Hydroponic Farming Guide:
Hydroponic Farming – Introduction to Hydroponics
Hydroponics or hydroponic system is a modern science of agriculture wherein crops and plants are grown in soil less medium. It is a method of growing plants in nutrients dissolved water along with a growing medium to support the root system such as rockwool, hydrotons, clay pebbles and much more.
This article is a complete hydroponics information guide for beginners to start a backyard or terrace garden. In conventional farming, the farmer has to work on the ground, plant seeds, and grow plants. He is heavily depended on natural resources and nature’s mercy. However, in hydroponics the farmer takes complete control on plant farming. He takes control on quantity of water, oxygenating the water, and adding right nutrients at required amounts depending on growing plants. In this way a farmer can solve most of the problems faced in conventional farming such as soil quality, gathering farm yard manure, water, and pests and insects that come through ground.
Hydroponic Farming – Hydroponics follows two general methods of farming.
- Plants roots are directly suspended in nutrient rich waters. The root system avails oxygen and nutrients easily.
- The roots are supported in growing medium such as clay rocks, rock wool while the plants are stabilized to grow in a proper direction.
Hydroponic Farming – Types of Hydroponic farming
There are six basic types of hydroponic farming systems. The good thing in acquiring best hydroponics is by combining different types into one hybrid hydroponic system to get the rich nutrient solution to the plants.
The following are the list of hydroponic farming that you can choose accordingly to the space, finance and production yield.
- Wick Systems.
- Drip Systems.
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Deep Water Culture
- Ebb and Flow or Flood and drain
1. Hydroponic Farming – Wicks Hydroponic growing system
Wick system is the simple, easy and low cost type of hydroponic system. Most growers with large collections – favor wick watering method. It is very efficient self-watering system and brings down the amount of time spent watering. The reservoir holds the nutrient rich water while on the top the grow bed(such as vermiculite, perlite) gets watered by wicks through capillary action. In this system the main component are the wicks. Hence for best results, a good wick absorbent of the nutrient water to the plants must be used. Wicks that rot must be avoided. Non-rotting fiber such as nylon venetian blind cord, strips of nylon stocking, polyurethane yarn, and propylene felt strips can be used.
The major drawbacks in this system is, it will not work for plants which are larger that require more nutrient water supply as wicks can deliver limited supply at a time. The other setback in this system is the algae can be a problem that covers the wicks and the roots.
2. Hydroponic Farming – Drip System
In hydroponic systems, drip system is the most commonly and widely used around the world. The operation principles are easy and simple. It is recommended to use a slow draining medium such as rock wool or peat moss that will provide a slow feed vital plant nutrient from the reservoir. If the system uses faster draining medium, it is recommended to use faster dripping emitter which is controlled by timer. Each base of the plant in the grow beds are fed with nutrient rich solutions through the network of irrigation pipes when the timer turns on the submersed pump.
For small and indoor recreational gardens, drip systems are less commonly used while more common in commercial farming. Hydroponic drip system can be easily designed for both small and large cultivation. It is more useful for plants that are large and use lot of root space and also for drip lines that run longer spaces.
Hydroponic Farming – Things required for drip system:
A grow tray for the plant’s roots to grow in.
A strong fiber reservoir to holdthe nutrient solution.
A submersible water pump.
A timer to turn the pump on and off.
Some tubing to run from the pump in the reservoir to the plants and vice versa back to the reservoir.
Grow media for the plants roots to grow.
Hydroponic Farming – How drip system works:
From the reservoir water (nutrient solution) is pumped to the top of the growing medium in which the plants roots are through tubing or irrigation pipes. The water is pumped with a submersible pump attached to a timer. The excess nutrient solution drains down by gravity while moistening the roots and the grow beds all the way back to the reservoir.
There are two types of hydroponic drip system.
i. Hydroponic Farming – Recirculating/recovery drip systems
Recirculating drip systems are most commonly used by home growers for their limited space gardens.
In this system the nutrient water is reused or recycled after it has wet the roots and back to reservoir where it can be recirculated again and again. Because of this, a recovery drip system needs a periodical check for pH as well as changing the nutrient solution regularly.
ii. Hydroponic Farming – Non-recirculating/non-recovery drip systems
In non-recirculating system the nutrient water solution is not recycled back into the reservoir. It has less maintenance as the ph and nutrient levels remain the same.
3. Hydroponic Farming – Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
When one thinks about hydroponics, this is the kind of hydroponics system most people think about. Nutrient Film Technique(NFT) is growing of plants bare-rooted supported by a netted pot in long channels down which flows a shallow water full of minerals required to grow plants healthily.
The N.F.T systems are quite popular among home hydroponic growers because of its simple mechanism and design. However N.F.T systems best suited for smaller quick plants than larger plants. Most commercial growers, grow lettuce, baby greens and other different types of herbs in this system. The mineral rich water is pumped continuously into the PVC pipe channels or growing table. The plant roots are suspended from the rockwool and netted pots in the pipe channels, which get in touch with the low and slow flowing nutrient solution beneath and absorb dissolved minerals and nutrients water.
Insufficient channel sizes leads to blockage of channels that lead to many crop failures in the early years because of oxygen starvation and root death. For short harvesting small crops such as lettuce, 100 mm X 50 mm and up to 15 meters long is recommended. And for longer harvesting large plants such as strawberry, tomato, and beans that have larger root mat must be grown in channels 150 mm X 75 mm rigid PVC channels.
The other major factor in NFT system of hydroponic farming is the slope of the growing table channels. The recommended slope for a successful farming is fall of one inch for every 40 inches in the channels. The slope must be adjustable depending on the size of the plants. Lower flow rate is preferred for smaller plants and higher flow rate for bigger and matured plants. The ideal flow rate recommended for each growing tube is 1 liter to 2 liter per minute or 8 liters to 15 liters per hour. High or low flow rates than the recommended flow rate leads to nutrients deficiencies. It is also found nutrient deficiencies takes place when the growing channels or growing tubes are longer than the recommended length of 30 feet to 40 feet or 10 meters to 15 meters. By adding new nutrient feed pipe in the half way length of growing channel can rectify the issue.
Power outages are another major factor associated with Nutrient Film Technique. The roots may dry quickly when the water pump goes off due to power outages. Hence a backup for power and regular electric maintenance is much recommended.
In conventional farming, lettuce growers produce 4 to 6 crops per year with best farming technics. NFT growers produced lettuce 8 to 10 crops per year.
Hydroponic Farming – Things needed to build a NFT system:
- Container or reservoir to hold the nutrient solution.
- Submersible water pump
- Tubing for water distribution from pump to NFT grow channels
- Grow Channels to grow plants also called as gully or tubes
- Starter cubes for seedlings
4. Hydroponic Farming – Deep Water Culture
In all hydroponic systems or hydroponic farming, technically simplest one is the deep water culture. This system which is also called as raft method or floating system is commonly used for educational and instructional purpose. The water culture system is the most commonly used hydroponics for large commercial growing of lettuce, salad leaves or basil. In DWC system, a platform usually made of Styrofoam which is strong and light hold plants while it floats on reservoir that holds mineral rich solution. The air stone in the reservoir which is connected to the air pump supplies oxygen to plant roots and bubbles the nutrient solution. Care must be taken in preventing light penetrating the system, as this will lead to growing of algae which will create havoc. Though it is simple and cost effective, only limited crops such as water loving plants can be grown.
Things needed to build a Deep Water Culture system:
- Container or reservoir to hold the nutrient solution.
- Aquarium air pump
- Aquarium air stone
- Clay pellets growing medium
- Net pots
Deep water culture is excellent for beginners and amateur hydroponic growers. This system is very inexpensive, easy to prepare at home. This hydroponic system has extreme low-maintenance. It doesn’t work well for large plants and plants with long growing period. Some of the growers use timers for air pump. For best results and most growers recommend is to have 24 x 7 air supply to keep the nutrient solution oxygenated. pH and EC or PPM of nutrient solution must be monitored on a regular basis. pH between 5.5 to 6.3 must be maintained followed by careful feeding program.
5. Hydroponic Farming – Ebb and Flow or Flood and drain
For many reasons Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow) systems are very popular among home hydroponic growers or hydroponic farming. It is easy to build and can use almost any material laying around, so growers don’t need to spend much money to start growing hydroponic plants. Also it can be built to fit in any available space in the backyard or in terrace gardening. Being inexpensive and easy to build your imaginative ways to design them, plants grow very well in Ebb and Flow hydroponics system.
Things needed to build a Ebb and Flow system:
- A container tray for plants to grow
- A container or reservoir to hold nutrient solution
- A submersible fountain pump
- A timer to turn on and off the pump
- Tubing for water flowing from pump to the container tray and one for overflow tube.
- Growing medium
The working method of hydroponic flood and drain system is simple. The Container that plants are growing is the main part in this system. The submersible pump turns on by timer, pumps nutrient solution through pipes or tubes from the below reservoir up into container tray. The nutrient solution floods the container tray till it reaches the height of the overflow outlet so that the plants roots are soaked. The overflow tube is set below 1 to 2 inches below the top of the grow medium. When the water reaches the overflow tube outlet height, the water gets drained back into reservoir by siphoning the water and recirculates back again.
Flood and drain systems can be built in many different ways and sizes depending on growing from small plants to medium size plants. For large plants, bigger flood and drain systems are designed.
6. Hydroponic Farming – Aeroponics
In aeroponics, the roots are suspended in air just as it is in NFT system while nutrient solution from the reservoir is sprayed. Aeroponics culture is unlike hydroponic farming and aquaponics as it is conducted without a growing medium. Plants are fed by finely spraying the nutrient solution as mist on the dangling roots. For healthy plant growth oxygen around the roots is necessary. As this method is conducted in air combined with micro-droplets of water and nutrients, the plants grow fast to maturity with plenty of oxygen supply. Aeroponics systems are the most advanced hydroponic setup that have shown to grow plants more quicker than other hydroponic systems. At the same time high-pressure nozzles fail making the roots go dry. Unlike other methods this is expensive and not easy to set up.
Hydroponic Farming – What can be grown in hydroponics?
We’ve covered the types of techniques, designs, and the best systems for a hydroponics setup related to hydroponic farming. What can I grow is the common question arises for a hydroponic gardener (beginner). With a right setup design and nutrient balance a beginner gardener can grow any plant hydroponically. Two important things should be considered before you start growing your garden. What kind of system you have or planning to go for. And, how much free space is available. It is recommended to start with short period growing plants to gain hands on experience before going for long growing period plants.
The two major components in hydroponics is nutrient solution and growing medium. In water solution based system like Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Deep Water Culture (DWC) and aeroponics, plants can be grown directly in rich mineral and nutrient based solution. These systems works best for plants that have shallow roots and mature in short periods. The plants best suggested would be lettuce, radish, spinach and other herbs.
Plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, celery that have deep roots and need support, eitherWick systems or Ebb and Flow systems are preferable. In these systems growing medium such as clay pebbles or Hydroton are used which help support the root system and ideal for large plants. Many vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowering plants are best suited in this design system.
Space is a big factor that a hydroponic gardener can play around on his system designs. If large spaces like terrace, backyard, greenhouse or even a patio, you can come up with much bigger creative ideas to design your hydroponic garden. One can produce multiple varieties of fruits and vegetables and even plant combinations of favorite fruits and vegetables in the same large hydroponic design system. While compared to conventional gardening and farming, hydroponics is very simple and easy to maintain once you know the concept. Some gardeners are adventurous that they growing trees and by using trellis they even growing pumpkins and other large vines.