Farming hydroponically – part 1

Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking you through this interesting and potentially profitable form of farming.

Hydroponics is the growing of plants in a nutrient solution rather than in soil. In South Africa, hydroponic vegetable production is almost always done under a protective covering. But, when you’re working with soil, you need topsoil that allows for good drainage and compost that’s disease-free. Plants need to be irrigated to minimise water stress and nutrients must be added to the soil. You must also watch out for soil-borne diseases. It’s also possible to produce organic vegetables in soil because you can use organic fertilisers such as compost and manure.

In hydroponics:

  • no soil is required, 
  • plants are irrigated automatically, 
  • nutrients are available at all times,
  • only soluble fertilisers are used and these contain a balanced nutrient content,
  • soil-borne diseases can be eliminated, because artificial nutrients are always used and the plants aren’t grown in soil, hydroponic production is not organic.

Advantages:

  • You don’t need good soil and there’s no question of unused nutrients polluting the soil.
  • Hydroponic vegetables can be of high quality and need little washing. 
  • It eliminates soil preparation and weeding. 
  • It’s possible to produce very high yields from a small area because an environment optimal for plant growth is created. 
  • All the nutrients and water that the plants need are available at all times. 
  • Water is used efficiently. 

Disadvantages:

  • Production is management-, capital- and labour-intensive.
  • A high level of expertise is required. 
  • Daily attention is necessary. 
  • Specially formulated, soluble nutrients must always be used. 
  • Pests and diseases remain a risk. 
  • Finding a market can be a problem. 


Source:
Guide to Hydroponic Vegetable Production, edited by JG Niederwieser and published by the Agricultural Research Council, Roodeplaat Vegetable and Ornamental Plant Institute (ARC-VOPI). Contact the ARC-VOPI on 012 841 9611.