Gardening is a very popular hobby these days, as it is relaxing and rewarding.
There’s one more word that comes to mind when you think of gardening, though: dirt.
Making and maintaining a garden can be a messy job, for sure.
But if you’re looking for a more inventive kind of gardening that does not require nutrient-rich soil you may only find in certain locales, consider hydroponic gardens.
What Are Hydroponic Gardens?
Hydroponics is a term derived from the Latin, literally meaning “working water.” In more comprehensive words, it means to grow plants without soil.
If you have never heard of this type of gardening, don’t worry. You’re about to become a pro on the subject.
6 Different Types of Hydroponic-Based Systems
There are six different types of hydroponic based systems. These are Wick, Deep Water Culture, Nutrient Film Technique, Ebb and Flow, Aeroponics, and Drip Systems.
1. Wick Systems
The wick system is definitely the simplest of all the hydroponic garden systems out there.
The system is so simple because there are no moving parts, meaning it does not use any pumps or any electricity.
How to Build the System
To build a wick system, you will need a container to hold the plant, a container to hold the reservoir, a growing media, and the actual wick.
The wick hangs down into the nutrient solution reservoir, wicking up the nutrient solution to the plants using capillary action. Essentially, it sucks water upwards toward the plants.
How to Make It Work
To ensure your wick system operates properly, you should have at least two wicks of considerable size, so they are able to easily supply water and nutrient solution to your growing plant.
Now that you know how a wick system works, it is time to learn more about what exactly the wick is, and how it affects the growing process of your plants. Do some materials work better than others when creating a wick?
Of course, your wick needs to be extremely absorbent so that it can absorb the moisture and nutrients your plants need to thrive.
Even though the wick should be absorbent, it also needs to be strong enough to discourage rotting. A rotted wick won’t do your growing plants any good.
Materials to Use
Some materials which are common for use in people have used for hydroponic wick systems are: rope, mop head strands, braided polyurethane yarn, wool felt, wool rope or strips, nylon rope, cotton rope, or a strip of fabric from some old clothing or blankets you are no longer using.
Different plants will require different amounts of wick, depending on the plant size and water usage.
Also keep in mind that the shorter the distance up the wick to the growing media and the root of your plant, the better. This means your water will not have to travel so far to reach the root, so more water can be transported.
Your growing media of course also needs to be super absorbent. Some media that transport water and nutrients well are Perlite, Vermiculite, Pro-Mix and Coconut Fiber. These can be purchased at your local home improvement or gardening store.
If you’re new to gardening in general, and don’t know what these growing media are, here is a quick overview.
Perlite is the white stuff you see added into soil. It is a lightweight volcanic glass which expands greatly (popping like popcorn) when it is heated to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Perlite helps facilitate moisture to plant roots, because it is quite porous.
Vermiculite is similar to perlite in that it expands when it is exposed to high heat. It retains water much better than Perlite does, so see what your plant needs before you choose a growing medium.
Once you have chosen your growing media, your wick system will most likely do very well.
The biggest disadvantage of using a wick system is that large or very thirsty plants will not thrive, because they will have a difficult time soaking up all the water and nutrients they need.
2. Deep Water Culture Systems
Deep Water Culture systems are another way of cultivating a hydroponic garden.
In a DWC system, the roots of the plant are suspended in a well-oxygenated solution which is made up of water and nutrients.
Building the System
To set up your Deep Water Culture system, you will need a bucket, an air pump, an air stone, airline tubing, net pots, growing media, hydroponic nutrients, a pH control kit, and a PPM meter.
Once you have all your materials, it’s time for the assembly process. You need to connect the pump to the tubing, then connect the tubing to the air stone. You will place the air stone in the bucket.
Now, fill up the bucket with water. Add the correct amount of pH and nutrients for the type of plant you plan to grow (which you can find in several how-to videos online), and add your seeds.
As your plants grow and germinate, their roots will soon hit the water. This is where the process of using hydroponics rather than soil starts to really show its benefits.
Instead of your plants growing in soil and having to find the patches of water throughout, they will be totally suspended in the water solution. This means they can suck up as much water as they need, ensuring they will thrive and grow.
Because of the easy water-obtaining system, Deep Water culture plants usually are able to be harvested much sooner than traditional plants grown in soil. In fact, you may be able to cut down the time between planting and harvest in half!
If this sounds good to you, seriously think about starting your own DWC system.
The System Isn’t Foolproof
Of course, there are some disadvantages to this system, as well.
It can be difficult to get the exact right concentration of pH, water level, and nutrients, as these levels tend to fluctuate as the plant grows and adapts.
It can also be tricky to make sure the water temperature in your system stays consistent.
But if everything does work out, you will be rewarded with fast-growing plants that keep your house and yard free of messy soil.
3. Nutrient Film Technique Systems
Another way to create a hydroponic garden is to use the Nutrient Film Technique system.
To set up this kind of system, you will need the following materials:
- a reservoir,
- an air pump,
- airline tubing,
- an air stone,
- a water pump and tubing,
- a timer,
- a channel,
- net pots,
- and -of course – plants to grow.
In this kind of hydroponic garden, plants are grown in channels. Thee channels have a nutrient solution pumping through them, and the solution is constantly running along the bottom of the channel.
When the solution does eventually reach the end of the channel, it drops back into a main reservoir and is sent back to the beginning of the system again. This means that just like the Deep Water Culture system, the NFT system is a recirculating one.
The recirculating nature makes the maintenance pretty easy, as you do not have to keep resetting the system yourself.
You may be wondering why this is called a “film” system. Where exactly does the film come in? well, the film keeps the plant roots from becoming completely submerged in the solution.
There are, of course, some potential downsides of using this system. The main concern is that if your pump fails, your crop could be ruined. This would mean you put in the work of setting up the system all for a variable you can’t control to go wrong and mess everything up. That wouldn’t be good!
Another possible problem is that the roots could become overgrown, causing them to ultimately clog the channels. Clogged channels mean the solution isn’t getting through to your plants, and they will not continue to grow. In fact, they may be ruined completely.
4. Ebb and Flow Systems
Ebb and Flow hydroponic gardens are not seen as often as the others, but they are a perfectly viable method for growing plants without the use of soil.
Ebb and Flow systems are a little bit different, because they do not involve a constant exposure of your plants to a nutrient solution. Rather, you will grow your plants in a tray which has been filled with a growing medium.
In order for the plants to suck up the water, the tray will be flooded with your water and nutrient solution a number of times per day.
This number will depend on things like how large your plants are, how much water your plants require, the temperature of the air surrounding the plants, and where exactly your plants are in their growth cycle.
Do you have baby plants or mature ones? Make sure you are using the appropriate amount of nutrient solution for plants of their age.
How to Flood the Trays
Now you know what Ebb and Flow systems do, but how exactly do you get the water to flood the trays? Well, you’re going to need a reservoir.
The reservoir goes below the tray on which your plants sit. You will use a water pump and a timer to schedule the cycle of flooding, so your plants get enough, but not too much, water.
After each time the tray has been flooded, the solution will naturally drain back down into the reservoir, where it is then continuously oxygenated by an air pump and air stone. The solution then sits in the reservoir waiting for the next flood cycle. The process continues throughout the day, making sure your plants are adequately nourished.
The downside of using an ebb and flow system is that it does require a lot of growing medium, which will eventually rack up costs.
5. Aeroponics Systems
Aeroponics systems are a bit more complicated than the rest, but they are not difficult to use once they are initially set up.
The roots are suspended in the air here, much like how they are in the NFT system. The difference is that an aeroponics system achieves its water delivery by misting the root zone with a nutrient solution constantly, rather than running a thin film of nutrient solution along a channel.
You need to make sure to mist your plants much more often than you would flood them in an Ebb and Flow system, since the mist obviously provides less overall water and nutrients each time it sprays.
You can still keep your mist on a schedule if you so choose, or you could simply use a finer spray and keep the mist going continuously. This will allow your plants to breathe, getting both the oxygen and the nutrient solution they need to grow healthily.
What You’ll Need
Of course, if you do choose to use this misting system, you are going to need spray nozzles that are able to take in and spray out the nutrients you are putting in your solution. Not all nozzles can do this, so read the directions on the back of the specialized nozzle you are considering purchasing. It will tell you whether it is capable of atomizing nutrient solutions.
Aeroponics has the advantage of supplying your plants with more oxygen than other hydroponic methods, since the roots are not submerged in the solution. There are, of course, also some disadvantages to this system.
Your nozzles could potentially fail, meaning the roots will subsequently dry out. Also, as was mentioned before, the aeroponics system can be a little tricky to set up. If you are new to hydroponic gardens, you may want to hold off on creating an aeroponics system at first.
6. Drip Systems
The final way of cultivating a hydroponic garden is to use a drip system.
Drip systems are better for larger gardens, so you may not find yourself using this at home. But, if you do have a large or commercial hydroponic garden, this method will work great.
To operate a drip system, you will need: a container to hold the plant roots, a container to serve as the reservoir, a water pump, a timer for the pump, some tubing, and growing media for the plant roots to grow in.
In this method, a timer controls a submerged pump. The timer turns the pump on. Once the pump is on, nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant by a small drip line.
Some drip systems are designed to recover and reuse the nutrient solution, while others are not. Of course, you still need to periodically check recovery systems to ensure they are working properly, and your pH balance is correct for the kinds of plants you are growing.
If you choose to use a non-recovery drip system, you will need to manually time your water cycles. This may sound bothersome, but you will end up having to maintain your nutrient solution way less. Just make sure the water is always circulating, and you will be good.
Time to Make a Decision
Now that you know all six different types of hydroponic gardens, you can make an informed decision about the kind you want to cultivate.
Remember to consider what kind of plants you plan to grow, where you want to grow them, how many plants you plan to have, and what kind of nutrient solution these plants will need.
Maybe you want a small hydroponic garden in your backyard to grow a few vegetables like lettuce and tomato. Or perhaps you want to show your kids or students the amazing qualities of hydroponics in the classroom.
Let’s Get Growing
There are loads of benefits of making your own hydroponic garden, and now that you’re a pro on the subject, you will know exactly how to make the most of yours!