Hydroponic Deep Water Culture Systems (DWC): Are They Worth It?

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By Jeff Hale

A deep water culture hydroponic system is a type of hydroponics that utilizes the nutrients in the solution to feed and nourish plants.

The DWC system consists of a container (usually an aquarium) with holes drilled in the bottom, filled with nutrient-rich water.

This water level should be at least 4 inches above where your seedlings will be placed. You can also add some kind of mesh or netting on top for plants to grow through and hold themselves up towards sunlight and air circulation.


How does the deep water culture (DWC) system work?

To put it simply, It works by creating an additional reservoir of water for the nutrient solution. This way, when oxygen is used up in the original container, fresh air can be brought into it through this second one.

Deep Water Culture Systems are inexpensive and easy to use for beginners or experts alike. They also require low maintenance once they have been established properly.

What plants can you grow with DWC?

The best types of plants to grow are those with large root systems, such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

Also, leafy plants grow very well in a DWC hydroponic system because they do not have to focus on growing roots since there is plenty of water to nourish them from all sides.

Methods of aeration in DWC

There are two different types of aeration with a DWC system.

  • Air bubbles – Air bubbles are the most common form of aeration in hydroponic systems. They provide dissolved oxygen to the plant’s roots, providing an optimal nutrient solution for better plant growth.
  • Falling water – This is another common type of aeration. It works by allowing the nutrient solution to fall back into the container through a small gap in the reservoir or mesh netting.

Variations of deep water culture

Aside from aeration, there are three variations of DWC to choose from:

  • Bubbleponics – The most popular variation of DWC. It is very similar to the air bubble method, but with additional nutrients, in the reservoir, for plant roots to absorb directly from it.
  • The Kratky method – This method is a more natural variation of DWC. It does not use any air bubbling or falling water, instead, it uses passive evaporation from the nutrient solution to provide oxygen that plant roots need for photosynthesis.
  • Recirculating deep water culture (RDWC) – This is a unique version of DWC, because it doesn’t use any external water reservoir. Instead, the nutrient solution in this system recycles within itself by passing through an air stone and returning back to its original container with fresh oxygenated nutrients again.

How to set up a deep water culture system

In order to set everything up, you’ll need the following items:

A container – The best types to use are an aquarium or large bucket. Also, keep in mind that whatever type of container you choose doesn’t have to be completely round as long as it has a flat surface for your plant’s roots and reservoir(s) on top.

Hydroponic system netting/mesh – This is used to separate your plants from the nutrient solution and serve as a support for them.

Air pump, tubing, and an air stone or bubbler – These are necessary for aerating the water. They also provide oxygen that plant roots need in order to complete photosynthesis via the diffusion of gases into their leaves.

Nutrient solution – To add nutrients to your water, you can either buy it premade at a local hydroponic store or make your own. We recommend the latter since there are so many different recipes out there and they all work better than pre-made ones in most cases.

Growing media – This is what your plants will be growing in. For hydroponics, you can use coco coir or perlite to provide excellent support for the roots and keep them well aerated at all times. Check out our hydroponic growing media guide

How much does a deep water culture system cost to set up?

The total cost is going to depend on the size of your hydroponic system and how much you want to spend.

For example, if you’re using a small two-liter plastic bottle as your container (such as for lettuce), it will be very inexpensive since these bottles are typically free or cost only about $0.25 each at most major retailers such as Walmart.

On the other hand, if you’re using a larger aquarium or outdoor grow system to house your plant’s roots, it will be more expensive since they can cost hundreds of dollars and require additional components such as lighting equipment. But this is typically necessary for growing bigger plants that need higher yields.

Overall cost should be around $20 to $150 depending on size and additional equipment.

Which nutrients should I use in my deep water culture system?

For beginners, we recommend using a nutrient solution that is plant-specific. This means it’s made from the exact measurements of each product you need to feed your plants for optimal growth and yields.

There are many different types out there so be sure to do your research before picking one because some brands work better than others depending on where you live.

Is a singular or modular system better?

First-time DWC growers should go with a singular system, which is one large container that houses everything. This is ideal for getting the most out of your plants in terms of yields per plant and overall profit potential.

Modular systems are better suited for growers who already know what they’re doing or don’t want to invest too much money into growing since these require separate containers (tanks) for each plant.

Advantages of DWC

Some pros of using this system are:

  • Thanks to quicker nutrition and oxygen uptake, plants in this system grow faster. You can produce lettuce in 30 days instead of 60 in soil, for example.
  • Not much to do in the way of assembling moving parts. It’s easy.
  • Because plants are grown in deep water culture nutrients, there’s no need for much fertilizer.
  • The root zone has been aerated to absorb and increase cell growth rate in plants.
  • It’s simple to use, and after you’ve set it up, there’s nothing more to do. There are no nozzles, feeder lines, or water pumps that might clog.

Disadvantages of DWC

Some cons of using it are:

  • If the air pump breaks, there is a very short time period in which it may be replaced. If the air pump fails to function for a lengthy amount of time, the plants will die rapidly.
  • It may be tough to keep a constant water temperature.
  • It is simple to over or under-calibrate in small systems with a tiny scale.
  • Small systems have a greater potential for dramatic changes in nutrient concentration, water level, and PH level.

Conclusion: Is deep water culture right for you?

The DWC system is perfect for you if you’re looking for a fast-growing way to grow plants that you want in the shortest amount of time possible.

It’s also great if you don’t like having to add fertilizer or worry about changing nozzles and pumps regularly since there are none on this system. However, keep in mind that it does require some setup before use and can cost you a chunk of change.

It might be worth trying the Nutrient Film Technique also.