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Hydroponics

Types of Engineering involved: Agricultural

How do you grow crops in places like the Arctic and the Sahara; places where there isn't enough soil, rain or sunlight? You might try hydroponics. It is the science of growing plants without soil. It is used when natural plant growth cannot happen because of the climate. Hydroponic vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes can be grown any time of year in any place. Imagine going to the grocery store and buying a tomato marked "Product of Nunavut"!

In a hydroponics system, the plant roots are not in soil: sometimes they hang down into containers of water; other times they might be in some type of material, such as rock wool, which holds moisture really well. Water is given to the plants through tubes and on a timer. These plants get their minerals dissolved in water.

These plants are not exposed to soil. Plants grown this way are healthier and grow up to 30% faster than other plants! The root systems of hydroponically grown plants stay smaller, so the plant's growth energy is concentrated on producing plant mass. The small roots also allow the grower to have more plants in each square foot of garden space.

Hydroponics may sound new and very scientific, but Aztec farmers used the same thing for growing maize (corn) and greens more than 700 years ago! By building sod bridges over freshwater lagoons, they made sure their crops would receive both nutrients and water on an ongoing basis.

Some of the information in this article was derived from interurban and College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

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