Simply put, hydroponic gardening is method of growing plants without soil. It’s a way to nurture a huge variety of edible plants (think herbs, veggies, even some fruits) indoors all year round, regardless of what Mother Nature is doing outside your door. A hydroponic system doesn’t take a lot of space (unless you want it to), it will work just about anywhere, and plants will actually grow faster than if you were growing in-ground. It’s not hard to see why hydroponic gardening is fast becoming a popular way to grow plants everywhere from kitchen counters to university dining halls!
So why is it called hydroponics? “Hydro” is the Greek word for water, and “ponos” means work. In hydroponic gardening, the water does the work—in this case, the work of delivering nutrients to the plant roots.
In order to grow, plants need water, sunlight, carbon dioxide (usually from air circulation), and nutrients. In a traditional garden, plant roots have to seek out nutrients in the soil. In hydroponic gardens, nutrients are dissolved in the water that surrounds the roots, so plants have even easier access to the nutrition they need. The result? Plants tend to grow big and beautiful very quickly.
There are different kinds of hydroponic systems. In some, plant roots actually dangle in the water. In other hydroponic gardens, plants grow in some kind of soil substitute, such as peat moss, coir (coconut fiber), aged bark, perlite, or clay pebbles. And because there’s none of the soil that many plant pests and diseases need to survive, when you ditch the dirt, you cut way down on your chance of experiencing those problems. Amazingly, many hydroponic gardens actually require less water than traditional gardens.
The Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ Indoor Growing System is an excellent example of a water-based system. Built to look like a sleek, modern end table, the lower half is a hydroponic system that circulates water and plant food to plant roots, and provides plenty of light for growing. You can control the schedule, change the lighting, monitor the water level, and more with the Miracle-Gro® Twelve™ app. It provides an ideal growing space for herbs and leafy greens.
Here’s a little more about the different kinds of hydroponic set-ups you may come across:
- All hydroponic systems include a reservoir or other container, a nutrient source (usually a solution), and, of course, water.
- Many also include a grow light, a growing medium (like those mentioned above), and/or an air pump (if growing directly in water).
- Size-wise, the reservoirs or containers for home growers can range from small enough to grow a single herb to large enough to grow a couple of tomato plants—and sometimes even bigger.
- Some hydroponic systems are designed to be used indoors, while others can be used outside (depending on temperature and time of year).
Many experts in agriculture consider hydroponic gardening to be much more than just a cool way for home gardeners to grow a few plants. They see it as the future of food production, because hydroponic gardens can be made to fit just about anywhere and allow even un-farmable areas to grow nourishing food. Chances are, if you’ve bought cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, or fresh herbs at the grocery store lately, you’ve already tasted the fruits of hydroponic growing.
But why buy hydroponically grown produce when you can grow it yourself on the deck or in your spare bedroom? If you ask us, it’s time to get growing!