If gardening is your favorite hobby, or you simply want to grow a few plants in your house, you might be dazed by the question – what is hydroponics? Hydroponics are growing systems where the roots of the plants are in a water nutrient solution instead of growing deep into the soil.
With this technique, you can have your home agriculture system and grow any type of plant you would like. However, does it make any difference when compared to the traditional growing method? Let us take you on a complete tour of hydroponics to show you the value of this system, starting from its benefits.
Advantages of Hydroponic Systems
Before we get into the hydroponics basics, it’s time to discuss the main benefits of this system in comparison with soil-based planting. Here are some of the main positive aspects of growing plants hydroponically:
- Higher yields
- Sometimes require no electricity
- Faster plant development
- Changing the nutrient solution once every few weeks
- Variety of growing media and nutrients to choose from
So, to start, let’s state the main reason why you might want to switch from regular methods to hydroponics – it’s a customizable system. You solely depend on your choice of nutrients and growing media and there are various items you can select, as we’ll discuss a bit later on.
Also, you don’t have to bother watering the plants regularly like you would with the traditional method of growing in soil. Instead, you can simply observe the nutrient solution reservoir and replace it once a week or even sometimes once every few weeks.
There are different hydroponic systems you can use, and some don’t even need electricity. Because of this, you can even save on the electric bills and still achieve fast growth of your plants. The next reason doesn’t need any better explanation – you will get faster plant development.
It’s due to specific methods and nutrients that you can select for every plant, to provide it with everything needed for steady growth. Finally, concerning the previous benefit, you can get up to 30% higher yield with this farming method.
Items Needed for Hydroponic Farming
It’s always handy to have a hydroponics for beginners guide at hand before you set out on this adventure. The reason is simple – you need numerous items to set up the system. From nutrient solutions to growing media and tech solutions like pH meters and air pumps, you need to know it all.
So, we’ll dedicate this section to all the gear you might need to start your hydroponic system with utmost success. Here’s a list of items you will need to start:
- Hydroponic nutrients
- Growing media
- Air pumps
- pH meters
- Plant baskets with an open bottom lid
- Growth tanks
Water tanks or growth trays can be purchased or made similarly to fish aquariums, and baskets can be custom-made or ordered as well. So, we’ll focus on the nutrient solutions and other items in-depth.
Your hydroponic nutrient solution is crucial for the specific type of plant you are growing due to the NPK ratio. This is the relation between the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium macronutrients in the mixture, and every plant has its demands.
For instance, you can use the 8-16-36 ratio for growing cucumbers, lettuce, and other types of leafy veggies. For flower blooms, you should look for a nutrient solution with a higher Phosphorus rate in the mixture. Along with it, you need a secondary nutrient such as Calcium-Nitrate and the tertiary nutrient – Epsom salt.
Epsom salts are in fact blends of Magnesium and Sulfur, and this is the main way you can introduce Magnesium into the system. Your plants require it as its essential component of the chlorophyll molecule. Without it, even the proper mixture of other nutrients might not result in proper growth, and your plant could seize to develop.
Other Nutrients and Solubility
Micronutrients like Boron, Copper, Iron, and Zinc are also added to the mixture as supportive elements for the nutrient solution. Liquid nutrients are much simpler than the mixture of macronutrients we’ve mentioned so far. They don’t require any dosage or mixing, so it’s easier to understand nutrients in hydroponics for beginners this way.
The reason for this is also in the solubilities and their difference. For instance, the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) solution is highly soluble and it quickly dissolves in your growing tank. However, Calcium-Nitrate is not as soluble as the NPK solution, so you should first dissolve your NPK part, and then the Calcium-Nitrate. The important thing is to dose them equally into your system.
Epsom salts are also easily dissolved and they make a primary source of Magnesium in your nutrient solution.
Your plants developing from seedlings need moisture as well to properly advance. Moisture is also needed to reduce the risk of diseases or lower crop yields, so using growing media is essential. You can use any form of media you like from gravel, perlite, and coconut coir.
You can also use hydroton which consists of expanded clay pebbles. With hydroton media, your plant roots will receive higher oxygen rates and it’s a pH-neutral solution that creates just enough moisture. As the growing time passes, you can reduce the rates of moisture in your growth tank as seedlings need it the most in the early stages.
Pumps and Meters
Before we get into hydroponic techniques, we must cover the other essential items like air pumps, stones, and pH meters. Air stones and pumps are needed in hydroponic systems where the plant roots are deeply submerged in water.
In such a case, there must be an air stone at the bottom of the tank, and a pump outside that connects with a hose and pumps air onto the stone. The stone will help generate air bubbles with the air intake from the pump and these bubbles help mix the nutrient solution and raise it to the roots.
Without these additions, some nutrients would have stuck to the bottom of the tank, therefore being insufficient for the plant’s growth. Measuring pH is also essential as it allows for the proper absorption of nutrients for the plants. There’s a recommended pH level for each plant type, and you can use pH meters to measure it, and you can add acid to water to reduce it, or a base to raise it.
The Main Hydroponic Techniques
Now that you know all the essential items on how to start hydroponic farming, it’s time to deal with the systems. From deep water culture to aeroponics and Ebb and Flow, we’ll give you the right point of view so you can build your system.
Water Culture System
Before we get into the matter of how to start hydroponic farming, it’s crucial to name a few easy techniques. The water culture system is surely one of them, as you only need a growth tray, media, nutrients, and a pump.
It’s best for growing leafy veggies and flowers that need more water than other plants. With it, you set up the plants into baskets above the water level, with just their roots being submerged. The variation of this system is deep water culture, where the roots are submerged even deeper than 8 or 10 inches.
Nevertheless, it’s a variation of the same hydroponic technique where the air pump circulates the oxygenized nutrient up to the plant’s roots. The plant’s roots are submerged at all times, and circulating nutrient solution makes their development advanced.
The Aeroponics method might not be the most suitable one when it comes to hydroponics for beginners. It’s a rather complex system where there’s an air gap between the plant’s roots and the water tank. Moreover, the tank is not the standard one either, since there’s a spray tool that’s used to place nutrient solution mist on the roots.
Because of the air gap, there’s no need for oxygenated water, which is one of the systems’ benefits. Still, it’s far away from hydroponics basics as there’s a timer and a nutrient pump which can be a bit complex for beginners.
Ebb and Flow System
One of the best circulating hydroponic systems is the Ebb and Flow method. It uses two reservoirs, one of them being the nutrient tank, and the other being the growth tray. In this system, there’s also the timer and the pump, although unlike with aquaponics, the pump shoots nutrient solution into the growth tray.
The roots are submerged into the growth tray and the nutrient solution reaches the roots when the timer is set. Once the process is complete, the timer will stop the pump and the drain tube will bring a portion of the nutrient solution back to the nutrient tank. So, how to start hydroponic farming with this method?
You will need two tanks, a growing media in the growth tray, and a timed pump that directs the nutrient solution to the growth tray.
The NFT Method
Before we get into the hydroponics how-to guide, it’s important to mention a few more specific systems. The NFT method, or Nutrient Film Technique, is a method that uses a similar approach to the previous one.
However, you don’t need the timer in this one, as the growth tray is inclined and the film provides a nutrient entry into the growth tray. It slowly fills up, and when it reaches the water outlet, excess water is brought back to the nutrient reservoir.
There’s no need for growing media with this one since the plants are oxygenated by the small air gap between the baskets and the water level.
The Wick Method
As the best method of hydroponics for beginners along with the water culture technique, the wick method is as simple as it gets. There’s a nutrient reservoir with an air pump and two wicks, and a growth tray with growing media such as perlite, gravel, or coconut coir.
The pump provides air bubbles and raises the nutrient solution through the wicks into the growing tray. This system is most suitable for small vegetables like peppers and herbs. You can also grow micro plants with this technique.
Hydroponics How-To Guide
Finally, we burst out from the hydroponic techniques and head straight into the short step-by-step guide. You will learn how to set up your hydroponic system with a short description every step of the way:
Step 1 – Set Up the System
Although you now know all the items needed and technique descriptions, you still might be wondering –what is hydroponic farming? To give you the proper point of view, it’s a form of farming with a sustainable system with one of the methods mentioned and a mixture of a proper nutrient solution.
The best way to start is to prepare your growth tray and buy the nutrient solution according to the type of plant you wish to grow. Next, you need to find growing media if you don’t plan on using the NFT method or Aeroponics.
The final ingredient would be getting an air stone and pump, as well as building proper plant baskets with outlets on the bottom.
Step 2 – Prepare a Nutrient Solution
We’ve already discussed the NPK ratio and pH value for your plants’ growth. Use this knowledge to prepare a nutrient solution based on the exact type of plant and make sure that the pH is acceptable with a pH meter.
Adding more micronutrients and acid or base to adjust the solution might be needed once the measurements are done.
Step 3 – Add Growing Media and Pumps
By adding the growing media to the system, you will ensure the right amount of moisture for your plant to develop. At this point, you will have a proper system working with oxygenated water in the nutrient solution.
You just need to place an air stone at the bottom and place an air pump outlet onto it to create air bubbles. With the hydroponics basics listed above, you shouldn’t have a problem achieving this.
Step 4 – Provide Sunlight for the System
Sunlight is still crucial for your plants with any of the mentioned systems. You can use lamps for some smaller systems, but it’s usually essential to ensure the right amount of sunlight by creating an open type of system.
With it, you shouldn’t have growing issues for as long as your plants receive 6 hours of sunlight with the right nutrient mixture.
At the beginning of this journey, you could have had simple questions – what is hydroponic farming? How does it benefit your plants and crop yield? Well, hopefully now you have all the understanding of hydroponics basics so you can assemble your system and ensure growing healthy plants with a higher yield.
Just make sure that you check the specifics in terms of the nutrient solution mix needed for every plant type to get the best combo.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Which plants grow best with hydroponic methods?
With the hydroponic techniques we mentioned, you can grow leafy greens, small veggies, and berries. Some systems work great with a majority of plants and flowers, but you should adjust the system based on plant type.
Why is pH important in hydroponics?
In essence, pH allows easier absorption of the nutrients for plants, so it should be on a specified level for each plant type. You can use pH meters to properly measure the pH ratio in your tank.
Does hydroponics need sunlight?
Sunlight is still an essential part of plant growth, although you can sometimes use substitutions like UV lamps. However, it's best for some plant types if you provide an open system with a sunlight source.
Is hydroponics good for beginners?
Some systems like water culture and wick system are perfect for newbies to hydroponics. As much as some systems like Ebb and Flow and NFT might seem complex, even those are not as tough to assemble as the description sounds.