Water, Water, Everywhere: Self-Sufficiency Through Hydroponics

Once upon a time, we all lived in small tribes that became villages, which then became towns with streets on where we all knew each other’s names, kept our doors unlocked and our pin-numbers unshielded; or so our grandparents tell us. It seems ideal.

Yet as our cities have continued to grow in size they cohere less and less, until they almost spontaneously branch off into their own little villages or familiar communities again. Active members within these are often inclined to explore methods of self-sufficiency and greener alternatives to those offered by profit-centred corporations. Hence we have seen an increase in the popularity of Archimedes’ screws, carbon neutrality and rainwater harvesting in towns and cities across the globe.

So let’s take look at some of the sustainable methods that are being used to create a greater sense of self-sufficiency.

The History of Hydroponics

Hydroponics is a form of soilless cultivation; specifically that which involves mineral nutrient solutions. In the UK it was first brought to public attention by Francis Bacon. Bacon may be best known for his 17th century scientific philosophy or his role as Lord Chancellor for which he was publically disgraced after it was revealed that he enjoyed accepting bribes, although some suggest that he may have conceded to these allegations in order to distract from rumours of his homosexuality. He also wrote a book on growing plants in water after which the research into soilless cultivation (or ‘solution culture’) became quite popular.

The term “hydroponics” itself was coined by American William Gericke in 1937. An academic in California, known as Gericke, was a proponent of solution culture being used for industrial scale agriculture rather than small-scale experiments. To prove the legitimacy of his claim, he proceeded to grow 25-feet long tomato vines in his garden from mineral nutrient solutions (the tomato vine is typically only 3-10 feet long).

Gericke’s success led to a great enthusiasm of interest in hydroponics, but Gericke became increasingly reluctant to share his secrets. Later research into his claims found that they were exaggerated and that hydroponic crop yields were no more significant than those from good soil.

Nevertheless, interest in other advantages connected with hydroponics has endured with research into hydroponic techniques continuing in institutions that vary from Disneyworld displays to NASA space travel.

Water + Labour = Solution Culture?

One of the major difficulties that most growers face is balancing the need for water amongst their crops as most will either over or under water. However, as those crops grown in liquid have constant access to water, the crops themselves decide when to take in H2O and when to stop. Therefore the process enables the optimum conditions for stable and high yield food production.

Other advantages tend to be practical. For instance, the absence of soil is convenient for some parched environments and is logistically less demanding. Additionally, the water is recyclable and therefore this reduces costs, making hydroponic produce more profitable. Finally, the lack of pesticides and contaminants produce healthier crops that are better for us as consumers.

The down side is that hydroponic systems tend to be less robust than soil-based systems. It is great when all goes well, but if something goes slightly wrong then it is likely that you plants will die.

Recycling, Repurposing and Reviving

Interestingly in Dalston a collective of farmers, engineers and artists have established an enterprise known as “FARM:shop”. Essentially this is a project attempting to engage the local community with issues relating to sustainability in a fun and confident way.

There is an aquaponic system in which fish poo fertilises the floating vegetation, a hot room for chillies that heats the building, a popular café and livestock such as pigs and chickens. On the one hand, the project aims to engage locals in alternative ways to generate produce whilst on the other; it hopes to collect data on the feasibility of sustainable ways to grow food. The entire project relies on the recycled, repurposed and revived – coming in at a cost of less than £3,000.

As such, FARM:shop is an interactive experiment which explores the possibilities of using hydroponics to develop areas and to showcase elements of sustainability and self-sufficiency in a bid to renew our relationship with the planet that feeds us.

Sally Dimmock is a writer who believes that methods of self-sufficiency should be used for both small and large scale purposes. If you wish to try incorporating into your garden hydroponics, East London experts can help you to make your garden become more self-sufficient.

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