Hydroponics is the future of greenhouse farming

BY Claudia Carbone
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Remember the childhood science experience where you would suspend an avocado pit held by three toothpicks in a glass filled with water to get it to sprout?

This same principle is at work in hydroponics, a method of growing plants without soil. The word hydro is Greek for “water;” ponos means “work.” Hydroponics—and related methods including aquaponics (where fish waste provides the nutrients in the water that flows to and from fish tanks to plants) and aeroponics (a process that grows plants in an air or mist environment without soil)—could be a solution to feeding our increasing world population. Right now, it’s used mostly in Australia, Canada, Holland and the U.S.

Hydroponic “farmers” grow plants in water or an inert medium like compostable wood or coconut fibers and nurture them with a nutrient-rich solution. The plants thrive in greenhouses where temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels are controlled by computers. This high-tech type of farming eliminates weeds, pesticides and fungicides because there’s no soil, bugs or fungus. Rows and rows of crisp green lettuce, smooth red tomatoes and curly blue kale can grow profusely all year long in a small space.

In greenhouses, hydroponics has a place in all climates—from the freezing temperatures of Colorado’s San Luis Valley to the scorching 120-degrees of the Arizona desert—and has just one season: the growing season.

Nick Chambers, General Manager of Valley Roots Food Hub—a business that distributes local food in Colorado—likes the dependability of hydroponics. “It’s year round, usually in greenhouses; it’s super stable with limited pest problems; and I can deliver a live plant with the root ball intact,” he says. “It’s a more efficient use of water than conventional farming because water constantly recirculates instead of being sprayed over land.”

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Grow your own farmer’s market

Aeroponic technology is used at True Garden Urban Farm in Mesa, AZ. Seedlings grow in little ports on a plastic tower that can hold 20 plants. With a two-and-a-half-foot circular base, it’s ideal for kitchens, rooftops, backyards and patio gardens as well as large commercial greenhouses. The base is the reservoir for the nutrient solution that gets pumped up to the top of the tower, then showers evenly over the plant roots, providing fresh oxygen, water and nutrients as it tumbles back down into the reservoir in a continuous cycle. This vertical garden uses 95 percent less water and 90 percent less space than traditional gardens. The nutrient solution is made of earth and sea minerals mined domestically, says True Garden founder Troy Albright. “As a result, our produce is very dense and flavorful,” he says.

Tower gardens can grow more than 150 varieties of plants—with the exception of root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. It’s a great family project, even if you don’t have a green thumb; and no place is more local than your own kitchen!

To learn how you can grow your own tower garden, visit truegarden.com/residential