Starting Your Own Indoor Hydroponic Garden

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By Alex Harris

Starting an indoor hydroponic garden is incredibly exciting. It allows you to access your own seasonal produce from the comfort of your home all year round.

If you’re staring out of a window into a frigid climate or onto a small patio, let’s help you start your own indoor hydroponic garden…

Selecting The Right Plants for Your Indoor System

The first step is thinking about what plants you want in your home? Are you looking to grow herbs, vegetables, root crops or flowers?

Usually, leafy crops, such as lettuce, chard, and cabbage, are the best hydroponic plants to grow in a system.

But it is possible to grow a wide variety of plants in a hydroponic system; just be aware that certain crops do better in specific systems – which we’ll explore in detail below. Knowing which system works the best for what you want to grow will make a world of difference.

By pairing the right system with the plants you want to grow, you can tap into one of the main benefits of hydroponics: plants can be more productive in less space because of how the nutrients and water are delivered.

Viraj Puri, the co-founder and CEO of hydroponics pioneer Gotham Greens says, “[Hydroponic systems] allow us to use about 95% less water than conventional field farming.

And production is also boosted.

A well-managed system can grow 20-25% more, and productivity increased by 2–5 times (compared to a soil based system).

So basically, you’ll be using less water and getting more produce from your plants, but only if you’ve selected the correct system and maintained optimum levels of nutrients (we’re simplifying).

Now, let’s select the type of hydroponic system based on the crop you’d like to grow.  

Selecting Types of Hydroponic Systems for Indoor Gardening

There are multiple indoor hydroponic gardening methods. Each type of system has advantages and disadvantages, which makes selecting the right one for your indoor garden vital.

Let’s define these methods, their pros and cons, and suggest the best products to use.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

As hydroponic systems go, deep water culture systems are considered to be the most straightforward and the most popular. In the DWC system, the plants are grown in net pots with a growing medium, such as:

  • Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate (LECA)
  • Clay pebbles
  • Rock Wool
  • And coco coir

The roots of the plants in the DWC system are suspended in a nutrient solution with an aeration device which gives them oxygen to access the nutrients in the water.

Deep Water Culture Diagram

When selecting a DWC you’ll be able to expand the system to fill your space. Usually, the systems are sold in 5 gallon buckets that can be incorporated into a larger network, allowing you to expand over time.

With DWC the plants will have constant access to nutrients, which means fast growers will love the system.

The best plants for a DWC system are:

  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • And spinach

Pros About Deep Water Culture Systems:

  • No need for timers or water pumps
  • Simple to use
  • Requires little space

Cons About Deep Water Culture Systems:

  • Smaller system (generally)
  • Diseases can spread within the water
  • Frequent water changes required
  • pH and EC levels will need to be manually monitored

In our article about the best hydroponic systems, we recommended Hydrofarm’s Root Spa as the best entry-level DWC. It is a simple-to-use, robust product, making it perfect for new growers.

Hydrofarm Root Spa
  • 8″ bucket basket to hold your choice of growing medium
  • Multi-purpose air hose delivers air from the pump to the bottom of the bucket
  • Air pump to oxygenate your water to encourage root growth
  • Includes ½” grommet fitting, ½” elbow fitting, ¼” black tubing, Clay pebble media sold separately

The next hydroponics method on our list is the Ebb and Flow system, which requires a bit more “growing infrastructure”.

Ebb and Flow Hydroponic Systems  

Also known as flood and drain systems, this technique uses a tray to capture the nutrient-rich water. The water then drains out slowly and is recirculated back at regular intervals.

The plants are potted in their growing medium in this tray. A submersible pump in a reservoir fills the tray for a set time. This allows the plants to absorb what they need without their roots sitting in water all the time.

Ebb and Flow System Diagram

Image Source: Trees.com 

Ebb and flow systems come in a variety of sizes. For indoor purposes, you’ll want to select a system that will fit within the area you have.

Plants that love an ebb-and-flow system are those who are nutrient hungry and need to be exposed to a rich oxygen environment, or fruiting vegetables.

These include:

  • Strawberries
  • Eggplants
  • And tomatoes

While these plants will be happy in a DWC as well, they’ll really love having the option to tap into additional oxygen.

The pros and cons of using this system are as follows:

Pros About Ebb and Flow:

  • Lots of size options
  • Inexpensive to set up and run
  • Overflow pipe can make sure that the system never overflows

Cons About Ebb and Flow:

  • Can be unstable if built incorrectly
  • Flooding can occur if set up incorrectly
  • Plants can dry out if the timer is broken

Ebb and flow systems can vary in size and scale. For indoor use, we’d recommend the Hydrofarm MGSYS Hydroponic Megagarden. Compact and easy to assemble, it’s the best jumping-off point for those interested in indoor hydroponics.

Hydrofarm MGSYS Hydroponic Megagarden 
  • Get the convenience of an Ebb & Flow System in a 22″ x 22″ x10″ size garden
  • Includes fired-clay and pebble grow media; 7-1/2-gallon reservoir, water level indicator
  • Includes fifteen 5-inch, plastic grow pots can be filled with soil, or included fired-clay pebble grow media
  • Submersible pump and timer for automatic flood and drain irrigation
  • Also features seed starter cubes, nutrients and a pH test kit

The last system we’re going to review is the nutrient film technique (NFT) system.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

With a nutrient film technique system, your plants are potted into net pots that are positioned in a channel through which a thin film of nutrient-rich water continuously flows. The roots remain moist, and the plants absorb nutrients from the solution.

Diagram of Nutrient Film Technique System

Normally these are not a typical indoor setup, but they can be mounted onto walls and have the great advantage of having flowing water as background noise. There’s nothing more calming than picking your own produce, surrounded by the sound of running water.

As a system, NFT does not allow for much root development and with the roots of the plants suspended in water the crops will need to be fast growers.

Plants that worked well in DWC will also love the NFT system, but certain crops love this method such as:

  • Mint
  • Spring Onion
  • Basil

In essence these systems act as a conveyer belt for nutrients and are great for increasing the size of your crop. The pros and cons of these systems include:

Pros About NFT Hydroponic Systems:

  • Easy plant inspection
  • pH and EC can be monitored from one area
  • Root issues can be dealt with on a plant-to-plant basis

Cons About NFT Hydroponic Systems:

  • Needs more space
  • Water flow issues can cause huge problems
  • Not suitable for plants with tap-roots

The WEPLANT Hydroponic NFT kit offers a full PVC system that only requires assembly.

WEPLANT Hydroponic NFT Kit
  • Brushless pump and timer included
  • Custom square pots with growing aggregate
  • Multiple sizes available

Now that you know what system you want to install in your home, let’s talk about the lighting and environment.

Selecting The Correct Environment and Growing Lights

As the real estate quote goes, it’s all about “location, location, location.” The same is true when selecting the site to set up your hydroponic system.

If you’re fortunate to have ample sun pouring through your windows, try to locate your hydroponics as close to them as possible. Another factor for ease and success is the proximity to a water source. There’s nothing worse than dragging buckets of water or a garden hose around inside your house.

But if you don’t have access to a fabulous sunny window, you will most likely require a grow light. There are loads of options in the market, with most growers moving towards using LED lights.

LEDs are incredibly energy-efficient, and as they offer full-spectrum lighting, it’s easy to see why they’ve taken over the market. They also last for years, emit little to no heat, and cast light over a large area.

If you’re having an issue selecting the right light, you can get some insights from our Best LED Hydroponic Grow Lights article.

And as your crop will be indoors, you will need to pollinate your fruiting crops. So, make sure to have a small paintbrush on hand.

Now that we’ve taken care of light and positioning let’s talk about temperature and humidity control.

Temperature and Humidity Control

Plants are sensitive to temperature changes and humidity. Too hot or cold, and the plant will not grow at its optimum levels. Ensure that your setup is in an area where the temperature is static so you can control the environment efficiently. Keep away from air conditioners or heaters.

Another element is humidity: too high, and the plant will be prone to developing funguses and mold. And if there’s a lack of flowing air, the dampness will not evaporate.

Installing a fan is the best method to ensure that humidity doesn’t cause significant issues. As a generalization, you want to maintain your humidity level between 50-80%.

If the problem continues, you can invest in a humidifier or dehumidifier.

The next step is checking pH levels.

Monitoring pH Levels

The pH levels of your nutrient solution matter. If your pH levels are incorrect, your crop can quickly die off or become malformed.

Each plant has its own preferred pH level. Outdoors, this requirement is met by the chemical composition of soil and environment, but with hydroponics, you’re recreating this ideal level so you need to monitor it and adjust as required.

Currently, there are loads of incredible pH meters for hydroponics. But make sure to purchase one that you find easy to use, as you’ll be using it on a daily basis.

Now that we’ve spoken about the criteria for setting up an indoor hydroponic setup, there are a few products that are all-inclusive. These indoor setups include pots, pumps, and lights.

But which off-the-shelf indoor-garden kit setup is the best?

Best Indoor Garden Kits

There are many indoor garden kits on the internet. We’ve actually listed our top three picks for beginner indoor garden kits.

If you’re looking for a good brand, iDOO makes fantastic, ready-to-use indoor kits. Their top seller is the iDOO Hydroponic Growing System with 12 Pods.

This system is App enabled, has an adjustable light and built-in fan, and can be used as a platform for indoor plants.

iDOO WiFi Hydroponic Growing System
  • WiFi Enabled with App Control: Pair the hydroponics growing system with the “Gennec” app using WiFi to remotely control your hydroponics system at any…
  • 6.5L Large Water Tank: iDOO 6.5L super large water tank is a must for matured plants. It provides a larger space for the root development and will…
  • 2 Planting Modes & Adjustable Light Height: Choose ‘Vegetable’ or ‘Flowers & Fruits’ mode for your plants to get specific light conditions….
  • LED Grow Light & Fan: 22-Watt full spectrum LED grow light of hydroponics growing system simulates the sunlight to ensure your plants grow…
  • Water Shortage Reminder: When the water in the tank is less than 1L, the Fan&Water indicator light on the control panel will flash and the pump within…

Other kits that we’d recommend would be the AeroGarden Bounty Elite, which we named the best overall beginner kit.

AeroGarden Bounty Elite
  • Use this indoor garden to grow up to 9 different herbs, veggies, or flower varieties at once
  • 50W adjustable LED grow light gives your plants the full spectrum of sunlight they need to grow quickly – up to 5x quicker than an outdoor garden
  • Automatic timer makes sure the lights go on and off at exactly the right time, and the digital screen displays your garden’s vital statistics and…
  • Compatible with WiFi and Alexa, and can be monitored and controlled from our AeroGarden app or your Amazon Echo device; Amazon and all related Marks…
  • New, sleek, stainless steel design that features a larger water bowl and grow deck; vacation mode keeps your plants healthy while you’re out of town

While these newer systems are amazing, there will be limitations to the size of your crop. But the main purpose of these systems is to educate and be fun, they won’t replace all your herb purchases.

Now that we’ve gone through the steps and suggestions, let’s answer your questions about indoor hydroponic gardening.

Answering Commonly Asked Questions

How Does An Indoor Hydroponic Garden Work And What Are The Benefits?

As mentioned, indoor hydroponic garden is a soil-free system that allows the growth of plants within a controlled environment. Plants are grown using nutrient-rich water instead of soil, and the roots are supported by a growing medium.

The benefits of growing produce via hydroponic are:

  • Saves space
  • Year-round harvest
  • Economical
  • And saves water

Is It Possible To Grow Enough Food In An Indoor Hydroponic Garden To Sustain A Family?

According to a study by the University of Arizona, hydroponic lettuce yields are 11 times higher than field-grown lettuce. This being said, more energy was required to keep the lights on.

For the average Joe, building an indoor hydroponic garden to sustain a family is still not achievable without expert help or investing in a large space.

What Equipment And Supplies Are Necessary To Set Up An Indoor Hydroponic Garden?

There are a few essential pieces of equipment and supplies you’ll need to set up an indoor hydroponic garden. Namely:

  • Hydroponic system
  • Net pots
  • Potting medium
  • Air or water pump
  • Grow lights
  • Nutrients
  • Thermometer
  • And pH tester

It’s also worth mentioning that these requirements can change depending on your crop. For instance, tomatoes will need a good ventilation fan to ensure no mould build-up.

What Types Of Plants Are Best Suited For An Indoor Hydroponic Garden?

Some plants are better suited for the controlled environment of an indoor setup than others.

Consider:

For small indoor hydroponic gardens, we’d suggest sticking with smaller crops.

Are There Any Common Challenges Or Difficulties Associated With Maintaining An Indoor Hydroponic Garden?

The most significant issue with growing indoor hydroponics plants is finding that perfect balance. After all, you’re trying to copy nature’s work.

Over-fertilizing is an issue as growers tend to push their plants to the maximum. Also, plants can miss out on important micro-nutrients which they get from the soil.

Hydroponic setups with large reservoirs can be prone to root rot and diseases. This can be prevented by changing the water in the system on a regular basis.

Mold is also a major concern, but it can be dealt with by ensuring that ventilation is working well.

Now that we’ve answered some of your questions, there’s not much more to say other than…

Conclusion About Indoor Hydroponic Gardening

When starting out on any new venture, just be open to experimenting, connecting with local experts, lots of reading, and generally just being an information sponge.

And when you’re ready, go and get started with your new indoor hydroponic garden.