What is Hydroponics?

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Every Week, at our demonstration farm, we host farmers from all over the country who have come to get a practical demonstration of the techniques we employ in hydroponics. If there is ones question that almost always pops up at the beginning of the training is, “what is hydroponics?” In this article, we will delve into this very simple but important question.

 

I know, I know… the word itself sounds pretty techie. It’s complicated enough just to pronounce it. The issue is not to be an expert at it, or even to have a bunch of bombastic words to describe it. The important part is to understand it. To understand what it entails at its core, and, by understanding this, you get to know what on God’s green earth you are doing in hydroponics.

 

Here we go! What is hydroponics? Hydroponics is, the growing of plants, in the absence of soil. That’s it! No need to try to wrap your head around complicated words and descriptions. Once you have eliminated soil, you are more often than not, practicing hydroponics. You may use buckets, certain types of stones e.g. pumice, aluminum trays, plastic trays to grow your plants in as you have eliminated soil from the equation. It’s actually all pretty simple once you get the gist of it.

Hydroponics in Farming in Kenya

Hydroponically grown fodder in aluminium tray.

Must you use hydroponic nutrient solutions? In more cases than not, yes, you do. When you are practicing hydroponics, especially hydroponic horticulture e.g. growing tomatoes, you will definitely need the solutions. The solutions vary as different plants have different nutritional requirements. In some cases you will not need the solutions, albeit you can use them. In the production of hydroponic barley/wheat fodder, nutrient solutions are not a must, and the fodder may be grown for a time not exceeding 8 days with only water. Go ahead and try it, and see for yourself.

The one area that may prove a hard nut to crack is the architecture needed to practice this. As we have mentioned earlier, soil is not used. In light of this, one has to find a way to support the plants as they grow. This proves to be a pickle as plants don’t all grow the same. Some are vines, some are trees. Some have tap roots, some have the fibrous variety. In any case, one has to build a structure or system that can support the physical needs of the plant. This may prove to be a bit expensive.

Hydroponics in Kenya barley

Wooden shelves for laying trays for growing hydroponic barley/wheat fodder

The climatic condition in your area will determine a lot on how you will build your structure. i.e. will you build a green house, or will you build a shade structure. In some cases, you will have to incorporate bits of both.

Greenhouses and shade net structures

Structure that incorporates both greenhouse and shade net structures

There are very few rules written in stone on the issue of hydroponics, so it is likely that you may come up with your own. This is risky, but it is only a venturesome spirit that creates something new. Try out your own ideas, we are trying out our own as well. And what I can tell you, is that it is all very exciting. Some experiments fail, some succeed. As the author Robert Greene says “creative endeavors are by their nature, uncertain”.

 

Bravo for joining us in that endeavor. We look forward to hear from you on the good work you are doing.