The word ‘hydroponics’ efficiently describes the science it encompasses. This word has been formed from the combination of two Greek words, one word that means ‘water’ and the other word that means ‘cultivate’. Simply put, hydroponics is a way to cultivate plants with water.
Hydroponics began as a scientific method of research to discover more about the science behind plant nutrition. Sir Francis Bacon is noted as the first modern researcher who looked into growing terrestrial plants without the medium of soil.
Today, hydroponics has morphed into a hobby as well as a scientific experiment. Many amateur horticulturalists enjoy gardening with hydroponic methods and many scientists are researching how hydroponics can help grow food in harsh environments.
Main Differences Between Hydroponics vs Soil Based Gardening
The main differences between hydroponics vs soil based gardening are:
- Hydroponics can grow in vertical and extremely cramped spaces, whereas, gardening with soil requires a horizontal plot of ground that will be big enough for the root system to spread.
- Hydroponics uses a water system that recycles and reuses water; whereas, gardening with soil requires irrigation that may not be capable of gathering the water back for reuse.
- Hydroponics does not require weeding out unwanted plants, whereas, gardening with soil requires regular weeding.
- Hydroponics nearly eliminates pest infestations and plant diseases, whereas, gardening with soil allows pests and diseases to come into contact with the plants.
- Hydroponics allows gardeners to grow crops all year round, whereas, gardening with soil limits the space of time for growing crops.
What Are the Different Types of Hydroponics?
To get started in hydroponics, it is best to learn about the types of hydroponic methods or techniques. There are six different types, each with its own unique take on this gardening method. Let’s take a thorough look at these now.
This is a method of growing plants through the medium of air and nutrient-rich water droplets. Just like with hydroponics, there is no soil involved in aeroponics; however, hydroponics requires that the plants’ roots are set directly in the water while aeroponics only requires regular misting or spraying of the root systems of the plants.
How Aeroponics Works
In this system, seeds are placed inside foam plugs. These plugs will firmly but gently hold the plant’s roots so that the roots below are exposed to plenty of air and a nutrient-rich mist of water while the stem and leaves above are exposed to light.
This is considered a closed-loop system since it uses a container of water to mist the roots of the plants, and then, that mist is drawn back into the original container of water so the cycle can repeat.
The nutrient concentration of the water should be tested regularly to make sure it is within the proper growing range for the plant. This includes checking the EC (electrical conductivity) and the pH levels.
The Positives of Aeroponics
- The plant’s root system is exposed to more oxygen, thereby, facilitating faster growth.
- The closed-loop misting system reduces the amount of water used by 95% when compared to traditional soil-based farming methods.
- The closed-loop misting system also allows the nutrients held in the water to be recycled and reused.
- The closed-loop misting system eliminates the need for harsh chemicals and insecticides; the equipment only needs to be sterilized.
- This system allows gardeners to grow more food in less space when compared to traditionally soil-based farming methods.
- This system provides city gardeners with the ability to grow plants indoors in small, even vertical, spaces.
The Negatives of Aeroponics
- This system must operate with precision and without any interruptions, or else, the crop is likely to be lost. This means that the machine misting the roots must run consistently and the misters must be cleaned frequently. It also means that the water must be tested regularly and correctly to maintain its proper nutrient concentration.
- This system is highly dependent upon electricity to pump the water through the misting device. Because of this, access to electricity must be consistent. This is a drawback for those who are trying to cut down on their electrical expenses; however, this can be offset if the machine is hooked to an alternate source of energy, such as solar power.
What Aeroponics Gardens Can Grow
This type of garden can grow many different plants, especially those that are lightweight. The following is just a small sample of what will grow very well in an aeroponic garden:
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce)
- Annual flowers (roses, orchids)
Three Types of Aeroponics Systems
Since there are three different types of aeroponics systems, they need to be thoroughly examined so their nuances can help determine which system is best for a particular gardening style. These systems are:
Low-Pressure Aeroponics (LPA)
This is the best system for beginners and those who only want a small garden. The system will include a pump, sprinklers, a reservoir for the water, and a platform for the plants. LPA systems produce low-pressure droplets that are over 50 microns in size.
High-Pressure Aeroponics (HPA)
This is a system that is most frequently used by commercial aeroponics gardeners. The system will also include a pump, specialized sprinklers, a reservoir for the water, and a platform for the plants. HPA systems produce high-pressure droplets under 50 microns in size. The smaller the droplets, the better the nutrients are delivered to the root system, and the quicker the plant will grow.
Ultrasonic Fogger Aeroponics (Fogponics)
This is a system for those who know how aeroponics works and are willing to take the time to check and fix their equipment regularly. The system includes a reservoir, a platform for the plants, a timer for the sprinkler, a fan, and a fogger. Fogponics systems produce atomized water droplets below 5 microns in size. Due to its size, it is unlikely to harm young plants or sensitive roots, which is why it is used to grow seedlings and herbs.
Recommended Aeroponics Systems
This system is an investment, but because it is easy to use and has all the basic pieces of equipment for aeroponics gardening, it is well worth the price.
This system is designed to work outdoors. It also has all the basic pieces of equipment for starting an aeroponics garden.
If commercially sold systems seem price-restrictive, there is the option to build an aeroponics system with inexpensive materials.
Deep Water Culture System (DWC)
This is a system that many consider ideal for beginners to use and to learn more about hydroponics. It is a simple technology that allows plants to get the nutrients they need directly from nutrient-rich water, while at the same time, their roots get plenty of oxygen to encourage fast and healthy growth.
How a Deep Water Culture System W0rks
This system uses a container for holding plants and a growing medium, a nutrient-rich water solution, an air pump, and an air stone. Here is a breakdown of what happens in this type of system.
- The plants are placed into a basket filled with a growing medium.
- The baskets are set into holes in the top of a container filled with a nutrient-rich water solution. Most of the plants’ roots should reach into the water but at least an inch of them should be exposed to the air. The plant stems should be completely out of the water and able to grow upward out of the basket.
- An air pump and an air stone are used to produce and stir up oxygen in the water.
- The water must be checked regularly to make sure there is enough water in the container, the pH levels are stable, and the nutrient solution is at an appropriate level.
The Positives of a Deep Water Culture System
- This is a system that can be as simple or as complex as a gardener chooses
- This is an inexpensive system to set up and maintain
- This is a system that is easy to learn and hone gardening skills on
- This system grows crops quickly
The Negatives of a Deep Water Culture System
- It is necessary to measure and tweak the pH level and nutrient concentration regularly since plant growth can change these quickly
- Adjusting pH levels and the concentration of the nutrient solution can be difficult in smaller-scale versions of this system
- Water temperature must be monitored and maintained for the plants to grow properly
- A reliable air pump is critical because the plants’ roots need oxygen to be healthy
Two Types of Deep Water Culture Systems
There are two different types of this system, so let’s look at them in detail now.
Singular Deep Water Culture System
A singular system is the most basic type of DWC system. In this system, every plant is treated individually and has its own source of water. This makes testing and tweaking chemical levels easier. It is highly recommended that those who are new to hydroponics begin with this type of DWC system.
Modular Deep Water Culture System
A modular system does not treat the plants individually; it is a system that provides water to all the plants from the same reservoir. This makes testing and tweaking chemical levels complex. It is highly recommended that only experienced hydroponic gardeners use this type of DWC system.
Necessary Equipment for a Deep Water Culture System
This will hold the nutrient-rich water solution that feeds the plants.
Typically, this is either clay pellets or lava rocks.
This is what will hold the growing medium and the plant above the container. They will need to fit securely in the holes of the container lid so that the roots are touching the water but the stems are able to grow upwards.
This will provide oxygen to the roots. It is an essential component of this system and needs to be reliable.
This will be set in the water solution and hooked to the air pump. It will be the piece of equipment that will directly supply oxygen to the water.
Traditional gardening methods employ the nutrients within the soil to feed the plants, but hydroponics does not use soil, so it is necessary to supplement the nutrients with something else.
EC Meter & pH Tester
These will be used to test the water levels in order to know if the plants are being provided with the proper amounts of nutrients and pH levels.
Tips for Running a Deep Water Culture System
Select plants that are not top-heavy. Leafy greens, herbs, beans, and peppers are ideal for growing in this system.
Learn what temperature and amount of humidity each plant will need to grow properly.
Learn how to test and tweak the nutrient and pH levels in the nutrient solution. Here are the basic steps:
- Always test a sample of the water with the EC or PPM meter before putting any of it in the container with the nutrient solution. A reading of 300ppm or more indicates that the water will need to be treated with reverse osmosis. Anything between 0 – 50ppm is ideal. Readings on an EC meter can be converted to ppm readings.
- Use an EC Meter to measure the levels of electrical conductivity in the nutrient solution. A range between 1.5 and 2.5 dS/m is ideal for most crops.
- Use a PPM Meter to measure the concentration of the particles in the nutrient solution. The ideal ppm range will vary depending on the type of plant being grown, the stage of growth the plant is in, and the pH level of the nutrient solution. PPM Chart
- Use a pH Tester to measure the pH levels of the nutrient solution. This should be done at the same time every day.
- Check these readings against a chart that lists the ideal range for growing the specific type(s) of plant(s) in the DWC system. The needs of plants will differ from one another and will differ during the various stages of growth. Nutrient & pH Chart
- Adjust the nutrient and pH level accordingly. Add more water or a pH down solution if the levels are high and if the levels are low, add some nutrients.
- Test the nutrient water after adding water or fertilizer to confirm that the levels are in a healthy range.
- Change out the nutrient solution every two to three weeks.
- Regularly inspect the plants’ roots to make sure they can reach the nutrient solution, while at least an inch is exposed to the air.
Recommended Deep Water Culture Systems
This online shop offers a wide selection of DWC systems. They have both singular and modular systems available in a range of styles and price points.
This system is designed to be built in less than an hour.
This is a system that is efficient at delivering nutrients without waste. It is also extremely easy to use and great for indoor gardens.
How the Drip System Works
In this system, plants are placed in containers with a growing medium, such as clay balls. A reservoir filled with nutrient-rich water is placed under the container. Tubes are attached to the reservoir with their drip emitter ends placed in the growing medium. A pump attached to a timer is placed in the reservoir so that it automatically waters the plants.
Two Types of Drip Systems
Since there are two different types of drip systems, they need to be thoroughly examined so their nuances can help determine which system is best for a particular gardening style. These systems are:
This type of drip system is one that is set up to recover and recycle the used nutrient-rich water. A recovery system is great for saving money and water, but it does require constant monitoring and tweaking of the pH levels of the nutrient solution.
This type of drip system does not allow the nutrient-rich water to be recovered and recycled. It will require accurate cycle timers, down to the second, but it will not require monitoring the pH levels of the nutrient solution.
The Positives of the Drip System
- The system is very easy to use and is recommended for beginners
- With this system, there is no need to worry about an electrical outage since the growing medium will hold moisture for a time
- The system can be used in large or small gardens
The Negatives of the Drip System
- The drip emitters can become clogged
Necessary Equipment for a Drip System
This is the container where the plants and the growing medium will be placed. It will need a drain hole in the bottom so that the nutrient solution can either be dumped or collected for reuse.
The best growing mediums to use in this type of system are Rockwool, coco coir, or clay aggregate.
This is the container that will hold the nutrient solution used to water the plants. To prevent algae and bacteria from growing in it, it should be opaque.
This can be a fountain pump or a pond pump; it doesn’t need to be anything super powerful.
This will be used to turn the pump on and off several times a day; it doesn’t need to be anything super precise.
This will be necessary to move the liquid from the reservoir to the growing container.
This piece of equipment connects the tubing to the growing medium. It is out of the drip emitters that the nutrient solution will be fed to the plant’s roots.
Recommended Drip Systems
This is a basic kit that is easy to put together. It will need some additional pieces of equipment to work properly, but it is an excellent way to start.
This is a very simple system to build and can be done inexpensively.
Ebb & Flow
This system is built around the principle that roots can grow faster and absorb nutrients better when they are forced to search for moisture.
How the Ebb & Flow System Works
Similar to other hydroponic gardens, this system uses a container for holding plants, a pump to move water, and a timer to control the pump. Here is a breakdown of what happens in this type of system.
- The plants are placed in a growing container
- A reservoir with nutrient-rich water is placed under the plant container
- A pump is set in the reservoir
- A timer is attached to the pump
- When the timer goes off, the pump begins sending the nutrient-rich water from the reservoir into the plant container until it reaches a regulated level
- The pump can keep the water circulating in the plant container until the timer turns it off
- Once the pump is turned off, the water will return to the reservoir and the plants will spend some time drying out their roots
The Positives of Ebb & Flow
- This system is compact
- The nutrient solution is recycled and reused
- This system works really well to grow plants that aren’t suited to growing in other types of hydroponic systems (cucumbers, beans, large plants)
The Negatives of Ebb & Flow
- The system is dependent on electricity
- The system is dependent on the pump working properly
- Recycling the nutrient water can create unstable pH levels
- Algae and pathogens can grow in the plant container
- Timing the cycles of the water flow is a challenge
Necessary Equipment for an Ebb & Flow System
Since this system is fussy and particular, it is necessary to have the right equipment on hand and know how it should work. These are the pieces of equipment that are needed to run a successful Ebb & Flow System.
This is going to hold the plants and the growing medium. It can be used to grow different types of plants together, or separate containers can be used to keep plants separated. This piece of equipment will need a hole for the inlet/outlet tube and a hole for the overflow tube. The holes should be at opposite ends of the container from each other.
This is the container that will hold the nutrient solution. To prevent algae and bacteria from growing in it, it should be opaque. It is also a good idea to keep an air pump and an air stone in this container to provide more oxygen to plant roots.
This will go inside the nutrient solution held in the reservoir. From here it will pump the liquid into the growing container.
This will be used to turn the pump on and off. It can be a regular irrigation timer since this system doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy down to the second.
This is the tube that will set the maximum level of allowed nutrient solution in the growing container. Once the liquid has reached the height of this tube, it should flow through the tube and back into the reservoir, effectively recycling the nutrient solution.
This is the tubing that the nutrient solution will be pumped through to fill the growing container. It will also serve as the growing container drain when the pump is shut off.
Recommended Ebb & Flow Systems
This kit includes the basics for setting up one of these gardening systems. You will need to get the seeds, the nutrients, and the growing medium, but otherwise, you will be set.
These benches are a great option for those who plan to grow a lot of plants and have the space to maintain a horizontal garden.
The Ebb & Flow system is easy to build and use, so much so, that many gardeners opt to create their own version.
Nutrient Film Technique
This is a system that features constant shallow water flow so that the bottom of the plants’ roots is exposed to the nutrient solution while the upper portions of the roots are exposed to plenty of oxygen.
How the Nutrient Film Technique Works
In this system, plants are set in holes on top of a tube that is holding a stream of flowing water. The roots are suspended in this water so that they get liquid nutrients and plenty of oxygen to help with the absorption of the nutrients. This enables the plants to grow quicker.
The Positives of the Nutrient Film Technique
- This system is very inexpensive, easy to build, and maintain
- This system can be built so that it fits in a variety of different places
- This system does not require a growing medium
- This system does not require timers
- This system does not require aeration equipment
- This system recycles and reuses water and nutrients
The Negatives of the Nutrient Film Technique
- This system needs the water to be flowing 24/7 so it does take a lot of electricity to run
- This system cannot sustain large plants, such as trees or fruit-bearing plants
Necessary Equipment for an Ebb & Flow System
This is where the plants will be set and the water will flow through. Usually, these are made from PVC pipes or something comparable. It is best to have a design that allows the top to be removed in order to inspect the plants and any inside damage or clogs.
These will be used to hold the plant in the hole of the growing channel.
This is the container that will hold the nutrient solution. Since there is plenty of airflow in this system, there is no need to include an air pump or air stone in the reservoir; however, the large amount of airflow in this system will make it necessary to check the pH level of the water regularly.
This pump will be used constantly but it does not need to be high-powered. The purpose of the pump is to create a gently but consistent flow of water.
This will be used to bring the nutrient solution to all the growing channels, and then, back to the reservoir for reuse.
Tips for Creating and Using the Nutrient Film Technique
- Set up the system at a slant.
- Set up the system so that the slant is adjustable.
- Get a pump that has an adjustable flow rate
Recommended the Nutrient Film Technique Systems
This is a kit for growing up to 36 plants at a time. It is an easy-to-use option that will fit in a variety of spaces.
This is a kit that will grow up to 54 plants. It is built like a table for easy access to the plants.
This is a very easy system to build at home. It requires minimal tools and equipment and can be built to fit into a specific spot in a yard or home.
Of all the hydroponics systems, this is by far the easiest and most hands-off option. It is extremely simple to create one and just as easy to monitor.
How the Wick System Works
This system is supported by capillary action. Capillary action is what you observe when a candlewick draws wax up to the flame for fuel, hence the name, ‘wick system’. The same thing happens when a wick is suspended between a source of liquid and the growing medium of a plant. The liquid will transfer through the wick and deposit in the growing medium, and from there, the plant’s roots will soak in the nutrient solution.
A wick system does not require any mechanized equipment to function, but some gardeners do choose to use a hydroponic air pump to circulate the nutrient solution.
The Positives of the Wick System
- This system can be built using recycled or upcycled household materials
- This system is easy to build and it is easy to fix
- This system is not dependent upon electricity
- This system allows the plants to consume the nutrient solution at their own pace
- This system requires less water and nutrients than other types of hydroponics systems
The Negatives of the Wick System
- Because this system features a slow watering method, it is not conducive for growing large plants or plants that require a lot of water
- Nutrient toxins can build up in the reservoir
Necessary Equipment for a Wick System
This will be used to hold the plants and growing medium above the reservoir. It will need to have a small slit somewhere in the bottom so that a wick can be placed between it and the reservoir.
This is the container that will hold the nutrient solution. So that algae are discouraged from going in it, this should be a container that doesn’t allow light to pass through. Since the wick will be dangling into it from the above, there is no need to have a lid. Also, the nutrients in this container will need to be checked frequently, so the reservoir needs to be easily accessible.
This can be made from any material that will absorb liquid. String, cotton strips, wool, yarn, and rope are just a few options.
Tips for Using a Wick System
- Watch the plants for symptoms of underwatering. These symptoms include slow growth, small roots, weak stems, and leaves that are yellow, drooped, and falling off. Try adding more wicks to allow more moisture to reach the roots. Also, check the reservoir container regularly and keep it topped off.
- Watch the plants for symptoms of overwatering. These symptoms include mold, mildew, and a soggy growing medium. Try adding an air pump to circulate oxygen in the reservoir.
Recommended Wick Systems
When it comes to this system, it is best to build your own. It is very easy to gather materials from a home improvement store or use materials that can be upcycled.
The Positives of Hydroponics
It reduces the cost of labor
This is because the plants are grown in a contained area and all the irrigation and fertilization is done mechanically.
It reduces the amount of water needed
Even though water is the primary medium for growing plants hydroponically, it takes much less water to grow plants using this method than it does to grow plants using traditional farming methods that depend on soil.
It eliminates the need for weeding
Since there shouldn’t be any other plants growing in a hydroponic garden, there shouldn’t be any weeds to pull.
It makes harvesting easy
A hydroponic garden should be easy to access and the plants should be recognizable.
It allows for a year-round growing season
Because hydroponic gardening is typically done indoors, it can be done during any season of the year, as long as the plants get plenty of light.
It eradicates any threats of pests and disease
There is no need to worry about plants that are grown hydroponically getting an infestation since they are not set in a place where pests can infest them and diseases can hurt them. This also means that there is no need to use harmful chemicals to get rid of pests.
The Negatives of Hydroponics
- Some hydroponic systems are expensive to install
- A hydroponic system requires regular supervision
- A hydroponic system requires frequent tweaking of pH levels, temperature, EC levels, and ppm levels
- Most hydroponic systems are heavily dependent upon electricity
- Hydroponic gardens are susceptible to waterborne diseases that are easy to spread
Best Hydroponics System for Beginners
The best system to begin learning hydroponics is the Wick System. In this system, there are only four pieces of equipment needed, a container, a growing medium, a reservoir, and a wick. Any of these can be purchased cheaply or created from upcycled materials.
Not only is it an easy system to set up, but it is also very easy to use, it is not dependent upon electricity, and troubleshooting problems is simple.
Best Hydroponics System for Growing Large Plants
The best system to grow large plants, including some trees, is the Ebb & Flow System. In this system, the deep roots of these plants and trees are allowed to grow, dry out, and search for new sources of moisture, which is a natural process. This system also provides plenty of access to oxygen.
Best Hydroponics System for Apartments or Small Spaces
Any hydroponic system can be designed and built to fit a small space. Here are some great small space hydroponics systems that can be purchased.
How to Pick the Right Hydroponic System
When selecting a hydroponic system consider the following:
- Gardening skill level
- Knowledge of hydroponics
- Ability to monitor plants, nutrients, and water regularly
- Access to reliable electricity
- The types and quantity of plants that will be grown
- Access to equipment, parts, and resources
Question: What Type of Lighting Should Be Used in Hydroponics?
Answer: Plants grown in a hydroponics system still need access to plenty of light. Research how much light each type of plant needs and then plan to provide them with that amount, whether it is natural sunlight or through a grow light. To make sure that all the plants are getting the proper amount of light they need, use the following resources.
• A Guide to Indoor Lighting
• A Light Meter App
Question: What is An Aeroponic Cloner Machine?
Answer: This is a machine that is typically used to germinate seeds or reproduce clones of plant cuttings that can easily be transferred to a hydroponic system. The plant is held in a box with a pump inside. The pump is used to spray the root system or seedlings with a nutrient-rich solution mixed with oxygen to create the best environment for quick and healthy growth.
Question: Can Hydroponics be Done Outdoors?
Answer: Yes, it can. Setting up a hydroponics system outdoors can actually save on electricity and the worries of inadequate lighting; however, it does not come without its disadvantages. These are:
• Too much direct lighting
• Too much air movement
• Unmanageable temperatures
• Pests are more likely to attack outdoor plants
Hydroponics is a fantastic way to grow plants anywhere. It is an especially convenient system for those who live in an apartment or an area that doesn’t have good soil or access to water.
While it does require some technical skills and education on how to properly construct the system and analyze and tweak the nutrient solution, it is relatively easy to learn, especially with so many online resources available for free.
Hopefully, this overview of hydroponics will be an encouragement for you to try out this type of gardening. It should help you understand the basics of hydroponics, the various systems available, and how to set one up in your home. May you enjoy reaping the harvest that hydroponics bring.