The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hydroponic Gardening

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Hydroponic gardening
The word hydroponic means working water

Hydroponic is a Latin word which means ‘working water’, and in this scenario, refers to the art of gardening without soil. In the absence of soil, the water focuses more on providing hydration, oxygen, and nutrients to plants. Hydroponic gardening uses an ingenious design that requires minimal space, half the time, and almost ninety percent less water than traditional gardening.

While the technology sounds cutting-edge, the chronicle of hydroponic gardens dates back to the renowned Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Marco Polo, in the 13th century, wrote about the floating gardens of China.

Nevertheless, hydroponic gardening is far from just an innovation of the ancient times. During the 1990s, NASA cultivated aeroponic bean seedlings aboard a space station with zero gravity, leading to the possibility of sustainable agriculture in space. Thus, hydroponic gardening practices continue to be a dynamic and timeless method of crop production and water conservation.

What is Hydroponic Gardening?

Hydroponic gardening is the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and other plants without using soil. Hydroponic vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs are planted in inert growing media and supplied with oxygen, nutrient-rich solutions, and water. This system promotes rapid growth, superior quality, and stronger yields.

When any plant is cultivated in soil, its roots are perpetually seeking necessary nutrition to support and sustain the plant. But if the roots are exposed directly to nutrition and water, the plant would not have to exert any energy in sustaining itself.

The energy that was once expended by the roots to acquire food and water can now be redirected and used for the maturation of the plant. Resulting in the flourishing growth of leaves as does the blooming of flowers and fruits.

Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening

Hydroponic gardening provides several benefits that are otherwise not possible in traditional gardening. Some of the benefits are:

hydroponic gardening refers to soil-less gardening
benefits of hydroponic gardening: Hydroponic gardening is beneficial for the environment

Water Conservation

The hydroponic gardening method uses only ten percent of water in comparison to traditional soil agriculture. This is possible due to its efficient recirculated system.

Enhanced Growth

Hydroponically grown plants enjoy twenty to thirty percent of better growth than the produce of soil gardening. This is due to water and nutrients directly being in contact with the roots. Thus, the energy previously required to search for food, can now effectively be used for plant maturation.

Effective Use of Nutrients

Gardeners have the power to give a specific amount of nutrients that are necessary for the effective growth of plants, unlike in soil gardening where nutrients are lost because they’re held in a reservoir.

Soil-Less Gardening

Another significant benefit of hydroponic gardening is that it does not need soil to grow plants, and thus it can be done in any place. Additionally, the possibility of soil-related diseases is also eliminated.

How to Do Hydroponic Gardening: Hydroponic Systems

There are hundreds of hydroponic gardening methods out there, but all of them are a combination or modification of five fundamental hydroponic systems. The systems that are suitable for beginners are:

  • The water culture system
  • The wick system
  • Ebb and flow system

More advanced hydroponic systems include the aeroponic system and the nutrient film technique. Continue reading to learn how these systems work.

The Wick System

The wick hydroponic system is the easiest mechanically as there are no electrical components or moving parts involves. This system is ideal for herbs, microgreens, and peppers but does not work best for water-hungry plants like tomatoes or lettuce.

Project Details

Working Time: thirty minutes

Cost of Material: $50-$100 depending on if you require a grow light

Total time Required: Add or change the water after every few days

Materials:

  • Water
  • Nylon or cotton cord
  • Bucket for water reservoir
  • Growing medium
  • Hydroponic fertilizer (liquid or dry)
  • Growing tray
  • Seedling

Tools & Equipment

  • Grow light (optional)
  • Screwdriver or drill

Steps to Start a Wick System

Step #1: Set up a Water Reservoir

The first step is to develop a water reservoir that is filled with nutrients. The reservoir will be placed beneath the growing tray holding the plants and growing medium.

Step #2: Connect Wicks to Growing Tray

The next step is to connect a few wicks, two or three, through holes in the bottom of the growing tray. In case there are no holes present in the growing tray, use a screwdriver or a drill machine to create a few. The job of the wicks is to soak up water from the reservoir and flow it up to the growing medium in the tray.

Step #3: Set Up Growing Tray

The growing medium which contains a seedling is placed above the water reservoir. It is vital to use a medium that wouldn’t drain too fast and would most effectively utilize the capillary action of the wick, such as perlite, vermiculite, and soilless mixes.

Step #4: Set Up Light Fixture (optional)

This step is only for instances when there is no natural light available. Thus, set up a light fixture above the tray and if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, ensure that it is placed twenty-four inches away from the plants. Moreover, if fluorescent or LED lights are used, then place them twelve and six inches, respectively, from the plants.

Water Culture or Raft System

A water culture or raft system is also a very simple system to set up. In this hydroponic system, the plants are placed in a Styrofoam base that floats on top of the nutrient-enriched water reservoir. Additionally, in this system, the aeration of the water is required. The raft system is best suited for water-hungry plants like lettuce, but it is not preferred for long-lived crops, like tomatoes.

Project Details

Working Time: forty-five minutes

Cost of Material: $50-$100 depending on if you require a grow light

Total time Required: Add water fertilizer solution whenever required

Materials:

  • Water
  • Styrofoam sheet
  • Bucket or basin for water reservoir
  • Hydroponic fertilizer (liquid or dry)
  • Seedling in net pots

Tools & Equipment

  • Grow light (optional)
  • Rotary tool, drill or exacta knife (optional)
  • Pump and air stone

Steps to Start a Water Culture System

Step #1: Set up a Water Reservoir

The first step is to develop a water reservoir that is filled with nutrients. The reservoir will be placed beneath the floating raft that holds your plants.

Step #2: Water Aeration

The most inexpensive and commonly used aeration system is a pump or an air stone. Air stones are similar to the bubblers found in home aquariums; they are positioned in the water and then connected to an air pump that is placed outside the reservoir. The pump drives air through the stone and allows tiny air bubbles to carry and distribute oxygen throughout the water.

Step #3: Set Up Growing Raft

Cut a Styrofoam platform that could easily fit and float on top of the nutrient-enriched water reservoir. Insert net pots on the platform by cutting holes. For people who don’t know, net pots are plastic containers that have perforated bottoms and contain a growing medium (clay balls, perlite, coconut coir) and seedlings. Make sure that the roots are in contact with the water to promote the effective growth of plants.

Step #4: Set Up Light Fixture (optional)

This step is only for instances when there is no natural light available. Thus, set up a light fixture above the raft and if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, ensure that it is placed twenty-four inches away from the plants as they are quite hot. Moreover, if fluorescent or LED lights are used, then place them twelve and six inches, respectively, from the plants.

Ebb and Flow System

An ebb and flow system is also commonly known as a drain or flood system and is a little more complicated than the previous two systems, but it is exceptionally versatile. The system works by flooding the growing medium with a nutrient-enriched water solution and later drains it back into the reservoir.

Common hydroponic systems
Hydroponic gardening involves five systems

Project Details

Working Time: sixty minutes

Cost of Material: $75-$125 depending on if you require a grow light

Total time Required: water fertilizer solution needs to be refreshed every week

Materials:

  • Water
  • Bucket or basin for water reservoir
  • Hydroponic fertilizer (liquid or dry)
  • Seedling in net pots
  • Growing tray

Tools & Equipment

  • Grow light (optional)
  • Electronic timer
  • Two tubes (drain and fill tube)
  • Submersible pump

Steps to Start an Ebb and Flow System

Step #1: Set up a Water Reservoir

The first step is to develop a water reservoir that is filled with nutrients. The reservoir will be placed directly beneath the flood tray’s stand, and the same water can be used for almost a week, but make sure to refresh the nutrients every time the water is changed.

Step #2: Connect the Drain and Fill Tubes

The next step is to connect the reservoir to the flood tray by using a drain tube and a fill tube. The fill tube is attached to the submersible pump with a timer and is required to control the flow of water while it goes up into the flood tray. On the other hand, the drain tube is used to allow the gravity to pull back the water into the reservoir, once the flooding has been complete. This water can be reused for future flooding.

Step #3: Connect Submersible Pump and Timer

Once the fill and drain tubes are connected, the next step is to connect the submersible pump and a timer to it. This provides a lot of control to gardeners, and the watering length or frequency can be customized according to the needs of the plants.

Step #4: Set up Food Tray

The flood or plant tray is a large, shallow container placed on a tall stand. The next step is to plant the seedlings in perforated pots that are filled with a growing medium like coconut coir or perlite. Just make sure that the seedling pots should be almost twice as deep as the plant tray.

Step #5: Set Up Light Fixture (optional)

This step is only for instances when there is no natural light available. Thus, set up a light fixture above the tray and if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, ensure that it is placed twenty-four inches away from the plants. Moreover, if fluorescent or LED lights are used, then place them twelve and six inches, respectively, from the plants.

Nutrient Film Technique

The nutrient film method utilizes a nutrient-enriched water solution that continuously flows in a loop from the reservoir through the plant tray, where the roots are suspended in the air and can absorb nutrients as the water solution flows by. This method of hydroponic gardening makes the ebb and flow system a perpetual flowing arrangement that does not require periodic breaks.

Project Details

Working Time: sixty minutes

Cost of Material: $85-$135 depending on if you require a grow light

Total time Required: water fertilizer solution needs to be refreshed every week

Materials

  • Water
  • Bucket or basin for water reservoir
  • Hydroponic fertilizer (liquid or dry)
  • Seedling in net pots
  • PVC or tube pipe to fit seedlings

Tools & Equipment

  • Grow light (optional)
  • Rotary tool or drill (optional)
  • Pump and air stone
  • Two tubes (drain and fill tube)
  • Submersible pump

Steps to Start a Nutrient Film Technique

Step #1: Set up Water Reservoir and Aeration

The first step is to develop a water reservoir that is filled with nutrients. The reservoir will be placed directly beneath the flood tray’s stand, and aeration bubblers will be placed inside the reservoir to oxygenate the water.

Step #2: Connect the Pump, Drain Tube, and Fill Tube

The next step is to connect the reservoir to the flood tray via a drain tube and a fill tube. The fill tube is attached to the submersible pump to control the flow of water while it goes up into the flood tray. On the other hand, the drain tube is used to allow the gravity to pull back the water into the reservoir, once the flooding has been complete. Unlike the ebb and flow system, there is no need for a timer as the water is continuously pumped in this method.

Step #3: Set Up a Growing Tray

This method uses channels or tubes to grow the tray instead of using a conventional flat tray. The tubing technique makes it not only easy to set the tray in a perfect angle but ensures that the nutrient-rich water solution flows directly to the roots. A PVC pipe or a round tube with drilled holes can be used to fit the seedlings or the net pots.

Step #4: Set Up Light Fixture (optional)

This step is only for instances when there is no natural light available. Thus, set up a light fixture above the raft, and if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, ensure that it is placed twenty-four inches away from the plants as they are quite hot. Moreover, if fluorescent or LED lights are used, then place them twelve and six inches, respectively, from the plants.

Aeroponic System

The aeroponic system is the most complex of all hydroponic gardening systems. The plant roots are suspended in air and are sprayed with a nutrient-rich water solution after every few minutes. Although it is a highly-effective system, it does require sophisticated misters and pumps. In case of any malfunction, the roots can dry out and die very quickly.

Project Details

Working Time: sixty minutes

Cost of Material: $100-$150 (depending on if you require a grow light

Total time Required: water fertilizer solution needs to be refreshed every week

Materials

  • Water
  • Bucket or basin for water reservoir
  • Hydroponic fertilizer (liquid or dry)
  • Seedling in net pots
  • PVC or tube pipe to fit seedlings

Tools & Equipment

  • Grow light (optional)
  • Rotary tool or drill (optional)
  • Pump and air stone
  • Spray tube
  • Submersible pump
  • Misting or spraying head

Steps to Start an Aeroponic System

Step #1: Set up Water Reservoir and Aeration

The nutrient-rich water reservoir is placed beneath the growing chamber, and an aeration bubbler is placed inside the reservoir to oxygenate the water.

Step #2: Connect Tube and Submersible Pump to a Sprayer/Mister

The solution pumps to the sprayer via a submersible pump and tube in the reservoir. The head of the sprayer will be facing roots present in a growing chamber.

Step #3: Set Up Growing Chamber

Similar to the nutrition film system, the tubes or channels will be set up for evenly suspending the roots of all seedlings.

Step #4: Set Up Light Fixture (optional)

This step is only for instances when there is no natural light available. Thus, set up a light fixture above the raft and if you’re using incandescent light bulbs, ensure that it is placed twenty-four inches away from the plants as they are quite hot. Moreover, if fluorescent or LED lights are used, then place them twelve and six inches, respectively, from the plants.

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Parting Note

Hydroponic gardening is perfect for people who do not have enough outdoor space or land to set up their gardens. We hope this article helped you understand what hydroponic gardening is all and how easily you can set up one of the five hydroponic systems in your house. Check out our website for more gardening-related articles.

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