Hydroponics is a popular method for growing plants indoors. You can grow everything from herbs to leafy greens year-round without any soil. Yet, how does hydroponics work, and what do you need to get started?
Hydroponics is a form of gardening that involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water. The plants are typically supported by individual plastic pots suspended above a water reservoir. The roots receive nutrients from the water instead of soil.
If you’re interested in hydroponics gardening, take a moment to explore it in more detail.
You should also read: Best Hydroponics System To Start With
How Does Hydroponics Gardening Work?
So, what is hydroponics gardening? Hydroponics comes from Latin for “working water”. The water does the work of nurturing the plant’s root system.
With traditional gardening, roots grow through the soil to collect nutrients, water, and oxygen. Using compost or fertilizer can help add nutrients to the soil for healthier plants and fuller plant growth. With hydroponics, there is no soil and a lack of nutrients and oxygen.
So, how do plants survive in water?
You add a nutrient solution and oxygen using a hydroponics method.
The typical hydroponic setup includes a water reservoir with a continuous flow of water. The plants sit above the reservoir while the roots grow down into it.
An air pump is used to circulate the water, which also supplies the roots with oxygen. Nutrients are added using a nutrient solution, such as liquid plant food.
What Are the Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening?
A hydroponic garden saves space, as you do not support the root system with a large pot of soil. A desktop aeroponic system may include space for six to nine plants and typically measures less than a foot wide.
Potting six to nine plants in individual pots of soil would likely require at least twice the amount of space.
You also have more control over the variables that impact plant yields and overall health. You can use a grow light with a timer to simulate the day/night cycle and regularly test the nutrient content and pH levels.
You can also grow almost any type of plant with your indoor garden, including herbs, and various fruit and vegetables, such as lettuce.
Did You Know? Hydroponics surprisingly uses significantly less water compared to traditional gardening. According to the National Park Service, hydroponic systems use 10 times less water.
How to Choose the Right Hydroponic Gardening Method
The main factors to consider when choosing a hydroponics system include available space, budget, and complexity. Some hydroponic methods are easier to maintain and cost less while others require more of a commitment.
Deep Water Culture
Deep water culture (DWC) is one of the most common methods for DIY hydroponic gardening. It involves suspending plants in aerated water. The roots dangle in a water reservoir containing the hydroponic nutrient solution. A pump keeps the water flowing to continually provide the roots with water, oxygen, and nutrients.
A DWC system is one of the easiest hydroponics systems to set up and maintain. You typically need to top off the water occasionally and add liquid plant food every two weeks.
Nutrient Film Technique
The nutrient film technique (NFT) typically includes rows of plants in pipes or trays called channels. The water flows through the channels and into the reservoir before being recycled and fed back through the channel.
Unlike the DWC method, the roots are not submerged in water. The water flows over the tips of the roots, which then wick water up.
Using the NFT system saves space, especially if you use a single channel. The drawbacks include the risk of overcrowding and pump failure. If the pump fails, the plants dry out faster compared to other methods.
Drip systems are the most used type of hydroponic system. The plants are placed in a grow tray above a water reservoir. A drip manifold with multiple drip lines allows the growing medium around the plants to be gradually saturated.
A drip system is better suited for larger plants compared to other hydroponic methods. You can set it up with a large growing tray to support heavy plants, such as pumpkins and zucchinis. However, it is more complex and requires more maintenance.
Unlike the previous methods, a wick system does not typically use a pump. A wick is used to draw water from the reservoir to the roots of the plant. While a wick system is simple, plants are susceptible to rot and fungal outbreaks. It’s also best suited for small delicate plants, such as basil and mint.
What Do You Need to Start a Hydroponic Garden?
The different types of hydroponic systems include different configurations for supporting the plants and holding the water reservoir. Yet, most systems require the same basic components:
- Growing medium
- Net pots
- Air pumps
- Liquid plant food
- Grow lights
If you want to avoid having to choose the right combination of equipment, you can always purchase a hydroponic kit, such as a desktop aeroponic system.
Hydroponics systems use various types of growing media, including coconut coir, perlite, peat, and vermiculite. Seeds are added to the growing media, which are then placed in a net pot. Most net pots are made from plastic and include openings for the roots.
An air pump is used to keep the water circulating. In some systems, such as a small DWC system, an air-stone is used to aerate the water. The air-stone breaks up the air from the pump into tiny bubbles to help supply the roots with oxygen.
Quick Note: Hydroponics systems are also open systems, which means that the nutrients are not recycled. The roots get liquid nutrients by adding a nutrient mix to the water.
Grow lights are also a necessary part of a hydroponics system. Most hydroponic growers use large LED lights, high-output LED lights or high-intensity discharge (HID) lights.
Hydroponics gardening provides a way to grow a wide range of plants indoors without soil. Yet, it’s not a hassle-free process. While hydroponic farming seems streamlined and simple, it comes with extra challenges.
Plant disease can easily spread to every plant in the system. It also involves higher up-front costs, more equipment to maintain, and an increased risk of overfeeding the plants. Buying a hydroponic kit makes it easier to overcome these challenges.
Most of the countertop hydroponic kits use deep-water culture (DWC) hydroponics. Countertop DWC systems require minimal maintenance and allow you to grow herbs, lettuce, and other small plants with no fuss.