Hydroponics is a soil-less gardening technique in which plants grow in water. By reading this post, you’ll know how hydroponics works in different designs.
Hydroponic gardening is simply growing plants in the water. But how to get nutrients and water to your plants? To know, you’ll need to learn about the different types of hydroponic growing systems. As you observe each kind of system, you will notice their approach to the three major concerns: How to
- Get the nutrient solution to the plants
- Keep the plants from drowning
- Make sure there is no problem
Table of Contents
Hydroponic Growing Systems
There are as many ways to deliver the nutrient solution to the plants as you can possibly think of. These are the main types of hydroponic growing systems organized by skill level (low to high):
|Type of System||Grow Media||Pumps||Re-circulation|
|The Wick System||Yes||Air Pump|
|Deep Water Culture (DWC)||No||Air Pump||No|
|Ebb & Flow System||May or may not||Water Pump|
|The Drip System||May or may not||Air + Water Pumps||Yes|
|Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)||May or may not||Air + Water Pumps||Yes|
Above table will give you a comparison between different types of hydroponics systems. It will give you an idea of which system will need grow media and water pumps & which system saves water by recirculation.
Before getting into the details of all systems. A very important question is that many people think that aquaponics is a type of hydroponics.
1. Active or Passive?
An active hydroponics system actively moves the nutrient solution, usually using a pump. It recirculates the excess nutrient solution. These systems need a water pump. Any Power Failure can result in crop damage.
A Passive System passes the nutrients via the wick. The system doesn’t supply enough oxygen. Cause slower growth rate. These system doesn’t need a pump and relatively simpler.
2. Media or Water Culture?
Media Based or aggregate Culture: The gravel, sand or other growing media is used to provide anchorage and support for the plants. Therefore, known for the type of medium, such as gravel culture, sand culture, or rock wool culture. You can supply nutrients in form of a solution or dry fertilizer either by flooding from the bottom up, drenching or scattering dry on the surface, trickling onto the surface, and watering into the root zone. Examples are Ebb & Flow system, Drip System, and Wick System.
Water-Culture: In this type of system, the upper parts and stem of plants are held above the nutrient solution with roots submerged. With this system, you need to choose a suitable container with a way to hang the plants above the nutrient solution with proper aeration. Examples are NFT (Nutrient Flow Technique), Aeroponics and Deep Water Culture (DWC).
Types of Hydroponics Systems
Based on different factors, hydroponics can be classified into 6 basic types. Following is the list of the types of hydroponics growing system with some related information.
1. The Wick System
Most Simplistic and passive type of hydroponics! Requires no pumps or electricity. You can add oxygen to the water optionally by using air pumps.
In wick hydroponic systems, you grow the plants in a separate container. Plants container is filled with absorbent growing media like coco coir and vermiculites/permiculite. A piece of nylon rope is placed in the plants’ container that runs from roots into the reservoir that soaks the nutrient solution up into the grow media. This system is an ideal option for organic hydroponics
However, it gets difficult to maintain a suitable level of moisture in a wick system if you have not used the right growing media. A 50:50 mix of perlite and vermiculite is a good grow media for this type of system. Coconut coir also works well. Check the list of all growing media here. The wicks are able to suck up lesser solution over time- especially with organic nutrients.
This system works best only for small plants and herbs. Wick systemisn’t good for larger plants or the plants that need a lot of water
2. Deep Water Culture (DWC)
This method, also known as floating-raft culture, is a simpler and effective way to grow hydroponics plants! It requires no nutrient pumps but air pump is used that bubbles in the nutrient solution to oxygenate the water.
In this system, roots of plants are directly suspended in nutrient water. This is done by either placing plants in 5-gallon hydroponics tanks or suspending them directly in long polystyrene rafts.
With no spray emitters or drip to clog, this system is a great option choice for organic growing media like vermiculite, volcanic lava chips media, and expanded clay pellets. This system can also do well without any growing media by using net cups
Deepwater culture Hydroponics systems work well with plants that produce fruits.
Precautions: The direct light can cause rapid algae growth in the nutrient solution that deplete the nutrients avaiaability to your plants. The died pieces of algae attract fungus gnats that lead to many other problems.
There are four variations of dwc hydroponics. Read more about Deep Water Culture in detail here,
3. Ebb and Flow Systems
Also known as flood & drain method, the ebb & flow system is very popular among home hydroponics growers.
In this system, the plants grow in their own separate container filled with grow media like in wick system. But this system uses a water pump with a timer. On a set schedule, the nutrient solution is pumped from the reservoir to the plants’ container, soaking the growing medium and roots. Then, pumps turn off draining the solution back into the reservoir. Bell siphon can be used to automatically drain the water without shutting the pump off.
The intensity and frequency of flooding are determined by your choice of growing media. You may flood the fast draining expanded clay pellets 4 times a day.for a half hour However, the slower draining Rockwool needs to be watered less. You can also use lava chips and perlite in this system.
This system can grow a variety of plants. Since there is an open growing beds and plants dont need net pots.
Check the video for more information
4. Drip Hydroponics System
Drip system is the most widely used type of hydroponic system at commercial and backyard level.
In the drip system, the plants grow in their own container. The submerged pump is controlled by a timer that turns it on to push the nutrient solution onto the base of each plant. You can make the drip faster or slower by equipping the end of each tube with different emitters.
This system needs growing media. The standard media for drip hydroponics systems are rockwool and expanded clay pellets. A faster-draining media (such as clay pellets) requires faster dripping emitters (or more of them per plant). Slower draining medium (such as Rockwool) needs slower dripping emitters.
The tropical veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers are well suited to grow using this method. Its modular design makes it easy to remove any dead plant without disturbing the entire crop.
5. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
NFT is a hydroponics technique that works for well for plants with small roots.
In the nutrient film technique, you grow plants in long tubes or channels or “gutter” separate from the nutrient reservoir. To force water to flow back by gravity to the nutrient reservoir, one end of the tube is kept lower than the other. A pump constantly transfers nutrient solution at the higher end, creating a constant water stream in the bottom of the tray. A layer of absorbent material (called capillary mat) is placed at the bottom of the tray to ensure smoother and even flow of water.
You can start your plants in any type of media and transfer in the NFT system to grow right in the water. This system, when properly set-up and maintained, works very nicely.
NFT is fine for certain plants like herbs and lettuce, but plants with heavier root systems won’t benefit from the technique. Therefore, NFT is the least common form of hydroponics gardening setup.
Precaution: You should put the plants having a large roots that can reach down into the solution. You can use a drip system to top feed the plants until their roots system is large enough.
Check the video for more information
6. Aeroponic System
The most advanced form of hydroponics and usually more expensive than other setups.
In aeroponics, a container is filled with a few gallons of nutrient solution that is sprayed to constantly soak the whole container with a fine mist of solution. A high-pressure pump is used with special spray emitters that produce a highly oxygenated fine spray.
No growing medium is used in aeroponic systems. The roots hang in the air until they grow long enough to make it bottom into the nutrient solution.
- This system is the most difficult and volatile out of all the hydroponics growing systems.
- The fluctuation in pH and imbalances of nutrient occur more often due to high absorption rates and oxygenation levels.
- Moreover, there’s no grow media to protect the roots, that makes the plants react negatively to any change at much higher rate.
- The individual parts of the system can be expensive and are not easy to assemble into a well-working system.
- Using anything except high-quality hydroponic fertilizers will lead to instant clogging in the fine-spray emitters.
However, you will get faster growth rates i properly maintained aeroponic system.
Check the video for more information
Once you have chosen your favorite system, you’ll need to obtain the basic components necessary to build your gardening structure.
You’ll need a grow bed or container for your plants, growing media if creating beds (click here to read detailed top hydroponics growing beds), plant pots, LED grow lights if growing indoor, pumps – a water pump to get the nutrient water to the plants and an air pump to aerate the container, and standpipes or siphons (simple plumbing tubes). Your system design can be as simple or complicated as you desire. But it will need to include these basic components.
You can also order a ready-made, automated, easy to use and maintain indoor hydroponics garden. Check here to read about indoor Aerogardens.
Which hydroponics system did you like? Tell us in comments.