Hydroponic growing systems for the novice

AeroponicsHydroponics

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Hydroponics is a method of cultivating plants without using soil

hydroponics

Image by: Antony Pranata

Typically, a nutrient solution is used, i.e. by supplying the plant’s water supply with all the required nutrients.

This technique has gained popularity in recent years, likely due to the fact that it allows harvest all year round, regardless of the weather conditions. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of such a system are listed below.

Advantages

  • Planting by hydroponics is usually done in a greenhouse, which is sheltered and temperature regulated. This would mean that it is independent of weather conditions and free of pests.
  • Uses less water than conventional gardening, as the water running through the system can be reused.
  • Higher crop yield than conventional gardening, as all the nutrients received by the plant is highly regulated (it is highly difficult, if not impossible to regulate nutrients in soil)
  • Shorter harvest time, hydroponic plants mature more quickly than soil-based plants as they do not need to expend much time and energy in developing extensive root systems to absorb water.

Disadvantages

  • Different plants may have different nutrient requirements and thus require different nutrient mediums
  • Setting up a hydroponic system is usually more expensive than the traditional soil-based methods
  • As the plants are highly dependent on the water supply, contamination and pathogen infestation of the water supply are likely to affect hydroponic plants more than soil-grown ones.

5 basic types of hydroponic systems are commonly used

Ebb and Flow Systems

In ebb and flow systems, a medium is used to stabilize the roots of the plant. Water is pumped up from a reservoir into the container containing the plant and the medium.
Excess water drains back into the reservoir.

Set it up yourself

  • Building such a system for yourself is easy.
  • First, use a large container as the water reservoir.
  • Next, use a flood tray (a shallow tray that can be propped up to stand directly above the water reservoir).
  • Place the plant(s) and medium such as Perlite into the tray.
  • Thirdly, affix a pump between the flood tray and the reservoir.
  • Time it to pump nutrient solution into the flood tray at regular intervals.
  • Lastly, install a drainage system to allow excess water to flow back into the reservoir.

You can even choose to buy a fully functioning system from Amazon.

Drip Systems

This technique is highly similar to the ebb and flow system, but instead of irrigating the entire flood tray, each plant will have its own solution dispensing tube to facilitate even distribution of nutrients.

Set it up yourself

The materials to be used for this system are similar to the ebb and flow system.
You can set one up easily with a budget of around $100 (October 2014)

Flood tray and stand

Flood Table / Tray in Black
Price Disclaimer

Nutrient solution

Growing medium (Perlite)

Submersible pump

All you need to do is to fill the flood tray with the growing medium and plants.
Prop it above the water reservoir and set up the pump.
Arrange a connecting tube system that dispenses nutrient solution to each individual plant.
Set up a drainage system to allow excess water to flow back into the reservoir to be reused.

Aeroponics

Aeroponics is a system in which the roots of plants are suspended in air and nutrients are sprayed directly onto the roots in the form of fine mists.

Set it up yourself

  • Drill holes on the lid of a lidded bucket or container.
  • Fill the container with nutrient solution and set up a fogger to spray nutrient mists on plant roots at regular intervals.
  • Place plants (in netted pots) in each hole.
  • Remember to top up the nutrient solution as you see fit.

Nutrient film technique

Nutrient film technique is one that doesn’t involve a growth medium.
Plants are placed in a flood tray at an inclined angle, the container is then suspended above the water reservoir, as in the ebb and flow system.
Water is continually pumped up into the container, from which it flows back to the reservoir due to the steep incline of the flood tray.

Materials needed

Flood tray and stand

See the Black Flood table above.
See the Flora Tray stand above.

Submersible pump

See above.

Set it up as you would the ebb and flow system.
Place plants into flood tray.
Set the flood tray at an inclined angle above water reservoir. Program the pump to pump nutrient solution continuously.
Add drainage pipes to ensure smooth flow of excess water, and you’re done.

Wick system

Arguably the simplest and cheapest system.

Instead of using a pump, the nutrient solution is drained into the the growth medium using a wick.
Hence, it’s labelled as a passive system, as it involves no moving parts. However, using this technique, the plants might not be properly aerated, and the growth medium might be unnecessarily saturated with nutrient solution.

Flood tray and stand
See above.

Place plants and growth medium into a flood tray above the reservoir. Connect the reservoir and the flood tray using a wick, and you’re done!

That’s all there is to hydroponic systems, happy planting!

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One Reply to “Hydroponic growing systems for the novice”

  1. nativ says:

    Hi, could you please suggest some more sources where I could get reliable information about Blue Planet Nutrients 3-Part High Yield System? Thanks.

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