Hydroponic systems come in more forms and types, so what would work best for you? You got some fresh basil left and put one in a jar with water next to your sunny window? Here we go, you got the simplest hydroponic system.
Of course if you are serious about hydroponics there is a lot more to know about hydroponic systems. Each hydroponic system has advantages and disadvantages but mostly it depends on your particular needs and conditions.
You’ve got little space? The deep water hydroponic systems might work – even on your kitchen table. Got more space and are more technically inclined for a better performance hydroponic system? Nutrient film technique or the wick hydroponic system might be a good choice, but you need to watch the pumps, timers and so on. Are you willing to invest even more? Might want to try the aeroponics and fogponics systems.
The Hydroponic Hub has a nice overview of the hydroponic systems with pictures and explanations:
Deep water culture hydroponic systems
In this type of hydroponic system, the plant roots are placed in a solution of nutrient-rich, oxygenated water. This hydroponic system is probably one of the easiest to DIY, as it mainly done by using plastic buckets with the plant placed in a net pot suspended on the lid. You need the reservoir, nutrient solution, growing medium, light, air or water pumps.
Tikki O. explains how the DWC Deep Water Culture Technique works, what you need and how to DIY at home.
Deep water hydroponics advantages
- it’s the easiest hydroponic system to have
- it takes less care than any other hydroponic system, once you set it up, it requires little maintenance
- very little moving parts and assembly
- can be built in very little spaces.
Deep water hydroponics disadvantages
- not as efficient as the other hydroponic systems – it takes more water
- small systems tend to become unbalanced easily (and get into nutrient deficiencies or diseases)
The wick hydroponic system
The wick hydroponic system is using the same idea of putting the plants above the nutrient solution but the plant roots are not placed directly in the nutrient solution. Instead, a system of wicks are bringing the nutrient solution from the bottom reservoir to the above plants.
The wick hydroponic system advantages
- all you need is a container for your plants, growing medium as clay pebbles and some wicks, and a nutrient solution.
- there is less danger to have root rot as the roots are not placed directly in the water
- unless you need artificial lightning or wish to add a water pump for better results you don’t need any power source
The wick hydroponic system disadvantages
- don’t work well with plants that require a lot of water
- require more monitoring because if the water level drops there will be less nutrient solution brought to the plants
- some roots might pass down the wick system and get into the nutrient reservoir causing problems
Ebb and flow (flood and drain) hydroponic systems
As the name suggests, the ebb and flow hydroponic system consists in regularly flush the plant roots with nutrients and air. At regular intervals, a simple timer causes a pump to fill the plants tray with nutrient solution, after which the solution drains.
Everest Fernandez explains that at the minimum, the plants pots filled with growing medium are placed in a deep tray that has a draining hole. Below the deep tray you place the nutrient solution reservoir. You now need a pump and a timer: from time to time the pump will start bringing nutrient solution in the plants tray. The solution will drip back to the bottom tray.
Ebb and flow advantages
- is relatively easy to operate once everything is setup: refill the bottom reservoir with water and add nutrients as needed
- it’s a more “natural feeding technique” as dry periods are alternating with wet periods
- can be used for multiple plant types
Ebb and flow disadvantages
- the volume of water brought in h top tray needs to be carefully calibrated to avoid spills
- watch for drain clogs
- requires constant monitoring
Read more about ebb and flow hydroponic systems here.
Nutrient film technique hydroponic systems
Nutrient film technique is a Continuous-flow solution culture. A very shallow stream of nutrient solution is recirculated in a thin layer past a bare root mat of plants in a watertight channel, with an upper surface exposed to air. Unlike with deep water culture hydroponics, a stream (or “film”) of nutrient solution flows over the ends of their roots.
Hoocho explains how to build a bigger NFT hydroponic system using plastic pipes:
NFT systems advantages
- low water and nutrient consumption
- easy to expand
- less prone to root rot as the roots are not submerged into water
NFT system disadvantages
- it takes more space as you need to lay down pipes in an angle
- a failing pump will quickly kill your plants
- doesn’t work well for plants with big roots or plants that need a lot of support
Read more about Nutrient film hydroponic systems
Drip hydroponic systems
This system is similar with the watering drip systems used in regular agriculture. The aerated nutrient solution is pumped slowly through a network of tubes to individual plants. The quantity of the nutrient solution that is dripped is controlled precisely.
The drip hydroponic system might look similar to an ebb and flow, but the water delivery is more precise – you don’t flood everything but get nutrient solution to each plant. You need a timer, nutrient reservoir, a deep tray for the plants, water pump, flexible tubing and the drip emitters
Drip systems advantages
- nutrient delivery is very precise and optimized
- no need to worry about root rot
Drip systems disadvantages
- the network of tubes for drip irrigation might become complicated
- emitter clogging
- needs attention to proper pump timing
Aeroponics and fogponics hydroponic systems
Both aeroponics and fogponics are replacing the immersion of roots in various quantities of nutrient solution with an aerosol of nutrient solution. The method requires no substrate as the roots are suspended in air and the roots periodically wet with a fine mist of atomized nutrients.
They are a bit more complicated to use and understand:
- Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in the air or mist environment without soil or an aggregate medium.
- The fogponic system uses electric atomizers to transform nutrient and water mix into humidity. This creates a constant humid and nutrient-rich fog for plant roots that don’t need to reach the nutrient solution.