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Hydroponic Vegetable Gardening Basics

May 27, 2008
Hydroponic vegetable gardening is a process in which vegetables are grown in a liquid nutrient solution. The plants typically have either their root system in inert medium or completely submerged in the fluid. Hydroponic vegetable gardening is a simple and straightforward method of growing plants and vegetables indoors using common and relatively inexpensive equipment.

There are several variations of hydroponic gardening systems, these are the ebb and flow system, the drip system, the passive system, an NFT system, and the aeroponic system.

With the ebb and flow system, the roots of the plants are flooded periodically with nutrient solution and the plant is able to obtain its nutrients in this manner. This is achieved using a pump on a timer that will periodically pump nutrient solution into the plant containers and allowing the chambers to drain completely. The ebb and flow method typically uses a growing medium of some kind for the plant to root in.

The drip variation uses the pump and timer to pump solution directly onto the roots of the plants on a regular schedule. The excess solution then drips back into the reservoir where it is used again on the next timer interval. This method also typically uses a growing medium of some kind.

In a passive system, the lowest maintenance of all systems, the plants are grown with their roots dangling directly in the growing solution. There are no timers or pumps required for the technique, however, an air pump and air stone are often employed to ensure that the oxygen levels in the solution are sufficiently high.

Aeroponic is a slightly more complicated and advanced method of hydroponic vegetable gardening. The roots of the plants are completely exposed to the air and the pumps are used to mist nutrient solution onto the roots with a very regular frequency. Insufficient misting will risk drying out the roots and killing the plant while excessive misting can cause molding. There is no growing medium used with aeroponics.

Finally, the Nutrient Film Technique, or NFT, systems make use of trays in which constantly flowing nutrient solution is pumped over the roots of the plants before draining back into the reservoir. This is another method in which a very regular frequency is required to keep the plants from drying out as there is no growing medium to help trap moisture.

Hydroponic systems sometimes make use of a growing medium to help the plants along. The growin medium can be any number of chemically and nutritionally inert substances, such as Rockwool, coconut fibers, gravel, sand, or even air. The only additional requirement for a growing medium is that it allow the nutrient solution to drain freely from the container.

Once a method has been chosen and the system is setup, it is critical to ensure that the pH of the nutrient solution is kept consistently in the 5.5 to 6.5 ranges. Anything lower and you risk burning the plant with an acidic solution, and anything higher and you eventually risk burning the plants with a basic solution. In either case the plants will suffer and cease to flourish before eventually dying.

Finally, unless the system is sitting in a location where it can easily obtain natural sunlight, some manner of light will need to be provided. The options, from worst to best and also listed from cheapest to most expensive, are: incandescent, fluorescent, and high intensity discharge lamps.

Getting started with hydroponic vegetable gardening may seem a daunting task but it is fairly straightforward once the basics are learned.
About the Author
Damien Konrad is a freelance writer currently writing for http://www.hydroponicvegetablegardening.info
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