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 any more different.
On the other hand, hydroponics 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!
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Hydroponic growing?
- 2 Part 1: Hydroponic Setups
- 3 Part 2. Hydroponic Planting/Transplanting/Seed Starting
- 4 Easy DIY Hydroponic Plan: Assemble a Homemade hydroponics float system
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 Sources
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 – especially hydroponic nutrients for growing vegetables.
…..Why grow in water and not soil?
First of all, growing without soil eliminates 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 under a time constraint or lack knowledge in constructing a hydroponics setup, you may choose to buy a hydroponics starter kit.
This will be more costly.
Building a hydroponic setup may be in your best interest if you are trying to save money and actually know how to 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 for before you go shopping!
Buy a Hydroponic Gardening Systems
You can buy your hydroponic setup from several 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 and the types of hydroponic systems.
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 several DIY resources.
Learning from someone else with a set-up, or 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 and a nutrient tank, a hydroponics 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 hydroponic 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 hydroponics 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 is how to calculate the right size air pump for hydroponics.
The smaller plastic tubes make sure that water moves 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.
This is where the water is rich in nutrients and oxygen: the essential ingredients for growth!
With that in mind, hydroponics does not use soil.
Rather, it relies on specific hydroponic grow mediums such as coconut coir, perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite.
Plants in the hydroponic environment grow at a specific temperature range: between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
This system 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.
If your water temperature needs to be cooled, you should think about adding a hydroponic water chiller to your hydroponic system.
This is all relevant to the type of plant you are raising in your hydroponic system for lighting.
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 them!
According to the University of Hawaii, it’s a straightforward process to start farming at home and super easy to start seeds in the 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.
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 that 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
Remember 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 the 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
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
- Cut foam out to fit in the plastic tote but should slide up and down about 6” to stay at the water level.
- Cut holes in the foam to fit the solo cups but not fall through. This will hold the perlite and is where you will grow the plants.
- Poke about 10 holes in the bottom and sides of the plastic cups. Using a soldering iron or heating up a pencil thickness piece of metal and poking holes in the cup works. Do not get burned!!!!
- Now fill your tote about ¾ full adding the measured amounts of nutrients.
- Put the air stone in the tote along with the foam, cups and perlite. Assure the foam will slide up and down.
- Now hang your light over the top with chain so you can adjust it up and down. The light should only be 4-6” above the plant tops.
- Lastly start planting!
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.
- Bartok, J.W. (2009). Hydroponic Systems. The University of Massachusetts Amherst, Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, Extension Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture Program.
- Treftz, C., Kratsch, H., & Omaye, S. (2015). Hydroponics: A Brief Guide to Growing Food Without Soil, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, Fact Sheet FS-15-08.
- Hoidal, N. (2020). Small-Scale Hydroponics, University of Minnesota Extension.
- University of Hawaii News. (2020). Farm at Home During COVID-19 Crisis. University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she studied at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. She continued her gardening education by working on organic farms in both rural and urban settings. She started UrbanOrganicYield.com to share gardening tips and tactics. She’s happy to talk about succulents and houseplants or vegetables and herbs – or just about anything in a backyard garden or hydroponics garden.