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5 Environmental Benefits of Commercial Hydroponics

environmental-benefits-of-commercial-hydroponics

The benefits of commercial hydroponics as a food production method are leading this business model to grow all over the world. Though the costs of producing food in a commercial hydroponic setting are still quite high, the environmental benefits of commercial hydroponics are important to consider when looking at this method as a viable, sustainable option.

Here are some of the environmental benefits of commercial hydroponics:

Eliminates Pesticide Use
Being a soilless production it doesn’t need herbicides or chemical pesticides and so it positively affects human health and the environment.

Results in Faster Growth
Allows on average four times the amount of crops in the same space as traditional soil-based farming, and it can guarantee a faster growth for many kinds of crops.

Increases Water Conservation
Reduces water consumption by up to 90% compared to traditional agriculture which accounts for 70% of the world’s water consumption.

Improves Use of Natural Resources
Acts as a valid alternative to produce food in areas that are not rich in natural resources, such as deserts or even urban buildings.

Reduces Fossil Fuel Consumption
Provides less reliance on fossil fuels because foo dis being produced in urban areas which eliminates transportation impact as well as the use of machinery.

Read more about the Economic of Commercial Hydroponics in the original article by Adriano Pilloni.Feature Image:

8 Types of Aquaponic Fish

Aquaponics is a form of hydroponic or soilless gardening that is closed-loop and highly efficient. Waste from fish is recirculated as fertilizer to containers of plants where they uptake the nutrients through their roots. Some systems can be fairly simple but there are still certain specifics to understand beforehand. One of the most commonly asked questions regarding aquaponics is about the best types of aquaponic fish to use in the system.

Here are 8 types of aquaponic fish which are most commonly used in these types of gardening systems.

1. Tilapia

2. Goldfish

3. Koi

4. Arctic Char

5. Trout

6. Bass

7. Barramundi

8. Murray Cod

Read more about these 8 most common types of aquaponic fish.

Feature Image: Aquaponic tilapia fish. Image via Aquaponics Plans.

Benefits of Rockwool as a Grow Medium

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Hydroponic gardening offers a way for growers to get creative. With so many different types of grow mediums all with their own respective advantages, there really is a grow medium for everyone. Coconut coir, perlite, and clay pebbles are all soilless substrates commonly used by hydroponic growers. Another medium that’s easily become one of the most popular is rockwool.

Rockwool as a Grow Medium

Rockwool as a grow medium is man-made mineral fibre. It’s created from rock that has been melted and spun until it’s become fibre much like fibreglass. These fibres are then compacted and shaped into a slab or into smaller cubes. They break apart easily and are often used right from the seedling stage. When breaking apart rockwool slabs or cubes, be sure to wear face protection because these are tiny fibres you’re handling and you do run the risk of ingesting the dust. Rockwool is not a natural material and is therefore not biodegradable.

Benefits of Rockwool

Rockwool is a popular hydroponic substrate because it offers many important benefits required to make soilless gardening more enjoyable. Rockwool is extremely moisture retentive. It also provides great aeration allowing your plants’ root systems to obtain proper levels of oxygen.

Rockwool is also a convenient choice for growers because it breaks apart so easily you can adjust the sizes to meet your needs. Throughout the growing cycle, you can rest assured that your rockwool substrate won’t degrade and breakdown over time. It will strong and continue to retain water properly. This is important to note because a concern is that disintegrating materials will clog up your system’s components.

All of these benefits of are important to consider when choosing your grow medium. Rockwool for its reliability and convenience makes it an excellent grow medium to use consistently from propagation to harvest.

Learn more about the types of rockwool products available online or at your local indoor gardening shop.

Engaging Youth in Hydroponics

Youth hydroponic education. Image via Paula Shrum

It is always remarked how a good education system is the key driver to shape the behaviors and increase the quality of a society, as well as it is a way to hand down its heritage. Through education, youth learn fundamental skills, like communication or math, as well as they learn the founding values and the rules of their society, which are necessary to favor their better integration. In addition, youth are encouraged to develop technical skills according to their passions and their attitudes, which will provide opportunities for personal fulfillment for them and, at the same time, contribute to enrich the wellbeing of a society. Therefore, the more as an education system is wide and has good teaching standards, the better will be its output: the society.

Engaging Youth in Hydroponics & Food Education

Nowadays, as stores are full of “junk foods” and the food production chain is for the most industrialized, one of the most important aspects that youth need to deepen, in all its shapes, is the food education. Indeed, it’s easier to transmit to people awareness on the good nutrition habits when they are young. Likewise, it’s important to teach them the food production techniques, pointing to their attention the sustainable practices and the traditional local product, so that they could be more conscious both as a customer and as farmers.

Youth learning hydroponics. Image source: MySuncoast

Youth learning hydroponics. Image source: MySuncoast

Benefits of Teaching Hydroponics to Students

The teaching of hydroponics fit perfectly with what said before as this technique can provide high quality food and significant environmental benefits.

Main benefits for students involved in hydroponics are:

  • Innovativeness (it shows to youths a different way to do agriculture and can inspire them to pursue innovative solutions)
  • Direct contact with the nature and better awareness of the food
  • Building a sense of community (i.e. the food produced by students can be shared within the local community)
  • Development of technical skills 
  • Personal growth and sense of responsibility (i.e. project responsibilities, team working skills)
  • Deepening of the many subjects of study involved

As said in the last point, by engaging youth in hydroponics it’s also possible to improve their awareness of the related topics of study.

Indeed, hydroponics can transmit knowledge of:

  • Biology (understanding of photosynthesis, nutrients, root development, etc.)
  • Chemistry (interaction with Ph, nutrients, etc.)
  • Business (business planning, ect.)
  • Engineering (design of the hydroponic systems)
  • History (evolution of the hydroponics techniques and differences between local productions)

Boston College Urban Hydrofarmers Success

The highlighted benefits are more than enough to justify the development of hydroponics teaching programs.  In addition, the achieved success of the existing programs can act as a boost to the development such programs.

The Boston College project, “Urban Hydrofarmers”, is a perfect example of that. This project, started in 2012, targets youth aged from upper-elementary school through high school and provides opportunities for young people from low-income communities to learn about growing food, learning science, becoming interested in learning more about healthy eating.

Engaging Youth In Hydroponics

Hydroponics equipment. Image source: Urban Hydrofarmers

Boston college Professor Mike Barnett, in an interview for Tedx, explained that during the past two years the program received 100% college attendance rate with over 65% of those youth choosing to major in a scientific field (the national average for youth of color is 6%). He also highlighted that it has been the only program in the nation having three youth which received the highly competitive and prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship (which covers all college expenses for youth studying a scientific discipline) during the past three years.

Health & Social Benefits of Indoor Gardening

modern-sprout-indoor-gardening-solution

Indoor gardening is becoming quite popular among urban dwellers. And it’s no wonder as education about the many benefits of gardening and plant life has been prolific as of late. Rates of depression, anxiety, obesity, respiratory disorders and many other chronic illnesses are increasing among those living in urban areas. General concern over public health and social stability is growing. Thankfully, gardening is a terrific preventative measure which can be taken relatively easily, and generates incredible health and social benefits.

Here are some of the most amazing benefits of keeping an indoor garden:

1. Plants improve our air quality by filtering toxins that get trapped indoors.

2. The improved air quality lowers risk of respiratory disorders, as well as chronic headaches and eye irritation.

3. Plants teach us how to be attentive and responsive to their needs. This improves our levels of empathy and compassion.

4. Research in environmental psychology has shown that a connection with plants improves human mental wellbeing as well as productivity levels.

5. An indoor garden can provide you with fresh kitchen ingredients.

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The Woolly Pocket is an indoor gardening solution for urban dwellers. Image via Woolly Pocket.

6. Growing your own food reduces our risk of chemical ingestion which you find in foods that have been transported to your local grocery store.

7. Gardening is an excellent conversation starting point in gaining more attention about the need for improving our environmental impact.

8. In an indoor environment, gardening is a lot less maintenance and plants are relatively safe from pests and disease.

9. There are countless automated indoor gardening systems for you to choose from which are cost effective and low-maintenance.

Indoor Gardening Methods

To start your own indoor garden you may wish to pursue some soilless gardening systems such as:

All of these methods of growing indoors are available in compact, space-saving systems which are completely automated. Many of these units are designed to conserve water and energy and maximize the growth of your indoor garden. These are excellent beginner options for those with busy lifestyles.

Check out this list of available systems designed for the home or office.Feature Image: The Modern Sprout Planter is a countertop indoor gardening system perfect for the home or office. Image via Modern Sprout.

Indoor Gardening & Home Hydroponics

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Hydroponics may be as ancient as the hanging gardens of Babylon but it’s a more recent phenomenon that hydroponics has become practical for the average home. Materials for constructing a home hydroponics system are widely available these days. Resources such as plans, online instructions, efficient lighting technology, automation technology, and a wide availability of hydroponic nutrients to choose from make the present an ideal time to embrace indoor gardening with hydroponics.

Reasons for Embracing Home Hydroponics

One of the main reasons to begin an indoor garden with home hydroponics is food quality and food security. These days just about everyone is aware of the multitude of pesticides and herbicides used in conventional agriculture. Hydroponics is often practiced in a controlled environment such as a greenhouse – or a home. In most of these instances plants can be grown hydroponically with little to no pesticides needed. Keeping the grow area clean will further reduce pest issues and any need for pesticides. It isn’t just spraying less chemicals that makes hydroponics worth embracing, it turns out hydroponics tends to use less water than conventional agriculture. In a study of hydroponic roses, the roses were shown to use about 65% of the water that the conventional gardening methods required.

Why Not Just Buy Hydroponic Produce?

Produce being grown hydroponically is growing in popularity and in many instances it may simply be easier to purchase what others grow at the local supermarket. Many gardeners however report feelings of greater fulfillment and a connection with nature when they work with their plants in their garden. There’s a genuine feeling of satisfaction that can be felt when you watch the seed you planted sprout, grow, and thrive. A home hydroponic grower will witness just how much hydroponically grown produce flourishes in terms of increased growth speed and plant vigor. This speed of growth can mean increased production compared to soil gardening and because many home hydroponic growers will use artificial lighting in their indoor gardening, this means they can keep the production growing all year long. This can mean a rewarding year-round hobby that can literally put some food on the table.

Practice What I Preach

As a hobby hydroponicist for almost a decade I have had the chance to experiment with different growing methods for home use. I recently developed a home hydroponics system built to take advantage of a south facing window in the home. The system was built using standard materials available from a hardware store and more information and plans are available at TheHydroCultivator.com. What excites me about this simple system is the use our family has received from it. We’re able to keep it continuously cycling and giving us a steady and reliable supply of salad greens – mostly romaine lettuce. The best part is knowing what’s on the food as well as what went into the food.

Time is Money

Home hydroponics may be a very rewarding hobby for those who enjoy working with plants and water but what about people who don’t have a lot of time? Fortunately there are more and more technological advances being made. There are devices that can automatically fill your reservoir with water, automatically dose your tank with nutrients, pH and conductivity meters that constantly monitor the nutrient solution, timers for lights and fans, and inexpensive cameras you can monitor your plants with via a smartphone when away from home. So if you were avoiding home hydroponics because you didn’t think you had the time, you may want to reconsider.

Prevent Pests in Your Indoor Garden

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Pests are a natural part of operating a garden and should be expected at some point to cause damage to your plants. The best way to fend off nasty bugs is to take initial measures to prevent pests in your indoor garden.

However, pests are known to occur in gardens of even the most experienced growers. Sometimes you can do everything right by maintaining a healthy, controlled growing environment and the bugs still show up. A common misconception is that because you’re growing indoors, you’re free from pest threats. This is typically only the case when we talk about large-scale commercial operations which either bring in plants that were from previously controlled environments, or they germinate their seedlings on-site.

By starting out from seedlings, you greatly reduce the risk of developing pest problems. That’s because when you purchase mature plants from garden centers and bring them into your home, you’re taking the chance that there could already be pests in the soil or on the plants themselves.

5 Ways to Prevent Pests in Your Indoor Garden

Here are some measures to prevent pests in your indoor garden, especially if it’s a new system:

1. As mentioned before, try germinating your own hydroponic seedlings. This is not only a way to prevent pests, but it’s  good learning experience as well.

2. Monitor your garden daily. This will ensure you can catch the pests before they become an infestation. Look for any signs of pest damage including plant discoloration and holes in the leaves.

3. Use only clean, sanitized pots and system components. This prevents the establishment of a breeding ground for insects and other pests.

4. Care for your plants by removing dead leaves and isolating the specific plants you feel may be infected.

5. Maintain proper growing conditions at all times including sufficient air flow.

5 Pests to Watch for in Your Indoor Garden

Some of the most common pests you will encounter in your indoor garden include:

1. White flies

Look for black film that almost looks like sooty mold build-up.

2. Aphids

Aphids are usually thought of as tiny green bugs but they come in other colors too. Look for clusters of these insects on the undersides of leaves.

3. Scale

These are small, brown insects that are usually found on the undersides of leaves.

4. Mealy Bugs

These are noticeable white fluffy bugs that look almost like cotton. They are often found on the undersides of leaves or on the plant stems.

5. Spider Mites

Spider mites can usually only be detected with a magnifying glass. Look for their signs of damage which are discolored leaves. Spider mites are also not actually considered insects.

3 Ways to Eliminate Pests from Your Indoor Garden

To eliminate pests when they do occur, many growers opt for organic methods of pest elimination such as neem oil, beneficial bugs, or organic sprays.

1. Neem Oil

Neem oil is derived from the neem plant and destroys insects by preventing them from laying eggs.

2. Beneficial Bugs

Beneficial insects like ladybugs can fight off aphids. They do this by eating the insects that damage your garden. Live ladybugs can be ordered and shipped to you.

3. Organic Pest Sprays

You can purchase or create your own pest sprays. Often times soapy mixtures are blended with citrus which can be sprayed over the leaves of your garden to kill insects.

What methods have worked to prevent pests in your indoor garden? Share your story with us!

Italian Think Tank Develops Advanced Floating Hydroponic Jellyfish Barge

It’s evident that the continuous trend of human population growth will lead to an higher global food demand in the coming years. With a projected increase in demand of 60-70% by 2050, greater food production will be required in a context where the raw inputs such as land and water, are limited.

Therefore, food sustainability, which implies a better utilization of these resources to ensure food security, will undoubtedly play a key role in meeting this target. With this said, innovation in the way we produce food is more important than ever. Take for example the advanced floating hydroponic jellyfish barge – one of the more ambitious food production projects.

Water Scarcity

Currently, many public and private institutions of all sizes, driven both by economic reasons and environmental consciousness, are pushing to implement systems to lower the use of the natural resources. The growing expansion of soil-less productions like hydroponics, as well as the constant interest in the development of water savings techniques, are good examples of how the agricultural sector is making significant efforts towards sustainability.

Floating Hydroponic Jellyfish Barge

A game-changing innovation has been recently developed by an Italian design think tank known as PNAT (Plant Nature and Technology). The group was founded by designers and biologists in affiliation with the University of Florence with the aim of merging plants, research, science and creativity. Their most recent – and strangely interesting – project is the floating hydroponic Jellyfish Barge.

Floating hydroponic Jellyfish barge. Image via domusweb.

The barge is basically a self-sustainable floating greenhouse, able to produce food without soil while minimizing water usage. The greenhouse uses a high-efficiency hydroponic cultivation method which provides up to 70% of water savings compared to traditional hydroponics systems.

To provide the required water, the floating module is supplied with seven solar desalination units which are used to replicate natural solar distillation on a smaller scale. In doing so, the solar units are able to provide up to 150 liters of clean water from brackish, salt, or polluted water each day.

Jellyfish Barge Construction and Design

The platform of the barge is equipped with an automated system for remote control and monitoring. In addition, the Jellyfish Barge is powered entirely by renewable energy generated by on-board solar panels, miniature wind turbines, and an innovative system that produces power from tidal activity.

The barge structure is made of a wooden base about 70 square meters, which floats on recycled plastic drums and supports a glass greenhouse for crop cultivation. It is built using simple, low-cost materials, but without sacrificing the attention to design. Indeed the structure, besides being useful, is also visually appealing.

Many resorts are looking at it as an excellent way to provide net-zero energy food to their customers. In fact, the Jellyfish Barge can produce up to 800 crops per month, which is enough to supply the needs of a typical restaurant.

Jellyfish barge: how it works. Image via domusweb.

This Italian agricultural project has had great success in Europe, being selected among the finalists of the United Nations prize “UNECE Ideas for change Award.”

The Jellyfish Barge will be docked until September 2015 at San Niccolò Bridge in Florence, and will be presented by the Region of Tuscany at the Expo 2015 in Milan – the Universal exposition with theme, Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

According to PNAT’s CEO, Camilla Pandolfi, this big, complicated raft is going to change the way we cultivate fruits and vegetables. Surely their project provides an attractive, as well as concrete, solution to the resource scarcity issue. It may very well be a central part of the transition toward more sustainable food industry.Featured Image: Conceptualized Illustration of the Jellyfish Barge as a Hub for Cultural Activity. Image via Seeds & Chips.

3 Signs of Plant Nutrient Deficiency

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Just like any living thing, plants need food to survive. Plants receive food through their root systems from a variety nutrients that naturally occur in the earth. When plants are not grown in soil, but rather in a hydroponic nutrient solution, it is up to the grower to ensure that the proper amount of nutrients are being fed to the plants.

Three of the main nutrients that are required for plant growth are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If any of these are low in supply, you will begin to notice certain signs of plant nutrient deficiency.

Here are ways to recognize the signs of plant nutrient deficiency corresponding to each type of nutrient.

Nitrogen Deficiency
Nitrogen initiates photosynthesis. Without it, your plants’ leaves will become discolored, either brown or yellow. This is called chlorosis and is the result of a lack of chlorophyll production. The plant itself will likely not continue to grow or will grow slowly.

Phosphorus Deficiency
Phosphorus helps the plant by strengthening its roots and seeds therefore leading to an overall healthier reproduction. In the case of a Phosphorus deficiency, you’re going to notice a darkening of the leaves.

Potassium Deficiency
Potassium is ultimately responsible for growth and health, and helps the plant’s immune system. If the leaves have begun to discolor at the edges or the plant isn’t blooming how it should, then this is likely a sign of a Potassium deficiency.

For more information about signs of plant nutrient deficiency check out the original article here.

Feature Image: A nitrogen deficiency is compared to a healthy one.

5 Food Trends for 2015

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Each year the United States moves towards a greener, cleaner, and more sustainable food supply. For example, we’ve seen how the state of our schools’ lunch programs have changed the types of foods that our children are eating. We’re also seeing more food labeling on the shelves telling us how our food is produced as well as where it was produced. Instead of importing all of our foods from industrial suppliers more of our food is coming from local farms, especially seasonal produce. Not only are we seeing more of this healthier food coming into the market, we’re also seeing that fresh locally grown organic foods are being offered at a more affordable rate meaning we’re able to feed more individuals than in previous years.

The US is moving towards a better future in 2015. States are clamping down on food packaging that contains harmful chemicals. For example, in 2015 the City of New York is banning the use of styrofoam food containers in the city, following many other cities such as Portland, San Diego, and Seattle.

As we transition from 2014 to 2015 these are the top five food trends we are going to see in food systems during the upcoming year:

1. Sustainable Food Available For Everyone

People across the US are going to find local sustainable foods more accessible in 2015. More people will have access to fresh healthy foods than in recent years. This trend will focus on seasonal produce where individuals will have access to fruits, vegetables, meat, etc. that has been grown on local farms. This will cut down on the amount of industrialized foods that individuals have relied on in past years. We’ve already seen such movements occurring across the country with people asking for healthier foods, demanding cost efficient foods, and hoping for a better environment for practicing sustainable agriculture.

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2.  More Attention Will Be Paid To Food Waste

Growing up in my household, especially when visiting my grandparents, we were drilled with the idea of NOT wasting food. You sat and ate what was on your plate even if you didn’t like it. As Americans, we produce a large amount of food that in actuality, never gets eaten. According to the NRDC, around forty percent of the food that is produced in the United States goes to waste. The idea that is trending with this issue is to raise public awareness of food waste and what it means for our environment. Author Dana Gunders, an expert for the NRDC, is publishing a book called The Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook, which will share tips on how to reduce food waste in your home, such as using leftovers in other recipes, freezing and storage. The idea is to use the food in your fridge and cupboards before they spoil and need to be thrown away.

3. Get Rid of the Chemicals

We all know this trend. We see it more and more where the government is failing to protect families from dangerous chemicals that are being used in our food production systems. It is the hope of the NRDC and FDA to battle chemical industries to stop them from using chemicals in our foods, especially those that disrupt the hormone system in both humans and animals. Looking at the opening paragraphs of this article you can see that it was mentioned that NYC is banning the use of plastic food containers – this is because of the harmful chemicals found in those containers which damage not only the environment but also the health of individuals due to the use of various chemicals in the packaging. Another example is the use of plastics that contain BPA. We all know that in previous years they were used in baby bottles, but they are a known reproductive hazard. It’s the hope that these will be banned nationwide so that they are no longer used, when currently they are STILL being used in food packaging.

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4. Climatology and Soil Science

One thing that farmers are paying better attention to in recent years is how climate change is altering the soil composition for the growth of crops. Where we used to focus on getting as much yield as possible from the soil, there has been a shift in farming practices, aiming towards healthy soils rather than applying chemical after chemical to them to get crops to grow faster and larger. The largest factor in this shift is that if we can keep the soils healthier they can store more carbon, which means that less carbon will be released into the atmosphere causing climate change issues. By relying on methods such as crop rotations or green manure uses, we can work to make the soils healthier and therefore create a better environment for world populations.

5. Antibiotic Free Meats

Demand is high for meats that are free of antibiotics. We see many instances where animals are given antibiotics when they are being raised for meats. The idea behind this trend is that people don’t want to eat meats that are laden with chemicals and antibiotics. In the past so much of our meat supply contained antibiotics that the instance of antibiotic resistant bacteria was on the rise which led to many illnesses and even deaths and infections which could not be treated by antibiotics that would have otherwise treated the infection. So now people are lobbying for change. They want the animals to be healthy and free of stressful and unsanitary conditions so that they can be taken to slaughter in a way that will be healthy not only for the animals but for the individuals purchasing the end product. This would help contain the health crisis that is currently happening in the US as more and more individuals are falling ill and being unable to be treated by conventional antibiotics due to a resistance that the bacteria is building up through the ingestion of meats that are full of the same antibiotics.

After looking at the above five trends we can surmise that 2015 is going to usher in a new era for the sustainable food movement. People want produce and meats that are not only affordable but also antibiotic free and sustainable. They want a food system that is not only health for people but also for animals and the environment. Each year we make huge strides towards a healthier food system, and it seems that 2015 will be no different.