Growers looking to boost productivity can leverage hydroponics to enhance their operations. Automation can help them take it a step further, improving yields while simplifying operations and adding new levels of efficiency.
To understand how technology can enhance a hydroponic growing system, it’s best to start with the basics: What is hydroponic farming and what advantages does it offer?
Hydroponic is by definition a means of water-based agriculture. Instead of soil, growers use a nutrient-rich solution, supporting the root system in an inert medium. The basic idea is that the plant roots can engage directly with the growing solution while also having access to oxygen.
Hydroponics deliver a number of potential benefits, starting with an increased growth rate. Plants in an inert medium may mature up to 25 percent faster than plants in soil. Growers also see increased yield, as much as 30 percent greater than in soil-grown plants.
It works because plants in a water environment don’t have to work as hard to ingest nutrient materials. The root system is able to take in exactly what the plant needs, so the plant can expend more energy growing up and out, rather than building infrastructure down below.
There are a number of different types of hydroponic systems available:
- In Deep Water Culture (DWC), also known as the reservoir method, the roots are suspended in a nutrient solution while an aquarium air pump delivers oxygen.
- A Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system uses gravity to deliver a continuous flow of nutrient solution over the plant roots. Roots get the food they need and ample oxygen for rapid growth.
- In an aeroponic system, roots are suspended in the air and misted with a nutrient solution using either a fine spray nozzle or a pond fogger.
Other solutions involve wicking, in which plants absorb nutrient material through a saturated fiber; ebb and flow, in which the grow area is periodically flooded; and nutrient drip systems, which deliver a slow feed of the nutrient solution into the hydroponic medium. Which method you choose will depend on grow location, available technologies, crop, and other variables.
Whichever hydroponic solution a grower pursues, technology can help to generate maximum yield and greater operational efficiencies.
Automated hydroponic controllers offer a prime example of the ways in which technology can take hydroponic growing to the next level.
An automated grow controller allows you to manage a hydroponic environment from your smartphone, giving the grower 24-hour remote management of the growing environment. This results in:
- More precise control of the environment: With remote management of temperature, CO2 levels, humidity, and pH, it’s possible to fine-tune to hydroponic farm for maximum productivity.
- Time savings: Rather than having to make frequent manual checks on the growing environment, a grow controller frees up the grower to actively manage plantings while engaged in other activities.
- Greater flexibility: Remote management means the grower is no longer physically tied to the farm. With the ability to manage from a distance, the grower is free to go out of town or engage in other life activities without being rigorously tied to the growing space.
In addition to a grow controller, a number of other technological tools can assist the hydroponic farmer. Sensors may be deployed to track a range of variables, including temperature, humidity, and lighting. Automated pumps can be set to deliver needed doses of nutrients or to regulate water levels.
Wireless integration makes it possible to manage all these key functions from a mobile device, thus tying the sensors and regulators back to the central controller. This process makes for a seamless end-to-end technology enhancement that ensures a hydroponic environment will deliver maximum yield with the greatest possible efficiency.
For those looking to hydroponics as a way to take their growing to the next level, automation technologies offer a way to leverage that investment for maximum freedom, flexibility, and precision management.