Hydroponics has been a growing method of agriculture nowadays. The interesting thing about this technique is that this isn’t a newly invented method; instead, it dates back to many ancient civilizations as well.
It is an indoor system of growing plants where climate, light, temperature, etc. are controlled by man.The term ‘Hydroponics’ is composed of two Greek terms – ‘Hydro’ stands for water and ‘Ponos’ meaning labor.
The combined word means – ‘working water.’ As the term suggests, Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without a soil medium.
It is a hydroculture technique where plants are grown in a water solvent which provides them with the nutrients that they need.
This manner of cultivation eliminates the use of soil as a growing medium and replaces it with other mediums which can transfer the requirements of the plant to it.
The nutrients are transferred to the roots through a water pump and the roots are kept well-provided with oxygen.
Among many in use Hydroponic mediums are – Rockwool, Sand, Perlite, Coco coir, vermiculture, rocks, etc. For now, we’ll look at the use of coco coir as a utilized medium for growing plants through hydroponics.
Coco coir as a Hydroponic medium
The husk that is collected from coconut is an excellent medium and is in growing use when it comes to growing plants through hydroponics. It is an organic medium which is preferred by growers for a variety of reasons.
Coco fibers or coco coir is a great medium to facilitate plant growth as it allows proper aeration and lets the roots of the plants attain oxygen easily. The fibrous texture is also great when it comes to water retention.
HOW IS IT MADE?
Coco coir is made out of the fiber that is torn and separated from coconut shells. To obtain this stringy coir material, the husk from the coconuts is soaked in water to soften them; this is called the retting process. This helps to naturally decompose the pulp of the husk.
Retting is done in manufacturing units and is then sent for de-fibering. During this process, the fiber is separated from the previously obtained pulp.
Once the fiber has been separated, it is collected and dried. Next, the dried fiber is crushed into packable sizes and grouped into discs, bars, bricks, etc. Once the coconut husks are retted, separated and gathered into coir, they are ready to be sent off for using.
TYPES OF COCO COIR:
Coco coir is available in various forms such as –
Coco pith which is similar to peat moss and has excellent water retention capacity.
Coco Fibers are bundles of stringy husk which allows air to reach the plant roots very easily.
Coco Chips are another form of coir that is found in forms of small chunks. They hold water and also permit proper aeration to the roots of the plant.
HYDROPONIC VALUE OF COCO COIR:
The properties of water retention and providing enough aeration for oxygen to reach the roots of a plant, makes coco coir an abundantly useful hydroponic medium.
As coco coir is also organic, it is truly ideal for plants grown through hydroculture. Coco coir has a great fibrous texture which makes it last longer.
The stringy fiber decomposes slowly and can be used for a longer period in hydroponics as compared to peat moss. This medium is getting higher recommendations day by day to be used by hydroponic gardeners as it is an environment-friendly medium.
Coconut husks are completely renewable and can be used in composting after they’ve been discarded as waste. Coco coir provides a medium which is rich in hormones and keeps the plant free for fungus as well. In this way, seeds germinate easily and the plants grow stronger and healthier too.
Otherwise, also, coco coir is readily available and easy to transport and package. Thus they can be made accessible to greenhouses or gardens which apply hydroponics to grow plants.
ADVANTAGES OF USING COCO COIR:
– Coco coir gives excellent harvesting results. Coco coir has a lot of nutrients and thus the plant gets enough food and grows stronger.
Coco coir has sufficient amounts of phosphorus and potassium which are basic nutrients that are required by a plant. They tend to hold calcium, magnesium and iron which are essential nutrients for the plants.
The plants growing in this medium thus already have access to food and spend less time searching for nutrients. This leads to quicker growth and higher yields. To make coco coir more adequate as a growing medium, other nutrient bases are often added to ensure ideal growing conditions.
– Coco coir has a very balanced pH level. The pH content is neutral ranging from 5.2 – 6.8. This pH can also be adjusted based on the plant requirements according to their growth phases.
– Coco coir being fibrous helps to provide enough space for the roots of the plant. The coir has enough space to let in oxygen supply to the roots, providing necessary aeration requirements. Coco coir makes a very porous medium that is liked by plants.
– The excellent water holding capacity of the coco coir is one aspect making it very popular as a hydroponic medium. It holds water that the plant can absorb easily and the spaced-out structure of the coir also facilitates drainage correctly.
– As mentioned earlier, the coco coir is also environment-friendly. The husk attained from coconuts is renewable and an easy source. The coir is obtained from the outer covering of the coconut fruit which is usually a waste product.
This waste is reused to make coco coir. Therefore this is produced from waste and turns out to be very useful as well as organic.
– Along with being reused from the waste, it can be continued to be reused as they do not get spoiled very easily. Coco coir is very sustainable and can be reused as a base medium for growing plants through hydroponics if it is properly treated.
– Coco coir also keeps away pests and fungus from the plant. It has natural Trichoderma which helps against the growth of harmful pathogens.
This property maintains infestation free condition for the plants to grow. The roots when in coco coir are less vulnerable to deterioration and grow healthy. Thus, it boosts plant growth by keeping away diseases.
– Coco coir is usually very inexpensive. Compressed forms are often soaked in water to increase the size of the coco coir before use.
DISADVANTAGES OF USING COCO COIR:
Along with all the benefits that coco coir has to offer, it comes with a flip side as well. While using coco coir as a medium to replace the soil in hydroponics, the following must be kept in mind to ensure no hindrance to the plant growth:
– Coco coir has high cation exchange rates. Due to this it releases and collects nutrients as it requires. It holds calcium, magnesium and iron.
Thus, other nutrient bases are added to coco coir to boost the levels of calcium, magnesium and iron to support plant growth.
– During the manufacturing of coco coir from husks of coconuts, some amounts of chemicals are added to ensure that while drying the coir, no germs or harmful bodies can bloom inside.
These chemicals that prevent pathogens on the coco coir can also influence the crops that are grown on the coir. It is safe to find out about the chemicals that are used to treat the coco coir during processing before it is put to use.
– Many a time, coco coir when in the husk form is soaked in salty water during the retting process. If the coir in the further procedures isn’t washed off of the salts, it can be harmful to the crops.
The salt content can hamper the growth of plants and can slow down absorption processes by the roots. The high salt content can render the coco coir useless.
It is better to ensure that your coco coir comes from a source that conducts washing away of the salts, or it is even handy to learn how to remove the salts yourself.
Keeping in mind all the pros and cons of the coco coir, it has been making considerable progress as a preferred medium for hydroponics. It is among the top mediums to replace soil. Proper usage of this can yield good results and make the entire process even more nature-friendly.
History of Hydroponics
This method of growing plants in a soil-less medium is mostly followed in commercial greenhouses and home gardens. It is environment-friendly, saves space, prevents natural influence to soil and is a water-effective technique.
The use of this method to grow plants is age-old. Many ancient civilizations also used Hydroculture. Hydroponics has evolved over the years from primitive to advanced systems.
In today’s day and age, hydroponics is a scientific system and has a lot of related researches and studies.
Hydroponic culture has been found in the ancient civilization of Babylon’s hanging gardens, floating gardens in China, floating gardens called “Chinampas” in the island of Tenochtitlan.
The term – ‘Hydroponics’ was coined by – W.F Gericke. He conducted experiments on this method and made it popular.
First few countries to begin cultivation using Hydroponics were Spain, Italy, England, Germany, France, etc. They used this method to grow plants in commercial farms and greenhouses.
Now, various types of systems under hydroponics have been introduced to facilitate farming and large-scale production and distribution of food.
Benefits of using Hydroponics
Hydroponics not only reduces dependency on soil for cultivation but also has the other following benefits:
– The hydroponic technique facilitates a better growth rate. It has been observed that growing crops using the hydroponic technique leads to a 20 – 30 per cent increase in pace.
The reason behind this is that the roots are getting food and nutrients comparatively easily and directly absorbs it from the water, rather than having to search for it in the soil.
As the light, temperature, and other factors can be altered and adjusted by the growers, it ultimately proves to be an ideal growing condition.
– It saves land and soil space. Places, where proper soil conditions aren’t available, can also make use of this technique to grow plants indoors in greenhouses.
Pests and insects that are soil-borne and affect crops can be eliminated through the use of this method. Therefore, it also prevents diseases in plants.
– When compared to cultivation on soil, hydroponics saves a large amount of water as well. Regular agriculture uses up a lot of water for irrigation purposes. When plants are grown in a soilless medium, it only uses 10% of the water that is used up in soil agriculture.
Water systems that are used are very advanced and well-managed. The water is re-circulated to avoid any wastage of the resource.
– The provision of nutrients is balanced and checked. The flow of nutrients to the roots is controlled unlike in the soil where the roots have to search for food.
Many a time soils also lack a certain nutrient that is required for plant growth. On the other hand, as hydroponics takes place in a controlled and systematic manner, the crops are supplied well with all the necessary nutrients that are required for its proper growth and yield.
– The pH levels can also be regulated in the water solvents. This creates an ideal nutrient requirement for the plants as all the minerals are dissolved in the water which is rendered to suit and prefer the plant type.
– Another good side of growing plants in a soilless medium is that there won’t be any unwanted weed growth. Weeds do not show up in a water medium and the water does not need regular plowing or tilling.
– With fewer pests and less vulnerability towards diseases, there is also a reduction in the use of herbicides and insecticides. The use of lesser chemicals gives healthier and cleaner foods.
– As the cultivation is not soil-based, a lot of time and effort is also saved. Labor work which includes tilling, plowing, watering, picking weeds, etc. is reduced as hydroponics use more advanced systems.
This technique also comes with its downsides like – expensive investment, power supply requirements, scientific knowledge and technological experience, and many other risks.
Proper planning, technique and knowledge can be used to clear these barriers. It has been successfully growing as a greenhouse and indoor plantation method and will continue to do so in the modern age.