When it comes to gardening, gardeners and homesteaders now have more options than ever.
Sometimes it’s impossible to grow what you want because you either don’t own the land, don’t have enough space, or the soil isn’t ready. Fortunately, you don’t need soil to grow most varieties of fruits and vegetables…
In fact, you can probably grow what you need in a hydroponics system.
Hydroponics are nothing new, they’ve been around for a few years, but they’re just starting to gain headway with common everyday gardeners like you and me.
But it’s not because of their flashy or sometimes scifi appearances, these growing systems are perfect for someone who doesn’t have a lot of space and who wants to maximize what they already have.
Not only that, but with most hydroponics systems, you can skip out on a lot of things like- applying pesticides, having to constantly replenish soil amendments and all the equipment and labor that goes into that, and so on!
Table of Contents
The Basic Setup of A Hydroponics System
Every hydroponics system may be slightly different, but the basic layout looks something like this: a container where you’ll place your plants, a sump tank, a pump, and some type of pipe or hose that will pump water in and out of the sump tank to the trough or raft containing your plants.
How it works is that the pump will force water to the plants via tubing or pipes, the plants then absorb as much water as they need while the excess water drains from the plant container via gravity.
Some other things a hydroponics system relies on is substrates and nutrients.
Even though you don’t need soil to grow your plants, most hydroponics setups rely on some sort of substrate to help anchor the plants into place and to keep them from shifting or falling over.
Soil also provides a very important form of nourishment, so this needs replaced too.
Fortunately, both the substrates and the nutrients can be bought pretty cheaply.
Potential Drawbacks of Any Hydroponics System
Some potential drawbacks to this method of gardening is:
- Takes time and some level expertise.
- Not the easiest for a newbie gardener to get started with.
- Can also be expensive to up and running with.
- Testing the pH levels constantly will be something you’ll need to get used to.
- Adding more water and nutrients can be time consuming.
- If the pH isn’t right, the plants will fail to grow and you won’t be able to harvest anything.
- The equipment may need cleaned regularly to prevent mold from taking over the entire system.
The Six Types of Hydroponics Systems
There are six types of systems and each of them are different in their own way.
Basic Wick System
The Wick system is the easiest system to get up and running with since there’s no complicated equipment needed, like a pump or electricity.
This makes it a great system for those who have unreliable electricity.
The way this system works is bunch of plants or trays of plants are placed in substrate which is then suspended in a large container of water and the nutrient solution.
A wick hanging from the underside of the pot or tray is submersed into the water so that the wick can absorb the water when the plant is “thirsty”.
The wick can be as simple as a nylon or cotton rope, but keep in mind that the more plants you need to grow, the more wicks you need to make sure everyone gets their fair share of water.
Advantages to The Wick Hydroponic System
- Easy to get started with.
- Great for those who don’t have any electricity.
Drawbacks to The Wick Hydroponic System
- Larger plants may not thrive since they’re constantly “thirsty” and some plants need more water than others.
- Since there’s no pumps or electricity to keep water circulating, the plants may either absorb too much or too little of the nutrients.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
This is the next step up from the basic wick system.
The plants are suspended above the water via a styrofoam or plastic platform- sometimes called a raft.
An aquarium air pump submersed in the water helps bring the bubbles to the surface to help the plants receive oxygen.
The sump tank can be as simple as an old aquarium that isn’t leaky or a large tote.
This system doesn’t require substrate, but it’s optional.
Advantages of The DWC Hydroponics System
- Minimal supplies needed, could probably put the entire system together with a budget of $100 or less.
- Little work needs done to see success and system doesn’t need to be babysitted.
Drawbacks of The DWC Hydroponics System
- Since most people use aquariums, the growing room isn’t as big.
- Also relies on electricity to supply the oxygen to the roots- if electricity is an issue for you then maybe this won’t work for you.
- Most garden vegetables and fruits fail to thrive in this type of system, but herbs love it.
Drip System Hydroponics system
One of the preferred systems among professional growers and greenhouses.
Imagine two boxes sitting atop of each other- essentially this is what the drip system consists of.
Except instead of a wick pulling moisture to the roots, an aquarium pump that’s connected to a timer will occasionally turn on to stir up the contents of the water.
When the pump is done circulating the water, it will shut off and the water will drain into the sump tank until it’s time to recirculate again. Getting setup with this system is still inexpensive than most other types of systems since you need less equipment.
Just to get started, you’ll need two large containers, an aquarium pump, pvc tubing, and some type of growing medium.
Advantages of The Drip Hydroponics System
- Still inexpensive to build and capable of growing more plant varieties than the last two mentioned.
Drawbacks of The Drip Hydroponics System
- A little trickier to work with if you’re not used to hydroponics or just getting started.
- Not completely maintenance free.
- Dump type systems can cause a lot of waste for both water and nutrients.
Flood and Drain Hydroponics System
Plants sit in a type of tray or raft and the tray is occasionally filled with water.
During this time, the plants soak up what water they need while the excess is drained to the bottom sump tank via gravity.
A pump will occasionally kick on to push water into the trays- usually a few times a day.
Because of how the system is setup, you’ll need tubing, a screen to help keep substrate in place, and substrate.
Typically plants are submersed into the water for long periods of time so the growing medium is important to allow proper water flow while also anchoring the plants into place.
Advantages of The Flood and Drain Hydroponics System
- Most plants love this type of system and if planned carefully can host a variety of different vegetables.
- Plants get lots of oxygen since the roots cling to the oxygen as the water drains.
- Easy to get started with if you don’t have a lot of money.
Drawbacks of The Flood and Drain Hydroponics Systems
- Parasites and insect infestations are possible if the system isn’t kept clean.
- Salt buildup is also possible which can affect the overall pH of the water.
- Relies on electricity and can kill your entire garden if the electricity fails for long periods of time.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) System
With the NFT method, plants are suspended in a shallow trough with a small amount of water slowly flowing in and out of the trough.
The NFT system usually doesn’t take up much space and is pretty easy to keep tidy, making it popular with home growers.
Very similar to the previously mentioned hydroponics system except the plants are placed into a tray at a slight incline which allows the water to flow from one end to the other via gravity.
Supplies needed are tray, a sump tank, the tubing and a pump.
There’s no need for substrate since the plant roots are submerged in the water.
Advantages of The Nutrient Film Technique System
- This is like the ultimate nutrient buffet for plants since the water is never drained like other systems.
- Little water wasted.
- Hardly no maintenance and easier to work with since there’s no growing medium.
Drawbacks of The Nutrient Film Technique System
- Fairly reliant on the pump so the electricity can be a big factor for some.
- Certain plants prefer more stability so this might not work for all crops you intend to grow.
- Water needs to be watched fairly frequently to keep excess buildup of salinity in check
Probably one of the most common types of the hydroponics systems.
Instead of growing in a lateral direction, plants grow in a vertical manner- usually in pipes or an A-frame. The plants don’t rely as much on moisture, but to keep the roots happy, they’re regularly misted with a careful combination of water and nutrients.
Professional growers may opt for the more larger and expensive systems, but for home growers, the smaller systems will be okay.
If you’re cheap, you can create your own system using basic supplies.
Advantages of The Aeroponics System
- The system can be moved around if need be, but it’s not recommended.
- Plants thrive really well with this system.
- Also takes advantage of vertical space since most systems emphasize this method.
Drawbacks of The Aeroponic System
- Relies on electricity.
- Probably one of the more advanced systems out there and not as forgiving when it comes to newbie mistakes.
- Maintenance can be time consuming since the system may need to be cleaned on a regular basis to keep mold and parasites away.
- The root zone, which is where the clusters of roots hang from all of the plants, has a tendency to heat up quickly if not managed properly and is the primary reason why it’s not as popular with commercial nurseries.
- Also more expensive than most of the other systems.
Wrapping It All Up
With six different systems, there’s bound to be a system out there for everyone!
If you’re just getting started with hydroponics, consider sticking with the Flood/Drain and Wick hydroponics type systems until you’re more experienced.
Once you feel comfortable working with these, you can eventually work your way up by picking a more advanced system, like the Aeroponics system.
Good luck growing!