Which Hydroponic System is Right for You?
If you're looking to grow herbs in your kitchen or tomatoes in your greenhouse, but you don't want to design high-tech software or launch a big construction project to do that, you've come to the right spot.
To get a better idea of your needs before you start, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- How much room am I supposed to have?
- What am I able to spend?
- How much time do I have to keep track of my garden?
- Do I just want delicious, home-grown produce all year round?
Here is a roundup of the most popular hydro options below:
Note: no matter which system you select, you will need some basic elements such as adequate lighting and a growing medium (the material that serves as the root support system of your plant)
The Kratky Method:
The Kratky method is the most basic of any hydroponic farming approaches. This method does not require any electrical, water, or air pumps. However, it is limited to smaller production.
If you just want to grow a small plant or two for your home, and you're not sure that you have time to tinker with more complicated setups, this is probably your dream. If you're trying to develop a highly productive and robust vegetable garden, Kratky is unlikely to get you there because it doesn't support the high water and nutrient needs of larger plants.
You just need a container (even a mason jar), a net pot, and some nutrients to set up this device. Instead of submerging the roots in oxygenated water, simply fill your container until the water covers about a third of your net pot. Then you should let the plant do its own job!
When your seedlings begin to suck up water/nutrients, they will make an air pocket in the tank, taking care of your oxygenation. Think of it as self-watering and self-oxygenating.
A few stuff to look for: even though this device helps you to "set and forget" much of the time, you can't forget to test your pH levels and add nutrients intermittently. It is therefore easier for plants to grow root rot in this setup and die before an appropriate oxygen bubble is formed between the base of the plant and the reservoir. If this method isn't working for you, we recommend that you step up your hydroponic farm with Deep Water Culture.
Deep Water Culture:
Deep Water Culture (or DWC) is one of the most popular settings you'll experience. Essentially, this method means suspending plants in the nutrient system and hoping for miracles to happen. Like Kratky, when your seedling sprouts roots, they're going to suck up nutrients and hit a serious growth spurt. Unlike the Kratky process, the net pots are continuously immersed in nutrients with no distance between the plant and the reservoir.
Much like you can overwater a crops grown in soil, you can also "drown" the plants into a hydroponic system. The oxygenation problem can be solved in two ways: by adding an air stone to the container to create oxygen bubbles, and by installing an air pump.
There's a reason why DWC is such a widely used method for home growers: it's relatively easy, doesn't require much room, and it's more reliably effective than the Kratky approach.
Nutrient Film Technique
If you want to dive straight into the hydroponic farming, then you can use the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). Like most setups, the basic principle is the same: place the plants in such a way that the roots are in contact with oxygen and nutrients. But this next-level method ensures that your plants have a steady supply of both elements in ideal quantities.
NFT requires the use of a tank and a pump system. Plants are aligned in a row at a slight angle so that your nutrient solution can flow down the channel into the reservoir, feeding the roots in a steady stream as it travels. When the water reaches the end of the pipe, it is re-dosed with nutrients and pumped back to the starting point to start again.
NFT is awesome if you're tech-savvy and can track the machine much of the time. But as they claim, there are more chances for disaster with more complexity. Since the roots are only getting a thin film" of water and nutrients, if anything goes wrong with the pump and you're not around for troubleshooting, the roots will easily dry up and you might lose the entire crop.
Ebb and Flow:
This method still involves a bit of engineering prowess on the part of the grower, but it is simpler than the NFT. If you choose this path, your efforts will be rewarded with hyper-customizability. Ebb and flow systems operate by flooding the expanding medium with nutrients and water at predetermined intervals, after which the solution is returned to the reservoir.
Automation here is the name of the game. To effectively control your ebb and flow setup, mount a timer submersible pump and set up your watering schedule in accordance with plant size, plant number, base temperature, and so on. Technically, you can literally fill a tray with water and nutrients and drain it by hand after a fair period of time. However, this kind of hands-on maintenance will keep you stuck to your machine all day which is unlikely to be sustainable!
This is a terrific solution if you're looking for a flexible setup to accommodate a variety of plants. If you don't have the room to position your plants in a long row, but you still want a high degree of customizability, you may want to try this next variation instead.
The Drip System:
The drip system uses two pumps, a tank, and a set of hoses to keep your plants safe and happy. Here's the deal: the air pump keeps the water and nutrient solution flowing and oxygenated, while the second pump pushes the solution up through perforated hoses that drip nutrients into your plants.
In this strategy, when the water flows from the top down instead of the bottom up, the roots are fully embedded in the growth medium instead of hanging free to collect food from the reservoir below.
This approach works best if you sprout your seeds in a smaller container with a growing medium like coconut coir and then move your "teenage" plants to larger pots filled with a more porous medium like vermiculite.