Gardening is our passion, and to this point, almost we’ve grown has been using a soil-based medium. This allows a whole ecosystem of soil bacteria and fungi, beneficial insects, worms, and many other organisms to be growing around our plants. However, soil-based growing isn’t the only method to grow delicious crops. In this week’s tip, we’ll be giving you a brief overview of hydroponics and aquaponics.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, by placing the plant roots in a liquid nutrient solution. The plant roots are grown exclusively in this mineral nutrient solution, or they can also be placed in an inert medium such as gravel, clay,or perlite.

Within the hydroponic method, there are five main growing methods: Ebb and Flow (also called flood and drain), Deep Water Culture, Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Aeroponics, and Drip Systems. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages, which we won’t get into at this time.

Aquapnics Newmarket
Photo: UpStream Aquaponics in Newmark

hydroponic roots
Photo: Lettuce growing in a deep water culture system

Aquaponics is a system that combines aquaculture (farming fish or other aquatic organisms) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The fish are fed; their waste provides a food source for the plants; and the plants in turn purify the water by taking up the nutrients from the fish waste. Similar hydroponic methods such as Nutrient Film Technique, Ebb and Flow, and Deep Water Culture are used.

small aquaponic setup
Photo: A small aquaponic setup.

Proponents of hydroponics and aquaponics point to the faster growth rate of plants, not having to deal with weeds and soil-borne insects, minimal water use, and the ability to grow anywhere as some of the main benefits when it comes to these methods of gardening.

Despite their benefits, some potential disadvantages of these methods include the high initial cost of setting up a system, potential loss of plants (and fish) during power outages, higher chance of diseases and harmful organisms killing the crops if affected, continual need for fish food, fertilizers, and electricity. There is also debate on if these methods can be certified organic due to their inherent lack of soil-based growing media.

We’ve just started to cover the basic when it comes to these growing techniques. There’s lots more to discover online and even in some interesting home kits that are starting to come onto the market.

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