredictability of all these damaging factors are removed without needing to use pesticides. This allows hydroponic yields to be much more ‘natural’ than most plants grown in soil!
How can I do it myself?
I am no expert on hydroponic systems, so if you wish to give it a real shot, I suggest you consult the internet further. However, I can recommend a hydroponic ‘experiment’ that I myself am trying.
Last week I mentioned how my old classmate Jessica founded an eco-Instagram called ‘ecological.ly’, where she posts facts and tips about being more sustainable. One of her favorite ways to reduce food waste — as we know, a huge issue — is to regrow vegetables from the scraps she would otherwise toss out.
Here are some photos of veggies she regrew, posted on her Instagram highlight 'Food Waste':
What a sweet idea! I loved it.
After writing that blog post, I became curious, and extremely eager to give this DIY-hydroponic experiment by best shot. So, today I did!
I love to use romaine lettuce in my salad, so after I used the delicious leaves, I got to work. It's simple and quick, easy for those of us trying to squeeze in sustainable activities in-between many other priorities.
An easy hydroponic system in 5 steps:
Step #1: Remove the stem, up to where the leaves start emerging.
Step #2: Cut off all the leaves. Otherwise, they’ll rot over time!
Step #3: Place your stem in a cup or jar of your choice. The sizing is up to you, but normally you don’t want it to be too wide or too short! I used a leftover feta cheese jar (because we have many of those in my house!).
Step #4: Fill up your container with water to about halfway up the stem.
Step #5: Place your container in a spot where it will get lots of natural sunlight. However, be careful not to expose it to too much direct light, which can kill it.
And that’s it! Five steps and you're done!
One option is to buy or make your own liquid fertilizer for your plant, but it’s not a necessity. I chose not to, because I really wanted to test if this would work even without it.
Once it’s “planted”, your plants should sprout within a few days. If it hasn’t, sorry but it’s not working out! The good news is, this process is quick and free, so it's easy to try again. If all goes well, your hydroponic goodies should be ready to harvest in about 10-12 days. I’ll update you guys on my progress in my next two blogs so you can follow along on my successes and failures!
You can do this little experiment with many vegetables, such as carrot tops, bok choy (which is next on my list), celery, or fennel! There are so many resources online to help you with that.
Are you going to try this? Have you ever tried to grow hydroponically before? Let me know in the comments below!