Takeaway: Hydroponic growing is a clean and efficient process if you understand what hydroponics is, how it works, and How to Build a Hydroponic Garden!
Hydroponics takes a balance of patience and understanding of its process. In the past, I’ve worked with aquaponics and hydroponics and they couldn’t be anymore different.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, relies on water and added nutrients to produce clean, fresh produce as efficiently as possible.
Hydroponics is a flexible growing method, so from experience, it can be a bit tricky getting started. However, if you know the basics and have a general idea of how to get started and maintain your hydroponics system, you’ll be just fine!
What is Hydroponic growing?
Hydroponics is essentially growing with water. It is a process that provides plants with everything it needs to survive in the most minimal way possible.
Plants don’t necessarily need soil for growth and survival. They do need, however, lots of water and nutrients.
With that in mind, hydroponics feeds the roots of a plant by providing it nutrient-rich water.
.....Why grow in water and not soil?
First of all, by growing without soil, you eliminate the threat of pests, disease, and fungus/mold.
Also, you save money in the long run because you don’t have to worry about investing in growing mediums, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.
Part 1. Hydroponic Setups
You can buy or build your aquaponics setup; however, both are not suited for everyone. If you're on a time constraint or lack knowledge in the construction of a hydroponics setup, you may choose to buy one. This will be more costly.
Building a hydroponic setup may be in your best interest if you are trying to save money and have the knowledge to actually build one.
If you decide to buy one, you’ll need to know the specific type you’re looking for. There are four main types:
- Deep Water Culture
- Ebb and Flow
- Drip Systems
Do your research and find which one you’re looking before, BEFORE you go shopping!
Buy a Hydroponic Gardening Systems
You can buy your hydroponic setup from a number of sellers including any of the following and more!
How to Build a Hydroponic Garden
The hardest part of building a hydroponic setup is knowing where to start and what materials are needed.
The nice thing about hydroponics is it’s simple; it’s not meant to be complicated.
If you can understand how hydroponics works, then you can make your setup in any way you could imagine as long as it satisfies the needs of the plants in your setup.
You may find inspiration for your DIY hydroponic system through a number of DIY resources, by learning from someone else with a set-up, or by looking at some images and applying what you know about hydroponics to build one without directions.
Typically, for DIY hydroponic systems, PVC pipes are necessary, as well as, a nutrient tank, a water pump, and plastic tubes.
PVC pipes are used to channel the water and get nutrients to the plants, plus it holds the plants through holes in the large PVC pipes in the setup. The nutrient tank makes sure the water is enriched with nutrients for the plants.
Through hydroponics, plants do not get the minerals they need for survival in the water alone. This is why the water is enriched.
A air pump is necessary to keep the system flowing, the nutrients cycling, and maintain the creation of air bubbles so the plants can get the oxygen they need. (Here how to calculate right size you need)
The smaller plastic tubes make sure that water is moving through the larger plants through the PVC pipes.
Hydroponic Growing Conditions
The whole theory behind hydroponics is to grow plants in a water-based, nutrient rich environment where the roots of a plant come in direct contact with the water which is rich in nutrients and oxygen: the essential ingredients for growth!
Plants in the hydroponic environment grow at a specific temperature range: between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
This systems runs on water, so keep the chemical properties of water in mind: super high temperatures will boil the water and your plants while super low temperatures will freeze the water and your plants.
For lighting, this is all relevant to the type of plant you are raising in your hydroponic system. More sun is good for plants that like sun and less sun is good for plants that like less sunlight.
In regards to nutrients, what type of nutrients will you need?
Part 2. Hydroponic Planting/Transplanting/Seed Starting
Now that you have your setup, it’s time to start some seeds, plant them, and possibly even transplant! It’s a very simple process, and in a way, easier than planting and starting seeds in soil.
You don’t have the imminent threat of rot or disease to affect your system, or the requirement for good, nutrient rich soil.
Not to mention, hydroponics is more efficient in a smaller area than soil planting would be.
Different Hydroponic Grow Mediums
To start, you’ll need something to support your roots in terms of a substrate. There are the industrial options, and then there are the alternative options. The industrial options include rockwool and vermiculite.
Rockwool: This substrate is made of melted and spun rock in the form of fibrous cubes. This is good for insulating roots and balancing access to water and oxygen, meanwhile stabilizing pH.
Vermiculite: This substrate is made of volcanic rock. It’s white, lightweight, and used in soil to improve aeration and soiling draining.
This is great for wicking action, but it doesn’t retain water well. So, if you use this substrate, keep the water flowing or your plants’ roots will suffocate.
Read Next: Can I use tap water for hydroponics?
Alternative options are as follows.
- Expanded clay pellets
- Coconut Fiber
- Oasis Cubes
- Sphagnum peat moss
- Rice hulls
- Polyurethane growth slabs
Starting Seeds for Hydroponic Systems
Sadly, you can’t just throw the seeds in the water and watch them grow. Rather, you’ll need to start a separate nursery for your seeds.
This will be in a warm, sunny area where they won’t bake, but they’ll remain at 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
If it’s not quite that warm, naturally, wherever the nursery is, invest in a seed mat which can keep your seeds warm and help them germinate.
Typically, these plants will be started in starter cubes with water. All you do is put seeds into the cube holes, place them in a tray, and stick the tray in the warm nursery.
After a few days, they’ll sprout and you can transplant them after they are a few inches tall, a few weeks later.
When they’re big and strong, it’s time to transplant them to the big hydroponic setup and out of the nursery!
Plant Seedlings in a Hydroponics System
Keep in mind that these plants are babies and need to “harden up” to the new climate to make sure they don’t die during the switch.
Do this by slowly letting them adjust to their new climate. In other words, adjust lighting to their needs, gradually increasing or decreasing light intensity.
When you transplant, don’t worry about removing the starter plugs. Just make a little hole in your substrate and insert the plant and starter plug.
This makes sure that the roots won’t dry out before they can get big enough to touch the water.
Easy DIY Hydroponic Plan: Assemble a Homemade hydroponics float system
This is the basic idea of what you should end up with.
supplies you need
- Purchase a tote
- Purchase some solo cups
- Get a piece of foam that will fit in the tote and will slide up and down as the water level raises and lowers.
- Lighting will be a shop light and a grow bulb.
- Bag of perlite
- Aerator with stone
- Nutrient kit to get you started
How to Assemble
Hydroponics is an extremely rewarding practice, not to mention a lot of fun! It’s a clean method of growing that produces plants with strong roots through minimal input.
If you understand the process and take the time to establish a creative hydroponics setup, you’ll have a great time! Hopefully you can use some of these tips and be inspired to give it a chance.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.