Like any high-tech field, the hydro industry is constantly evolving. Scientists are continually increasing our knowledge of plant physiology and this knowledge, in turn, affects the technological advancements in the hardware used for indoor growing. Serious gardeners are always trying to follow the latest advancements to increase productivity or efficiency. Although it is impossible to know exactly where hydroponic gardening will go in the future, we can look at some of the trends and recent scientific advancements to make some predictions. I believe we will continue to see advancements in all aspects of hydroponic gardening, including lighting, nutrition, the actual systems themselves, and the ways hydro systems are used in our society.
At the heart of any indoor garden is the lighting system. Over the last 10 years, advancements in horticultural lighting have been astounding:
- High intensity discharge (HID) lighting systems have seen some tremendous advancements and will continue to improve in terms of efficiency.
- Double-ended lighting systems will continue to grow in popularity over the next few years, as they offer multiple advantages over standard HID lighting systems, including increased efficiency and longevity.
- With its unique spectral output, sulfur plasma lighting is poised to become more common as a primary lighting source for indoor gardens in the years to come, as improvements to manufacturing techniques help lower the price of these systems.
- LED lighting systems seem like old news, but their ability to tailor light spectrums to meet the needs of specific types of plants put them ahead of other lighting technologies for future potential.
Nutrients for Hydroponic Gardens
Hydroponic nutrients are continually undergoing advancements. We are already starting to see specialty nutrients that “self-buffer” to the desired pH range. I believe we will continue to see an increase in these self-buffering nutrients, along with other time-release, fully soluble nutrients capable of maintaining more consistent ppm and pH levels. Nutrient manufacturers are getting better at combining various elements into stable, one-part formulas. I predict the number of complete, one-part nutrient formulas will increase, particularly as we see more novice gardeners trying hydroponics.
Hydroponic Systems and Vertical Growing
All hydroponic systems are essentially nutrient delivery systems. Vertical growing systems have revolutionized many hydroponic farms across the globe, allowing for major increases in production per area. Vertical growing is a perfect solution for dense urban areas where space is limited. More vertical hydroponic systems are being built onto the sides of buildings and other structures and this trend will only increase in scope.
Hybrid systems, which combine the benefits of multiple hydroponic systems, will also climb in popularity. Systems that focus on maximizing oxygen to the roots, along with effectively delivering nutrients, will continue to shape the future of hydroponic systems. Another shift to look for in the next few years is more kits that contain everything a gardener needs to begin growing, including lighting and nutrients. These systems are already popular, but will become even more so as more people try hydroponics for the first time.
Self-contained hydroponic gardens that can be built into kitchens are also something to look for. These self-contained “appliances” will be hard-wired, plumbed in and will look just like a dishwasher. As more people start to understand the immense benefits of growing their own food, the need for these types of complete hydroponic systems designed for use in the home will increase.
Micro Growing for Microgreens
Similar to the hydroponic appliances for kitchens, automated hydroponic systems aimed at growing microgreens, such as sprouts, will become more popular. The systems designed for producing microgreens and grasses won’t stop in our kitchens, though—an increasing number of farmers are using hydroponic systems to grow fodder for their livestock. Hydroponic systems used for growing fodder are not only cost effective, but they also provide a superior food source for livestock.
Aquaponics—the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponic gardening—is a sustainable approach to food production because these systems use fish waste to feed plants and plants to filter the water for the fish in a perfect, natural circle. As we continue to deplete our resources, growing crops sustainably is going to become even more important and aquaponic systems are a great way to efficiently produce food on both a small and large scale. Chickens, rabbits, worms, crickets and other animals are also being integrated into sustainable hydroponic gardens. As more people experiment with different strategies, more of these unique biological hydroponic systems will be developed.
Applications for Restaurants and Grocery Stores
Some of the latest trends in hydroponic growing are not directly related to advancements to the systems themselves, but to the application of these systems. Restaurants and grocery stores are starting to incorporate hydroponic systems into their business models as a way to provide the freshest produce possible. Living salad bars allow businesses to provide fresh produce and set themselves apart from their competitors. The farm-to-table movement has many restaurants interested in setting up their own hydroponic farms to provide customers with fresh food on-site. Not only is this a great novelty to sell to customers, but it also makes good financial sense. Another growing trend in hydroponics is the rooftop gardening movement. I believe we will see more rooftop or vertical, wall-mounted hydroponic systems being incorporated into the specs of new buildings to increase urban food production.
Other Integrated Technologies
Going forward, many other cutting-edge technologies will be integrated into hydroponic systems on a more regular basis. Solar panels, which provide power to submersible pumps and other accessories, are increasing in popularity, especially in aquaponic systems, where self-sufficiency is the goal. As we get better at harnessing the power of the sun, and if the price of solar power systems continues to drop, we will see an increasing number of indoor growers using this technology to offset the electrical costs of operating an indoor hydroponic garden. Although fiber optic solar collection systems may be years away from being a practical solution, fiber optics is another type of technology that will surely revolutionize indoor gardening systems.
People are starting to realize our health is directly related to our diet. This, in turn, creates the demand for more fresh produce from our markets and restaurants. Hydroponic gardening is a practical solution for providing fresh food in dense urban areas. Whether it be on the rooftop or the outside wall of a building, we are sure to see lots of hydro gardens popping up in cities over the next few years. An increasing number of commercial farmers are unlocking the potential hydroponics offers as well. Over the next 10 years, we will see more commercial hydroponic farms established to meet the increasing demand for local, fresh produce.
More people are taking their health and food production into their own hands by setting up some sort of home garden. For many, the only option is a hydroponic system that can produce food in a small space. Home hydroponic systems, especially those that fit on a countertop or in a kitchen window, will eventually become commonplace. With all the benefits hydroponics offers, especially in urban areas, there is no doubt hydroponic gardening will be a major part of our society’s food production in the future.