What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics, as the name suggests is a method of growing plants using purely liquid nutrient solutions in the place of soil. The method is one that is suited very well to growing chilli peppers and the main benefit is that it produces very rapid growth rates in plants.
The common misconception is that plants (chilli plants included) need soil to grow. This is actually incorrect. In the traditional growing environment all the soil does is act as a reservoir for the nutrients. Upon watering a plant the water dissolves the nutrients which the plants roots can then absorb.
When growing hydroponically no soil is used, the plants roots are simply suspended in a liquid nutrient solution or sometimes in a mix of solution and gravel or some other material such as rockwool. In all cases the containers are always sealed (apart from a small hole to allow the plants stem through) to help prevent the build up of algae that any light to the roots might cause.
Benefits of Using Hydroponics
- Plants acheive faster growth and give higher yields of fruit
- Where outdoor growing is not an option hydroponics combined with grow lights means you can happily grow chillies indoors
- Weeding becomes a thing of the past
- There is no threat of soil borne disease infecting your crop
- It allows you to grow more plants per meter than conventional growing
- It is more efficient than tradition growing in that it makes the best use of available nutrients and moisture
- It is a fun alternative to traditional growing and can be a great diy project/experiment!
- It is not expensive as you might think. Particularly if you make your own set up.
Types of Hydroponics
As mentioned above plants can be grown in either containers with just nutrient solution in (solution culture) or with solution sand some for of solid medium to help support the roots (such as gravel, sand or rockwool).
Static solution growing is as the name suggests where plants are grown in containers with a static nutrient solution in. To prevent stagnation and to provide the roots with oxygen the solution is usually aerated gently with the help of small pumps, similar to those used in aquariums. As with aquariums the solution needs to be changed a regular intervals (usually weekly) or topped up to maintain a certain concentration of nutrients that will benefit the chilli plants.
Continuous flow hydroponics is a more sophisticated method than static solutions and the one more suited to larger setups with many of plants. As the name suggests the nutrient solution is continuously pumped around the roots. In addition these systems usually have an automated approach to sampling and topping up the nutrient levels.
The most common type of continuous flow growing techniques is the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). In this technique the roots of the plants are placed in a narrow sealed gully which has a very shallow stream or film of water flowing through it. This encourages a thick root system while at the same time allowing the roots to be exposed to the oxygen above the film of water. It is this combination of access to the nutrient solution and supply of oxygen to the roots that makes this the most effect method of hydroponics. On the downside however the system can be very delicate and any failure or reduction of the flow can mean the plants are quickly starved and die.
Medium Based Hydroponics Systems
There are many different types of substances which can be used for medium growing hydroponically;
Baked Clay Pellets have the main advantage that they are pH neutral and do not contain any nutrient value which allows the grower to have complete control over the nutritional environment in which the roots will grow. They are reasonable cheap and practical to use.
Rockwool (sometimes known as mineral wool) is one of the most popular mediums used amongst chilli growers. The main benefits are that is can hold large quantities of water and air at the same time while providing the plants stable and supporting the roots. As previously discussed it is this ability to hold and provide oxygen to the roots that makes it a good choice for hydroponic growers. The one downside is that naturally it has a high pH level, however this is easily corrected with a conditioning solution.
Both aquarium gravel and sans can be used and can be used in cheaper home made solutions. However sand does not drain particularly well and both these solutions are heavy making them not particularly practical to use.
How to get started with hydroponics
We’ve covered most of the basics of hydroponics above however there is still a fair amount to learn to make sure you get the right set up for you. If you are looking for a much more in depth guide to hydroponics, the various techniques available and a great guide to building your own hydroponics set up costing a fraction of off the shelf solutions, we’d recommend you take a look at The Hydroponic garden.