The world we live in is filled with enough farmlands but still, we are on the verge of a food crisis. We have experienced detachment from nature. Hydrophonic farming is a way to reconnect with our roots and give ourselves the pleasure of gardening, without any soil.
So, what is hydroponic farming? It’s all about growing plants without the need for using water and nutrients as the growing agents for plants. The water provides the nutrients the plants need and for continuous photosynthesis, water is essential. In other words, you feed the plant through water and you don’t need any soil.
This means that you can easily make vertical gardens, at the convenience of your apartment or closed area. You can have fresh produce you grew yourself even though you don’t own acres of farm land. These systems come in kits for beginners as well.
So, what are the essentials of hydroponic farming and what can you do to start one of your own? Here, you can find answers about various aspects of hydroponic farming.
The Essentials and How It Works
Whether or not you are doing gardening with soil or hydroponic farming, you need certain components to start farming. There are commercially available kits that allow you to start your hydroponics garden at home without any prior knowledge.
With a hydroponic garden, the soil is replaced with water. The plants stand in a secure place filled with erlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite, all of which are inert growing mediums. and they have constant access to the water underneath them. The water contains nutrient-rich and pH-balancing chemicals to ensure the best growing potential for the plants.
This way of growing plants has some advantages over traditional agricultural practices. To begin with, the absence of soil means the absence of pests and weeds, which increases the overall production and minimizes the risk of disease. The pellets are devoid of pesticides since pests are not an issue.
The use of water is regulated in hydroponic farms. This means that you don’t use excess water for plants and they use just the amount they need. Because the nutrients are always in the solution, you have direct access to adjust the nutrient balance of your plants.
All these factors improve the quality of the yield and increase the amount of product you get. This lets you have clean-grown produce at the convenience of your house. You can have all the fruit or vegetables you want, year-round.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
There are five types of hydroponic systems and you can choose the one you find the easiest to use. The different types are:
- Drip System
- Ebb-Flow (Flood & Drain)
- N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique)
- Water Culture
- Wick System
The drip system means that the solution is pumped directly to the roots of the plants. A drip emitter controls the flow of how many nutrients are going to the plant. You can have circulating or non-circulating systems. This is a very efficient way to farm as excess nutrients go back to the solution tank.
The ebb and flow system uses the erlite, rockwood, pellets, or clay as an inert medium to grow the plants. Like in normal gardening, once the plants are secured in place, the medium is made wet with the nutrient solution. You can use pumps to recover the excess solution. This way of farming is recommended for root vegetables.
The nutrient flow technique involves using pumps again. The nutrient solution sits in a tank and it’s pumped into sloped channels to allow the excess nutrients come back to the reservoir. This is a system mostly preferred by commercial growers.
Water culture is an easy solution. You place the roots of plants directly into the nutrient solution. The oxygen plants need is sent by diffusers to the water directly. You use net pots to secure the placement of plants in the soil. This works with almost all kinds of plants.
The wick system is the easiest way to start a hydroponic farm. This system doesn’t include any pumps or electricity. The plants are placed in the inert medium of your choice. Nylon wicks are placed in the medium to allow diffusion of the nutrient solution which drips from them. The only downside of this system is that heavy-feeding plants will not thrive with this type of system.
To understand the pumping systems and principles of recirculation pumps, you can check this article on hot water recirculation pumps.
How to Build A Hydroponic Garden
We’ll provide you a small DIY way to make your hydroponic garden at your own house. This requires a good amount of skills while still being relatively inexpensive.
The tools that you’d need are a bucket, garden hose, and pH testing kit including buffer solutions. The materials are many plant clips, a 50-gallon nutrient tank, and PVC pipes. Maybe you can use fuel transfer tanks for a nutrient tank, if you haven’t already used it for fuel, if you have one.
You start this project by drilling the PVC pipes and assembling the structure. You need a table to place the PVC tubes and vertical components to secure the plants later on. Place the tank below the table and assemble the PVC tubes with the tank and the pump. The water should be pushed through the PVC pipes and return to the tank so drill these holes as well.
The next step is to fill the tank with water. After the tank is full, you can add the nutrients. Two cups or the amount on the fertilizer label should be enough. By starting the pump and allowing it to operate for 30 minutes you mix the nutrients with water well.
Then you add the plants. You can start with seedlings but you need to grow them before you put them in the water so having grown plants are easier for starters. You can get the plants from the soil but be very careful to remove all the soil on the roots since they can clog up the system. Then you secure the plants with plant clips and hang them.
After this point the farm is operational. You have to regularly keep track of the plant growth by checking the pH of water and nutrients. Make sure to cover the water lost due to evaporation to run the system smoothly. The plants will grow very quickly thanks to the efficiency of the system.
Best Hydroponics Kits and Systems For Beginners
This system is a great choice for absolute beginners since it comes with six different types of gourmet herbs including basil, parsley, dill, thyme, and Thai Basil. You can directly start growing your seeds directly with the six plates in the system.
This kit also includes the nutrients to grow your plants in the starter kit.
The control panel makes it easier to use as it warns you when you have to add water or nutrients. The light system ensures growth at night as well. These LED growth lights are specially designed to maximize photosynthesis. This herb garden allows you to have herbs fresh year-round.
Just like this guide about the best hydroponic kits, you can check our similar guides like the ones on engine driven welders or plasma cutters.
iDOO Hydroponics Growing System, Indoor Herb Garden Starter Kit with LED Grow Light, Smart Garden Planter for Home Kitchen, Automatic Timer Germination Kit, Height Adjustable (7 Pods)
This system comes with seven pods for your convenience. The indoor garden stands out by having many growth programs and eases the gardening experience drastically.
The system has a circulating system to enhance the oxygen available, hence ensuring more speedy growth than using soil. You have three options to start your farm: growth mode for germination, normal mode, and enjoy mode. This changes the lighting cycle and the types.
This farm also has an adjustable light so that when your plant grows to a certain height, you can adjust it to get the light it needs, even at night.
The two pump circulation modes allow you to sleep at night without any disturbances while the normal mode makes the pump work for 5 minutes then pauses it for 30 minutes.
VIVOSUN Hydroponic Grow Kit, 3 Layers 108 Plant Sites 12 PVC Pipes Hydroponics Growing System with Water Pump, Pump Timer, Nest Basket and Sponge for Leafy Vegetables
This growing kit ensures that you have a vertical farm in your own house. It has 108 plant sites with 12 PVC pipes. This kit also includes the pumping system you’d need.
This system uses NFT technique that we mentioned before. It has a timing cycle of 5 minutes of work followed by 30 minutes of pause. The circulation mode allows you to operate your system constantly and get even more efficient results.
You can easily assemble the system if you don’t feel like you can make a system of your own.
With these systems, you can easily grow herbs and leafy vegetables like lettuce, celery, beets, bell pepper, garlic seedlings, canola, etc. This item also comes with a warranty and customer support in case you have any problems.
Best Hydroponic Nutrients and Fertilizers
This pack of nutrients has many benefits. To begin with, it comes in not just one but three different nutrient types packed. Instead of one fixed type of nutrient, you can play with the amount of each component to find the best mix for your plants.
FLORAGRO is used for structural growth. It helps the plants grow strong roots. FLORABLOOM is for stimulating the flower and fruit growth. This means that your produce will develop a stronger taste, flavor, aroma, and essential oils. FLORAMICRO is for nitrogen, potassium, calcium, and other needed trace elements for the best growth of plants.
This liquid nutrient comes in bulk to support the growth of your hydroponic farm as well as other plants. This liquid is designed to have a good pH balance and supports your plants with critical micronutrients. You can use this product for up to 100 feedings.
This kit is probably what you’re looking for if you are a starter. This kit includes three different ingredients and comes with the right recipe to mix them according to your needs. This also means that you don’t have to look for individual ingredients and buy them from different vendors. Instead, you can choose this kit and when necessary you can upgrade to the 60 pound option.
Best Hydroponic Water Chillers
Many gardeners and botanists know that plants have an optimal temperature for growing. This includes the various aspects, like the roots and affects all the rest of the plant as well. If you are living in a hot climate, you probably need to keep the roots of your plants cool and that’s why you need a hydroponic water chiller.
The optimal growth temperature depends on the type of the plant, however maintaining 68-72 °F (20-22 °C) is usually preferred for most types of plants. Easy growing plants like lettuce will thrive in these temperatures. Temperatures below 60 °F (16 °C) or above 80 °F (27 °C) are not suitable for plants in hydroponic farms.
Maintaining the right temperature is essential. A hydroponic water chiller will cool the reservoir water and allow the plants to have access to the water at the right temperature. You can also choose aquarium chillers but these types of coolers are specially designed for hydroponic farms.
These machines have refrigeration units inside them. The water and mixed nutrient solution cool to the right temperature and is sent through the tubes with the help of the pumps. The excess water comes back to the reservoir.
If you have a small reservoir, you can choose a solid-state thermoelectric cooling system. These systems will allow you to chill the water with the use of a probe put into the reservoir as this probe chills the liquid.
Understanding the process of finding the right water chiller is no different from buying a waste oil heater or a wide belt sanders where you go online to check the things to consider before you buy them.
The Kratky Hydroponics Method
Let’s go back to the types of hydroponics and let us introduce you to the Kratky hydroponics method. This is considered another type of hydroponics and it’s very simple to do.
This method is based on the fact that plants get enough nutrients from the water solution. You place the plants on a floating agent, directly on top of the open tank. You leave the tank open to allow it the possibility to absorb the amount of solution that it needs.
When it’s time to harvest the plant, the tank is almost depleted. This is a very efficient way since plants only use the necessary amount of water and nutrition that they need. By setting up the tanks and nutrients at the beginning you don’t have to do regular maintenance.
The beauty of this method lies in the fact that you don’t need constantly operating pumps. You only use pumps and drainers to clean up the tank every 3-5 cycles. Another great aspect of this method is that you calculate the necessary amount of nutrient at the beginning and you can update the formula according to your needs in subsequent cycles.
If you plan to use Kratky on a commercial level there may be some problems like temperature. To alleviate those you can always use chillers or heaters.
Aquaponics vs. Hydroponics
Now let’s cover a question that may have been on your mind since you started reading this article. Aquaponics and hydroponics may seem the same since they both utilize water; however, there are main differences.
The biggest difference in these systems is the presence of a fish instead of nutrients. This is the main reason you should treat aquaponics and hydroponics separately. An aquaponic farm is a closed system where fish produce the nutrients; however, in hydroponics, you add the nutrients to the water directly.
With the help of aquaponics, you have certain advantages. For example, in a home environment if you already have a fish tank it’d be easier to integrate a farm on top of that environment. If you don’t have a pet, home aquaponic farms are a good reason to adopt a new pet as well as growing your fresh herbs.
The biggest challenges emerge with the commercial scale for aquaponics. The biggest challenges associated with this type of farming include the health of the fish, the complicated building process, and overall maintenance. However, hydroponics farms don’t have such problems but they have different issues.
Aeroponics vs. Hydroponics
Now, let’s take a look at the differences between hydroponics and aeroponics.
Aeroponic systems are quite interesting and harder to build. With these systems, the plants are suspended in the air and the nutrients are sprayed on the roots of the plants regularly. The mist nozzles are connected to pumps. The excess solution falls back into the reservoir. This principle makes aeroponic systems very efficient.
The difference here between hydroponics and aeroponics is about the medium where the plants grow and the addition of nozzles. In hydroponics, you can secure your plant in an inert medium like clay or pellets, therefore securing the plants is easier. The challenge of aeroponics is that plants should hang in the air so that they can be misted regularly.
The nozzles are also critical. You should adjust the nozzle in addition to systematically checking the temperature and humidity so that the nutrients are correctly sprayed to the roots. Otherwise, the plants may wilt or become malnourished.
The biggest benefit of aeroponics is that it uses the nutrients and water very efficiently under the right conditions and the plants will always have enough oxygen in their roots.
Good Hydroponic Plants
Since you know the basics of vertical gardening and hydroponics as a beginner, let’s take a closer look at the types of plants you can grow and some tips and tricks on how to grow them in your new hydroponic farm.
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)
Tomatoes are great plants to grow in hydroponic farms because of their adaptable nature. You can start harvesting your first tomatoes within 1-2 months. These plants like nutrients a lot since they yield fruit. You should be careful about tomatoes because of pests since they easily attract fungi or insects. You can plant two shoots next to each other in the same pot.
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Lettuce is also a good starter plant for newcomers to hydroponics. These leafy vegetables will germinate easily and after the germination, you can put them directly in the hydroponic farms.
The key to growing good lettuce is the lighting. Your plants should get sunlight ,however direct sunlight may affect the leafy greens. Also, too much heat will not be good for the plant.
Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa)
Did you know that strawberries are a hybrid species? These delicious fruits are well suited for hydroponic growing. You can use the wick system to grow your strawberries in your vertical garden. You can place these plants right under the sunlight. The important thing is that when they flower, you should help their pollination by manual intervention. You should pollinate the plants using your fingers.
Another trick is, you shouldn’t harvest fruit before they are fully ripe because strawberries don’t become red and flavorful after you pluck them. You can get seedlings from the mature plants to have year-round strawberries.
Herbs are good starter plants for hydroponics since they can grow easily. Each herb has its tricks but the overall good practice of hydroponics will enable you to have a good herb garden at your home. Some of the herbs that go well with hydroponics are anise, catnip, chamomile, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, lavender, parsley, rosemary, and tarragon.
Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)
Potatoes, being root vegetables and highly starchy, are good choices for a garden when you want to have year-round produce. The timing you start your hydroponics project will affect the potatoes. You should start your garden at the end of March or early in April. Don’t forget to bury your pieces under the perlite or another inert medium. Potatoes, being root vegetables, need underground space to grow as the sun may otherwise damage them.
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)
You can grow fresh cucumbers to put in your smoothies or facial care by growing them in your hydroponic farms. The key is to place the cucumbers in small amounts in one patch since they need plenty of space to grow. These patches need to be about 2-6 feet (~1-3 meters) apart from each other depending on the variety.
Green Peppers (Capsicum annuum)
Green peppers are essential for any salad that you make. To grow your peppers in a soil-less environment, you need to set the plants deeper than they usually like to settle by about a couple of inches. Make sure that you plant one pepper per pot to allow them to have enough space to grow and keep the pots away from each other, with about 9 inches between them.
Onions (Allium cepa)
Onions are one of the best ingredient to include in any kind of meal you’re preparing. To include them in a hydroponic farm, it’s a good idea that you start the plants in the soil rather than directly in the water. Onions, being bulbous stems, need a good place to grow, as well as the security provided by the soil. After they sprout, you can grow them in a hydroponics farm, but make sure to clean the roots carefully beforehand.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
The green leaves, which go well with salads or simply as a meal, can be grown in hydroponic farms. The key is the germination process. Make sure that your seedlings are fresh and after the germination process, place the plants into hydroponic containers. Overfertilizing is possible as spinach doesn’t need many nutrients. Also, excessive lighting can be an issue.