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The word hydroponics is used to describe a method of growing plants in water with added nutrients. Plants grown in soil use the water they are given to dissolve the mineral nutrients in the soil which are then taken up by the roots. If the nutrients are already in the water then the soil becomes redundant.

Plants vary as to which species thrive more using a hydroponic method but most will generally do well. Hydroponics is used at a very young age by children growing cress in 'egg heads', this method is done by simply sprinkling cress seeds over a wet piece of cotton wool, no soil is needed.

Hydroponics are usually divided into two types, medium culture and solution culture. Medium culture uses a solid matter for the root system and is called by the type of medium used ie gravel culture and sand culture etc. These mediums are either top irrigation or sub irrigation. Solution culture uses just nutrients and no solid matter, there are three solution cultures, static, continuous flow and aeroponics. Hydroponic containers can be made of almost any material but are more commonly plastic, they must prevent light from getting in as this will cause algae to appear in the nutrient solution.

By Ryan Somma (Leafy Greenhouse) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Hydroponics with leafy vegetables

Top Irrigation

To work using the top irrigation method you must apply your nutrient solution to the medium surface. The solution can either be done using drip feeding equipment that will administer timed and measured doses regularly or it can be done by hand once a day in large amounts, usually in sand.

Passive Sub Irrigation

This method allows the water and nutrients to pass to the roots from the bottom of the medium using capillary action. The medium used should have big air pockets that will pass oxygen to the roots. To work using this method situate your container in a shallow layer of the nutrient solution or on a capillary mat that has been soaked in it. Choose perlite, clay granules or gravel as your medium. Refill the nutrient supply occasionally and check pH balances are approx 6-6.5 to ensure sufficient nutrients are being taken in.

Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow) Sub Irrigation

For this method you will need a tray that is higher than your container that is filled with the nutrient solution. Fill the tray with your medium, best to use clay granules, and plant. Use a timer that will make a pump fill up the tray with the nutrients, after which the solution will run back down into the container.

Deep Water Culture

To use this method you must hang your plants in a container so that their roots are submerged in a solution of oxygenated and nutrient filled water. Plants can be displayed in containers with their roots threaded through netting or mesh and the heads sitting on top.

Static Solution Culture

A very easy method to do even for beginners. Called thus because the nutrient mixture is static, the water is still and simply bathes the roots. Use a container that is ideally dark plastic but jam jars can be used on a smaller scale. Your container needs a lid which if id does not come with one you can fashion out of cardboard ensuring that it fits tightly on the top and is secured with tape. If using jars or non dark plastic for your container wrap it in foil to prevent algae growth. Cut out holes in the lid through which you can put your plant(s). Try to keep you plants in the centre of the lid. Add water and your nutrient mixture, try to match up the mixture as to what your plants need. Research what pH level is best for growth of the species you have planted and test the mixture regularly to ensure they are getting the right balance. Extra nutrients or water may need to be added as the plants grow. Once you have put you dissolved nutrients into the container top it up with water. If the container is aerated the solution can be put in up over the roots, if it is unaerated then you must allow a little gap between the water and the roots for oxygen.

Continuous Flow Solution Culture

Continuous flow does exactly what the name states, it is a method used to send a continuous flow of nutrients around the roots of the plants. Usually done on a larger scale using troughs or hydroponic equipment designed for the job. Gathering information about the nutrient content is simple as it can be collected from the main tank, the solution is then distributed evenly throughout the plants. Equipment failure and power cuts can hinder the growth of plants.


Similar to the static solution in that the roots are kept in a dark container but instead of being dangled in static solution the roots are misted with the nutrients. When using the aeroponic technique it may be necessary to purchase misting equipment.

NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler checks onions being grown using hydroponic techniques.

Vegetables being grown using hydroponics in greenhouses -  Can Stock Photo Inc. / yuyang

Hydroponic grown greenhouse vegetables - Can Stock Photo Inc. / yuyang

Aquaculture Ltd - Hydroponics systems, growth boosting nutrients.

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