I’ve talked before about some alternative growing systems, but I want to use an article I just read as an excuse to cover them again.
The first one is a classic that’s been around for years and years. Hydroponics uses a mineral nutrient solution in water to grow plants without any sort of soil. People have been experimenting with hydroponics since the 1600s, though it didn’t actually work without any soil until 1859.
Nowadays when you talk about hydroponics, mist people think about illegitimate uses for the method, generally oriented around growing pot.
But clearly that’s not the real reason to consider hydroponics. It can be effectively used for optimizing crop yield, especially in smaller areas. Hydroponic systems can grow plants far more densely than classic growing methods. Some people even stack growing beds.
Generally speaking, most hydroponics systems consist of growing beds, a growing medium, nutrient solution, and water. The growing medium helps the roots have something to grab onto, and can hang onto some of the nutrients after the nutrient system has receded somewhat.
The nutrient solution has all the good stuff that the plants need, dissolved into water. The growing medium sits in a growing bed, which is periodically flooded with the water containing the nutrient solution. This lets the roots get all the good stuff and the moisture without drowning them.
Obviously this is a huge nutshell explanation. Here’s some resources of various types that you can check out for more information or even instructions on how to do it yourself.
- Wikipedia … A natural first step
- Successful Hydroponics
- Grubbycup’s Simple Hydroponics
- Hydroponic Basics
- Gardening Indoors with Soil and Hydroponics
- The Hydroponic Garden Secrets Guide
Aquaponics is quite similar to hydroponics, but it addresses a major drawback of hydroponics. In hydroponic systems, you’re dependant upon nutrient solutions that come from outside the growing system. Aquaponics addresses this by adding a source of nutrients… Fish!
In an aquaponic system you have a tank of fish that grow. You feed these fish whatever they eat. The waste byproducts from the fish accumulate in the water, which is converted to nitrates by bacteria in the system. This nitrate solution is then used as the nutrient solution for your hydroponics system. The water is then dumped back into the growing tank. This system is generally completely automated.
Tilapia and trout are two of the more common fishes used in aquaponics systems. Tilapia in particular can be fed duckweed, which can be grown in the hydroponics system, which helps reduce the overal systems input required. And since you’re growing fish now too, you have a good source of animal protein that is quite sustainable.
Aquaponics doesn’t eliminate the need for external input into the growing system, but it definitely reduces it to something that most people can handle on their own, which is important for sustainability. It’s a lot easier to find duckweed for tilapia or worms and bugs for trout than it is to find a chemical nutrient solution for a hydroponics system.
When I have the space, I plan on trying out my own aquaponics system. Should be interesting!
- Wikipedia … Again, a good first step
- DIY Aquaponics
- Aquaponic Gardening: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together
- Aquaponics For You
- Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre
- The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!
The Trigger Article
So this post was triggered by reading an article from Fast Company about a guy who is using shipping containers to house portable hydroponics solutions.
From the article titled ‘Localize It: PodPonics Grows High-Tech Organic Produce In Shipping Containers‘:
Liotta decided to use recycled shipping containers as “grow pods,” which are outfitted with organic hydroponic nutrient solutions; computer-controlled environmental systems to regulate temperature, humidity, pH levels, and CO2; and lights that emit specific spectrums at different points in the day. The system provides the exact amount of water, lights, and nutrients that a crop requires–so there is no wasted energy (though the pods are still hooked up to the power grid).
Go check it out. This system claims to produce an acres worth of produce in 320 square feet. Pretty astonishing!