In the last ten years, hydroponics has become one of the most used technologies by commercial growers and hobbyists due to its substantial yield returns; This has left some growers wondering can you grow hydroponics without nutrients?
So can you grow hydroponics without nutrients? Hydroponics cannot grow without nutrients. The nutrient solution is considered the ONLY source of nutrients and water the plant can access, and any shortage in them can affect the plant’s growth and may even lead to death.
Soil is rich with nutrients and beneficial bacteria. As a result, it is considered the primary and main source of essential nutrients for the plant before transplanting to hydroponics. When the soil nutrients levels decrease, there are several methods of fertilization to replenish them, whether chemically or naturally. But when you are using hydroponics as a growing method, the primary source of nutrients for the plant becomes the nutrient solution that is added by you.
Nutrients play an essential role in the plant’s growth. Not only does it allow the plants to complete their life cycle successfully, but also it provides a significant boost for the yield. Moreover, nutrients help in increasing the plant’s strength, making it stronger every year.
Just like humans, plants need food too. Most people think that plants need only water and sunlight to survive, which is entirely wrong. Although water and sunlight are essential, you cannot ignore giving your plant the required amount of nutrients. Nutrient deficiency can affect your hydroponic plant’s survival ability.
Essential nutrients for hydroponics
The nutrient solution comes in various versions. The most commonly used version is the premixed nutrient solution, which comes with up to 4 bottles. Growers like this version because it allows them to change the nutrients ratio to match the stage of the plant’s life cycle.
One of the essential nutrients for plants is nitrogen, and this is due to its critical contribution to the plant’s growth. You might think that plants can get nitrogen from the air, so why bother and add them in a solution. Using soil, plants can get their required amount of nitrogen from the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the ground that transfer atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates. Nitrates are the usable form of nitrogen that plants can absorb. When you use hydroponics, there is no soil included. So, the plant’s need another source of nitrogen which comes directly from the nutrient solution.
As the plant’s life cycle continues, it requires different nutrient ratios to get maximum results. During the vegetative stage of the plant, nitrogen plays a critical role in the development of stems and leaves. While in the flowering stage, plants need less nitrogen, but more potassium and phosphorus. Any decrease in the mentioned nutrients will result in stunted growth and decreased yield.
The following are the macronutrients required for hydroponic plants:
- Calcium (Ca)
- Phosphorus (p)
- Nitrogen (N)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Sulphur (S)
- Potassium (K)
These nutrients are essential to your hydroponic plants, and if there is a deficiency in any one of them, your plant’s growth will be negatively affected.
Many companies add more micronutrients to their premixed solutions. These nutrients are not essential, yet they might have some positive effects on some crops.
These micronutrients are:
- Manganese (Mn)
- Chlorine (Cl)
- Boron (B)
- Iron (Fe)
- Copper (Cu)
- Cobalt (Co)
- Zinc (Zn)
A vast number of growers doesn’t like chemicals to be the primary source of nutrients of their plants, and therefore a significant demand for chemically free hydroponics has risen in the past years.
Compost tea is a chemically free method that use vermicompost to provide your plants with their essential nutrients. Vermicompost is the product of the breakdown of organic matter by earthworms. It is enriched with crucial nutrients and compatible with most of the hydroponic systems due to its water-soluble nutrients.
Nutrients in the vermicompost are in a form that is easier for plants to absorb. This form is made as a result of the uniformly mixing and grinding that is done by the earthworm’s digestive system, which leads to the production of a simple nutrients mix that the plants can absorb easier and faster than other traditional nutrient forms. Moreover, vermicompost is much cheaper than hydroponic nutrients.
Vermicompost is easy to find no matter where do you live. You can find readymade vermicompost in many local gardening stores near you. Also, you can ask hobbyists in your neighbourhood; many experienced growers like to make their vermicompost in their backyards using their food waste.
How To Make Compost Tea?
Add vermicompost to a bucket. The vermicompost should be aged and broken down into little pieces
Fill the bucket with water and mix it well
Leave the mix for 2 to 3 days and Stir it every now and then. The mix should have a dark brown appearance just like tea.
Filter the mixture by placing a cheesecloth or a porous material on a bucket. Pour the mixture into the bucket
Homemade Nutrient Solution
As you can guess from the heading, this nutrient solution can be made at home. You can use water-soluble soil fertilizers with water to create the perfect nutrient mix for your hydroponic plants. Unlike compost tea, this method is not organic friendly because it relies on chemicals as the source of nutrients.
Some growers find it cheaper to buy fertilizers in bulk and then to form their hydroponic mix. Saving a few cents per gallon of nutrients mix seems not worth the effort, but at the end of the month, these cents will add up and might save up to 40% of your monthly nutrient expenses. Moreover, it is considered more economically viable for growers who are looking to upscale their farms. Using this method, most growers find it easier to adjust their nutrients concentration to treat certain nutrient deficiencies more efficiently.
These fertilizers can be found in different places from garden supply stores to agricultural agencies. Consider buying them in bulk or with another hobbyist friend. Buying in bulk will make you enjoy discounts made on bulk purchases, which sometimes reach 15%.
Why should you use traditional hydroponic nutrients?
Unlike all of the previous methods, using the readymade hydroponic nutrients is much more comfortable. Nowadays, most premixed solutions have step by step instruction on their backs that is super easy for a newbie to follow. Not only is a more accurate and foolproof method but also it is much more time-efficient, allowing you to enjoy your daily lifestyle without any changes.
Another benefit of using premixed hydroponic nutrients is that they contain all the nutrients that hydroponic plants need. When using soil-free methods, the plant requires a reliable source of nutrients to replace that present in the soil. These nutrients are present all in one mixed bottle. There is no need to add certain micronutrients as they are present in the solution. I think that this advantage is fantastic for newbies who might forget to add specific nutrients that will lead to nutrient deficiency symptoms stunted growth.
Methods like compost tea have been used for many years by creative growers and hobbyists, but over the past years, it has shown significant poor results when compared to hydroponic nutrient solutions. Growers have found that compost tea method doesn’t produce the same great results as hydroponic nutrients, and this happens due to the lack of certain nutrients in compost tea that are present in standard solutions. This leads to stunted growth or a massive decrease in final yield due to nutrient deficiency.
One of the disadvantages in homemade nutrient solutions that I can’t withstand is that it must be done with high accuracy. Specific tools that are essential to obtain this high accuracy like lab-grade scales and other mixing kits that might make newbies feel overwhelmed. I’ve seen many newbie growers killing their plants either by nutrient deficiencies or nutrient burns due to high concentrations of nutrients.
Can you grow hydroponics organically? You can grow hydroponics organically using the compost tea method. By elimination of chemical nutrients and replacing it with compost tea, hydroponics becomes organic growing method. However, compost tea doesn’t produce satisfying results as those made from chemical hydroponic nutrients.