Without water, life on earth would not exist. There would be no hydroponics, much less a culture to practice it. Water is a vital part of every living cell. In plants, it provides turgor pressure on cell walls to keep leaves from wilting. And it transports nutrition and energy stores in the form of dissolved salts and sugars throughout the plant. This book is about water, focusing on how to distribute it, maintain its quality, and enrich it with the nutrition vital to plant life. In nature, fire and water act together to recharge the soil with nutrients. When forests burn, wood is turned to ash. Wood ash is rich in Potassium, one of the plant kingdom's fundamental foods. When the rains come, lifeless leaves and fallen branches are helped along their path to decay. Animals and insects hasten this process through their consumption of plant materials and excretion of organic wastes which filter down into the soil below. The organic matter in the soil is biologically decomposed into the basic nutrient salts that plants feed on. The falling rains once again help in dissolving these salts, making them available for plants to absorb through their roots. For a plant to receive a well balanced diet, everything in nature must be in perfect harmony. Forests must burn, animals must eat, rains must come, wood must rot, and microbes in the soil must be present and ready to go to work. Rarely, if ever, can you find such ideal conditions occurring on a regular basis. In fact, the earth's rainforests may be the only remaining examples of near perfect botanical conditions. Visit one if you ever get the chance! I certainly plan to.
Now that we have a better understanding of the natural growing process, we can see that hydroponics is all about enriching water with the very same nutritive salts found in nature. It's about creating and maintaining a "nutrient solution" that is perfectly balanced for your plants. Most hydroponic systems contain the nutrient solution in a closed system. This helps protect it from evaporation and from discharging into our environment as does the runoff from exposed, fertilized soil. This conservative approach to water management makes hydroponics the method of choice in drought-stricken areas worldwide, and as a result, it is rapidly becoming known as "Earth Friendly Gardening."
Chapter 1: What is Hydroponics 11
Since you will be practicing the art and science of "water gardening", it is a wise idea to know what your local water contains. Contact your local water company and ask for their water quality analysis. If your water comes from a well, you will most likely have to send it out to a lab for analysis on your own. The most important factor affecting water quality is its relative "hardness" or "softness." Hard water means that there is a lot of dissolved mineral content, primarily calcium carbonate, which is often seen as scale on hot water pipes. Soft water is generally very pure or low in dissolved solids. Distilled (or deionized) water, or water that has been through a reverse osmosis filter, are all considered soft. Most commercially available hydroponic nutrients are made for soft water. However, if you have hard water, there are some nutrient products made for hard water as well.
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