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WHAT IS HYDROPONICS ?
We're so used to plants growing in fields and gardens that we find anything else completely extraordinary. But it's true. Not only will plants grow without soil, they often grow a lot better with their roots in water or very moist air instead.
Growing plants without soil is known as hydroponics.
PROCESS OF PHOTOSYNTHESIS
Plants grow through a process called photosynthesis, in which they use sunlight and a chemical inside their leaves called chlorophyll to convert carbon dioxide (a gas in the air) and water into glucose (a type of sugar) and oxygen. Write that out chemically and you get this equation:
6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2
There's no mention of "soil" anywhere in there—and that's all the proof you need that plants can grow without it. What they do need is water and nutrients, both easily obtained from soil. But if they can get these things somewhere else—say, by standing with their roots in a nutrient-rich solution—they can do without soil altogether. That's the basic principle behind hydroponics.
In theory, the word "hydroponics" means growing plants in water (from two Greek words meaning "water" and "toil"), but because you can grow plants without actually standing them in water, most people define the word to mean growing plants without using soil.
There are many advantages in growing without soil. Some hydroponic growers have found they get yields many times greater when they switch from conventional methods. Because hydroponically grown plants dip their roots directly into nutrient-rich solutions, they get what they need much more easily than plants growing in soil, so they need much smaller root systems and can divert more energy into leaf and stem growth.
With smaller roots, you can grow more plants in the same area and get more yield from the same amount of ground (which is particularly good news if you're growing in a limited area like a greenhouse or on a balcony or window-ledge inside).
Hydroponic plants also grow faster. Many pests are carried in soil, so doing without it generally gives you a more hygienic growing system with fewer problems of disease. Since hydroponics is ideal for indoor growing, you can use it to grow plants all year round. Automated systems controlled by timers and computers make the whole thing a breeze.
There are various different ways of growing things hydroponically. In one popular method, you stand your plants in a plastic trough and let a nutrient solution trickle past their roots (with the help of gravity and a pump).
That's called the nutrient-film technique: the nutrient is like a kind of liquid conveyor belt—it's constantly sliding past the roots delivering to them the goodness they need.
Alternatively, you can grow plants with their roots supported by a nutrient-enriched medium such as rockwool, sand, or vermiculite, which acts as a sterile substitute for soil.
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