This is a portal website that is designed to take you to the people who can answer your questions or provide you with the equipment you need to realise your own concepts. We are all enthusiasts about the principles of urban agriculture, hydroponics, aquaponics and related growing techniques. You will see that some of the partners are independent experts, whereas others are major, worldwide corporate entities. The thing that pulls us together is a recognition that traditional agricultural techniques are unsustainable and the belief that there has to be a better way.
Little or No Growing Experience
Taking the first step into growing hydroponically can seem a daunting prospect. The best way to master the techniques of hydroponics is to start small to understand the different processes involved. Knowing why pH and EC is so important for plant growth and how it affects your plants if it is wrong, gives you the basic knowledge to develop further into hydroponic growing. Trial and error is important to help with the understanding of hydroponics and will eventually give you the confidence to keep growing.
Research is crutial. Read as much literature as you can on the system types and crop types you wish to grow. What will work in the space you have available? Can you use natural light or do you need to supplement this? You may be able to find more information on our Resource Page.
Hobbyist and Small Holder
Once you are comfortable with the basics of hydroponics it makes sense to progress to the next level. You have a good understanding of the system(s) and have grown successful plants. The next step may be to integrate different systems or crops, begin environmental control of an area and start to incorporate more intelligent controls into the system.
If you are confident with your knowledge and performance of growing hydroponic crops and understand the benefits of these techniques, it may be time to decide how you are going to take your plans further. Successful businesses are built upon good foundations and good preparation.
Look at the crop type – is there a market? Is the crop going to be profitable? Would it be more beneficial to grow a quick turnaround crop and rely upon the quantity produced or grow a more valuable long term crop? Should you grow a variety of crops?
Investigate your route to market and the supply chain. How are you going to market your produce or will that be left with a third party?
Leave no stone unturned in the planning of your business. It is not purely about growing a fantastic crop.
Background of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is recognised as an important research tool. It has particular advantages where various controls are needed such as, the pharmaceutical industry and other areas of research where a clean root system is required for instance. Also by having more control means that growers are able to produce a higher quality crop. The worry about soil borne pests and diseases are reduced dramatically and weeding is considered a thing of the past. The rapid harvests and the higher yields are some of the reasons why commercial growers use these methods; in addition to the fact that it is often the only way to make it viable.
In progressive forward thinking countries throughout the world, the industry has increased from $25 million in 1990 to $1.3 billion plug plus in 2013, according to Practical Hydroponics and Greenhouses. It would seem that this is only set to continue as it is helping to develop areas and opening up more opportunities.
Lettuce, strawberries and cut flowers are well known commercial hydroponic crops in Australia and have been for the past decade and more. Tomatoes, pepper, cucumbers and cut flowers form the bulk of Dutch hydroponics crops. A number of UK growers have successful cucumber and tomato operations and many herb growers are moving into this form of cultivation. Nowadays, plants for essential oils, rare herbs, medicinal plants and Chinese vegetables such as, pak choi are more recent crops of great interest. Even gourmet potatoes and wasabi are being grown using hydroponics in New Zealand. There is a developing interest in growing plants for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical use. It is possible to grow practically any commercial crops hydroponically.
Commercial growers have been producing superbly flavoured hydroponic tomatoes for many years. Speciality crops and even fruit trees can all be grown hydroponically. We have even learnt of a commercial hydroponic potato business in the Southern Hemisphere!
We are seeing an increasing interest in the production of cut herbs and salad crops, driven by the demand for convenience foods that are also seen as ‘healthy’. The production of cut flowers is itself a huge market, the introduction of new more exotic plant types lends itself to hydroponic production as a means of growing the best quality from the outset and therefore, making it more difficult for cheaper lower quality crops to compete.
We expect, in time, to see an increase in demand for edible flowers, especially for use in restaurants and hotel complexes. Even fruit trees can be grown this way. In fact, there are very few plants that cannot be grown hydroponically; the choice for a commercial operation is a pure economic one.
There have been recent technological developments in the shape of LED lighting and phone apps. LED lighting has been successful for the hydroponic and horticulture industry because of their low energy qualities, high efficiency and long life. Whilst apps allow you to monitor a whole range of growing aspects such as EC and temperature.
We believe that the future lies in locally grown and sold produce, limiting the “road miles” applied to today’s food supplies. Whilst export opportunities will occur, the main development will be that smaller niche, locally based growers will sell to supermarkets, farmers markets and wholesale operations as well as the consumer direct. This method of growing our food is a more sustainable model than those currently practised and allows for far more flexibility as there is the opportunity to grow more in a specific place and achieve faster harvests. It also means that growers and farmers are able to adapt to the current pressures being put forward by communities far and wide.
Today’s consumer has become increasingly aware of health and environmental issues, even water consumption and availability – these are all drivers for the further development of hydroponic growing techniques.
Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy
We firmly support all initiatives to reduce unnecessary energy consumption in the project we are involved with. Where possible, we will assist in lowering a grower’s dependence upon fossil fuels. The use of energy efficient glass or plastic structures, energy curtains, heat sinks, correct design, location and layout, the correct use of ventilation and other initiatives can all assist in making the project successful and sustainable.
The use of bio-fuels and other alternative sources of power such as, micro-turbines can all assist in making the commercial hydroponics industry a viable, long term one.
The importance of water conservation is becoming a key issue and by using hydroponic methods of which some are recirculating, means there is a decrease in water usage.
The realisation about the problem of carbon emissions is making people look at ways to cut this with the introduction of “green” buildings helping to try and counteract the effect of this in urban areas.
New Markets and Evolving Opportunities
Both the synthetic pharmaceutical markets and nutraceuticals (foods that are beneficial to our health) are expected to maintain growth. A number of these foods require plant-derived materials that are often in a plant’s root zone. The use of hydroponic growing methods alone can ensure the clean, controlled product that is required. Pharmaceutical companies also need raw materials that are pesticide free, of high quality and have been grown in a controlled way… sound familiar? They have to be grown in controlled, clean environments that hydroponics can provide. It is unlikely that this growth in demand will be met by ravaging the already delicate eco-systems represented by rainforests and similar natural resources.
In the USA, it is common for high value foods to be grown hydro-organically, which is using organic nutrients in a hydroponic system.
With the introduction of phone apps to aid growers, this is only going to increase and develop further, allowing people to not only control the different factors when growing, but also allowing them to trace their food and its origins.
Even astronauts are using hydroponics! This popular growing method is allowing astronauts to grow fresh produce when on their expedition to Mars.
The demand for more natural based products is unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future. Combine all the factors mentioned about with the increasing interest in pesticide free, healthy, vitamin rich foods and you can see why we are so excited about the future prospects of our industry…
Often when talking about the first hydroponics, people generally talk of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. However, recent research suggests that this may not necessarily be the case. It has been suggested that The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were actually in Nineveh, which is near the modern city of Mosul. Whether The Hanging Gardens were in Babylon or Nineveh, they were not strictly hydroponic as they still used soil. The first truly hydroponic method was developed in the 19th century by Julius von Sachs and Wilhelm Knop and following this in the 1920s, the first complete nutrient solutions were developed by William Gericke. This is ultimately what is being used now as the basis for hydroponic solutions. Whilst in Wold War II, the US Army used hydroponic techniques while stationed on the Pacific Islands, so that they were able to enjoy fresh food. Then, in the 1970s Dr Allen Cooper developed a new hydroponic technique that is still being using today - Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), which initially was used to grow tomatoes. Today, hydroponic methods are spreading throughout the world and hydroponic installations can be found all over the globe, from Australia to America, Spain to Thailand. Many commercial growers now use hydroponic techniques to produce such items as lettuce and tomatoes, on a large scale.
Commercial crop growers have been using hydroponic techniques for many years. The reason for this is because these methods allow the growers more control over their growing environment and therefore, are able to produce a high quality crop. The worry about soil borne pests and disease are reduced dramatically and weeding is considered a thing of the past. The rapid harvests and the higher yields are some of the reasons why commercial growers use these methods; in addition to the fact that it is often the only way to make it viable.