Growing in containers is basically “manual hydroponics”. The difference is……..you are the pump and the timer. Here’s why.
Contrary to some misinformation out there on the web, hydroponics is not growing plants in water. Rather, an inert medium is used for the plant roots to exist in. That rootzone is then bathed in a nutrient solution on a regular basis, but it is never allowed to be submerged for more than brief “fill” cycles. Many systems don’t “fill” at all. They simply deliver nutrient to the top of the medium and allow it to drain through the rootzone. This keeps the rootzone full of nutrient, air, and water at the same time.
The inert medium can be soilless potting mixes, perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, pea gravel and a few others less popular. They all serve the same function as a place for roots to exist. In a true hydroponic system there are several delivery methods: recirculating, one-way-to-ground, and flood and drain.
Let’s use an example of a tomato plant growing in a large container on the back porch. You may think that if you use “real soil” amended with nutritional components that you have supplied that plant with all the food it needs. Marginally…… and only for a short time. Because with repeated waterings through a confined space, the nutrition is rapidly diluted, depleted, and finally washed out the bottom. That rootzone quickly becomes devoid of appreciable food. In order for the container plant to thrive, it must be fertilized on a regular basis. Hence, you become the pump and timer. You are essentially engaged in hydroponics, albeit on a manual delivery basis. But this doesn’t work with generic fertilizers.
Let’s say you used a “soilless” potting mix. It may even be one of those that says “Up to 3 months nutrition”. Well, read the nutritional percentages on the back and you’ll see they are miniscule. It’s a gimmick, pure marketing baloney. In reality, the mix is virtually devoid of nutrition from the start. So, no matter what you start out with as a grow medium in a container, it either has nothing in it, or it very rapidly will have nothing in it. Now the plant is dependent on you, just like in hydroponics.
In hydro, you determine the outcome (apart from genetics). You are the sole provider for that plant. It will express itself based on what you give it. That is why hydroponic nutrients have to be supremely formulated. Everything the plant needs, in the correct ratios and the correct form for uptake, must be in that nutrient formula. Done right……..outstanding results.
Now, in container gardening, growing in essentially an inert medium, the plants depend on you to deliver the food. You are the pump, and you are also the timer. You are practicing manual one-way-to-ground nutrient delivery, because you probably won’t recover what you feed them. It is critical that you feed them everything they want, and a hydroponic-grade nutrient is the way to do it.
If you try to get away with a generic 20-20-20 you will short change them. Rarely, if ever, do they contain calcium, an essential element in plant growth. They are also commonly made with low-grade components in incorrect ratios……. 20-20-20 certainly is a poor ratio for tomatoes and other large-fruiting vegetables.
We make Urban Farm Fertilizers at the hydroponic-grade level. That is the top of the heap in nutrient formulation. It doesn’t get any better. However, even at that level, not all hydroponic-grade nutrients are created equal. There is plenty of room for optimization even within that narrow band. We at Urban Farm Fertilizers target plant varieties specifically, and then tweak formulas to achieve maximum outcomes.
And finally, a reminder. Even though we begin at the hydroponic level, the distinguishing characteristic of Urban Farm Fertilizers is that they work so well in soil gardening too. No wonder we have so many customers running large garden plots with drip tubing. Our nutrients have the solubility and targeted ratios for the market grower.
Best regards and happy gardening!!