Work in Hydroponics or Start a Hydroponic Business
- Learn to grow plants commercially in hydroponics
- Learn about the equipment and materials used in both amateur and professional hydroponics
- Discover the nature and scope of this industry and the career and business opportunities it offers.
- Develop networking, resources, business and technical skills, building a foundation for success in the hydroponic industry.
1. To provide a sound basis of knowledge in horticultural principles as they apply to the culture, use and management of plants in various production situations.
2. To provide new and existing employees who are unable to undertake on campus training with the opportunity to gain appropriate knowledge in the field of plant culture, use and management.
3. To prepare employees for supervisory and managerial positions in the field of plant culture, use and management.
4. To provide horticultural business owner/operators (or those contemplating ownership) with appropriate training to apply technical skills to the management of the physical, financial and human resources in which they have made, or will make, a substantial investment.
5. To provide an understanding of modern technology and its application to growing plants, with emphasis being placed on hydroponics production of commercially valuable plants.
This subject has 30 lessons, each requiring about 12‑15 hours of study:
1. Introduction to Hydroponic Technology
2. Plant Growth Requirements – Light , artificial light, light balancers
3. Plant Growth Requirements ‑ Nutrition‑ nutrient requirements, deficiencies, toxicities, pH, conductivity, salinity, growth regulators
4. Plant Growth Requirements ‑ Temperature
5. Hydroponic Growing Systems ‑ basic concepts and designs, site considerations.
6. Growing Media ‑ types, properties, uses.
7. Hydroponic Nutrient Solutions ‑ nutrient formulae, preparing solutions.
8. Hydroponic Equipment ‑ componentry, nutrient delivery, pumping, testing
9. Growing Structures ‑ Design and Construction ‑ types
10. Environmental Control A ‑ Heating, Cooling
11. Environmental Control B ‑ Lighting, Shading.
12. Environmental Control C ‑ Carbon Dioxide Enrichment
13. Plant Culture In Hydroponics A ‑ trellising, pruning, pollination, transplanting.
14. Plant Culture In Hydroponics B
15. Aggregate Culture
16. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Culture
17. Rockwool Culture
18. Other Techniques ‑ wick systems, flood & drain, bag culture, aeroponics, etc.
19. Irrigation ‑ Soil Requirements
20. Irrigation Systems
21. Plant Propagation ‑ seed & cutting propagation & tissue culture
22. Market Gardening ‑ Cut Flowers
23. Market Gardening ‑ Vegetables
24. Other Plants In Hydroponics ‑ herbs, grasses, indoor plants
25. Pest and Diseases - dentifying the problem, pests and diseases in hydroponics
26. Weeds ‑ identification and control
27. Managing A Commercial Hydroponics Farm ‑ crop scheduling & selection standards
28. Management ‑ Organisation and Supervision
29. Marketing ‑ Promotion and Selling
30. Special Project -Prepare a detailed report of at least 2,000 words, plus photos or diagrams, on a particular aspect of technology which you have studied that significantly assists growing.
Discuss the range and scope of hydroponics
Explain the role of light in plant growth and ways to provide it
Identify the nutritional requirements of plants and how these can be met hydroponically
Discuss the effects of temperature and plan growing strategies for different temperature conditions
Design and conduct a trial to evaluate the commercial prospect of growing a chosen hydroponic crop
Identify different hydroponics systems and evaluate their qualities
Investigate the varieties and properties of different growing media
Identify nutrient requirements for different situations and describe solutions that will provide them
Describe and explain the used of the equipment used in main hydroponics systems
Compare and select growing structures for different growing situations
Explain the role of heat and light control and methods of achieving them
Determine different hydroponics practices, including careful planning of crop production
Explain benefits and manipulation of carbon dioxide to promote plant growth
Describe methods of aggregate culture
Describe the uses and applications of NFT
Understand the uses of rockwool in hydroponics
Explain the properties of soil and their behaviour when irrigated
Describe other techniques of hydroponic growing, including aeroponics
Explain various methods of propagating plants
Identify and describe the components and design of various irrigation systems.
Describe the range of commercial plants produced hydroponically
Identify potential pests and diseases, and describe method to control them
Describe methods of hydroponically producing cut flowers for the cut flower market
Describe methods of hydroponically producing vegetables for the market
Discuss a range of cultural practices for hydroponics
Outline key strategies for managing a business and effective supervision
Identify marketing and market research strategies relevant to your business
Use your knowledge of hydroponics and business to carry out
The 20/80 Rule
"80% of the knowledge required by a commercial hydroponic grower is general horticulture; 20% is hydroponics".
Hydroponic ventures will often fail because this rule is not recognised. People often come to hydroponics with a fascination for the technology; learning all about the technology ....but without the horticultural knowledge and skills; the technology alone will not be sufficient.
What About Aquaponics?
Aquaponics provides another dimension to hydroponics; allowing you to grow plants and then utilise the waste products from the plants to grow fish. The waste from thew fish can then be recycled to help grow more plants.
In effect aquaponics integrates hydroponics with aquaculture:
- In hydroponics you don’t use soil to grow plants - instead materials like gravel or gro-wool are used to anchor plants into specifically designed, channel-like beds, (usually raised at a convenient height); water (with dissolved nutrients added) constantly reticulates through the beds.
- In aquaculture fish is farmed under controlled or partly controlled conditions.
In an aquaponics system the nutrient-rich waste from fish tanks is used to provide plant food to vegetables and herbs grown in hydroponic beds. Chemicals (including nutrients) naturally increase in any water in which fish or other aquatic animals live. Some of these chemicals are the result of excrement from the animals, and others may result from decomposition of dead animal tissue or left over food (such as ammonia). As a result of its nutrient composition, water that is used for aquaculture is a useful source of nutrition for growing plants.
Aquaponics is Environmentally Friendly
Apart from growing your own food and fish, aquaponics can also help the environment - it conserves water (because we are recycling it and only topping up as the levels fall). This uses a lot less water than irrigation. We are not using chemicals that can harm the environment and soil life, because we are using fish waste instead. Plants grow faster too and are not as susceptible to disease as soil grown plants.
Aquaponics may well be the way we feed the world in the future!
Aquaponic systems can vary greatly in size. They can be as small as an indoor fish tank or a large scale commercial aquaponics system. The type and size of aquaponics system you choose will affect the components and features that you will need to run it.
There are several types of systems that are used in commercial aquaponics but the most common system for a backyard is the Closed Reciprocating System which also sometimes referred to as flood and drain cycles. Water flows through the gravel beds at intermittent times (controlled by a timer) to provide a more aerobic environment for the plants (providing greater access to oxygen) and prevent the chance of root waterlogging and rot.
A typical Closed Reciprocating System has the following components:
- Tank (ponds or tanks) for growing fish, crayfish or other species.
- Hydroponic system for growing vegetables, fruits or other plants.
- Collection tank or sump –lowest point in a system that collects runoff from the hydroponics before pumping back into the aquaculture growing tank or pond.
- Filtration systems for removing unwanted components in water.
This may include various mechanisms such as:
- a biofilter to remove things like dead animal tissues, uneaten fish food etc.
- settling tank or compartment where solids can be extracted from the water.
- biofilter to convert toxic ammonia in water to useable nitrates.
What Media Is Best for Your Grow Beds?
There are several options but the main thing to remember is that the particle size of your media should be 8 -16mm no bigger or smaller. Smaller media doesn’t allow enough oxygen around the plant roots. Larger media is very difficult to plant your plants into. The most commonly used media is scoria – it is cheap, readily available and does not affect the pH of the water. Crushed local rock is another option but make sure that you avoid limestone or those known to be high in minerals as this will affect the pH and the possibility of nutrients locking up as a result. Expanded clay is a light, effective media but it is also quite expensive.
Hint: Once you have your system in place run it for a few days before introducing fish – that way you can check for leaks, test to make sure the water is right for your fish or make any changes if they are needed before you start introducing fish or plants.
In order for ammonia wastes from fish (not useful to plants in this form) to convert into nitrates (that can be used by plants as nutrients) you need beneficial bacteria in the water of your aquaponics system. This is called Nutrient Cycling. If you have access to an aquarium filter (used) or some fish-pond or aquarium water then put a bucket of this into your tank to get the system started. Another way to get bacteria started is to throw some fish feed into the tank and let it sit for a few days before introducing the fish – bacteria will start to feed on the ammonia it produces and to multiply in the system. Bacteria will establish of their own accord of course, but it takes a bit longer.
What Else Do You Need To Consider?
- You need at least 6 hours of sunshine for your plants to grow well
- Fish do not need sunlight – sunlight on tanks encourages algae (locating your growing beds over the fish tanks can help eliminate this) or grow floating plants on your fish tank.
- You will need access to power for your water and air pumps
- You will need easy access to harvest your plants – don’t make beds too wide or make sure you have access from all sides.
- You will need easy access to tend to your fish and to harvest them.
- Make sure that your tanks are not contaminated with leaf drop from nearby trees – it makes it harder to keep them clean.
- Make sure that your children or pets cannot fall into the fish tanks.
Hint: Solar water heaters are a very effective and cheap way to heat the fish tanks.
How Many Fish Do I Need?
Like the amount of plants you can harvest, the amount of fish you need, also depends on quite a number of factors including how often they are fed, the water flow, the oxygen levels, the pumping rates and also the number of plants you want to grow. You can grow quite an amazing array of plant produce with relatively few fish. For example: for every 250 litres of (25cm deep) bed media you use - you need about 10 fish. And in a 500litre tank you can very easily grow about 10 fish - in this system you can expect to harvest good sized table fish. Remember: if you want more grow beds then you need more tanks and more fish.
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