Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Hydroponics: the art of soil-less farming


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hydroponics

Mains level : Hydroponics and its utility

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in TH.

Many questions related to agricultural techniques are being asked in the Prelims. UPSC has done away with traditional crop-related questions for the past two years. 

For example, see this question from CSP 2020:

Q.What are the advantages of fertigation in agriculture?

  1. Controlling the alkalinity of irrigation water is possible.
    2. Efficient application of Rock Phosphate and all other phosphatic fertilizers is possible.
    3. Increased availability of nutrients to plants is possible.
    4. Reduction in the leaching of chemical nutrients is possible.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 1,2 and 4 only

(c) 1,3 and 4 only

(d) 2, 3 and 4 only

What is hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants without using soil.

  • Hydroponic flowers, herbs, and vegetables are planted in inert growing media and supplied with nutrient-rich solutions, oxygen, and water.
  • This system fosters rapid growth, stronger yields, and superior quality.
  • When a plant is grown in soil, its roots are perpetually searching for the necessary nutrition to support the plant.
  • If a plant’s root system is exposed directly to water and nutrition, the plant does not have to exert any energy in sustaining itself.
  • The energy the roots would have expended acquiring food and water can be redirected into the plant’s maturation. As a result, leaf growth flourishes as does the blooming of fruits and flowers.

Why Hydroponics?

  • Plants sustain themselves by a process called photosynthesis. But they do not need soil to photosynthesize.
  • They need the soil to supply them with water and nutrients.
  • When nutrients are dissolved in water they can be applied directly to the plant’s root system by flooding, misting, or immersion.
  • Hydroponic innovations have proven direct exposure to nutrient-filled water can be a more effective and versatile method of growth than traditional irrigation.

How does hydroponics work?

  • Hydroponic systems work by allowing minute control over environmental conditions like temperature and pH balance and maximized exposure to nutrients and water.
  • It administers nutrient solutions tailored to the needs of the particular plant being grown.
  • They allow you to control exactly how much light the plants receive and for how long.
  • pH levels can be monitored and adjusted. In a highly customized and controlled environment, plant growth accelerates.

Components of Hydroponics

To maintain a flourishing hydroponic system, we need to become acquainted with a few components that make it run efficiently.

(1) Growing media

  • Hydroponic plants are often grown in inert media that support the plant’s weight and anchor its root structure.
  • Growing media is the substitute for soil, however, it does not provide any independent nutrition to the plant.
  • Instead, this porous media retains moisture and nutrients from the nutrient solution which it then delivers to the plant.

(2) Air stones and air pumps

  • Plants that are submerged in water can quickly drown if the water is not sufficiently aerated. Air stones disperse tiny bubbles of dissolved oxygen throughout your nutrient solution reservoir.
  • These bubbles also help evenly distribute the dissolved nutrients in the solution. Air stones do not generate oxygen on their own.
  • They need to be attached to an external air pump via opaque food grade plastic tubing

(3) Net pots

  • Net pots are mesh planters that hold hydroponic plants. The latticed material allows roots to grow out of the sides and bottom of the pot, giving greater exposure to oxygen and nutrients.
  • Net pots also provide superior drainage compared to traditional clay or plastic pots.


By controlling the environment of the plant in hydroponics, many risk factors are reduced:

  • Plants grown in gardens and fields are introduced to a host of variables that negatively impact their health and growth. Fungus in the soil can spread diseases to plants.
  • Wildlife like rabbits can plunder ripening vegetables from your garden.
  • Pests like locusts can descend on crops and obliterate them in an afternoon. Hydroponic systems end the unpredictability of growing plants outdoors and in the earth.
  • Without the mechanical resistance of the soil, seedlings can mature much faster.
  • By eliminating pesticides, hydroponics produces much healthier and high-quality fruits and vegetables. Without obstacles, plants are free to grow vigorously and rapidly.

Various limitations

  • A hydroponic system isn’t cheap
  • Constant monitoring is required
  • Micro-organisms that are water-based can creep in rather easily
  • Growing a hydroponic garden demands an expertise
  • Production is limited compared to field conditions
  • If a disease appears, all plants in the system will be affected
  • Without soil to serve as a buffer if the system fails plant death will occur rapidly
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