Hydroponics is a technology that uses water and nutrients to grow plants without soil. It also uses full spectrum LED grow lights (red, white and blue lights) but the main benefits of hydroponic systems include increased production, faster growth rates, the ability to change the light spectrum (and the length of 'sunshine' time) to encourage growth or flowering at a chosen time, and the ability to produce food in places where it's not possible or practical to do so with traditional farming methods.
There are various types of hydroponic systems available on the market today; some use nutrient film technique (NFT) while others use aeroponics (see earlier blog) or deep water culture (DWC). NFT is a hydroponic technique where in a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth is re-circulated past the bare roots of plants in a watertight gully, also known as channels.
DWC is a hydroponic method of plant production by means of suspending the plant roots in a solution of nutrient-rich, oxygenated water. Also known as deep flow technique (DFT), floating raft technology (FRT), this method uses a rectangular tank less than one foot deep filled with a nutrient-rich solution with plants floating in Styrofoam boards on top. DWC, along with nutrient film technique (NFT), is considered to be one of the most common hydroponic systems used today. Typically, DWC is used to grow short-term, non-fruiting crops such as leafy greens and herbs.
Some disadvantages of hydroponic systems include higher initial costs, more maintenance required, and less flexibility for crop selection. Buying individual parts from the LED lights to the trays and water pump can add up to significant costs, usually in the £100's. However, recent developments in product miniaturisation has allowed new indoor hydroponic systems, that grow herbs indoors, as well as other plants, to be manufactured at much lower costs.
For those who are looking for ways to save money on their grocery bills then growing your own organic vegetables using a home hydroponics system might be worth considering if you have the space on your kitchen countertop. LED hydroponic growing systems are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes, as well as prices. However, there are many fairly useless indoor herb kits that either work for a couple of months and then die, as the water ingresses into the electrics or are poorly manufactured.
Watch out for those that have see-through panes to show the water level - these allow light into the tank and encourage algae growth. Some have no circulation pumps and the water eventually goes stagnant. Avoid any that have their LED light circuit board buried in the tank as water has an incredible knack of getting into any so-called sealed compartment. Grow domes are critical to early development of the germination process, allowing warmth and humidity to be retained in the growth medium (usually a sponge). Back-up from the supplier is critical when things go wrong or incorrect parts are supplied: read the 1 star reviews of companies refusing to reply to these issues and see how prevalent this can be.
Hydroponic planters are usually used for those looking for growing cannabis because they have multiple containers that allow plants to grow to a decent size but they are expensive to buy and run. Indoor herb garden seed starter kits are ideal for germinating the seeds initially, before transplanting them when they reach a reasonable size. They are much cheaper to run (most are 20-24W), are easily transportable, require less maintenance and can be located in the warmth of a kitchen.
Seed starter kits with lights can also be used to plant cuttings and grow them on elsewhere, once they have rooted properly. This can be a very useful and a quicker way to grow in the kits than seeds, even if the fully-grown plant will outgrow the hydroponic growing kits. It is easy to move a plant from one of the small growing pods to any type of growing medium, even if it soil or compost.
Aerogarden, based in Colorado, US were the first hydroponics into this sector but their pricey machines (£250+) have been left behind by the newer companies and their UK service has left many customers fuming. Companies such as iDOO operate from Hong Kong and sell electric mops, scales, cameras and air mattresses as well as hydroponics, so their service in the UK can be patchy. Chinese companies on Amazon come and go like traffic lights and so their longevity has to be questioned. Click and Grow are manufactured in the US and operate out of the EU so are expensively priced in Euros. This can painful for any UK purchaser.
West Kent (trademarked in the UK and US) is the only manufacturer of countertop hydroponic systems based in the UK; it competes head-on with IDOO, supplying a more modern machine with extra benefits but at a similar price. Located outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent, with an office in Battersea, London, it is firmly in the 'local' camp and its consumable kits fit competitors' models as well as its own.
Whichever kit you choose, hydroponics can bring so much enjoyment from ‘clean, organic food’, watching daily growth, becoming mesmerised by the LED lights and the warmth of its glow across a kitchen. Kids can see instant results and adults can feel the satisfaction of germinating seeds with little effort on their part. It gives a new dimension to the words ‘green fingers’ or ‘green thumb’ in US slang. It is a small sum to have a countertop herb grower for those foodies who love their cooking: it adds a fresh dimension to your taste buds. Why not give it a go? It really isn’t that expensive at well under £100!