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Camp Internet's Global Gardening Studies are open to all Camp Expedition Teams. RAIN's Youth Technology Corps members are Expedition Team Leaders for Communities taking part.

What Is Hydroponics?

Defined simply, hydroponic gardening is the method of growing plants in a nutrient enriched water solution without the benefit of soil. Since plant food and water are delivered directly to the roots of the plant, energy normally used by the plant to find these elements through root growth is redirected into upward green growth and fruit production. When properly maintained, hydroponically fed plants grow and produce faster than their soil grown counterparts. In addition, since root systems do not compete for the food supply, more plants can be grown in a smaller space.

Most hydroponic systems consist of a nutrient reservoir, a growing tray, a method for delivering the food and water to the roots, such as a pump or wick, and the substitute medium used in place of soil. Since root systems don't expand to provide plant support, trellising of many plants is necessary. The hydroponic method has several other advantages over soil-grown plants. Hydroponic systems recycle their nutrient solution for use in the next watering cycle, reducing fertilizer waste, run-off and conserving water. Nutrients can be more precisely measured and altered to meet a plants changing needs based on weather conditions and other variables. Pest control measures are reduced by eliminating one of their most common breeding grounds, soil. And since hydroponically grown root systems are not competing with each other for nutrients and water, more plants can be grown in a smaller space.

Home hydroponic systems do have to be monitored. Control of pH and nutrient strength are the most critical factors in successful hydroponic production. Most food crops do best in a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. pH levels must be monitored while nutrient tanks should be drained, cleaned and replenished with fresh nutrient solution every 3 to 4 weeks.

pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity. The pH of the soil solution (nutrient solution) determines the availability to the plant roots of various elements (plant food). A pH of less than 7 indicates acidity, 7 is neutral, and above 7 is basic (alkaline). Hydroponically grown plants prefer a pH level between 5.8 and 7.0, slightly acidic for proper nutrient uptake.