So you have decided to try growing plants using a hydroponics system instead of soil. Great! But how do you get started? One of the key advantages of hydroponics is that the gardener is in total control of every aspect of the growing environment. As such, the success of your crops will depend on the growing conditions you provide. Give them the proper lighting, water, nutrients, oxygen, feeding schedule, etc, and plants can grow really fast, very large (to their full genetic potential), and yields can be much higher than traditional soil gardening. But you must use a hydroponic system that is conducive to your plant’s requirements as well as your own lifestyle.
One of the most important considerations a grower will make is which hydroponics system you will use. While hydroponics is the method of growing plants using only water and nutrients instead of soil, a hydroponics system is the hydroponics technique you use to grow your plants. Each technique works a little differently – most use growing medium, some use pumps and timers, and certain hydroponic systems are better suited for particular gardening applications and crop varieties than others. With that said, let’s summarize the 6 main hydroponic systems, how each works, and reviews of hydroponics kits for each different system. Then we will conclude with a few helpful growing tips to get you started with your hydroponics garden.
Aeroponics – Hydroponics System
Aeroponics is a hydroponics system where the roots of a plant are suspended in an air chamber (or growth chamber), and periodically misted with a nutrient solution. This hydroponic method is unique in that it requires no grow medium, allowing for superior aeration of the root system.
There are plenty of options available to hydroponic growers using Aeroponics. Some Aeroponic systems are very basic and easy to operate, right out of the box. Other Aeroponic systems are a bit more complex and often employ pumps and timing features. These more elaborate hydroponic systems are better-suited for people wishing to grow larger and more diverse plant varieties.
Recommended Aeroponics Systems
Deepwater Culture (DWC) – Hydroponics System
One of the simplest methods of hydroponic growing involves the use of a Deepwater Culture (DWC) hydroponics system. Often referred to as “the reservoir method,” this technique involves suspending the plant roots in oxygenated, nutrient-rich water. Air pumps (or air stones) are used to oxygenate the nutrient solution, which helps to prevent the roots from drowning. Most Deep Water Culture hydroponic systems use plastic buckets as a base, and suspend net pots within the buckets to hold each plant.
Recommended DWC Hydroponic Systems
Drip System – Hydroponics System
The Drip System is commonly used as a hydroponics system, both in commercial and home growing. The concept is simple: a slow feed of nutrient solution is dripped on to the roots or grow medium, slowly and continually supplying a plant with the health and moisture it needs. Recirculating drip systems reuse and circulate the nutrient solution back to the reservoir. This ensures that the roots stay moist and healthy enough, but without flooding the grow medium, as is done in some other hydroponic systems. Because the nutrient solution is constantly recycled in drip systems, pH levels may change with this re-circulation. It is important to monitor these levels to maintain a consistent and healthy pH. To prevent roots from drying out or becoming over-saturated, slower drip systems should utilize a slow drain grow medium (such as rockwool or coconut coir), whereas faster drip systems may benefit from quick-drying hydroponic grow mediums (such as clay pebbles or growstones).
Recommended Drip Systems
Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain) – Hydroponics System
The hydroponics system known as Ebb & Flow (also called “Flood and Drain”) works by flooding nutrient solution into the growing area at specific times. Once flooded, the nutrient solution then drains slowly back into the reservoir to be reused. This process repeats itself with the help of a pump and timer, ensuring the plants receive optimal moisture and nutrients. Since many varieties of plants require periods of dryness (which aids in root expansion), the method of ebb and flow is quite an effective and popular hydroponic system.
Recommended Ebb & Flow / Flood & Drain Hydroponic Systems
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) – Hydroponics System
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) is a hydroponics system wherein a continuous, shallow stream of nutrient solution is re-circulated over the bare roots of plants. A tilted, watertight gully (channel) is used, enabling a downward gravitational flow of nutrient solution over the roots. No grow medium is required with the use of NFT, and only the tip of the roots ever touch the nutrient solution. This allows plants to receive high levels of oxygen. The main objective of using the Nutrient Film Technique in hydroponics is to achieve a fast growth rate in a limited space. Larger and fruiting plants may not have adequate room for root growth using this hydroponic system, but for many, Nutrient Film Technique is an efficient method of starting plants and growing smaller plants hydroponically.
Recommended NFT Hydroponic Systems
Wick – Hydroponics System
The wick system is the most simplistic and lowest cost method within the realm of hydroponics. There are very few moving parts to a basic wicking system: no pumps, timer, or electricity are utilized. Instead, most wicking systems employ some sort of nylon, cotton, or other fibrous rope material to act as the agent which draws nutrient solution to the roots of a plant. Like other hydroponic systems, a grow medium helps to support the plant, aiding in moisture and nutrient retention, as well as aeration to the root zone. A plant grown using the wick system may benefit from grow mediums which drain well (perlite and vermiculite, in particular) instead of those which absorb too much nutrient solution (like coconut fiber or rockwool).
Recommended Wick Systems
AeroGarden Hydroponic Systems (Great for Beginners)
The Miracle Gro AeroGarden – a commercial brand of grow systems – make a great entry point into the world of hydroponics. These compact hydroponic systems come with grow lights and all the supplies you will need to start growing your indoor garden in no time.
As far as which category of hydroponics system the AeroGarden fits under, there really isn’t a clear answer. The company itself notes a specific Aeroponic technology called Ein Gedi Aeroponics, in which plant roots are grown outward into air space, and then downward into a highly oxygenated nutrient solution. Ein Gedi Aeroponics has an advantage over traditional Aeroponics (bare-root spraying/misting) because plants with their roots submerged have the ability to survive for days or weeks in the event of a power outage. However – looking closely at how the AeroGarden functions – you will notice that the AeroGarden resembles more of a hybrid Drip System/DWC hydroponic system than Aeroponics. This is because it uses a pump to bring the nutrient-rich water up to the plants, then drips the nutrient solution onto the grow media, and then trickles the solution back to the water reservoir to be re-pumped again (much like a Drip System). When the pump is idle, the plant’s roots are merely submerged in the nutrient solution in a similar fashion to how Deep Water Culture works.
However you want to categorize the AeroGarden, this hydroponic growing system is an effective and easy way to grow different types of hydroponic plants. As such, we recommend the AeroGarden to hydroponic beginners.