Getting Started With Hydroponics
Hydroponic gardening is fun, easy, and inexpensive. You can set up your hydroponics on a tabletop if you're cramped for space. If you have more room to spare, the interchangeable nature of many hydroponics components makes it easy to scale up all the way to a working indoor farm if you like.
Because the components in your local hydroponics store can be mixed and matched to accommodate any setup, it can get confusing if you're just starting out. We've compiled a handy guide to getting started with hydroponics to make things easier.
First, Choose Your System Type
When you're shopping for a hydroponic system, the amount of room you can devote to your garden might be the deciding factor. If you only have a little space to spare, a tabletop grow tent is a great way to start. You can scale up to a tent that's about the size of a phone booth if you have the room. There are adjustable tents that will fit almost anywhere. Finally, if you need a bigger yield and have the room, you can use interchangeable hydroponics supplies to put together any size operation.
There are many different types of hydroponic growing setups. It's also possible to put together hybrid versions by combining different elements that produce better yields with your desired plants. Here's a handy rundown of the different types of hydroponic systems:
The reservoir method is sometimes called Deep Water Culture. DWC gardening uses a large reservoir of water and nutrients to feed the plants. The plants are suspended over the reservoir with the roots in the liquid below.
First, you'll need an aquarium air pump in order to avoid drowning the plants. Aquarium pumps keep the water and nutrient solution oxygenated. That allows the plant roots to stay suspended in the water continuously.
You must also protect DWC reservoirs from exposure to light. This avoids the growth of algae in the nutrient solution. It's not just natural light that is the enemy. Most hydroponic gardens use grow lights in order to have as much control over plant growth as possible, and any kind of light will make algae bloom.
Your local hydroponics store has reservoirs with tightly fitting lids that make it easier to stop algae growth. Feeding oxygen to the roots through the reservoir produces explosive growth. Along with the simplicity of the setup, this makes the reservoir method popular with beginners.
The Nutrient Film Technique uses the power of gravity to feed the plants. The nutrients flow on a slightly tilted surface with the roots just touching the surface. The nutrient solution flows past continuously to be collected at the other end of the line and recirculated.
Because the roots aren't submerged in nutrients, there is no need to oxygenate the liquid.
Wick hydroponic systems are like a combination of nutrient film and reservoir systems. The plants are put in a growing medium with a wick material below them. This wick material absorbs the nutrient solution from a reservoir below and delivers it to the plant's root system. The reservoir needs an aerator, just like any reservoir system would.
It's possible to eliminate the wicking materials altogether if you cultivate the plants in natural wicking material like perlite or vermiculite. Some growing mediums absorb too much nutrient solution and hold it too long. This will suffocate the plant, so it's important to choose the medium wisely.
Ebb and Flow Hydroponic
Ebb and flow hydroponics is sometimes called flood and drain. The plant is deluged with water at regular intervals, followed by slow draining back to a reservoir. This results in a cycle that resembles rainfall in an outdoor garden. Because the water in a hydroponic system is filled with nutrients, each soaking gives the plants more fertilizer than in a regular garden.
Ebb and flood feeding cycles promotes root growth. The plant spends energy to expand the root system looking for nutrients and water during ebb periods. This eventually leads to a greater ability to absorb the nutrient solution during the flood cycle, increasing yields further. Ebb and flood works best with crops that are used to periods of dryness between watering.
Drip Hydroponic Systems
Drip hydroponics is another easy system to set up and keep running. The plants are grown in an inert medium like rockwool or coconut coir. A small emitter pump feeds nutrients continuously. Any leftover is collected and sent back to a reservoir to start the cycle again.
This method is simple, but you'll have to watch for clogs in the emitters and the tubes.
Helpful Tips for Hydroponic Gardeners
Change the Nutrient Solution Regularly
Growing plants eventually consume the nutrients in their feed water. It's smart to completely change out the nutrient solution every two or three weeks. Changing the solution keeps the precise ratio of nutrients to water, which results in hardy plants that produce more.
Use an Air Stone
When using an air pump to aerate your nutrient solution, put an air stone on the end of the hose to disperse the air more evenly. Air stones also result in lower noise because the bubbles are smaller.
Follow the Directions
Nutrient solution manufacturers supply users with lots of information about their products. Avoid the urge to simply use more to get better results. Too much fertilizer is just as bad as not enough.
Look Out for pH
Your plants won't thrive if the pH balance of the feeding solution is wrong. When your plants are discolored or spindly, the first thing you should check is how acidic or alkaline the water and nutrient solution is. Luckily, reading pH and fixing it is easy and inexpensive.
Water Temp Matters
Plants don't like extremes of heat or cold. That's true of the water they take in as well as the air around them. Experts recommend keeping water temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit for best results. You can buy a water heater or chiller for a few dollars that does the trick.
Ask the Pros
Finally, if you have questions about hydroponics, don't be afraid to ask the experts. The staff at Pacific Coast Hydroponics would be glad to answer your questions about getting started with hydroponics.