Hydroponic Growing Systems A Beginners Guide

Hydroponic Farming Kit For Balcony

For anyone interested in starting hydroponic growing systems, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it’s important to choose the right location.

The system will need access to electricity for lighting and water, so a spot near an outlet and a water source is ideal.

AeroGarden HarvestSecond, it’s important to choose the right type of system. There are many different types of hydroponic systems available, so doing some research ahead of time is advisable.

We will cover some of the most popular hydroponic growing systems.

Once you’ve decided on a location and system, it’s time to gather the necessary supplies. Hydroponic growing systems require less water and fertilizer than traditional soil-based systems, so be sure to purchase products that are designed for use in a hydroponic system. With a little planning and effort, you can easily create a thriving hydroponic growing system.

Hydroponic Growing Systems Choices

If you are new to gardening hydroponically an AeroGarden is a great way to get started and get your feet wet with hydroponics.

This is a complete and compact hydroponic growing system that will get you started growing herbs and vegetables.

All you need is right there including a built-in light and timer and you just need to plug it in and follow a few simple directions.

Then you can decide if you want to grow on a larger scale with a different system.

Passive Hydroponics

Passive hydroponics does not use pumps or electricity. It is very simple to set up and is also inexpensive.

Passive hydroponic growing systems can produce results that are quite good.

But they are not as good as an active hydroponic system. This is due to the more precise feeding and moisture levels these systems offer.

However, if you are new to hydroponic gardening or are on a budget it’s a great place to start.

The Hempy Bucket System

A hempy bucket system is passive hydroponics at its best. If you want to grow larger plants like peppers or tomatoes the hempy bucket will work great.

All you need to set this up is a 5-gallon bucket, grow media, and a plant. Drill a small hole on the side of the bucket about 2 inches from the bottom.

Some people fill the bucket with perlite while others use a 50/50 mix of coco coir and perlite. You will need to keep your bucket in a tray.

Every day you will add nutrient solution to the bucket until it starts running out of the hole.

The bottom of the bucket acts as a small reservoir while capillary action will move water higher up in the bucket.

As long as you remember to keep it watered you will get good results.

Perlite will dry much faster than the perlite coco coir mix. Perlite will probably need to be watered daily while the mix may stay moist for several days.

The Kratky Method

This is a passive form of DWC (deep water culture). But unlike DWC no airstones are used.

You can use a tote for this method and grow multiple plants at once. Plants were set in 3-inch net pots and I added wicks to this Kratky lettuce grow.

The Kratky Method with wicks added

Most commercial greenhouse lettuce is grown this way. It is also called a raft system. It is not well adapted to large single plants.

Plants can be set through a floating piece of styrofoam. The roots will grow directly in the water. As the water goes down roots are exposed to oxygen.

Theoretically, the crop will be done at the same time the water runs out.

You are not supposed to add additional water because it can cause root rot on the exposed roots.

SIPS Or Self Watering Planters

SIPS (sub-irrigated planters) or self-watering planters use a hydroponic wicking system.

They are available in many shapes and sizes. They can use totes, regular-sized pots, or even using 5-gallon buckets.

GroBucketsHere are some plants in GroBuckets. You water these from a tube on the top until water comes out the drain hole on the side.

This self-watering planter is a modified hempy bucket with a reservoir. All you need is the buckets and the inserts take care of the rest.

GroBucket self-watering planters

There are self-watering planters in smaller pot sizes too. They can be used for smaller plants like lettuce, I am growing some elephant garlic in some of mine.

elephant garlic in self watering planters

self watering plantersThey come with an inner and an outer pot and wicking material. They work well with coco coir.

The trick with using self-watering planters is you need to make sure the soil inside starts out wet otherwise they won’t wick well.

Active Hydroponics

Now we will get into active hydroponics. It is more efficient than passive methods and water is held in a reservoir and recirculated with a pump.

You don’t need to water daily because irrigation cycles are controlled by a timer and plants are fed and watered more efficiently than by hand.

DWC – Deep Water Culture

This is probably the purest hydroponic growing system because the roots are totally immersed in water.

You must use an air stone to do this and ideally you want to try to your water at 68° or slightly lower to prevent root rot.

This basic system only requires a bucket and lid, a net pot, and an air pump. It is very easy to set up and pretty cheap too.

recirculating DWC bucket systemThere are more advanced setups that use a reservoir and recirculate nutrients.

Even these recirculating DWC setups are fairly cheap and can be an easy DIY project.

It is easier to monitor a reservoir than single buckets where you need to lift the lid and plant up to refill.

But even a single bucket works well with large plants like tomatoes and peppers.
Deep Water Culture
Flood And Drain AKA Ebb And Flow Systems

Flood and drain systems are also called ebb and flow systems. They are easy to set up but the table does take up more space than some other systems. Here is a picture showing how they work.

MagicBeaver, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For this type of system, you would use net pots filled with hydroton to hold your plants in place.

It is easy to move plants around in this system and it offers flexibility in plant numbers too.

A timer on the pump is used to set flood times and intervals between floods. Flood and drain fittings consist of 2 fittings.

One brings in the nutrient solution from the reservoir. The drain fitting controls the flood height and returns water to the reservoir.

When the pump shuts off the water then drains back to the reservoir through it.

These systems work very well and are fully automated. You still will need to monitor the water level and nutrient strength in the reservoir.

There is a second type of flood and drain system that uses buckets. A controller fills and empties the buckets individually and then they drain back to the control reservoir.

I use a flood and drain table and have not tried the bucket system because I heard of problems causing flooding so it is probably best to avoid these.

Aeroponics And NFT Systems

These systems are complicated to set up and require a high level of expertise so I don’t recommend trying these hydroponic growing systems if you are new to hydroponics.

aeroponic system
MagicBeaver, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aeroponics uses a pump to run misters. The roots hang in the air inside a tote or pod and are misted at short intervals.

They are hard to maintain because the nozzles can clog easily. Also if you lose power for any length of time your plants will die.

NFT or nutrient film technique is used in commercial greenhouses for lettuce and other leafy crops.

NFT or nutrient film technique
Ryan Somma, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Plants are grown in channels and a thin layer of water is continuously fed across the bottom of the channel. Again power loss is fatal.

We will be covering some of these systems in more detail but for now, this will give you a pretty good idea of the different hydroponic growing systems and help you make a choice on which system is best for you. Here is a reference on hydroponics Hydroponics – Wikipedia