What are Hydroponic systems?
Hydroponic systems are a method of growing plants without soil. Or more strictly with ‘working water’, but it mainly means any system which does not use soil.
There are several different hydroponic systems. These include
- deep water culture (DWC)
- nutrient film technique(NFT)
- flood and drain or ebb and flow
- and the drip system.
All of these systems can be used indoors and outside. Although using some of these outside will entail covering the system to prevent dilution of the nutrient system.
Deep water culture or DWC is one of the simplest hydroponic systems. The nutrient itself is not flowing but you do aerate it. Air stones are placed in the nutrient and air passed through the stones. This causes a circulation of the nutrient along with a large surface area of bubbles oxygenating the nutrient. The roots submerged within this solution will get the benefits of circulated nutrient and added oxygen to enable a fast growth rate.
Nutrient film techniques or NFT is a system where the nutrient is continuously flowing over the root mass. The plants have very little support medium, if any. They are normally made up of channels with tops. The tops have holes for the plants to be inserted. The returned nutrient is passed back to a central reservoir to be circulated again. The other type of system is run to waste, where the nutrient left after passing over the root system is discarded. The root mass has access to masses of oxygen along with the correct strength nutrient for optimum growth.
Aeroponics is where the plant is suspended with its roots in air. The root mass, and sometimes the leaves, are misted with nutrient. The effect of this is to have the whole root mass take up oxygen along with te nutrients required for very rapid growth. The misting must be continuous otherwise the plant can suffer rapidly with root death. I would not advise this type of system for a beginner
Flood and drain or ebb and flow is a system where the plants are grown in a substrate which enables airflow. The substrate is flooded with nutrient for a time period and then the nutrient is allowed to drain away. This draining away sucks air down onto the roots mass to oxygenate it. The cycle is repeated a few times a day, dependant on where the plant is in it’s growth period. The drained nutrient is caught in a reservoir and recycled.
The wick system is one a lot of people use when the go away on holiday. A mat is immersed into water and placed in or under the plant. Due to capillary action the water is drawn up the ‘wick’ and the plant has moisture available. With the hydroponic solution the end of the ‘wick’ is placed in the nutrient and the other end under the root mass of the plant. This allows the plant to take up the nutrient level it requires. Plants use this effect to take the nutrient from the roots to the tips of the leaves.
The drip system of hydroponics can easily be used outside or inside. A continuous drip of nutrient is fed into the substrate holding the plant. This has the effect of keeping te medium moist and allowing the free flowing of air around the root mass. There are two methods of carrying out this method, one is to use excess nutrient and returning the overflow to a reservoir or to just have enough nutrient with little or no excess and have a non returning system. The latter will require testing the plants conditions continuously for the correct environment for optimal growth.
Why go to the bother of growing hydroponically?
From my point of view it is mainly for the almost guarantee of consistency. With hydroponics you will get a good crop if you almost get it right. To get the optimum crop you will need to become part scientist, but this is not necessary for a better and easier crop than soil based crops.
I find it fascinating to mix the nutrient then immerse the roots of a plant in them, see it produce a bumper crop, all without the hassle of making sure your soil is the right type for the plant you are growing. It takes away restrictions on the types of plants which can be grown in which location.
You can grow herbs on the window sill along with tomatoes in the living room.
Would I do it?
I do, almost every year I grow tomatoes, lettuce along with a scattering of other crops. The one year I didn’t grow tomatoes, I felt cheated. I really missed them. So each and every year now I get the plants started end of January and plant out with the heated nutrient in Feb. this allows an extended cropping period with non-determinate plants ( plants which keep on growing). I mainly use simple flood and drain and DWC systems, I haven’t found an easy way – yet- of producing an aeroponics system.
Do you reckon you might give it a go? Leave a comment in the box below about what system you would use and why, or if you have any questions about hydroponic systems leave them in the box below.
Thanks for reading
I have been growing plants hydroponically since 2009. For years before that i was reading books and looking at systems and saying ...no way...
But once i had taken the plunge with the tomatoes outside, then there was no stopping me.
I tried out most of the systems and started to refine them, getting the plants to grow more efficiently.
Now I am more interested in indoor hydroponics and the challenges it presents. Being able to control the environment, feeding the correct nutrients and giving the correct length and type of lighting....