What Is Hydroponic Farming?

The world we live in is filled with enough farmlands. Still, we are on the verge of a food crisis. We have experienced detachment from nature. Hydroponic farming is a way to reconnect with our roots and enjoy gardening without any soil.

So, what is hydroponic farming? It’s all about growing plants without using water and nutrients as the growing agents. The water provides the nutrients. For continuous photosynthesis, water is essential. In other words, you feed them through the water. You don’t need any soil.

It 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 farmland. They come in kits for beginners as well.

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 this type of farming.

The Essentials and How It Works

Whether or not you are gardening with soil or hydroponic farming, you need certain components to start farming. There are commercially available kits that allow you to start your garden at home without any prior knowledge.

With these, the soil is replaced with water. The plants stand in a secure place filled with things like:

  • perlite
  • Rockwool
  • clay pellets
  • peat moss
  • or vermiculite

All of which are inert growing mediums. They have constant access to the water underneath them. It contains nutrient-rich and pH-balancing chemicals to ensure the best potential is achieved.

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. It 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. It means that you don’t use excess water, 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.

All these factors improve the yield quality and increase the amount of product you get. It lets you have clean-grown produce at the convenience of your house. You can have all the fruit or vegetables you want year-round.

hydroponic system at home

Types

There are five types of systems, and you can choose the one you find the easiest to use. The different types are:

Types
DripWater Culture
Ebb-Flow (Flood & Drain)Wick System
N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technique) 

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 them. You can have circulating or non-circulating systems. It is very efficient as excess goes back to the solution tank.

The ebb and flow system uses perlite, rockwood, pellets, or clay as an inert medium to grow the plants. Once they are secured in place, the medium is made wet with the nutrient solution. It’s like normal gardening. You can use pumps to recover the excess solution. It is recommended for root vegetables.

The nutrient flow technique involves using pumps again. The solution sits in a tank, and it’s pumped into sloped channels to allow the excess nutrients to come back to the reservoir. It is a type mostly preferred by commercial places.

Water culture is an easy solution. You place the roots directly into the nutrient solution. The oxygen plants need to be sent by diffusers to the water directly. You use net pots to secure the placement of plants in the soil. It works with almost all kinds.

The wick system is the easiest way to start a hydroponic farm. It doesn’t include any pumps or electricity. They are placed in the inert medium of your choice. Nylon wicks are placed in the medium to allow diffusion of the solution, which drips from them. The only downside is that heavy-feeding plants will not thrive with this type.

To understand recirculation pumps’ pumping systems and principles, you can check this article on hot water recirculation pumps.

How to Build A Garden

We’ll provide you with a small DIY way to make your hydroponic garden at your own house. It requires a good amount of skills while still being relatively inexpensive.

The tools that you’d need are:

  • a bucket
  • garden hose
  • pH testing
  • buffer solutions.

Many people use plant clips or a 50-gallon nutrient tank. You can also use PVC pipes. Maybe you can use fuel transfer tanks for a 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. 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 returned to the tank so drill these holes.

The next step is to fill the tank. 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 operating for 30 minutes, you mix them well.

Then you add the plants. You can start with seedlings, but you need to grow them before putting them in the water. Having mature ones is easier for starters. You can get them from the soil, but be careful to remove all the soil on the roots since they can clog up the system. Then you secure them with clips and hang them.

After this point, the farm is operational. You have to regularly keep track of the growth by checking the pH of water and nutrients. Cover the water lost due to evaporation to run the system smoothly. They will grow thanks to the efficiency of the system very quickly.

Best Kits For Beginners

AeroGarden Harvest-Black

It is a great choice for beginners since it comes with six different gourmet herbs, including basil and Thai Basil. You can start your seeds with the six plates included.

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 to add water or nutrients. The light ensures growth at night as well. These LED 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 kits, you can check our similar guides like the ones on engine-driven welders or plasma cutters.

iDOO Growing System, Indoor Herb Garden Starter Kit with LED Light

This comes with seven pods for your convenience. The indoor garden stands out by having many growth programs and eases the gardening experience drastically.

It has a circulating system to enhance the oxygen available, ensuring more speedy growth than soil. You have three options to start your farm: Growth mode for germination, normal mode, and enjoy mode. It changes the lighting cycle and the types.

This farm also has an adjustable light so that when your plant gets bigger, you can adjust it to get the light it needs. It works at night, too.

The two pump circulation modes allow you to sleep at night without any disturbances. In contrast, the normal mode makes the pump work for 5 minutes and then pauses it for 30 minutes.

VIVOSUN Hydroponic Grow Kit

This growing kit ensures 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.

It uses the 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 it constantly and get even more efficient results.

You can easily assemble it if you don’t feel like making your system.

You can easily grow herbs and leafy vegetables like lettuce and celery with these. This item also comes with a warranty and customer support if you have any problems.

Best Nutrients and Fertilizers

General Flora Grow

This pack has many benefits. To begin with, it comes in not just one but three different nutrient types packed. Instead of one fixed type, you can play with the amount of each component to find the best mix.

FLORAGRO is used for structural growth. It helps develop strong roots. It means that your product will develop a stronger taste and flavor. With FLORAMICRO, your nitrogen and potassium needs are easy to take care of.

AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients (1 Liter)

This liquid nutrient comes in bulk to support the growth of your farm as well as others. 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.

MASTERBLEND 4-18-38 Complete Combo Kit Fertilizer Bulk (12.5 Pound Kit),

This kit is probably what you’re looking for if you are a starter. This kit includes three 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. When necessary, you can upgrade to the 60-pound option.

Best Water Chillers

Many gardeners and botanists know that plants have an optimal temperature. It includes various aspects, like the roots. You probably need to keep the roots cool if you live in a hot climate. It is why you need a water chiller.

The optimal temperature depends on the type. However, maintaining 68-72 °F (20-22 °C) is usually preferred for most types. Easy ones to grow will thrive in these temperatures. Lettuce is a great example. Temperatures below 60 °F (16 °C) or above 80 °F (27 °C) are not suitable in hydroponic farms.

Maintaining the right temperature is essential. A water chiller will cool the reservoir water and allow them access to the right temperature. You can also choose aquarium chillers, but these 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 comes back to the reservoir.

You can choose a solid-state thermoelectric cooling option if you have a small reservoir. They will allow you to chill the water using 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 sander. You go online to check the things to consider before you buy them.

The Kratky Method

Let’s go back to the types of hydroponics, and let us introduce you to the Kratky method. It is considered another type, 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 them on a floating agent, directly on the open tank. You leave the tank open to allow it to absorb the amount of solution that it needs.

When it’s time to harvest, the tank is almost depleted. It is a very efficient way since they only use the necessary amount of water and nutrition that they need. By setting up the tanks and nutrients initially, 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 initially calculate the necessary amount of nutrients. Update the formula according to your needs in subsequent cycles.

If you plan to use Kratky commercially, 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 utilize water. However, there are several differences.

The biggest difference is the presence of a fish instead of nutrients. It is the main reason you should treat aquaponics and hydroponics separately. An aquaponic farm is a closed system where fish produce nutrients. In hydroponics, you add nutrients to the water.

With the help of aquaponics, you have certain advantages. Suppose you already have a fish tank in a home environment. It’d be easier to integrate a farm on top of that environment in that case. If you don’t have a pet, home aquaponic farms are a good reason to adopt a new pet and grow 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 and the complicated building process. It also has a lot of overall maintenance. However, hydroponics farms don’t have such problems. They have different issues.

plant seeded hydroponically

Aeroponics vs. Hydroponics

Now, let’s look at the differences between hydroponics and aeroponics.

Aeroponic systems are quite interesting and harder to build. The plants are suspended in the air, and the nutrients are sprayed on the roots regularly. The mist nozzles are connected to pumps. The excess solution falls back into the reservoir. This principle makes aeroponic options very efficient.

The difference between hydroponics and aeroponics is about the medium where the plants grow and the nozzle. You can secure it in an inert medium like clay or pellets in hydroponics. Securing them is easier. The challenge of aeroponics is that they should hang in the air to be misted regularly.

The nozzles are also critical. You should adjust the nozzle in addition to systematically checking the temperature and humidity. Ensure the nutrients are correctly sprayed to the roots. Otherwise, they may wilt or become malnourished.

The biggest benefit of aeroponics is that it uses nutrients and water very efficiently under the right conditions. They will always have enough oxygen in their roots.

Good Varieties

You know the basics of vertical gardening and hydroponics as a beginner. Let’s take a closer look at the types you can grow and tips to go about your new farm.

Plants to consider
TomatoesStrawberriesPotatoes
LettuceHerbsCucumbers
Green peppersOnionsSpinach

Tomatoes (Solanum Lycopersicum)

Tomatoes are great plants to put on your hydroponic farms because of their adaptable nature. You can start harvesting your first tomatoes within 1-2 months. They 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 option for newcomers to hydroponics. These leafy vegetables will germinate easily. After the germination, you can put them directly on your farm.

The key to growing good lettuce is the lighting. They should get sunlight. However, direct sunlight may affect the leafy greens. Also, too much heat will not be good for it.

Strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa)

Did you know that strawberries are a hybrid species? These delicious fruits are well suited for getting started on this project. You can use the wick system to grow your strawberries in your vertical garden. You can place them right under the sunlight. The important thing is that when they flower, you should help their pollination by manual intervention. You should pollinate them using your fingers.

Another trick is to avoid harvesting 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.

Various Herbs

Herbs are good starter options 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 herbs that go well with this type of growth are:

  • Anise
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Lavender
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • and tarragon.

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum)

Potatoes are good choices for a garden when you want to have year-round produce, being root vegetables and highly starchy. The timing you start your hydroponics project will affect the potatoes. You should start your garden at the end of March or early April. Don’t forget to bury your pieces under the perlite or another inert medium. Potatoes 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 putting them on your hydroponic farms. The key is to place the cucumbers in small amounts in one patch since they need plenty of space. Depending on the variety, these patches need to be about 2-6 feet apart from each other.

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 inches. Make sure that you put one pepper per pot. It allows them to have enough space and keep the pots away from each other, with about 9 inches between them.

Onions (Allium cepa)

Onions are one of the best ingredients to include in any meal you’re preparing. To include them in a hydroponic farm, it’s a good idea that you start it in the soil rather than directly in the water. Onions need a lot of space and the security provided by the soil, being bulbous stems. After they sprout, you can grow them on a farm. Clean the roots carefully beforehand.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

The green leaves can be grown on a hydroponic farm. They go well with salads or simply as a meal. The key is the germination process. Make sure that your seedlings are fresh. After the germination process, place the plants into the containers. Overfertilizing is possible as spinach doesn’t need many nutrients. Also, excessive lighting can be an issue.

FAQ

What are the 5 disadvantages of hydroponics?

Hydroponics takes an innovative approach to growing plants by replacing soil with a nutrient solution. Mostly the method has shown great results, but here are the 5 main disadvantages of this approach.

High setup cost – A hydroponics system is costlier to build and operate. However, the expenses largely depend on the complexity and type of the system.

Constant caretaking – Without soil, you must carefully monitor all parameters. A hydroponics system requires constant monitoring and regular repair and maintenance from the pH levels to the nutrient solution.   

Plants vulnerable to changes – In traditional farming, the soil protects the plants from sudden changes. Thus in a hydroponics system, the plants are more vulnerable to temperature and pH changes.

The threat of power outage – Since the system is dependent on electricity, any failure in the circuit could alter its functions. An undisturbed electricity supply is crucial for the lights and the water pumps.

Waterborne diseases – The water medium has a higher chance of harboring diseases that affect the plants’ growth and quality. The disease can quickly spread throughout the system, killing an entire field within minutes.

What can you grow in a hydroponic garden?

A hydroponics garden provides the perfect conditions to nurture any plant that doesn’t require a large space to grow. But certain plants are ideal for a hydroponics system. The system especially benefits from lettuce, tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, green beans, basil, and strawberries.

Where can you buy hydroponic plants?

Certain farms and gardens specifically provide hydroponic plants. Otherwise, you can purchase them online from various plants providers or even on amazon.

How to mix hydroponic nutrients

Firstly, mix your silica with water and allow it to rest for up to 10 minutes. Afterward, add your base nutrients and Cal-mag to the mix. Lastly, add the remaining supplements or additives to your list.  

Here are the steps to setting up your hydroponic garden.

How do I start a hydroponic garden for beginners?

  1. Create a water and nutrient reservoir.

    Find a container with reasonable depth and width. You can use any storage containers you’ve lying around or even a bucket to get the job done.

  2. Drill holes into the lid of the container.

    Attach a wick to go through each hole which will help absorb water from the reservoir and release it into the growing medium. Make sure enough holes are drilled to maintain a constant water supply.

  3. Set up the growing tray.

    Place a tray right above the water reservoir as a resting place for the plants. Fill the tray with a growing medium that allows efficient capillary action, such as perlite or vermiculite.

  4. Construct the air pump.

    Connect the necessary tubes of the air pump and carefully place the air stone in the reservoir.

  5. Set up the light fixture.

    Place the light fixtures above the growing tray if you’re using artificial light. For LED lights, place each at a distance of 6 inches in between.

  6. Find the ideal location for the system.

    Before filling up the water reservoir or the growing tray, ensure you’ve carefully placed the system in a snug spot.

  7. Make the final touches.

    Once the system is carefully placed, add the nutrient solution. Adjust the pH depending on the plant of your choice.  

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