What is a Hydroponic Garden?

A hydroponic garden involves growing plants completely without soil.  Instead, plants roots are submerged in a water fertilizer mixture. Surprisingly, a large variety of plants can be sustained and flourish using this method.

The hydroponic garden can be trickier to set up compared to a traditional dirt garden bed, however, it does have many more benefits.  Below are just a handful of the many benefits of using a hydroponic system according to the National Park Service.

  • Hydroponic gardens can take up much less space because they can be stacked vertically.
  • Hydroponic systems use up to 10 times less water because all water within the system is captured and reused. 
  • Plants within a hydroponic system grow faster and have larger yields of fruits and vegetables. If you’d like to increase the yield of fruits and vegetables even more, consider using a nutrient formula tailored to boost growth
  • Conditions can be more easily controlled.
  • There are fewer pests and diseases occurring because many rely on soil to survive. 

Types of Hydroponic Gardens

These are the most widely used variations of hydroponic gardens. Each of these have their benefits and some are more easily constructed.  Consider your resources, space, and time available for caring for your hydroponic garden when picking the right type for you. 

Wick System

This is a super popular method that is easy to do for anyone. In this method, plant roots grow through a medium. A fabric or rope cord called a “wick” brings water filled with nutrients from a reservoir up to the plant. 

This method does not need as much maintenance compared to the others. You’ll only need to ensure the nutrient mixture is fresh, and that no build up occurs. It is crucial to flush out the medium to avoid nutrient build up over time. 

The wick system is low cost and very beginner friendly. Popular growing mediums include LECA (lightweight expanded clay aggregate), perlite, coco coir chips, and vermiculite. The wick system is considered “passive hydroponics” because it does not require air or water pumps. 

Air-Gap

This is also a very beginner-friendly method. The plant roots hang in nutrient water with a layer of air at the top of them. The oxygen is crucial for nutrient uptake and helps in the process. 

For this method, make sure to check up on your plants roots to ensure that they are strong. If your plants are just starting out, it can be helpful to fortify them with a quality strengthening fertilizer

Water Culture / Raft Method

This is arguably the simplest of all the methods. All you need is a raft that the plants are held afloat by, usually styrofoam. Then, you’ll also need a water pump, bubbler, and a nutrient water solution. 

This is a great method for growing leaf and other fast growing, water loving leafy greens. Other plants other than lettuce may not do as well within this system. This isn’t a good choice if you would like to grow large plants or keep them in this method long term. 

Ebb and Flow (otherwise known as flood and drain)

The ebb and flow or flood and drain method involves a separate water reservoir that will flood a bed of plants on a timer. The plants are within a non-dirt medium like perlite or rockwool.  The water will only fill up to a certain level, leaving the top couple inches of the root system dry. 

The water will then drain back into the reservoir after a certain amount of time. This method has been shown to be successful with a variety of plants including root vegetables like carrots and radishes.  

Top Feeder/Drip System

This hydroponic garden system can be a bit trickier to perfect but is one of the most widely used hydroponic systems. Each plant grows within its own medium and water is dripped and allowed to run through the medium slowly from the top. Then, any excess runs into a reservoir and is then pumped back up to the top to be dripped through again. 

This system requires a timer controlled submersed pump. It also can work for a very wide variety of plants, both small and large. There are two types of variations you can choose from in this setup. 

The first is a non-recovery system in which water is not reused and the second is a recovery system in which water is reused. The non-recovery system allows for new -balanced nutrient solution to be added whenever the reservoir runs out. The recovery system can be a bit trickier to ensure that the solution stays pH balanced and the plants get enough nutrients. 

Nutrient Film Technology (NFT)

This is another very widely used hydroponic garden system. It easily scales to a variety of different operations.  It is best used with smaller plants that have shorter root systems.

To create this system, you’ll be using sloped channels that pour into a nutrient reservoir. Then, a pump brings the water back to the top to flow down again. It is best to only use pots with any medium with this system. This setup is great for a small space as multiple layers and channels can be grown very close together or stacked. 

Aeroponics

This system is the most difficult to set up and maintain throughout all of the systems that utilize water.  For this system, the plant’s roots are suspended in air and misted with nutrient solution. Any excess is allowed to fall into a reservoir below. 

This system allows for many different sizes of plants and root systems. Please note that these types of systems can be costly to build due to all the nozzles needed. The system can become clogged due to nutrient build up as well. 

Important Factors For A Successful Hydroponic Garden Setup

One of the most important factors is making sure that your water level is correct for the system you’ve chosen to ensure that your roots do not suffocate from lack of oxygen. 

Ensure that the hydroponic plants are chosen for your specified setup as some work better with certain plants only.  Also, another important factor to remember is that you do not need to spend big bucks in order to make hydroponics work for you. A great hydroponic system can be easily created using inexpensive tubing, PVC pipe, and plastic bottles. 

Lastly, choose a made for hydroponics. Especially if you are growing plants like lettuce, you’ll want to make sure that your light is not fluorescent because this could scorch the leaves. Remember to have fun using hydroponics and don’t be afraid to experiment and find the method that works best for your unique plant needs! 

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