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Basic Components of Hydroponic Systems The easiest hydroponic systems to use at home fall into a category of hydroponics called "Deep Water Culture".
The plants are suspended over a basin of water and the roots hang down from the container where they absorb water and nutrients.
This is the most common type of hydroponic system for small growers, such as people growing for personal use and school demonstration gardens.
It is also the cheapest and easiest to maintain. and expand.
You can buy pre-made hydroponic systems for deep sea farming, but it's cheaper and almost as easy to build your own.
For this type of system, your water and plant container can be as simple as a 5 gallon bucket or plastic tub. Any type of container that holds water will be fine for hydroponics, as long as it's clean and made of a food-safe material (one that doesn't release harmful chemicals into the water).
Consider the following when choosing a container for your hydroponic system:
The size of the plants you want to grow should determine the size of your container. For example, if you want to grow a tomato hydroponically, consider the canopy size of a mature tomato plant and choose a container of about the same size.
The seed packet should tell you how to make it big. will be the plant.
If you want to grow more things in a container, for example more lettuce heads, you will need a larger container.
Lid or flotation device
The container in your hydroponic system will hold water and nutrients, but something has to support the plant.
When using a bucket, the most common support structure for plants is simply the lid of the bucket with holes drilled for the plants.
If you don't have a lid, another common practice is to use extruded polystyrene (insulating sheets). You can place the polystyrene sheets on top of the container or float them directly above the water.
If you choose to float the leaves directly on water, it's a good idea to provide additional support (like PVC pipes) to support the polystyrene sheet when the plants become heavier.
Cost, aesthetics and space efficiency
If you want your hydroponic system to be more attractive than just a bucket, an easy solution is to build a frame around it, like the HydroponicSalad Table .
If you are hoping to expand your system to use multiple containers at the same time, you can increase space efficiency with adjustable wire shelves, with containers or plastic buckets on each shelf.
These additional factors are unnecessary and will increase the cost, but they can make your setup more efficient and attractive. A key part of any hydroponic system is the support structure for your plants.
The most common system for DIY hydroponics is the combination of mesh pots and a substrate. A mesh pot is simply a pot with holes or slits in the sides to allow the root system to reach the underlying nutrient solution.
The mesh pot only needs to be partially submerged to allow the roots of the developing plants to get oxygen.
Mesh pots are available in a variety of sizes and styles to fit a wide range of systems.
Instead of filling mesh pots with soil, common substrates include perlite, hydroton, pumice, gravel, coir, and rockwool.
The advantages and disadvantages of each substrate are listed in the table below. Whatever substrate you choose, soak it in water for 24 hours and change the water before transplanting the seedlings. This helps remove dirt and debris and in some cases can remove debris that can affect the pH of the system.
If you reuse your growing medium, be sure to clean and disinfect it before replanting to prevent the buildup of pathogens.
The list of substrates in the table is not complete; new products come out regularly.
Substrate / Explanation / Pros / Cons
Rockwool / Most popular medium; Superheated rock and chalk that is spun like wool Comes in a variety of shapes, sizes / Not biodegradable
Retains oxygen well / Can irritate skin, eyes, and lungs
Pore spaces are a good size for root development Alkaline - can impact the pH
Coconut coir / Coconut husk byproduct / Good water retention - keeps roots from becoming dehydrated Variable product
Environmentally friendly / Some types of coir (bricks) must be rehydrated before use
Reusable (a few times)
Made of organic material - more potential for insects or pathogens
Hydroton / LECA / Lightweight expanded clay pebbles the size of marbles / Larger spaces between pebbles: more airflow and ease of root development / Limited water holding capacity (only a problem if you forget to water or let the water level drop)
Reusable More expensive than other options
Easy to work with and clean
Perlite / Ore that has been heated in a kiln and puffed / expanded Holds on to oxygen well / Non-renewable resource
Reusable (a few times) / Small particles are more prone to blockages - can accumulate algae and biofilms
Inexpensive Can be harmful to fish - do not use in aquaponics
Can be too lightweight, causing it to float
Pumice / Porous volcanic rock / Available in multiple sizes; larger sizes allow for more airflow May be hard to find pumice that is not chemically treated
Lightweight / Variable product: sharp edges can sometimes cause root damage to plants
No super-heating necessary; may be more sustainable than some of the other rock-based options Can be too lightweight, causing it to float
Gravel / Small rock from a variety of sources / Inexpensive Heavy
Drains well Can impact the pH
Easy to work with and clean / Small particles are more prone to blockages - can accumulate algae and biofilms
The net pot system needs to be supported in some way. The easiest way to do this is to drill net pot-sized holes in the top of your container. The hole should be large enough to fit the majority of the pot through it, but
just small enough for the lip of the net pot to rest on top.
If your container does not have a lid, you can use an extruded polystyrene board (insulation boards) or a wide-lip basket. When using polystyrene, support the board from below by adding PVC tubes to the container.
This way the bed can be raised slightly above water level, which becomes important when plant roots start to develop.
The easiest option for hydroponic lighting is to grow outdoors in the summer. This is a great option for people who have access to a sunny balcony or patio.
For indoor hydroponics, supplemental lighting is almost always necessary. Although you can successfully grow plants indoors if you have a very sunny south-facing window, you'll probably need artificial lights in the winter.
The most common types of lighting available to small growers include LED and fluorescent bulbs. There are pros and cons to using each type.
Types of Grow Lights Advantages Disadvantages
LED (Light Emitting Diode) Very energy efficient Higher initial cost than other bulbs
Wide light spectrum
Don't produce too much of heat
Wide variety of styles and sizes
Fluorescent Moderately energy efficient They don't last as long
Lower initial cost Uses more power from LEDs
Some only produce light in the blue-green spectrum, but others have a broader spectrum that includes red light; control label
Incandescent Lowest initial cost Inefficient
Will not last long
High pressure sodium Emits constant light More suitable for large scale systems
Releases a lot of heat
Not all light is usable by plants (outside of the spectrum available to plants)
Whichever type of light you choose, consider the following factors:
Red light and blue:
The light spectrum includes colors ranging from red to blue; some bulbs produce primarily blue light, some produce primarily red light, and some produce a mixture of blue and red light. While a balance of blue and red light is best for plant growth, you can only get away with blue light if you're only growing leafy greens.
Light from the red part of the light spectrum helps plants develop thicker stems, which are necessary for producing flowers or fruit.
In lettuce experiments, less blue light results in milder tasting lettuce with a flat texture; more light blue results in a "spicier" lettuce with a more curly texture. Check the specifications of your bulb to see what type of light it emits. Bulbs marketed as "white light" or "full spectrum" will produce a balance of red and blue light.
Cost: Consider the initial cost and day-to-day running costs of your lighting system to determine if it's worth it.
Example: For a small hydroponic system with 1 or 2 5 gallon buckets, you would need a single 9 watt LED grow light with 16 micromol PPF per second ($15 plus $10 for a work light to mount the bulb). LED lamps have a lifespan of approximately 25,000 hours. If you run this light for 14 hours a day, every day of the year (5110 hours a year), it should last about 4 years and 10.5 months. For approximately 45,990 watts of electricity per year (9 watts x 5110 hours of autonomy).
With an electricity cost of 12 cents per kilowatt hour (a going price in 2020), you can expect to pay around 45 cents per month or $5.44 per year for electricity. Add to that $15 every 5 years to replace the bulb. More About Accent Lighting
Passive Aeration (Kratky Method)
In a deep water passive system, aeration is ensured by the air gap above the water.
This is why it is important to only partially submerge the mesh pot as the seedlings grow and why it is important to keep the roots only 1/3 to 1/2 submerged once they begin to grow beyond the mesh pot. .
When using a single container, an air stone is the most common type of aeration device in hydroponics. An air stone is a synthetic "stone" full of pores. It is connected by pipeline to an external pump. The pump pushes the oxygen through the stone which, thanks to its porous structure, releases the air in the form of tiny bubbles.
They are commonly used in aquariums and come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
Consider an air stone if you are growing multiple plants with different root lengths in the same container. If a plant's roots are submerged more than half their length to accommodate a shorter plant nearby, aeration will help keep the water sufficiently oxygenated to prevent plant damage.
If you have a lot of containers, it is more common to use a recirculating deep water culture (DWC) system. The containers are connected by pipes and a large pump circulates the hydrogen peroxide between the containers and a tank.
With this method, you can simply pay attention to the pH and nutrient balance in the tank rather than managing each container separately at hardware stores, but they tend to be expensive for home growers. There are also great DIY tutorials on YouTube if you'd rather make your own.