Simply put, hydroponics is the practice of growing plants using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium. The word hydroponics comes from the roots “hydro”, meaning water, and “ponos”, meaning labour.
Instead of soil, hydroponic gardeners use different types of growing media, like coconut coir, vermiculite, perlite, and many more.
In a nutshell, the idea behind hydroponics is to remove as many barriers as possible between a plant’s roots and the water, oxygen, and nutrients it needs to grow and thrive.
The most blatant benefit of hydroponic gardening is the massively increased growth rate of most plants. It’s not uncommon for a plant to grow at least 20% faster than soil gardening. On top of that, plants will typically yield at least 25% more than their soil counterparts. This happens because you’re making it easier for them to get the nutrients they need to grow. When they have to struggle less to find pockets of water or nutrition like they would in soil, they can divert that energy to growth.
It’s important to keep in mind that you only enjoy these benefits if you set up and maintain your hydroponic garden carefully.
The biggest downside of hydroponics is the cost of buying a system..
Another negative is the experience required to run a system successfully. It’s not THAT hard, but it’s certainly more difficult than growing the same plant in soil. This is because you are creating an artificial environment where you provide the water, nutrients, light, and everything else the plant needs — which means you also need to monitor those inputs.
Different Types of Systems Available
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Deep water culture, which I will refer to as DWC from here on out, is hands-down the easiest type of hydro system to use.
In a DWC system, you use a reservoir to hold a nutrient solution. The roots of your plants are suspended in that solution so they get a constant supply of water, oxygen, and nutrients.
To oxygenate the water, you use an air pump with an air stone to pump bubbles into the nutrient solution. This prevents your roots from drowning in the water — a weird thing to think about, but it can (and does) happen to many beginner hydroponic gardeners.
Your plants are typically housed in net pots that are placed in a foam board or into the top of the container that you’re using for your reservoir. With some hydroponic growing media added into your net pots, they provide a home for the very beginning of your root system and plant stems.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
he Nutrient Film Technique, which I will refer to as NFT, is a popular commercial hydroponic system.
Plants are grown in channels that have a nutrient solution pumping through them and constantly running along the bottom of the channel. When the solution reaches the end of the channel, it drops back into a main reservoir and is sent back to the beginning of the system again. This makes it a recirculating system, just like deep water culture.
Unlike deep water culture, your plants roots are not completely submerged in a NFT system — hence the “film” part of the system’s name.
Plants are placed in these channels using net pots and growing medium and can be replaced or harvested on a one-by-one basis.
Ebb and Flow / Flood and Drain
Ebb and Flow systems, which are also known by the name Flood and Drain, are a less-commonly seen system. But they’re still quite effective and can be the best choice depending on your situation.
Unlike the previous two hydro systems we have covered, an ebb and flow system does not expose the roots of your plants to nutrient solution on a constant basis.
Instead, you grow in a tray filled with a growing medium. The tray is “flooded” with your nutrient solution a few times per day, depending on certain factors.
Aeroponic systems are the most “high-tech” hydroponic setups that you can build. But they’re not that complex once you understand how they work.
An aeroponic system is similar to a NFT system in that the roots are mostly suspended in air. The difference is that an aeroponic system achieves this by misting the root zone with a nutrient solution constantly instead of running a thin film of nutrient solution along a channel.
Some growers prefer to mist on a cycle like an ebb and flow system, but the cycle is much shorter, typically only waiting a few minutes between each misting. It’s also possible to mist on a continual basis and use a finer sprayer to ensure more oxygen gets to the root zone.
Drip systems are extremely common in commercial operations, but less common in recreational gardens. This is because they’re simple to operate on a large scale, but slightly overkill for a smaller garden. Regardless, they’re a great way to grow hydroponically that you should consider