Outdoor Living: Why Hydroponics 2

If you are like me then you care about what goes into your body. Sometimes not easy in our busy world and hectic days but I am a firm believer of the adage “You are what You eat”.
So, till recently I’ve tried when possible to buy organic foods and eat a healthy diet.

Organic is great but sadly it is not easy to tell at the supermarket shelf how strict the farmers have been on following the organic guidelines and there still have been cases of pesticides and other poisons on our supposedly healthy products.

Maybe in a perfect world everyone world have a small vegetable garden and can grow most of their own. But the world is not perfect and most of us hardly have much of a garden and if we do it is a constant battle with the elements. Most of us have come here for the heat and the wonderful sunshine but these are not exactly congruent for a vegetable plot especially when you’re trying European salads etc.

What to Do?
Most of us have all heard of Hydroponics, I certainly had but it has always been something that I considered too complicated or near impossible to set up in a home environment. But the last few months has seriously changed my attitude and I think many of you will appreciate the info.

In our last edition, we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of a hydroponic set up. Looking at the different systems that can be used and the benefits. Now I very quickly received quite a few emails asking various questions. Most were asking about two subjects.
First what grow medium or substrate is best and then questions about nutrients and where to buy.

Hydroponic Nutrients
A plant’s roots can be thought of as miners of the soil. Their primary function is to search out and provide the plant all the water and nutrients necessary for growth and reproduction. In hydroponic gardening, the nutrients are presented directly to the roots: there is no need for the roots to wander and explore large areas looking for nutrition. Consequently, planting space can be used much more efficiently with hydroponics, compared to soil gardening.

Plants require a balance of at least 16 nutritional elements. Withhold one vital mineral from the plant and it will stunt its growth in some way. In ordinary gardening, the soil may test well on the necessary nutrients, but some of them may be present but not actually available to the plant in a usable form. Phosphate is commonly found in such a form. So, for the nutrients to do the plant some good, they should be present in a form usable by the plant. This is one of the main advantages of hydroponic gardening. You have complete control and consequently optimization of the nutrients presented to the plants. Hydroponic nutrients are divided into two basic classifications, macro-nutrients which are required by the plant in large quantities, and micro-nutrients, which the plant only needs small quantities of to thrive.
Generally, there will be additional trace elements, because the salts in which the various nutrients are supplied are not typically in a pure state. Some nutrients are naturally occurring in your water supply such as sodium or chlorine, but not necessarily in the right proportions. It is very important to have your water tested to ensure a proper balance of nutrients. The nutrients not in your water supply must be added in careful balance in amounts complimentary to the existing characteristics of your water supply. Hydroponic suppliers will have a variety of nutrients available in a premixed concentrate, or individual nutrients. To start off, premixed nutrient solutions are a safer bet, buying your own nutrient minerals and chemicals can get extremely complicated and most are only available in 25Kg to 50 KG bags of which you would need only to use grams thereof.

Which Is Best for Your Garden?

The hallmark of hydroponic gardening is a soil-less growing medium… No soil! But plants need to be supported or held up somehow, right? We do this with soil-less media… inert, non-organic materials.

They do not add to or change the chemical makeup of the nutrient solution in any way. These substances are porous, light, and coarse, which allows oxygen and nutrients easy access to the plants roots.

Different Hydroponic Media

There are only 3 basic growing media that I recommend:

Coconut Coir
Hydroton or clay balls)

That’s it. Forget about gravel, vermiculite or rock wool.

There are also two advanced hydroponic techniques that don’t use any hydroponic growing medium whatsoever… Aeroponics and NFT (nutrient film technique). We will learn more about this later.

For now, all you need to know about are the “Big 3”: Coco, clay balls and perlite. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and so are better suited to specific growing systems.

Coco Coir and perlite are denser, and hold water better, but LECA has superior drainage and aeration. Experienced hydroponics nuts usually have their own favourite formulas using these 3 media.

Hydroponic Home kits

Starting a home vegetable and herb garden in hydroponics is today very easy. There are ready made kits available where just some assembly is required. Hydroponic grows can be a small set up that fits on your kitchen worktop or larger grows which require more space. Here the limit is only how much you’d like to produce and how much space you can allocate. Bangsai Agricultural Centre in Bangkok can give advice on kits available and also using “CUBE GEEK” build you custom made kits to fit.
Bangsai Agricultural Center Co., Ltd. 106/361 Moo 6 Soi Navamintra 70, Navamintra Road, Klong-Koom, Bueng-Koom, Bangkok 10240 Tel. 02 947 9115 – 6 ext 11, 12, 080-454-5151, 088-0123-4250, 081-611-7400, bangsaiagro.com/

The next issue we have one more important factor to look at, Lighting. Sunlight in Thailand is of course in abundance but it also carries so much heat that many vegetables cannot survive. Now with LED options, hydroponic lighting can be a good financial choice with its low consumption. More in the next issue.