While all hydroponic systems offer intriguing new ways to grow plants that our farming ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed about, NFT hydroponics is the only one that depends on a constantly flowing stream of liquid to feed plants, with their roots dangling down as if dipping their toes in a gentle mountain stream.
Don’t let the technical-sounding name fool you into thinking it’s a difficult system to master. NFT hydroponics is simple to create and use, once you learn a few basic principles. So whether you’re just starting out with hydroponics, or you have some experience but want to try out something different, read on, and find out how you can produce fast-growing plants with a hassle-free nutrient film technique hydroponic system.
- What Is NFT Hydroponics?
- How Does An NFT Hydroponics System Work?
- Why Choose Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics?
- What Are The Disadvantages Of Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics?
- Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics DIY Guide
- Growing Channels
- Baskets For Holding Plants In An NFT System
- Nutrient Solution Reservoir
- Submersible Pump
- NFT System Flow Rate And Channel Slope Considerations
- Starting Plants In An NFT Hydroponic System
- Are There Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics Systems Available To Buy?
- What is Hydroponics?
- What is hydroponics?
- Why grow things hydroponically?
- How does hydroponics work?
- Who are GroWell Hydroponics?
- The Indoor Growing Experts
- Hydroponics Tips
- Harder to grow
- Going Vertical to Increase Yields?
- Hydroponic Systems 101
- Types of Hydroponic Systems
- Deepwater Culture
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Ebb & Flow
- Drip System
- Useful Tips
- Why Choose Hydroponics?
- How Does Hydroponics Work? (A Beginner’s Guide)
- To view a topic below, simply click on the title.
- Why does Hydroponics work so well?
- What is “growing medium”?
- What is the difference between hydroponic, organic and “regular” fertilizers?
- “Hydroponic or Organic-What’s the Difference?” by Roger H. Thayer
- How complicated is hydroponic gardening?
- Is pH important in hydroponics?
What Is NFT Hydroponics?
NFT hydroponics is a method of soil-less cultivation where plant roots are suspended above a stream of continuously flowing nutrient solution that provides them with all the water, nutrients, and oxygen they need to sustain rapid, healthy plant growth.
The term “nutrient film” refers to the ideal situation of having a constant shallow stream of nutrient solution passing over the roots. This ensures that only the bottom part of the root mass will be submerged in the nutrient solution, while the upper part is left exposed to the humid environment created inside the growing chamber, thus providing the roots with an abundant supply of oxygen.
Providing plenty of oxygen to plant roots is one of the key concepts behind hydroponics. While plants need carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, their roots need oxygen to facilitate the absorption of nutrients. And when their roots have greater access to oxygen, plants grow faster.
How Does An NFT Hydroponics System Work?
In nutrient film technique hydroponics, the chamber that the roots grow in takes the form of a tube-like channel that’s set at a slight incline so the nutrient solution will flow through it. These systems often consist of multiple growing channels because there’s a limit to how long a single channel can be for practical reasons and before nutrients start become depleted at the far end.
The plants are situated in holes in the top of the growing channel, so the roots are suspended above the nutrient solution inside the chamber while the crown extends above. There’s often no need for a growing medium, with NFT hydroponics, other than net pots to support the plants.
The solution is pumped from a reservoir to the higher end of the growing channel, and after flowing through the length of the channel, it’s returned to the reservoir. Nutrient film technique hydroponics is therefore a closed system that recycles the nutrient solution, allowing you to conserve water and nutrients.
Why Choose Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics?
There are several reasons for choosing nutrient film technique hydroponics over other hydroponic systems, mostly having to do with its simplicity and ease of use. Here are some of its biggest advantages:
- Easy to build and maintain
- Easily adaptable to different spaces and plant requirements
- Can be built relatively inexpensively
- No need for growing medium
- Reduced need for aeration of nutrient solution in the reservoir, due to constant circulation
- No fussing with timers or watering cycles
- Uses less water and nutrients due to nutrient solution recycling
What Are The Disadvantages Of Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics?
One disadvantage of NFT hydroponics is its dependence on electricity, with the pump running 24/7. And if there’s a power outage or pump failure, the roots will quickly dry out and your plants could be severely damaged, even if it’s only a relatively short problem with the system.
The other disadvantage is that larger plants, with more substantial root systems, and fruit-bearing plants pose significant challenges for nutrient film technique hydroponics. These systems are best suited for smaller, fast-growing plants such as lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, and a few other plants that will be harvested before the roots grow large enough to fill the growing channel and block the flow of nutrient solution.
Fruiting plants are problematic for two reasons. First, they are heavy feeders, which will affect the pH and nutrient levels of the recirculating solution. Therefore, any time you have plants that are in their fruiting stage, you’ll need to be very vigilant about monitoring the solution to prevent deficiencies. Second, it’s been found that most fruiting and flowering plants do better when they are allowed to dry out between irrigation cycles, so the constant exposure to moisture that’s provided by NFT hydroponics isn’t the best environment for them.
If you would like to read more about some of the other forms of hydroponics, or for an overview of hydroponics for beginners, please visit my hydroponics section.
Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics DIY Guide
To build a nutrient film technique hydroponic system, you will need these basic components:
- Growing channels
- Small baskets for holding plants
- Nutrient solution reservoir
- Submersible pump
Now let’s walk through the details for setting up each component of an NFT system:
As we’ve seen, the growing chambers for nutrient film technique hydroponics need to be in the form of long, thin channels that are positioned on a slight incline, in order to create the shallow stream of nutrient solution that gives the system its name. (You’ll find a discussion of flow rate and channel slope at the end of this DIY guide.)
PVC pipes may serve as the growing chambers, although these are not ideal, since their curved contour doesn’t provide the optimal air-to-nutrient ratio for stimulating growth. The best materials for NFT system growing chambers are channels that are flat at the bottom. This way, you can create a nutrient film with a larger surface area for the roots to feed from while providing the upper part of the root mass with good exposure to the oxygen within the chamber.
The growing chambers for this system have holes all along the top for the plants. And ideally, the tops will be removable so you can easily monitor the nutrient solution, check for pooling and blockages in the flow of the liquid, and inspect the health of the roots. However, removable covers aren’t a necessity for successful NFT system growing.
As for the ideal length of the growing channels, they should measure no more than 35-40 feet (about 10-12 meters). Any longer, and you risk depriving plants located at the far ends of the channels from where the solution enters, since roots have been absorbing nutrients from the flow of solution all along the way. Shorter lengths will also make your system more versatile in terms of space usage, allowing for system designs such as a single loop made of a series of channels, a circuit with channels in parallel alignment, and vertical systems.
There’s one other reason to go with shorter channels: they’re less likely to sag. When setting up your NFT hydroponic system, you need to take great care that your growing channels are correctly aligned to the desired slope and are well supported. It’s a good idea to check the integrity of your system before you begin growing plants by running plain water through it. And you should continue to watch out for sagging during use, as this will disrupt the flow of the nutrient solution.
Baskets For Holding Plants In An NFT System
Usually referred to as net pots or net cups, these small baskets are used in hydroponic systems that don’t require any growing media as well as for starting plants. They hold the plants at the base of the stem and allow the exposed roots to grow and expand uninhibited within the growing chamber. With the exception of starting seeds or cuttings, the baskets in nutrient film technique hydroponics usually do not contain a growing medium, due to the danger of stem rot.
If you are careful about matching the size of the baskets and the holes they fit into, it will be possible to transfer larger plants to larger growing channels or even to different hydroponic growing systems as they mature and their needs change.
Nutrient Solution Reservoir
As with any hydroponic system, your nutrient solution reservoir should be made of an opaque material, to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria.
If you locate your NFT system reservoir at the low point of the recirculating nutrient solution system, you won’t need an additional air pump or air stone to enrich the nutrient solution with oxygen. As the liquid cascades from the return line situated a little ways above the reservoir, this action will constantly aerate the solution.
Also keep in mind that you will need to monitor the solution level in the reservoir as well as the pH and nutrient levels of the solution and make adjustments as needed.
With nutrient film technique hydroponics, you need a reliable pump, as it will be continuously running to keep the solution flowing throughout the system. It doesn’t need to be a high-powered pump, since the aim is to create just a thin layer of liquid flowing through the growing channels. So you’ll want to choose a submersible pump with the lowest gallons-per-hour rating that has the capacity to pump solution from the reservoir up to the entrance of the first growing channel in the circuit, which will be the highest point in the system. From there, the solution will flow down through the circuit and eventually return to the reservoir, under the force of gravity.
Another consideration in choosing a pump for your NFT system is that you may want one that has an adjustable flow rate that you can easily modify according to the changing needs of your plants as they grow.
The amount of tubing you will need depends on the design of your system. A simple single-chamber NFT system will require, at the very least, enough tubing to deliver the solution from the reservoir to the high end of the growing channel, which could be set up to empty directly back into the reservoir.
NFT System Flow Rate And Channel Slope Considerations
In an NFT hydroponic system, the growing channels are set at a slight tilt to create a rate of flow that results in a very shallow stream of nutrient solution. As a general rule, the flow rate in your channels should be around 1 liter per minute, which is about .26 gallons per minute or just shy of 16 gallons per hour. However, you can have a flow rate as low as .5 liters per minute or as high as 2 liters per minute without developing nutrient imbalances.
To achieve this range of flow rates, the channel slope ratio should be between 1:30 and 1:40, meaning that for every 1 inch (or every 1 centimeter) difference in height, you have 30-40 inches/centimeters in length.
Nutrient film technique hydroponic systems are easily adjustable to the changing needs of plants simply by modifying the flow rate of the solution through the growing channels. There are several ways to do this:
- Design your system so you can adjust the slope of the growing channels
- Design your system to include adjustable drains in the bottoms of the growing channels
- Use a pump with an adjustable flow rate
- Place inline valves at the entrances to the growing channels
Starting Plants In An NFT Hydroponic System
This ability to modify the flow rate of your growing channels is particularly useful if you plan to start plants in your NFT system rather than starting them in a nursery and transplanting them after they have rooted.
To start your seeds or cuttings, you will need to use a growing medium in your baskets to support the plants and ensure they receive the moisture and nutrients they need. Choose a medium that’s less likely to become waterlogged, such as oasis cubes, coco coir chips, or perlite.
To encourage rooting, raise the volume of solution flowing through the growing channels while reducing the flow rate. That is, you want the level of solution in the channels to be a bit higher, but the speed of the flow to be lower. Just make sure you don’t raise the level too high, as you still need to have plenty of air in the growing chamber. If you raise the level, you should also increase the aeration of the liquid in the reservoir with an air pump and air stone to ensure you have the optimal amount of oxygen available to the newly forming roots.
This method of rooting can actually speed up the production cycle of your crop.
Are There Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponics Systems Available To Buy?
There are a number of companies that manufacture and sell complete NFT hydroponics systems. Here are a few of them:
CropKing offers a variety of affordable NFT systems, including small introductory systems that are suitable for home hydroponics beginners and hobbyists, along with system components and growing supplies.
HydroCycle Hobby NFT Lettuce Systems are another good place for anyone new to nutrient film technique hydroponics to begin.
Although geared toward commercial growers, American Hydroponics offers several smaller versions of their sophisticated NFT systems for home growers and classroom settings as well as consulting services and custom designs.
What is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics means “working water” (hydro means water and ponos means labor). Many different civilizations have utilized hydroponic growing techniques throughout history. As noted in Hydroponic Food Production by Howard M. Resh: “The hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs of Mexico and those of the Chinese are examples of ‘Hydroponic’ culture. Egyptian hieroglyphic records dating back several hundred years B.C. describe the growing of plants in water.” While hydroponics is an ancient method of growing plants, giant strides have been made over the years in this innovative area of agriculture.
Throughout the last century, scientists and horticulturists experimented with different methods of hydroponics. One of the potential applications of hydroponics that drove research was growing fresh produce in non-arable areas of the world and areas with little to no soil. Hydroponics was used during World War II to supply troops stationed on non-arable islands in the Pacific with fresh produce grown in locally established hydroponic systems.
Later in the century, hydroponics was integrated into the space program. As NASA considered the practicalities of locating a society on another planet or the Earth’s moon, hydroponics easily fit into their sustainability plans. By the 1970s, it wasn’t just scientists and analysts who were involved in hydroponics. Traditional farmers and eager hobbyists began to be attracted to the virtues of hydroponic growing.
A few of the benefits of hydroponics include:
- The ability to produce higher yields than traditional, soil-based agriculture.
- Allowing food to be grown and consumed in areas of the world that cannot support crops in the soil.
- Eliminating the need for massive pesticide use (considering most pests live in the soil), effectively making our air, water, soil, and food cleaner.
Commercial growers are flocking to hydroponics like never before. The ideals surrounding these growing techniques touch on subjects that most people care about, such as helping end world hunger and making the world cleaner. People from all over the world have been building or purchasing their own systems to grow great-tasting, fresh food for their family and friends. Ambitious individuals are striving to make their dreams come true by making their living in their backyard greenhouse by selling their produce to local markets and restaurants. In the class room, educators are realizing the amazing applications that hydroponics can have to teach children about science and gardening.
The speed of hydroponic research is increasing at exponential rates as the many benefits are realized. Associated disciplines such as aeroponics and aquaponics lead the way and nobody knows what the future holds for such an exciting green technology. General Hydroponics will continue to drive innovation and provide cutting edge technologies and resources.
by Chris Woodford. Last updated: January 5, 2019.
Look, no soil! We’re so used to plants growing in fields and gardens that we find anything else completely extraordinary. But it’s true. Not only will plants grow without soil, they often grow a lot better with their roots in water or very moist air instead. Growing plants without soil is known as hydroponics. It might sound weird, but many of the foods we eat—including tomatoes on the vine—are already grown hydroponically. Let’s take a closer look at hydroponics and find out how it works!
Photo: These radishes are being grown hydroponically at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Space scientists are particularly interested in hydroponics, because there’s no soil in space. If we want to grow food away from Earth, hydroponics may be the best way to do it. Photo by courtesy of NASA Kennedy Space Center (NASA-KSC).
What is hydroponics?
Plants grow through a process called photosynthesis, in which they use sunlight and a chemical inside their leaves called chlorophyll to convert carbon dioxide (a gas in the air) and water into glucose (a type of sugar) and oxygen. Write that out chemically and you get this equation:
6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2
There’s no mention of “soil” anywhere in there—and that’s all the proof you need that plants can grow without it. What they do need is water and nutrients, both easily obtained from soil. But if they can get these things somewhere else—say, by standing with their roots in a nutrient-rich solution—they can do without soil altogether. That’s the basic principle behind hydroponics. In theory, the word “hydroponics” means growing plants in water (from two Greek words meaning “water” and “toil”), but because you can grow plants without actually standing them in water, most people define the word to mean growing plants without using soil.
Why grow things hydroponically?
Photo: Onions, lettuces, and radishes all grow well with hydroponics. The white surface of hydroponic containers like these helps to reflect light evenly onto the plant leaves, improving growth. Photo by courtesy of NASA Kennedy Space Center (NASA-KSC).
Although the benefits of hydroponics have sometimes been questioned, there seem to be many advantages in growing without soil. Some hydroponic growers have found they get yields many times greater when they switch from conventional methods. Because hydroponically grown plants dip their roots directly into nutrient-rich solutions, they get what they need much more easily than plants growing in soil, so they need much smaller root systems and can divert more energy into leaf and stem growth. With smaller roots, you can grow more plants in the same area and get more yield from the same amount of ground (which is particularly good news if you’re growing in a limited area like a greenhouse or on a balcony or window-ledge inside). Hydroponic plants also grow faster. Many pests are carried in soil, so doing without it generally gives you a more hygienic growing system with fewer problems of disease. Since hydroponics is ideal for indoor growing, you can use it to grow plants all year round. Automated systems controlled by timers and computers make the whole thing a breeze.
It’s not all good news; inevitably there are a few drawbacks. One is the cost of all the equipment you need—containers, pumps, lights, nutrients, and so on. Another drawback is the ponic part of hydroponics: there’s a certain amount of toil involved. With conventional growing, you can sometimes be quite cavalier about how you treat plants and, if weather and other conditions are on your side, your plants will still thrive. But hydroponics is more scientific and the plants are much more under your control. You need to check them constantly to make sure they’re growing in exactly the conditions they need (though automated systems, such as lighting timers, make things quite a bit easier). Another difference (arguably less of a drawback) is that, because hydroponic plants have much smaller root systems, they can’t always support themselves very well. Heavy fruiting plants may need quite elaborate forms of support.
Photo: Waste not, want not: A researcher at the US Department of Agriculture examines the roots of a hydroponic strawberry plant that’s being nourished on wastewater from a trout farm! Photo by Scott Bauer courtesy of US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
How does hydroponics work?
Artwork: In the nutrient-film technique, nutrient constantly drips past the roots of the plants, which grow out from an inclined tray. The nutrient is pumped back up to the tray and a second pump adds oxygen through an air stone (a piece of porous rock that lets air bubble through it—just like in a fish tank).
There are various different ways of growing things hydroponically. In one popular method, you stand your plants in a plastic trough and let a nutrient solution trickle past their roots (with the help of gravity and a pump). That’s called the nutrient-film technique: the nutrient is like a kind of liquid conveyor belt—it’s constantly sliding past the roots delivering to them the goodness they need. Alternatively, you can grow plants with their roots supported by a nutrient-enriched medium such as rockwool, sand, or vermiculite, which acts as a sterile substitute for soil. Another method is called aeroponics and it’s typified by a popular product called the AeroGarden (see box below). Although the name suggests you’re growing plants in air, the roots are actually suspended inside a container full of extremely humid air. Effectively, the roots grow in a nutrient-rich aerosol a bit like a cloud packed full of minerals.
In theory, you can grow any plant hydroponically but—as is always the case with gardening—some things inevitably do better than others. Fruit crops such as tomatoes and strawberries, and lettuces and herbs, are among plants that do particularly well.
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Who are GroWell Hydroponics?
We’re a leading supplier of hydroponics equipment through online, mail order and a national chain of grow shops. We believe in offering an exceptional range of hydroponic products and providing expert advice to the UK’s hydroponics and indoor gardening community.
Our aim is to provide you with unrivalled choice and assistance, whether it’s here on the website or in one of our eight grow shops. Finding a hydroponics shop near you is easy – we’ve four in the Midlands; Birmingham, Hockley Heath, Dudley and Coleshill; or within London, in Wembley and Merton. We’ve fantastic stores in Bristol and Sheffield too! Do pay us a visit, our shop teams’ advice is worth the trip alone as our experts are sure to have a few tricks up their sleeve to squeeze that little bit more from your plants.
Because we’ve been around since 1994, you can be sure that you are dealing with a reputable, established hydroponics retailer, and with a team of people that have built knowledge and expertise covering a huge variety of subjects related to hydroponics and indoor gardening.
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants indoors. Instead of using soil, uses water, a growing medium and nutrient solution. You get exceptional control over nutrients, light, water, temperature and other environmental factors, allowing gardeners to optimise their growing and maximise yields, even in limited space.
Hydroponics is so successful because it gives your plants precisely what they need, when they need it – delivering nutrients at the right time in a soluble form, providing light in the correct spectrum for the plant’s growth stage, or maintaining the optimum temperature for development. We offer advice and products for hydroponic systems including:
• NFT (Nutrient Film Technique)
• Flood & Drain
• Drip Irrigation
• Deep Water Culture
• LED Grow Lights
At Growell we have everything you could ever need to get started with hydroponics and are ideally placed to offer products to both beginners and seasoned indoor gardeners.
The Indoor Growing Experts
An important part of GroWell is sharing our knowledge, expertise and advice on all manner of different subjects around hydroponics and indoor gardening. As experts and enthusiasts ourselves, we’re ideally placed to provide you with reliable information from a source you can trust.
Here’s a few popular sections from our blog with tips and hydroponics tricks for experts and beginners alike:
• Expert Tips
• Q & A
• Buyers’ Guides
• Hints & Tips
• Feed Charts
Within the Expert Advice section, you’ll find a wealth of tips and guides to help you get the most from your indoor gardening. Whether you’re after a buyer’s guide, need instructions on how to use your equipment or purely want growing tips from expert hydroponic gardeners you will find it all right here on the GroWell website.
Hydroponic Gardening For Beginners
The History of Hydroponics
The Benefits of Hydroponics
The Wick System The Ebb and Flow System
Nutrient Film Technique
Buying a System or Building a System
The History of Hydroponics
The word hydroponics comes from two Greek words, “hydro” meaning water and “ponics” meaning labor. The concept of soil less gardening or hydroponics has been around for thousands of years. The hanging Gardens of Babylon and The Floating Gardens of China are two of the earliest examples of hydroponics. Scientists started experimenting with soil less gardening around 1950. Since then other countries, such as Holland, Germany, and Australia have used hydroponics for crop production with amazing results.
The Benefits of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is proved to have several advantages over soil gardening. The growth rate on a hydroponic plant is 30-50 percent faster than a soil plant, grown under the same conditions. The yield of the plant is also greater. Scientists believe that there are several reasons for the drastic differences between hydroponic and soil plants. The extra oxygen in the hydroponic growing mediums helps to stimulate root growth. Plants with ample oxygen in the root system also absorb nutrients faster. The nutrients in a hydroponic system are mixed with the water and sent directly to the root system. The plant does not have to search in the soil for the nutrients that it requires. Those nutrients are being delivered to the plant several times per day. The hydroponic plant requires very little energy to find and break down food. The plant then uses this saved energy to grow faster and to produce more fruit. Hydroponic plants also have fewer problems with bug infestations, funguses and disease. In general, plants grown hydroponically are healthier and happier plants.
Hydroponic gardening also offers several benefits to our environment. Hydroponic gardening uses considerably less water than soil gardening, because of the constant reuse the nutrient solutions. Due to lack of necessity, fewer pesticides are used on hydroponic crops. Since hydroponic gardening systems use no topsoil, topsoil erosion isn’t even an issue. Although, if agricultural trends continue to erode topsoil and waste water, hydroponics may soon be our only solution.
The purpose of a growing medium is to aerate and support the root system of the plant and to channel the water and nutrients. Different growing mediums work well in different types of hydroponic systems. A fast draining medium, such as Hydrocorn or expanded shale works well in an ebb and flow type system. Hydrocorn is a light expanded clay aggregate. It is a light, airy type of growing medium that allows plenty of oxygen to penetrate the plant’s root system. Both types of grow rocks can be reused, although the shale has more of a tendency to break down and may not last as long as the Hydrocorn. These grow rocks are very stable and rarely effect the pH of the nutrient solution.
Rockwool has become an extremely popular growing medium. Rockwool was originally used in construction as insulation. There is now a horticultural grade of Rockwool. Unlike the insulation grade, horticultural Rockwool is pressed into growing cubes and blocks. It is produced from volcanic rock and limestone. These components are melted at temperatures of 2500 degrees and higher. The molten solution is poured over a spinning cylinder, comparable to the way cotton candy is made, then pressed into identical sheets, blocks or cubes. Since Rockwool holds 10-14 times as much water as soil and retains 20 percent air it can be used in just about any hydroponic system. Although the gardener must be careful of the pH, since Rockwool has a pH of 7.8 it can raise the pH of the nutrient solution. Rockwool cannot be used indefinitely and most gardeners only get one use per cube. It is also commonly used for propagation.
Other commonly used growing mediums are perlite, vermiculite and different grades of sand. These three mediums are stable and rarely effect the pH of the nutrient solution. Although, they tend to hold too much moisture and should be used with plants that are tolerant to these conditions. Perlite, vermiculite and sands are very inexpensive options, and work charitably in wick systems, although they are not the most effective growing mediums.
Most of the principles that apply to soil fertilizers also apply to hydroponic fertilizers, or nutrient solutions. A hydroponic nutrient solution contains all the elements that the plant normally would get from the soil. These nutrients can be purchased at a hydroponic supply store. Most are highly concentrated, using 2 to 4 teaspoons per gallon of water. They come in liquid mixes or powered mixes, usually with at least two different containers, one for grow and one for bloom. The liquids are the slightly more expensive and the easiest to use. They dissolve quickly and completely into the reservoir and often have an added pH buffer. The powered varieties are inexpensive and require a little more attention. They need to be mixed much more thoroughly and often don’t dissolve completely into the reservoir. Most do not have a pH buffer.
Like soil, hydroponic systems can be fertilized with organic or chemical nutrients. An organic hydroponic system is considerably more work to maintain. The organic compounds have a tendency to lock together and cause pumps blockage. Some hydroponic gardeners simply supplement their hydroponic gardens with organic nutrients, using the chemical nutrients as the main food supply. This gives the plants a stable supply of nutrients without the high maintenance a hydro-organic system.
Most plants can grow hydroponically within a pH range of 5.8 to 6.8, 6.3 is considered optimal. The pH in a hydroponic system is much easier to check than the pH of soil. Many hardware, pet, and hydroponic supply stores sell pH-testing kits. They range in price from $4.00 to about $15.00, depending on the range and type of test you prefer. Testing pH is easy and essential in a hydroponics system. If the pH is too high or too low the plant will not be able to absorb certain nutrients and will show signs of deficiencies. pH should be checked once a week. It is easy to adjust by adding small amounts of soluble Potash to raise pH, or phosphoric acid to lower pH. There are also several pH meters available. These give a digital reading of the pH in the system. The pH meter cost around $100 and are not necessary in most cases.
Active Aqua Hydroponic pH Test Kit
Brand: Active Aqua
(Wide Spectrum) Measures 3-10 pH. The Hydroponic pH test kit is good for 150 tests. At the rate of 3 tests per week it will last one year, making it excellent value for money. This kit covers a pH range of 3-10 measuring in 0.1 increments.
Item #: 136972
Out of Stock
Hydroponic systems are characterized as active or passive. An active hydroponic system actively moves the nutrient solution, usually using a pump. Passive hydroponic systems rely on the capillary action of the growing medium or a wick. The nutrient solution is absorbed by the medium or the wick and passed along to the roots. Passive systems are usually too wet and do not supply enough oxygen to the root system for optimum growth rates.
Hydroponic systems can also be characterized as recovery or non-recovery. Recovery systems or recirculating systems reuse the nutrient solution. Non-recovery means just what it says. The nutrient solution is applied to the growing medium and not recovered.
The Wick System
The wick system is a passive non-recovery type hydroponic system. It uses no pumps and has no moving parts. The nutrients are stored in the reservoir and moved into the root system by capillary action often using a candle or lantern wick. In simpler terms, the nutrient solution travels up the wick and into the root system of the plant. Wick systems often uses sand or perlite, vermiculite mix and a growing medium. The wick system is easy and inexpensive to set-up and maintain. Although, it tends to keep the growing medium to wet, which doesn’t allow for the optimum amount of oxygen in the root system. The wick system is not the most effective way to garden hydroponically.
The Ebb and Flow System
The Ebb and Flow hydroponic system is an active recovery type system. The Ebb and Flow uses a submersible pump in the reservoir and the plants are in the upper tray. They work on a simple flood and drain theory. The reservoir holds the nutrient solution and the pump. When the pump turns on, the nutrient solution is pumped up to the upper tray and delivered to the root system of the plants. The pump should remain on for about 20 to 30 minutes, which is called a flood cycle. Once the water has reached a set level, an overflow pipe or fitting allows the nutrient solution to drain back into the reservoir. The pump remains on for the entire flood cycle. After the flood cycle the nutrient solution slowly drains back down into the reservoir through the pump.
Multi Flow 12 Pot Hydroponic System
Brand: Multi Flow
This system requires 100 liters of growing media, not included. The Multi Flow system has individual containers for each plant that can be placed close together for small plants and farther apart for larger plants. Moving plants is simple just lift out …
Item #: 135378
During the flood cycle oxygen poor air is pushed out of the root system by the upward moving nutrient solution. As the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir, oxygen rich air is pulled into the growing medium. This allows the roots ample oxygen to maximize their nutrient intake. Rockwool and grow rocks are most commonly used growing mediums in Ebb and Flow type systems. The Ebb and Flow is low maintenance, yet highly effective type of hydroponic gardening.
Nutrient Film Technique
The Nutrient Film Technique or NFT system is an active recovery type hydroponic system. Again, using submersible pumps and reusing nutrient solutions. The NFT uses a reservoir with a submersible pump that pumps the nutrient solution into a grow-tube where the roots suspended. The grow-tube is at a slight downward angle so the nutrient solution runs over the roots and back into the reservoir. The nutrient solution flows over the roots up to 24 hours per day.
Oxygen is needed in the grow-tube so capillary matting or air stones must be used. The plants are held up by a support collar or a grow-basket and no growing medium is used. The NFT system is very effective. Although, many novice hydroponic growers find it difficult to fine tune. It can also be very unforgiving, with no growing medium to hold any moisture, any long period of interruption in the nutrient flow can cause the roots to dry out and the plants to suffer and possibly die.
The Continuous Drip system is an active recovery or non-recovery type system. This system uses a submersible pump in a reservoir with supply lines going to each plant. With drip emitter for each plant the gardener can adjust the amount of solution per plant. A drip tray under each row of plants, sending the solution back to the reservoir, can easily make this system an active recovery type. In the early days of hydroponics, the extra solution was leached out into the ground. Continuous Drip systems are often used with Rockwool. Although, any growing medium can be used with this system, thanks to the adjustment feature on each individual drip emitter.
Brand: Active Aqua
Get the convenience of an Ebb & Flow System in a 22″ x 22″ x 10″ size garden. Ebb &?flow (flood & drain) systems work by pumping nutrient solution up from a reservoir to a controlled water level tray. All plants are watered uniformly on a timed cycle. …
Item #: 290054
Buying a System or Building a System
This is the most asked question relating to hydroponics. Should I buy one or build one? This author recommends a little of both. If you have an engineer’s mind and dream of building your own hydroponic system, buy one first! Getting an inexpensive system will allow you to get your feet wet and give you a better understanding of how hydroponics works. The hands on experience is worth the cost of the system and chances are, you will be able to reuse the parts in that system when you set out to build your own.
If you would rather get right into building your own, do your research. Get all the information you can and don’t rely on just one source. This is a constantly changing industry and there are many books still on the shelves that are already outdated. Building your own system can be very rewarding or extremely frustrating. It’s mostly trial and error so, be patient.
Hydroponic gardening is the wave of the future. It is currently being studied in classrooms around the country, local horticultural societies and in government funded research at major universities and NASA. It is also becoming a popular hobby. Hydroponics is fun, exciting and easy to get involved in.
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If you have ever asked,
“What can I grow with Hydroponics?”
probably, the answer is you can grow anything.
That’s true, but not many will flourish in a water-based environment while others will never reach their full potential.
Well, today I’m going to make it easy for you to choose the perfect plants to start.
Below you’ll find a list of some edible easy-to-grow plants (infographic included) that work very well with the Hydroponic cultivation.
Favorable temp: cool. pH: 6.0 – 7.0
Lettuces, the perfect ingredient for the salad sandwich in your kitchen, are probably the most common vegetables that are grown in Hydroponics. They grow super fast in a hydroponic system and are fairly easy to take care of. Lettuces can be grown in any Hydroponics system, including the NFT, Aeroponics, Ebb & Flow, etc. This vegetable is no doubt a great plant if you just start with Hydroponics.
Favorable temp: hot. pH: 5.5 – 6.5
Many types of tomatoes, including traditional and cherry ones, have been grown widely by Hydroponic hobbyists and commercial growers. Botanically, the tomato is a fruit, but most people whether sellers or consumers consider it as vegetables. One thing to keep in mind is that tomatoes require much light. So be prepared to purchase some grow lights if you want to grow indoors.
Favorable temp: cool. pH: 6.0 – 7.0
Radishes are another vegetable that makes a good flavoring mix with other vegetables. Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow – either in soil or hydroponics. It’s better to start from seeds, and you can see seedlings within 3 – 7 days. Radishes thrive in cool temperatures and do not need any lights.
Favorable temp: cool to warm. pH: 5.5 – 6.5
Kale is a very nutritious and delicious-flavored plant for home and restaurant dishes. It is a great vegetable for a healthy person with proven health benefits. The great news is that people have grown Kale hydroponically for so many years, so definitely you can do it in the water system. And in fact, it’s easy to grow and thrive well in this system.
Favorable temp: hot. pH: 5.5 – 6.0
Cucumbers are a common vining plant that is grown at home and in the commercial greenhouses. They enjoy a rapid growth under sufficient condition and hence give very high yields. There are several types and sizes of cucumbers, including the thick-skinned American slicers, long thin-skinned seedless European, and the smooth-skinned Lebanese cucumbers. All can grow well in Hydroponics. Cucumber is a warm plant so be sure to supply it with enough light and temperature.
Favorable temp: cool to warm. pH: 6.0 – 7.0
The favorite vegetable that can be either eaten raw or cooked in your meal does grow well in the water-based environment. Spinach is a cool plant, so it does not require too much light. You can harvest it all at once or tear off some leaves. You can get up to 12 weeks of continuous harvesting under a good condition of climate and growing environment.
Favorable temp: warm. pH: 6.0
One of the most productive and low-maintenance vegetables that can be grown hydroponically. You can choose the types of beans you can grow, including green beans, pole beans, pinto beans, lima beans. You will need a trellis or something to support the plants if you plant pole beans. Seed germination usually takes 3 – 8 days. Harvesting begins after 6 – 8 weeks. After that, you can continue the crop for 3 – 4 months.
Favorable temp: warm to hot. pH: 6.0
It’s easier to grow chives from a plant in a Hydroponic system. So better to get them from your local garden supplies. Under a standard growing condition, it takes six to eight weeks before it is fully mature. Then you can harvest it regularly – it needs 3 – 4 weeks later to fully regrow. Chive requires lots of light, 12 – 14 hours of light each day.
Favorable temp: warm. pH: 5.5 – 6.5
Basil thrives very well in a hydroponic system, and it is indeed among the most grown herbs in Hydroponic. You can grow basil in NFT or Drip system. Once this plant reaches the mature stage, you harvest and trim it weekly. Basil needs lots of lights. It will undergo a poor growth when you do not provide it with over 11 hours of lightning.
Favorable temp: warm. pH: 5.5 – 6.5
Mints, mainly peppermint and spearmint, have been grown extensively whether in soils and hydroponics. Their aromatic compounds in mints are refreshing, and pungent, which proves their use as a flavor for food and beverages. Mint roots spread so quickly, making it ideal to grow with Hydroponics.
Favorable temp: warm. pH: 6.0
Strawberries are well suited for hydroponic growing. In fact, these fruits are one the most popular plants grown in commercial hydroponic production. They have been grown in large-scale NFT systems by the commercial farms for decades. However, you can still enjoy delicious fresh strawberries to feed all your family by growing them at home and harvesting the fruits all year long.
Favorable temp: warm. pH: 4.5 – 6.0
Blueberries, a great fruit high in vitamins for your meal, can be grown well in Hydroponics. This plant takes longer to bear fruits than strawberries, often until the second years. They are usually grown in an NFT system. It’s hard to plant blueberries from seeds, so transplants are recommended.
Favorable temp: warm to hot. pH: 5.5 – 6.0
Peppers need the same hydroponic growing condition like tomatoes – warm temperature and large amounts of lights. Peppers often take two to three months to mature
You can either start growing them from seeds or plants from the local garden supplier. Recommended varieties for hydroponically growing are Jalapeno, Habanero for hot peppers; Mazurka, Cubico, Nairobi, Fellini for sweet peppers.
Harder to grow
Again this does not mean that you cannot grow these types of plants, they are just more challenging to grow in Hydroponics. But experienced growers have planted them in their soilless systems for years and enjoyed excellent yields.
Plants that take up large spaces.
If space is limited, it’s best to avoid squash, melons, pumpkins, corn and other large plants. It doesn’t mean that you cannot grow these plants, but in a narrow area, it’s harder to take care of plants and the yields are not as good as other places where these plants have rooms to grow.
Deep Root veggies
Again, it’s hard to care for plants that need a lot of depth for root. So this is not recommended for beginners.
Potatoes, carrots, turnips fall into these types.
For root crops, you need a substrate with sufficient length and high depth to support the roots. And these types of plants tend not to give as good results as they are in the soil.
If you have a large growing environment like a greenhouse, patio, you can set up a more advanced system and grow sizeable plants, root veggies, and other hard-to-grow ones. That environment is perfect for you to try with any plant.
As someone new to Hydroponics, it would be smart to go with easy to grow plants that enjoy rapid growth. We have mentioned many examples above. As a consequence, you can get the result and learn the experience fast, then feel inspired to move to something harder.
Experienced Hydroponic gardeners may have adequate knowledge of the Hydroponics systems and the plants’ type they are going to grow. They can strive for other plants like tobacco, large melons, pumpkins, sunflowers, and so on. There are no limits.
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
— Liberty Hyde Bailey
Choosing a plant to grow in your Hydroponic garden is just the first step. You will need proper knowledge to set up the system. And most importantly, the plants depend on you for their survival. That requires regular huge attention and persistence until you get the yields, just like anything worthwhile in life.
If you want to sum up the main hydroponic plants you can start, I have made a detailed infographic about plants (vegetables, fruits, herbs) that are best suited in Hydroponics.
Going Vertical to Increase Yields?
We are certainly living in a time of unparalleled technological advancement in general but certainly in the agricultural field.
We’re constantly looking for that latest and greatest “thing” to make our lives easier or to solve one of our existing problems. In controlled environment agriculture, we’ve sought to improve our overall yields and quality by altering the growing environment. We’ve made tremendous improvements to that end by providing more optimum levels of temperature, light, C02, nutrients, dissolved oxygen and more. For the most part, I would consider this all highly successful.
We have also modified our growing systems to effectively manage our plant populations – our greenhouse “real estate,” if you will.
To this end, one of the latest and most heralded “cool, flashy, and sexy” technologies attempting to increase production is to hang NFT channels vertically—- essentially stacking production UP, instead of OUT. We’ve seen quite a bit of this “vertical revolution” these past few years.
Initially, these “towers” were promoted for use in greenhouses. Despite significant issues with inconsistent growth (due to insufficient light reaching the plants toward the bottom), we began to see this technology proliferate and it began to move indoors as well. At the present time, these towers are a staple in many of the major “shipping container” farms, as well as some indoor growing applications.
Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen them all. This recent “farming revolution” has certainly received a lion’s share of publicity and accolades from the media and others. The claim is that these vertical tower systems are “revolutionary technology” and are to be the “future of food.” However, many questions have been raised about the actual effectiveness, sustainability or productivity of trying to install growing systems and crops into a metal box or stacking them up inside a building that was not designed for horticultural production. Despite the “cool factor” of making such a choice, wouldn’t it make more sense to put our production into a properly designed growing environment, such as a greenhouse? This is certainly a very valid question, one that I will be addressing in depth in an upcoming article. In the meantime, let’s look at the effectiveness (?) of hanging our plants vertically.
NFT vs Towers
So why DO we see so many shipping containers and indoor farms promoting the use of vertical towers?
The practice is based on the concept that hanging NFT growing channels vertically, up and down, utilizes more growing space and achieves higher plant populations. “Look!” they say, “When we plant the crops on a vertical plane, we achieve higher production than those horizontal NFT systems!”
It makes sense, doesn’t it, that growing plants vertically would allow more plants per square foot. I mean, a vertical tower would provide more plants and thus higher production, right?
Actually, the answer is no.
When you look closer and break it down, the numbers tell a very different story.
Here are two similar growing systems. One is a horizontal NFT system, demonstrating proper real estate management, and the other is a system of vertical hanging NFT towers-utilizing vertical height in an attempt to get more plants in a given footprint.
When we look at these two systems, we can see that we actually get MORE plants and HIGHER overall production with horizontal NFT in EXACTLY the same footprint.
So how do we do this? By properly utilizing our technologies and real estate management.
It’s really as simple as that.
I know this appears to fly in the face of logic and common sense, but when you examine the data, you see that it’s true.
Despite outward appearances, the horizontal NFT system actually contains almost 4 thousand more plant sites than the vertical towers, all while still maintaining the proper parameters for crop growth.
Given the same crop growth rates in both systems, the horizontal system yields over 40 thousand MORE harvestable crop plants per year than the vertical tower system.
40 thousand more.
If we’re selling lettuce for example, at $1.50 per head, we are looking at more than $60,000 per year in additional revenue……all with essentially the same production costs.
Do I want a simple technology that yields $60,000 more in revenue per year?
You bet I do.
High Quality – High Yields – Consistent Production. Every day, all the time.
This is why you MUST look closely at ALL technologies……….what they CAN do for you…….as well as what happens when you fail to evaluate them properly.
Failure to correctly analyze just his one technology can mean the difference in over $60,000 PER YEAR in additional revenue in the same amount of growing area, with the same basic financial inputs. That’s a STAGGERING difference!
Proper “real estate management” at correct growth parameters = good crops! You can’t replicate this with a vertical system!
With the technological explosion going on around us, it is easy to see the “flash” of a particular technology but miss the substance. Don’t make this mistake. When looking at those “cool” or “sexy” technologies, did deeper.
Take a good look at the crops.
Are they of appropriate market size? What is the quality like? Are the plants all consistent throughout the crop?
Look beyond the wall of green. Look at the individual crops.
Could you sell these on the open market at a price point that is economically sustainable?
If you don’t know the answers to these and other questions, I strongly suggest that you look a little deeper. We can all TELL you about our technologies, and what’s effective. But, if we can’t also SHOW you, then none of what we say is credible. Evaluating with this critical eye will serve you well as you decide on the technologies to best serve your needs.
Hydroponic Systems 101
Hydroponics, by definition, is a method of growing plants in a water based, nutrient rich solution. Hydroponics does not use soil, instead the root system is supported using an inert medium such as perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plants roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth.
I highly recommend reading through this guide and learning as much as you can about hydroponics before you start your garden. Even if you don’t plan on growing with hydroponics, you can still learn a lot about what plants need in their various stages of growth by reading about the basics of hydroponics.
Growing with hydroponics comes with many advantages, the biggest of which is a greatly increased rate of growth in your plants. With the proper setup, your plants will mature up to 25% faster and produce up to 30% more than the same plants grown in soil.
Your plants will grow bigger and faster because they will not have to work as hard to obtain nutrients. Even a small root system will provide the plant exactly what it needs, so the plant will focus more on growing upstairs instead of expanding the root system downstairs.
All of this is possible through careful control of your nutrient solution and pH levels. A hydroponic system will also use less water than soil based plants because the system is enclosed, which results in less evaporation. Believe it or not, hydroponics is better for the environment because it reduces waste and pollution from soil runoff.
Despite the fact that a hydroponics system has so many advantages, there are actually a few disadvantages as well. The biggest factor for most people is that a quality hydroponics system of any size will cost more than its soil counterpart. Then again, dirt isn’t exactly expensive and you get what you pay for.
A large scale hydroponics system can take a lot of time to setup if you aren’t the most experienced grower. Plus, managing your hydroponics system will take a lot of time as well. You will have to monitor and balance your pH and nutrient levels on a daily basis.
The greatest risk with a hydroponics system is that something like a pump failure can kill off your plants within hours depending on the size of your system. They can die quickly because the growing medium can’t store water like soil can, so the plants are dependent on a fresh supply of water.
Types of Hydroponic Systems
The cool thing about hydroponics is that there are many different types of hydroponics systems available. Some of the best hydroponic systems on the market combine different types of hydroponics into one hybrid hydroponic system. Hydroponics is unique in that there are multiple techniques you can use to get the nutrient solution to your plants.
Deepwater Culture (DWC), also known as the reservoir method, is by far the easiest method for growing plants with hydroponics. In a Deepwater Culture hydroponic system, the roots are suspended in a nutrient solution. An aquarium air pump oxygenates the nutrient solution, this keeps the roots of the plants from drowning. Remember to prevent light from penetrating your system, as this can cause algae to grow. This will wreak havoc on your system.
The primary benefit to using a Deepwater Culture system is that there are no drip or spray emitters to clog. This makes DWC an excellent choice for organic hydroponics, as hydroponics systems that use organic nutrients are more prone to clogs.
Nutrient Film Technique
Nutrient Film Techinque, or NFT, is a type of hydroponic system where a continous flow of nutrient solution runs over the plants roots. This type of solution is on a slight tilt so that the nutrient solution will flow with the force of gravity.
This type of system works very well because the roots of a plant absorb more oxygen from the air than from the nutrient solution itself. Since only the tips of the roots come in contact with the nutrient solution, the plant is able to get more oxygen which fascilitates a faster rate of growth.
Aeroponics is a hydroponics method by which the roots are misted with a nutrient solution while suspended in the air. There are two primary methods to get the solution to the exposed roots. The first method involves a fine spray nozzle to mist the roots. The second method uses what’s called a pond fogger. If you decide to use a pond fogger then make sure you use a Teflon coated disc, as this will reduce the amount of maintenance required.
You may have heard of the AeroGarden, which is a commercialized aeroponics system. The AeroGarden is an excellent entry point to aeroponics. It’s a turn-key system that requires little setup. It also comes with great support and supplies to get you started.
Wicking is one of the easiest and lowest costing methods of hydroponics. The concept behind wicking is that you have a material, such as cotton, that is surrounded by a growing medium with one end of the wick material placed in the nutrient solution. The solution is then wicked to the roots of the plant.
This system can be simplified by removing the wick material all together and just using a medium that has the ability to wick nutrients to the roots. This works by suspending the bottom of your medium directly in the solution. We recommend using a medium such as perlite or vermiculite. Avoid using mediums such as Rockwool, coconut coir, or peat moss because they may absorb too much of your nutrient solution which can suffocate the plant.
Ebb & Flow
An ebb & flow hydroponics system, also known as a flood and drain system, is a great system for growing plants with hydroponics. This type of system functions by flooding the growing area with the nutrient solution at specific intervals. The nutrient solution then slowly drains back into the reservoir. The pump is hooked to a timer, so the process repeats itself at specific intervals so that your plants get the desired amount of nutrients.
An ebb & flow hydroponics system is ideal for plants that are accustomed to periods of dryness. Certain plants flourish when they go through a slight dry period because it causes the root system to grow larger in search of moisture. As the root system grows larger the plant grows faster because it can absorb more nutrients.
A hydroponic drip system is rather simple. A drip system works by providing a slow feed of nutrient solution to the hydroponics medium. We recommend using a slow draining medium, such as Rockwool, coconut coir, or peat moss. You can also use a faster draining medium, although you will have to use a faster dripping emitter.
The downside to a system like this is that the drippers / emitter are famous for clogging. We prefer not to use drip systems, but it can be an effective method for growing if you can avoid the clogs that plague this type of system. The reason the system gets clogged is because particles from nutrients that build up in the emitter. Systems that use organic nutrients are more likely to have this kind of issue.
- We highly recommend changing the nutrient solution in your reservoir every two to three weeks.
- Keep the water temperature in your reservoir between 65 and 75 degrees. You can maintain the water temperature by using a water heater or a water chiller.
- An air pump with an air stone connected by flexible tubing can help increase circulation and keep your nutrient solution oxygenated.
- If your plant doesn’t look healthy, either discolored or distorted, then the first thing you should check and adjust is the pH. If you determine that the pH is not the problem then flush your system with a solution like Clearex.
- We recommend following the feeding cycle provided by the manufacturer of your nutrients.
- Flush, clean, and sterilize your entire system after you finish a growing cycle. Drain your reservoir and remove any debris, then run your entire system for about a day with a mix of non-chlorine bleach and water. Use 1/8th of a cup of non-chlorine bleach for every gallon of water. Then drain your system and flush it thoroughly with clean water to remove any excess bleach.
Why Choose Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is an excellent choice for all types of growers. It is a great choice because it gives you the ability to meticulously control the variables that effect how well your plants grow. A fine tuned hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil based system in plant quality and amount of produce yielded.
If you want to grow the biggest, juiciest, yummiest plants you can possible imagine, then hydroponics is the right choice for you. It may seem intimidating at first with all the equipment and work involved, but it will all seem simple enough once you get the hang of the basics. Start small, keep it simple, and your hydroponic system will never cease to amaze!
How Does Hydroponics Work? (A Beginner’s Guide)
If you’re interested in agriculture at all, you likely have heard of “hydroponics”.
Yet you may still be wondering:
“What is hydroponic growing, and how does it work?”
“What are the main differences between hydroponic farming and normal farming?”
Or Maybe Even:
“Can I do it on a small scale myself?”
All of these answers and more are discussed in this Beginner’s Guide To How Hydroponics Works.
But here’s the most important part:
At the end of this article, you should have enough knowledge to start planning your own, personal hydroponic mini-farm.
So let’s get started…
What is hydroponic farming?
Many people think that hydroponic farming is sticking seeds in water and letting them grow.
But these people have it all wrong.
Let me explain:
The definition of hydroponic growing is:
“The method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.”
What does this mean, in plain english?
Hydroponics does not just mean plants growing in a container of water.
Now, here’s the key:
The water continually circulates, instead of forming a stagnant pool.
Also, only the roots are exposed.
This is often accomplished by using a tank and a pump (image below).
An example of Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponic System: Source
This likely isn’t exactly what you originally had in mind when you heard about hydroponics.
Hydroponic growing systems can be complicated to design and operate.
So if you are trying to truly understand hydroponics, where do you start?
To truly understand hydroponics, let’s start at the very beginning.
Then we will cover:
– Pros and Cons
– Real Life Examples
– A More Detailed Breakdown of Hydroponic System Design
Keep on reading below!
What is the history of hydroponic farming?
You may be shocked to hear this, but:
The precursors of hydroponic farms date back to prehistoric ages.
the first hydroponic growing techniques were developed by the ancient Mesopotamians around 600 BCE
How long ago?
Before the common era. Like, 600 BCE.
Now, what’s the back story on this?
King Nebuchadnezzar built the “hanging gardens” of Babylon for queen, Amyitis.
According to legend, she grew up in a mountainous area and so the King wanted to expose Amyitis to the beauty of agriculture.
How did this system actually work?
Technically the water was carried in buckets by slaves instead of with a pump.
Plus, one other technicality to keep in mind:
The system did use irrigated soil so was not technically hydroponic.
But, despite this fact:
Agricultural historians conclude it is the earliest known example of a precursor to true hydroponic techniques.
Pro’s and Con’s of Hydroponic Farming
Now, here’s the skinny:
Many experts have actually highlighted the disadvantages of hydroponics.
If you can do it the right way, you can grow some serious vegetable volume…
So let’s walk through the upside and downside, step-by-step:
Here are common criticisms, according to The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS):
– High Upfront Cost: Hydroponics are expensive to set up compared to conventional farming style.
– Restricted Growing Options: Some types of produce are not ideal for hydroponics, particularly heavy plants with tall stalks.
For example: you won’t be able to grow large hedges or trees hydroponically!
– Nutrient Solution “Links” All Plants: In a soil-based system, soil can act as a temporary buffer between plants. If one plant is diseased, the others have the soil to separate plants.
This isn’t the case with hydroponics. If the nutrient content in a hydroponic solution is not correct or a disease enters the solution, the entire crop could be destroyed.
there’s also tons of benefits to hydroponic growing, namely (also via IFAS):
– More efficient harvesting: Although this is more important with increasing scale, harvesting in a hydroponic system is typically less expensive than harvesting conventionally
– Less Pests: Growing crops off the ground results in a cleaner crop with less pests.
– Space: Less space is required for growing.
– Water: Less water is required.
We’ve covered the pros and cons.
So let’s move onto current examples of hydroponic farms…
A Current Example of a Hydroponic Farm
Clearwater Organic Farms
Clearwater Organic Farms Hydroponic Aerial Overview
Clearwater Organic Farms in Rochester, New York, USA is a brand new, still under-construction, state of the art 15-acre hydroponic farm.
According to part-owner of Clearwater Organic, Alex Wasilov, (via this Rocherfirst.com article):
“Clearwater Organic Farms has created a controlled environment organic hydroponic greenhouse system that grows baby leaf vegetables,”
The farm will employ over 100 people upon completion in 2017/2018. Over 92 million consumers will be within a 4 hour truck drive of Clearwater.
“We plan to grow baby leaf vegetables here in Rochester. Our facility phase one will be about 15 acres, under glass, and we hope to double that size within the next three to five years.”
Still interested to learn more about Clearwater?
Check out the YouTube overview from the designers of their facility below.
Ater all this info, you’re probably at least a little interested (or dying to know) exactly how a hydroponic farm functions.
In other words:
“What are the actual components of a hydroponic farm?”
We cover a simple, step-by-step walk through of the components of a hydroponic farm below…
How Hydroponic Farming Works (Specifically)
The bottom line:
There are four key areas to analyze the function of urban farming:
(1) physical layout
(3) growing medium
(4) sustainability features
We can use the following example and break down the key characteristics and functions of a hydroponic farm:
First things first:
(1) Physical Layout
There are actually 6 main “techniques” for uban farming:
1. Wick Technique
2. Ebb and Flow Technique
3. NFT Technique
4. Water Culture Technique
5. Drip Technique
Each of these techniques have a different layout.
There will almost always be a reservoir of nutrient solution, a pump, a structure to hold plants, “plugs” that hold the plants in place, and drains.
The most common component for building hydroponic infrastructure is plastic.
(2) Lighting if indoors, is often accomplished with LED lighting.
Hydroponic farming can also occur outdoors in some climates.
(3) Hyrdoponic farming never uses soil. If a growing medium is used, it will be soil-less.
(4) As previously noted, hydroponics are incredibly efficient with water. This is perhaps their most sustainable feature.
Additionally, hydroponic systems are efficient with nutrients, because nutrient solution can be recycled.
Source: The 6 main hydroponic techniques
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You now know the basic background information relating to hydroponic farming.
Why is that important?
Here’s your real takeaway (if you forget everything else):
Hydroponic farming is here to stay!
Getting to know the background of hydroponic farming, is just the start of your urban farming journey.
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The word, Hydroponic, comes from Latin and means working water. Simply put, it is the art of growing plants without soil.
When most people think of hydroponics, they think of plants grown with their roots suspended directly into water with no growing medium. This is just one type of hydroponic gardening known as N.F.T. (nutrient film technique). There are several variations of N.F.T. used around the world and it is a very popular method of growing hydroponically. What most people don’t realize is that there are countless methods and variations of hydroponic gardening. In this section, we explain the most common, including the pros and cons of each along with an abundance of great, general information about hydroponics.
To view a topic below, simply click on the title.
What are the basic types of hydroponic systems?
Why does hydroponics work so well?
What is growing medium?
What is the difference between hydroponic, organic, and “regular” fertilizers?
Hydroponic or organic? What’s the difference? By Roger H. Thayer
What are micro-nutrients?
How complicated is hydroponic gardening?
Is ph important in hydroponics?
Why does Hydroponics work so well?
That’s simple. If you give a plant exactly what it needs, when it needs it, in the amount that it needs, the plant will be as healthy as is genetically possible. With hydroponics this is an easy task; in soil it is far more difficult.
With hydroponics the plants are grown in an inert growing medium (see below) and a perfectly balanced, pH adjusted nutrient solution is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. This allows the plant to uptake its food with very little effort as opposed to soil where the roots must search out the nutrients and extract them. This is true even when using rich, organic soil and top of the line nutrients. The energy expended by the roots in this process is energy better spent on vegetative growth and fruit and flower production.
If you grow two genetically identical plants using soil for one and hydroponics for the other, you will almost immediately see the difference this factor makes. Faster, better growth and much greater yields are just some of the many reasons that hydroponics is being adapted around the world for commercial food production as well as a growing number of home, hobby gardeners.
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What is “growing medium”?
Growing medium is the material in which the roots of the plant are growing. This covers a vast variety of substances which include Rockwool, perlite, vermiculite, coconut fiber, gravel, sand and many more. The growing medium is an inert substance that doesn’t supply any nutrition to the plants. All the nutrition comes from the nutrient solution (water and fertilizer combined). You can therefore, easily control everything the plants receive. The strength and pH of the nutrient solution is easy to adjust so that the plants receive just the right amount of food. The watering/feeding cycles can be controlled by an inexpensive timer so that the plants get watered on schedule, as needed.
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What is the difference between hydroponic, organic and “regular” fertilizers?
Both hydroponic fertilizers and those intended for use in soil contain the three major nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The major difference in hydroponic fertilizers is that they contain the proper amounts of all the essential micro-nutrients which fertilizers intended for use with soil do not. The plants are expected to find these elements in the soil, assuming that the trace elements are in fact present. Problems can arise for the plants if any or all of the micro-nutrients are not present in the soil or are depleted by successive (or excessive) plantings. Hydroponic fertilizers are usually in a more refined form with fewer impurities making them both more stable and soluble for better absorption. Organic fertilizers, in most cases, are very different than either hydroponic or soil fertilizers both in composition and how they deliver the nutrient to the plants. Organic fertilizers rely on the synergistic action of bacteria and microbes to break down nutritional substances for easier uptake by the plants. Hydroponic and soil fertilizers provide nutrients in a ready-to-use form. While once, they were mutually exclusive, in recent years a number of outstanding organic fertilizers have hit the market in formulations refined enough for use in hydroponics. For more information click on the excellent article below.
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“Hydroponic or Organic-What’s the Difference?” by Roger H. Thayer
The micro-nutrients, also known as trace elements that are required for healthy plant growth are calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. When deficient in any or all of these elements plants suffer stress, disease, become more susceptible to pest, fungus’ and bacteria, and may have uptake issues with the N-P-K fertilizer they are being fed. At best, they will never live up to their genetic potential in growth and yield; at worst, they die. In the case of food crops, nutrient deficient plants lead to nutrient deficiencies in the people and animals who consume them. Due to years of over farming the same fields much of today’s commercially produced food has a nutrient level barely exceeding waxed fruit. No surprise that more and more people are choosing to grow the food their families eat in their own gardens. When growing in soil remember to renew the dirt between plantings and when growing hydroponically know that it is absolutely essential to use a hydroponic fertilizer that provides all the trace elements.
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How complicated is hydroponic gardening?
It can be but it doesn’t have to be. Hydroponics can be as incredibly simple as growing a single plant in a hand watered bucket or nursery pot, using any number of inert growing mediums. No automation, electricity or grow lights required.
Of course, the potential to go high tech is limited only by your imagination and budget. Virtually every aspect of garden management can be automated and should you so desire, monitored and controlled with your laptop or cell phone from the other side of the world. Dare to dream.
Most hobby oriented hydroponic systems are somewhere between the two extremes mentioned above. The average, home hydroponic system usually consists of a few basic parts: a growing tray, a reservoir, a submersible pump to water the plants, a simple timer and an air pump and air stone to oxygenate the nutrient solution. Of course, light (either natural or artificial) is also required.
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Is pH important in hydroponics?
The control of pH is extremely important, not only in hydroponics but in soil as well. Plants lose the ability to absorb different nutrients when the pH varies. (This topic is answered in much greater detail in the “mini-class” on pH in Hydroponics).
The ability to quickly and easily test and control pH in hydroponics is a major advantage over dirt gardening, where testing and adjusting the pH is much more complicated and time consuming.
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