There are a tremendous amount of growers out there who are curious about knowing the original source of the hydroponic nutrients that they use. This made me wonder where do hydroponic nutrients come from?
So, where do hydroponic nutrients come from? Hydroponic nutrients can be manufactured from more than one source. Organic products can be derived from manure made from animals like cows, ducks, and fish. Inorganic or chemically manufactured products can be made from natural gas, phosphate rocks, lava rocks, and potassium chloride.
Getting to know the source that your hydroponic nutrients are made from can be crucial, especially for growers who are more interested in staying organic. However, knowing the source of the hydroponic nutrients that I use is not enough for me.
In my opinion, knowing the process that the hydroponic nutrients are manufactured by is as important for me as knowing the original source. Some inorganic fertilizers are originally made from natural raw materials that are present in seas and lakes but the manufacturing process that they pass by makes them less valuable for me when compared to organic products.
How Are Organic Hydroponic Nutrients Made?
There are a lot of different sources for organic hydroponic nutrients. But first, let us know how to determine whether a nutrient product is organic or inorganic? For any nutrient fertilizer to be organic, it must be a food-based product that contains carbon in its chemical formula.
Animals are one of the most famous producers of organic fertilizers. Their manure, which is considered one of the most beneficial by-products in the world, tends to contribute significantly to the growth of any plant.
Organic fertilizers could be made from:
- Duck Manure
- Cow Manure
- Manure Of Other Animals
All of the above byproducts have one thing in common which is the extremely high concentration of nitrogen.
When we used to grow plants in soil, using the above organic fertilizers was as easy as mixing them with the soil surrounding the plant roots. On the other hand, in hydroponic systems, the case is completely different.
Hydroponic nutrients must be completely water-soluble in order to get absorbed by the plant roots. Moreover, the manure must be pre-treated to avoid the growth of any fungus or bacterial colonies that might affect the plant negatively.
Several methods have been used to produce a liquid extract of cow manure. It has shown promising results so far.
There is another form of hydroponics that is completely organic and is very well known especially in Asian countries; This method is Aquaponics.
Aquaponics As An Organic Hydroponic Method
Using fish manure as a nutrient source for hydroponic plants is commonly used worldwide. Fish manure is rich with ammonia which makes it the perfect source for giving the plant’s their sufficient nitrogen levels.
Fish manure is usually present in a soluble form which makes it ready to be absorbed by the hydroponic plant’s in the system. Moreover, any insoluble wastes are constantly removed by the aquarium water filter which reduce the amount of insoluble accumulation in the nutrient reservoir.
Compost Tea Method As An Organic Hydroponic Nutrient
The compost tea method is another example of using food-based nutrients to grow hydroponic plants organically. By using brewers to compost food leftovers and dead plant parts, you can produce a completely organic and relatively free nutrient solution for your hydroponic plants.
All you have to do is to put your food leftovers in a compost brewer, and leave them for a couple of days. The next step is to flush the compost in the brewer with water which will be recollected in another bucket. The recollected water will be rich with organic nutrients that were produced during the composting process.
I wrote an article before on how to grow hydroponic plants without using any nutrient products using the compost tea method alongside other ideas, you can check it here.
How Are Synthetic Hydroponic Nutrients Made?
As I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, sometimes synthetic hydroponic nutrients are made from raw materials that are present naturally in different places anywhere from sea bottoms to mines located at the heart of the mountains.
The problem with synthetic hydroponic nutrients is the manufacturing process that the natural raw materials pass by in order to be in the suitable form for getting absorbed by any hydroponic plant.
Almost all commercial hydroponic fertilizers do contain the following macronutrients:
They are famous for being labeled NPK fertilizers. These 3 nutrients can be found in sufficient quantities in soil. However, it must be added to the nutrient solution of any hydroponic system in order for the plant to grow and thrive.
So, let’s see how these 3 nutrients are made and what are the processes that they pass by in order to be in the form that is suitable for hydroponic use.
Nitrogen is a macronutrient that is crucial for any plant’s growth. It is used to produce chlorophyll that allow the plants to carry on the photosynthesis process and produce sugars.
To produce nitrogen in the form that can be used by plants, manufacturers use a process called Haber-Bosch which is a nitrogen fixation process.
The Haber-Bosch process do use natural gas and nitrogen present in the air to produce ammonia. The process is done under extremely high temperature and pressure.
Air consist of 78% nitrogen, when combined with the hydrogen that was sourced from the natural gas, ammonia (NH3) is produced. Ammonia is one of the most suitable forms of nitrogen for any plant.
Phosphorus have a lot of benefits for any plant. It is used mainly to supply the plants with ATP molecules. These molecules are considered the energy currency that any living cell work with.
Phosphorus can be made from different natural raw materials. These raw materials are:
- Phosphate Rocks
- Igneous Rock Deposits
Phosphate rocks can be found and mined from aged ocean floors. In most cases, they are contaminated with other heavy metals which makes it more difficult during the manufacturing process.
On the other hand, Igneous rock deposits (Molten lava) can be used as another source for phosphorus. They are rocks that have a volcanic origin.
Both phosphate rocks and igneous rock deposits are treated with acids in order to produce phosphorus. The acidulating process can be done using three types of acids:
- Sulfuric Acid
- Phosphoric Acid
- Nitric Acid
When Sulfuric acid is used during the acidulating treatment, low phosphorus products are made. As a result, fewer manufacturers have been using it nowadays. However, phosphoric acid have been used widely due to it’s products that have higher phosphorus content.
A new trend have been going on lately on using nitric acid in the acidulating process. Nitric acid tends to produce clean, with higher phosphorus content. The only products that are made in the nitric acid reaction is nitro-phosphate and calcium nitrate.
Potassium plays an important role in the enzyme activation within the plant’s cell. Moreover, it controls how water moves in and out of any cell.
The main source of potassium for fertilizers manufacturers is potassium chloride. it can be found in the form of deposits that are present and mined from the dead sea. It is considered the hardest macronutrient to mine and manufacture.