There’s no denying that hydroponic gardening is growing—and is expected to continue to grow—in popularity because of its convenience, efficiency and eco-friendliness. But if you wanted to get in on this hot gardening trend, where do you begin?
Determining which hydroponic growing system you will use is one of the most important decisions you will make. That decision will be guided by how much you want to spend, what plants you want to grow and your level of gardening experience.
Keep that information in mind when reviewing the six main types of hydroponic gardening systems to see which one could be the best fit for you.
Basic Wick: For beginners who want to get their feet wet with hydroponics, this simple, low-cost system is a great way to try. Ideal for small plants, such as herbs, the basic wick system can even be assembled very easily. Basically, it’s a container holding your plants over a container holding water and nutrients that is connected by a wick, such as a nylon, cotton or fibrous rope to draw the nutrients to the plants. Not recommended for larger plants, the wick system is less efficient than other systems, but it serves its purpose as a way to get started.
Deep Water Culture (DWC): Lik the basic wick system, a deep water culture system is very simple and beginner-friendly. Unlike the basic wick system, it does require moving parts, namely an air pump, which provides oxygen to the nutrient solution. Essentially, plants are held in place on styrofoam or plastic and suspended into water. Ideal for lettuce and other types of greens, the deep water culture system is a favorite among teachers to introduce their students to hydroponics in the classroom. While it is an easy system to maintain, deep water culture systems do rely on electricity, and without it, plants can rapidly decline.
Drip System: Very popular among commercial and home growers, the drip system is scalable, meaning it can accommodate larger plants that the basic wick and deep water culture systems can’t, such as melons, zucchini, onions and cucumbers. They drip system setup is similar to that of a basic wick system with containers on top of each other, but it does use a pump and a timer to circulate (or recirculate) the water and nutrients. In this case, monitor the pH to ensure it is consistent and healthy. Inspect drip lines to ensure there is no clogging. Though the drip system is more complex and requires more maintenance, it is still suitable for all, from beginner to advanced!
Ebb and Flow: A classic hydroponic system that uses a pump and timer like the drip system does, but an ebb and flow system floods the plants with nutrient solution, then slowly drains back into a reservoir to be reused. Such a system is ideal for plants with low water exposure tolerance and need periods of dryness to help with root expansion. Strawberries, tomatoes, beans, spinach and carrots are among the plants that can thrive in this system. Setup can range from simple to more sophisticated, but common concerns, such as pH balance, power outages and drain clogging remain regardless.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): Though this system can require more time setting up, it’s popular for the fast growth rate it helps plants achieve in limited space. Easy to maintain, a nutrient film technique system conserves both water and nutrients. It utilizes no growing medium—which can help save money. Instead, plants are suspended in a tray with roots dangling in a nutrient solution, allowing plants to receive high levels of oxygen. When given enough room and support, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, peppers and herbs can thrive! Monitor pump function to ensure the roots don’t dry out due to lack of nutrients in the event of a power failure or other breakdown.
Aeroponic: Similar to the nutrient film technique, an aeroponic system uses no growing medium. But instead of being suspended in a nutrient solution, plants are merely suspended in air and receive a misting of solution instead. Aeroponic systems can be very simple or elaborate, and solution can be administered manually or automatically. In each, the constant high levels of oxygen plants receive makes varieties such as tomatoes, eggplant, melons, herbs, lettuce, squash and edible flowers flourish. There is less room for error in this method. In the event of a power failure, plants will be completely dependent on you to mist them. Also, plants can grow quickly and may outgrow the system, so be prepared to transplant them.
Still have questions on which direction to go with hydroponics? Call us at 800-531-4769 or visit www.GothicArchGreenhouses.com to get the answers you need to get growing!