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Hydroponics and Plant Biology

You would think that phrases lkike “plant physiology” and “plant biology” would require an PHd in Science to properly understand. Certainly these sciences can be very complex and studying them is reserved for the truly motivated or professional. But even ‘by the seat of their pants’ gardeners can benefit from a small amount of such information, and it doesn’t have to be difficult to absorb.

With that said, we look at a branch of horticulture called ‘Hydroponics‘. Before diving into cultivating plant, it helps to know what you’re doing, which is where some botany concepts some into play.

Plants are living things, however they have some obvious and important differences from animals. The biggest differences being how each take in nutrients and generate the energy they need to sustain themselves. That is, a plant can absorb sunlight, which provides an energy source. At the same time, it can extract available chemical elements from the surrounding medium, then transform them into food for itself.

Animals, by contrast have to get their food from other sources, either other animals or plants. Sunlight is a good source of heat, however doesn’t provide them with energy. There are some exceptions of course, as some extremely small organisms defined as animals are able to do some plant-like energy conversion. That’s what makes them borderline cases.

The method most plants use to generate the energy they need is a process called photosynthesis. The chemical equation of photosynthesis looks like this:

6CO2 + 12H2O + light = C6H12O6 + 6O2 + 6H2O

By using light, the plant is able to combine twelve molecules of water (12H2O) with 6 molecules of carbon dioxide (6CO2). The chemical reaction produces glucose (C6H12O6), a type of sugar. Like animals, plants then break down the glucose to provide them with the energy they need to sustain them. A by-product of this chemical reaction also creates 6 oxygen molecules (6O2) and 6 water molecules (6H2O).

This basic chemical process gives plants what they need to be self-sufficient. By taking in energy and nutrients from their environment, they produce their own energy and food – if only we could do the same.

There is of course more to a plant than just producing energy and food. In order to perform those functions plants have to be sturdy and to breathe.

As mentioned, plants need to have a stable physical support in order to carry out their essential processes. Since hydroponics is soil-less, that support has to come from something. Externally it’s supplied by the medium by either supporting trays, strings, rockwool, etc. Internally, the plant’s own cells provide that support, using available elements.

For example, the same calcium that supports our bones aids in building a plants cell walls. These cells allow the plant to withstand forces like wind and gravity by building up tissues that resist.

Like us, plants also need to breathe in order to live. Many of us are taught in elementary school that plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. That’s true. What isn’t so commonly known is that plants also breathe in oxygen – they just exhale more oxygen than they breathe in.

While plants don’t use lungs to breathe, they do however have pores, called stoma, which they use to breathe in oxygen and carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. This process called cellular respiration is critical for the plants to grow their roots.

These are the features and abilities that hydroponics gardeners need to take in mind when taking care of their plants.

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