Are you ready to start your hydroponic system? The first step in the process is to learn about the six different types of hydroponic systems; wick, aeroponics, water culture, drip (recovery and non-recovery), ebb and flow (flood and drain), and N.F.T. (nutrient film technique). Each one boasts advantages and disadvantages. Some work better for large operations where others suffice nicely for home hydroponic gardeners.
Six Easy Systems for Hydroponic for Beginners
The Wick Hydroponic System
The wick hydroponic is easy to set up and requires only four main components: a grow tray, wick, reservoir, and aeration system. Fill the tray with a growing medium. Place the reservoir below the grow tray. Remember to refresh the water and nutrients in the reservoir at least once every week. For aeration, you can use an air stone and pump.
An air stone is attached to a pump which forces oxygen through the stone. The porous nature of the stone creates tiny bubbles in the water to create oxygenation. You submerge the stone into the water or nutrient solution within your reservoir.
Place the air stone in the reservoir and connect it to an air pump located outside the reservoir. The pump will push the air through the stone to create tiny bubbles which evenly distribute the oxygen.
Connect the reservoir to the grow tray with wicks. You can use two or more wicks to transport the nutrient solution. A cotton rope wick works well. Some growers also opt for a nylon rope because it doesn’t rot or mold. Insert the wicks through holes in the grow tray. The wicks pull the nutrient solution up to the roots of the plants for easy absorption.
Water Culture Hydroponic System
The water culture system is a wonderfully simple form of hydroponic system for a beginner. Typically, the growing platform is fashioned from Styrofoam and is floated directly on the water and nutrient solution reservoir. An air pump uses an air stone to oxygenate the water for the plant’s roots.
A water cutlery hydroponic system grows excellent leaf lettuce or other water-loving veggies. The inexpensive system features a very straightforward design. The system only functions for smaller plants.
Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
The ebb and flow method depends on flooding the grow tray with a nutrient solution, which then drains back into the reservoir. The process is achieved with a submerged pump connected directly to a timer. Every time the timer turns on, the pump starts to move the nutrient solution into the grow tray.
When the timer shuts off, the solution flows back into the reservoir. Gravel, perlite, or granular Rockwool work well with this hydroponic method.
With the ebb & flow method, you place the plants in either a grow tray or individual pots. The main drawback to the method is that it depends on power, so the timer and pump fail during an outage. The roots will quickly dry out if the power failure lasts any length of time. You can avoid the roots drying out rapidly by picking a grow medium that retains water well, such as coconut fiber, Rockwool, or vermiculite.
When setting up an ebb & flow system, you will arrange the plants in pots or on a drain table, holding about three inches of water along the nutrient system. The water and nutrients are pumped from the reservoir into the grow tray or pot until flooding, and the roots remain flooded for a few seconds. The pump is then turned off, and the water flows back into the reservoir. With the system, the process is repeated about four times per week at a rate of two to four times per day to meet the plant’s hydration and nutrient needs.
Drip Systems (Recovery and Non-Recovery)
A drip system is one of the most used types of hydroponic methods in the world due to its simple operation. A timer controls a submersible pump. The timer turns the pump on, and the nutrient system drips slowly onto the base of each plant via a tiny hole made in the drip line. The nutrient solution that runs off the plant’s roots system flows back into the reservoir for reuse with a recovery drip system. With the non-recovery drip system, there is no collection of the runoff.
The recovery system saves on nutrients, but it does make it harder to control the pH. There can be significant shifts in the pH, so you’ll need to check it frequently. With the non-recovery system, you won’t have the same headaches, but it will end up costing more because you’ll need to purchase nutrient solutions frequently and pay a higher cost for water. To successfully operate a non-recovery system, you’ll need a precise timer to ensure that you can adjust the watering cycles. Hence, the plants receive a sufficient percentage of solution without an excessive runoff.
N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)
The N.F.T. system maintains a constant flow of nutrient solution. It needs no timer for the submersible pump. The solution pumps into the grow tray via a tube that flows across the roots of the plants and then drains back into the reservoir.
The plant’s roots are usually not affixed in any form of growing material which helps save money because you never need to replace the non-existent grow medium as you do with other systems. Instead of a grow medium, the plants are supported in a plastic basket, and the roots dangle down into the nutrient and water solution.
Although N.F.T. systems feature great efficiency but can fail during a power outage. The roots of the plants quickly dry out when the water and nutrient system stops flowing.
Aeroponics Hydroponic System
Aeroponics is a high-tech hydroponic system. It doesn’t rely on a grow medium. The plant’s roots dangle in the air and are then misted with the moist nutrient solution. The misting occurs every few minutes. The plant’s exposed roots depend on the moist mist, so if the misting’s are interrupted, then the roots quickly dry out.
A short-timer operates the pump so that every couple of minutes, a misting activates for a few seconds. There are usually a couple of mist nozzles positioned right below the plants. The misting nozzles spray the solution onto the plant’s roots.
Any excess water and nutrient solution then drip down into the reservoir below the plants. The plant’s suspended roots naturally utilize the air to obtain sufficient oxygen for health and growth. With this method, the nozzles often become clogged and are difficult to clean which can cause the plant’s roots to quickly dry out.
If you are a beginner to hydroponics, you’ll need to research which system best fits your needs. A home grower usually benefits from a simple method that requires minimal setup and maintenance, such as the wick or water culture system. However, if you plan to grow larger plants or different varieties, either a drip or N.F.T. system might prove beneficial.
(Nutrient Film Technique)
This is the kind of hydroponic system most people think of when they think about hydroponics. N.F.T. systems have a constant flow of nutrient solution so no timer required for the submersible pump. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray (usually a tube) and flows over the roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir.
There is usually no growing medium used other than air, which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop. Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution.
N.F.T. systems are very susceptible to power outages and pump failures. The roots dry out very rapidly when the flow of nutrient solution is interrupted.
The aeroponic system is probably the most high-tech type of hydroponic gardening. Like the N.F.T. system above the growing medium is primarily air. The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The mistings are usually done every few minutes. Because the roots are exposed to the air like the N.F.T. system, the roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted.
A timer controls the nutrient pump much like other types of hydroponic systems, except the aeroponic system needs a short cycle timer that runs the pump for a few seconds every couple of minutes.