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Hydroponics

Hydroponics has been around at least since the hanging gardens of Babylon were built around 600 BC. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil. Hydroponics is also known as 'soilless' or 'soil-less' gardening, or "soil-less culture". But how can you grow plants without soil?

When growing plants in soil, soil physically supports the plants; soil - if properly fortified, porous, and watered consistently - supplies nutrients that the plants can uptake through photosynthesis. So at the simplest level, if you can provide the plant with physical support and supply the nutrients that the plant needs (via a nutrient solution), you can do away with the soil. This is at the core of hydroponics. But what are the advantages?

Briefly, with soil growing, organic matter in the soil must be broken down by soil microbes into forms that the plants can utilize. But how can the grower be assured that his soil contains the right mix of organics, microbes, and trace elements for optimal growth of his plants? For the home gardener he or she can mulch, amend, compost, and add other "supplements" to help make the soil porous and add organics and trace elements. But at the end of the day it's mostly "hit or miss". So in most home gardens and most large scale commercial production, fertilizers are added to the soil. These greatly increase yield but also tend to kill the soil microbes - making continued use of fertilizers a necessity and at the same time eventually rendering the land (at a commercial scale) fallow. At the same time, chemical residue from the fertilizers and nitrates inevitably percolate into the ground water.

Should we be looking toward hydroponics for large-scale commercial vegetable production? Yes. Can we get back to "natural", "organic" ways of farming in soil without using commercial fertilizers and pesticides? Yes, but not on a large, commercial scale that would replace current agra-business practices. There are just too many people to feed and so-called 'natural', 'sustainable' agriculture including biodynamic farming has not been shown to give the yield we require to sustain our current population. So maybe we need to re-think our models for food production. In our opinion we should consider adding hydroponics to the mix of competing agricultural technologies. We need a paradigm shift based on science - not magical thinking.

With hydroponics the plants are physically supported in (generally) non-organic media such as rockwool and porous clay pellets. In several systems (like ours) the individual plants are also contained in net pots. Macro and micro nutrients are provided to the plants in solution form. Given the right conditions the plants utilize what they need for optimal growth. There is no soil, no soil carried pests, no stress from soil drying, no issues with non-porous soil, and no unintentional percolating of nitrates into the ground water as with all soil-based agriculture (including growing organically). If hydroponic systems are properly designed, water is mainly lost by plant respiration and minimally by evaporation - not by water percolating beyond the root level as in soil-based agriculture and being lost to the plants. As a major benefit, the difference in yield between conventional agriculture and hydroponic culture can be substantial. Please see our FAQ for more information.

Especially in these times of shrinking resources, water shortages, ground water contamination from agriculture, global warming, and world-wide economic downturn, we predict that hydroponically growing vegetables for human consumption and grasses for animal feed will become an increasingly viable economic option over present soil-based growing methods. It is our contention that hydroponics is the future of agriculture - especially in regions of the world where soil conditions are poor, temperatures are extreme, and water supplies are limited. Along these lines we are currently extending one of our technologies to address large scale hydroponic production of grasses for animal feed. To our knowledge no such technology has yet been implemented. Such technology would be particularly advantageous in regions of the world where soil conditions and ambient temperatures preclude economic, in-ground production of wheat and grasses including alfalfa for cattle and sheep production. Target countries for this technology include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, and parts of India.

On an individual level, we can increase awareness of the large scale issues facing current agriculture by growing a part of our food needs at home on a small scale. Growing "Victory-Gardens" was a rationale for private citizens in the USA and Britain for supporting war efforts during the first half of the 20th century. During the World Wars, many grew their own vegetables to not only put food on their tables but to help the war effort by making more food available to their troops. Our real "war" today has little to do with global conflict; it has more to do with ultimate survival. We have a separate site, Victory-Gardens.com, that you might find interesting to look at. In order to effect change, we first need to first be aware of the problem.

For the home gardener there are distinct advantages to growing hydroponically compared to growing in soil. In fact many persons who are adept at killing their plants either by neglect or by "kindness" find amazing success growing ornamental and vegetable plants hydroponically. But getting started in hydroponics can be daunting. There are a vast array of hydroponic techniques, each with advantages and disadvantages. And there are literally hundreds of competing nutrient solutions to choose from, each claiming dramatic success. How to get started?

This is where we come in. We specifically designed our kits to make getting started in hydroponics easy, fun, and successful. The results - whether you grow lettuces, mesclun mixes, herbs, jalepeno peppers, tomatoes, edible or ornamental flowers, or grasses such as wheatgrass, oats, barley, rye, or rice - will amaze you. And the best part is that you don't have to worry about over or under watering (both of which lead to trouble), or over or under fertilizing.

Our kits can be used over and over again. When you are ready to expand your garden, you can dedicate separate units to different crops. Depending on the season, we usually have lettuces, basil (we use lots of basil), jalepeno peppers, marigolds, chard, and nasturtiums happily growing in our Floating Gardens. We also have renewable crops of wheatgrass and pet grass mixtures growing indoors nearby a sunny window or outdoors in our Grass Garden kits. An added benefit to the consumer is that our Floating Garden and Grass Garden kits comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA, 2008). All of our kits are made by us in the USA.

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