Hydroponic gardening is a popular choice with many home gardeners. It provides an easy way to grow fresh crops in a controlled environment. There are several types of hydroponic systems that work for various gardening setups. Each of these provides amazing benefits when used appropriately.
Benefits of Hydroponic Systems
Some of the benefits of using hydroponic systems over the traditional method of farming include:
- Control of Growing Conditions
Farmers have complete control over the nutrients, oxygen, and water used by the plant. Depending on the system setup, you can reduce the wastage of water and nutrients by circulating the solution.
- Faster Crop Growth
The idea of hydroponics is to remove the barrier between plants and essential nutrients, water, and oxygen. This facilitates faster nourishment and, as a result, more rapid growth.
- Efficient Use of Space
Using vertical hydroponic systems allows for maximum use of available space. You can stack growing beds in a limited space to allow more plants to grow, which increases your yields.
- Little Chemical Use
Since there’s rarely any weed or pest problems when using hydroponic systems, there’s no need for herbicides and pesticides. Plants can grow in a natural environment without synthetic contaminants.
The secret to finding the right system depends on your needs. Factors to consider include the type of crop you’re growing, how much yield you expect, and the space available. With these in mind, you’ll be able to choose a hydroponic system that will deliver the best results.
Let’s have a look at the different types of hydroponic systems in the market, and what they have to offer.
1. Wick Hydroponics
This is by far the simplest of all types of hydroponic systems out there. It requires no electricity, automation, aerating system, or pumps. A wick hydroponic system consists of a growing medium where you place the plants, a grow bed, reservoir, and wicks.
It’s important to use a growing medium that adequately absorbs and transports water and nutrients when using this system. Suitable options are vermiculite, perlite, and coconut noir, which have a lightweight structure.
A wick runs from a nutrient solution reservoir to the base of the plants. This supplies the root system with the necessary nourishment. Any absorbent material can function as the wick. Ropes, yarn, or strings made of cotton, felt, nylon, or wool can suit this purpose.
Use the wick system to grow small plants which require little water and can thrive with limited nutrient solution. This is also the most eco-friendly and energy-efficient hydroponics system.
- Requires little maintenance and attention
- Suitable for beginners
- Not suitable for larger plants
2. Drip Hydroponics
A drip hydroponic system utilizes tubes that supply the nutrient solution to plants. Unlike the wick hydroponics, this is an active system that requires a pump.
It’s reasonably easy to set up and operate. You’ll require net pots to hold the growing medium, a nutrient solution reservoir, and a tray to support the pots.
This system is very customizable as you get to choose how to plan your tubing network. You can control how much solution to feed your plants by using various tube sizes and different pump settings.
At the end of each tube, fit in a drip emitter that supplies the solution into the growing medium.
You can choose between a non-circulating system and a circulating system for drip hydroponics. The former allows the solution to run off once it has gone through the growing medium.
To reduce wastage of water and nutrients, maximum control over the in-flow is required.
On the other hand, a circulating drip system reuses nutrient solution that drains off the growing medium. Since the wastewater gets back to the reservoir, this affects the solutions pH and nutrient levels.
Constant maintenance is required to ensure that the solution in the reservoir is in the best condition.
Commercial growers prefer the non-circulating system since it’s more applicable for large scale farming. For a home garden, the circulating system can be more applicable because of its water and nutrient use efficiency.
- Relatively easy and cheap to set up and operate
- Very customizable
- More control over nutrient and water supply
- High wastage in the non-circulating system
- Fluctuating nutrient and pH levels in the circulating system
3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The NFT hydroponic system consists of a reservoir, channel, growth medium, and pot inserts. A pump runs the nutrient solution through the channel. At the end of the channel is a drain that takes the solution back to the reservoir.
Plants are placed above the channel, with their roots dangling. They’re able to absorb nutrients when the solution is passed through the channel. Use a tilted NFT grow bed or channel to facilitate the movement of the solution through the roots and back to the reservoir.
The type of plants that you can grow using this technique depends on the size of your channels. Mostly, plants with small root systems can do well with this system. This is because only a small amount of water should be taken through the channel at any time.
The limited level of water enables the roots to breathe and keeps them from drowning.
The nutrient film technique is a highly scalable hydroponic system. If you wish to grow more crops, all you need to do is add more channels.
This is one of the reasons why NFT is a preferred method for most commercial growers.
- Less wastage due to the circulating system
- Little grow medium required
- Easily expandable
- Roots may overgrow and clog the channel
- Not suitable for plants requiring a lot of support
4. Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Among the types of hydroponic systems available, deep water culture is most suitable for plants with large roots. This is because the roots are submerged in the nutrient solution, allowing them to get adequate nourishment.
To set up a DWC system, you’ll need a net pot, reservoir, and growing medium. The pot should be placed above the solution, with the roots left to dangle into the reservoir.
An air stone is placed at the bottom of the reservoir and connected to an air pump to oxygenate the solution. For this system to work, the air pump should run throughout. This sustains the oxygen levels and keeps the submerged roots from becoming waterlogged.
Plants that are grown using the DWC method grow fast and have increased yields. This is because of the unlimited supply of nutrients, water, and oxygen.
- Requires minimum maintenance
- Less wastage
- Rapid growth of plants
- Not suitable for plants with longer growing periods
Plants grown using the aeroponics system are suspended in the air. Due to this, there’s no need for a growing medium. Instead, you must use a foam plug or bucket to anchor the plant above the reservoir.
To nourish the plants, you can use a nozzle tube to spray a nutrient solution over the suspended roots. This system can accommodate many types of plants, as long as you set it up for maximum delivery absorption of the solution.
However, it may not be suitable for plants with large roots due to the nutrient delivery method used and lack of growing medium.
To enable maximum absorption by the roots, use smaller solution particles. Also, set the correct pressure so that the misted solution reaches every area of the roots.
The aeroponics system has less wastage since the misted solution falls back into the reservoir to be pumped up again.
- More aeration of roots compared to other systems
- Less wastage
- Failed nozzles can lead to dried up roots
- Complex setup
6. Ebb and Flow System
This is also known as the flood and drain system. It has a simple concept, which involves flooding a grow bed while allowing the excess solution to drain back into the reservoir.
To set this system, fill a grow bed with a growing medium and then place plants in the medium.
A nutrient solution is pumped into the grow bed. The drain is positioned to lead back to the reservoir before it reaches the top of the medium. This keeps the grow bed from overflowing.
A timer is used to control the water pump. When the solution has been delivered to the grow bed for a lengthened period, the timer turns off the pump. All water is then drained from the grow bed through the drain.
Besides the timer, you can also use an automatic drain. With an automatic drain, the water pump runs continuously. The drain then automatically siphons excess water from the grow bed when the solution reaches a specified height.
Types of automatic drains to choose from include the bell siphon, the “U” siphon, and the loop siphon.
- Efficient energy and water use
- Highly customizable
- Requires a lot of growing medium
Related post: Home garden irrigation systems
These are the six basic types of hydroponic systems. Before beginning your gardening project, it’s advisable to consider all the available types. Each of them will work exceptionally well when set up correctly and exposed to the right conditions.
As a beginner, it’s best to start with a highly customizable system that will allow you to explore your options. With the right system, you can make the most of your resources.