How to Choose A Hydroponics System
Hydroponics systems, as we know, are a type of gardening system where plants grow without soil, using water mixed with fertilisers that supply all the nutrients the plants need. Some hydroponic systems use containers filled with substrates that the roots grow in. Others use containers with holes in their bottoms for drainage that fill up again when nutrients drip on them, or you manually pour water into them.
It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Choosing a hydroponics system can be based on your needs and wants. But how do you know if a hydroponic gardening system is suitable for you?
We will tell you how, but before that, here are a few things to consider when deciding whether or not they are worth your time and money. Be clear about the following before you pick yours.
The growing room dimensions are the most significant factor in choosing a hydroponics system. Everything from the layout to the utilities and the price depends on the area you select. In addition, it helps in establishing the need for a system to control temperature fluctuations.
The geographical location and direction of the hydroponics system dictate the temperature and light requirement. Check two things primarily – is the temperature constant? And is the light sufficient for the plants you want to grow?
If the region you live in experiences frequent power outages, you may require artificial lights to fulfil the light requirements of your plants. This factor is also applicable to all those living in colder climes aiming to grow plants more suitable for warmer climates.
Are you going to grow small plants or larger plants? What are the light and temperature requirements of each crop? Does the place selected suffice, or do you need different arrangements? These questions are vital as they impact the budget and the yield directly.
Are you growing crops as a hobby, for self-consumption, or for commercial purposes? Do you need people to manage it, or do you want to do it alone? What should be the skill/experience level of the labour, if required? How many people do you need? Answer yourself these questions.
This factor is partially related to management. If you are planning to do it yourself, how much time are you willing to spend on your hydroponics system? This is vital as some plants and hydroponics system demand more attention in the initial stages.
A hydroponic system can get as large and complex as your pocket and interest can allow it to be. What is yours? Your budget is another determining factor in choosing a hydroponics system.
We will now discuss the different types of hydroponics systems available and find the best approach for you. We have also included an overview of their use and limitations to help you further.
Choosing the Types of Hydroponics Systems
Hydroponics systems are mainly of five types.
The Wick System
A simple system with no complex moving components such as a pump or electricity. In a wick hydroponics system, a container (or growing container) holds plants and is placed on top of another container (or reservoir) filled with water and the required nutrient solution.
The substrate is added to the growing container. It is then filled with growing media. A wick moves from the plant to the water to bring back water and nutrients.
Best for: People who are learning to grow plants using hydroponics. It is also good for teaching students alternate ways of growing crops in a sustainable environment.
Crops you can grow: Wick is best for plants that do not demand much water and stay small in sizes such as herbs, and small leafy vegetables including lettuce, chicory, comfrey, rosemary, and spinach.
Limitations: It does not suit larger plants as they require more water and nutrients. Unfortunately, the wick system is incapable of fulfilling these requirements.
Tip to find success: Use perlite, vermiculite, or coconut coir as they don’t get wet and soggy like other common wick elements used and thus last longer.
Ebb and Flow System
Ebb and flow is a versatile hydroponics system. It works like an ocean tide – flood and drain. The plants are placed in the tray. Water is then allowed to flood the plants till the roots become saturated, and then the water drains back to the reservoir.
A timer controls the watering process. Though a submersible pump is placed in the reservoir, it doesn’t need much electricity as the water runs back due to the gravitational pull. However, you will require ample space for having an Ebb and Flow hydroponics system. Lastly, it is low on maintenance and is also cost-effective.
Best for: People looking to have a system between basic and complex hydroponics systems. It provides you with enough choices to grow a variety of plants. You can also grow larger plants using this method.
Crops you can grow: It is suitable for plants with a sturdy root system and also those that require more water. It includes tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, beans, peas, carrots, strawberries and spinach.
Limitations: With constant water movements, the pH of the medium is susceptible to continuous changes. Another tissue is salt buildup. Watch out for it constantly. Still, another issue is electricity. If the power goes out, plants can die.
Tips to find success: Since water keeps flowing in and out, cleanliness is essential to prevent algal growth. So, keep the growing tray, reservoir, and pots clean. Scrub them thoroughly before sowing new crops.
Drip Hydroponics System
A little more complex than the wick system, the drip system uses a pump instead of a wick to transport water and nutrients to the plants. In it, an air pump moves water and nutrient solution and keeps it oxygenated. Yet another pump is responsible for moving the solution through perforated hoses and dripping the nutrients onto the plants. The growing media adjust aeration.
For large-scale growers, the drip system is low-cost and highly effective.
Best for: People who would want to scale it up in the future. You can easily change plants or even your approach (in case something goes wrong).
Crops you can grow: You can produce a variety of plants in a drip system including, pumpkins, melons, onions, zucchini, peas, leeks, melons, cucumbers, and radishes.
Limitations: Since so many moving parts can kill the plants, drip is unsuitable for smaller species. It demands maintenance, especially if you are using recycled water. Recycling, as we know, can lead to the result of nutrient buildup.
On the other hand, if a non-recycling system is opted, you will waste a lot of water. One of the reasons, it is primarily used in commercial settings rather than residential.
Tips to find success: Add your sprouted seeds (already grown in a growth medium such as coconut coir) to larger pots with a porous growth medium such as vermiculite.
N.F.T. (Nutrient Flow Technique)
The N.F.T hydroponics system is a combination of the ebb and flow and the drip technique but is slightly more advanced than the two. The growing container or bed is tilted in one direction. The nutrient solution flows down the row of plants feeding the roots (in a thin film) on its journey. The water that drips into the water is mixed again with nutrients and sent back with the help of a pump.
It is a flexible system, and there is no waste of water or nutrients. It is low on maintenance and is also cost-efficient. However, it requires more space.
Best for: Tech-savvy people as keeping track of the system will be easier for them. That said, it isn’t too technical, and even people with no experience can learn to grow plants with N.F.T.
Crops you can grow. With no substrate present, light and fast-growing plants with smaller roots thrive best in N.F.T. hydroponics. The list comprises tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, herbs, kale, edible flowers, peppers and cucumber.
Limitations: It is slightly complicated for beginners with multiple pumps used for oxygenation and pumping nutrients, and water. Failure with the pump with no quick action can lead to crop death.
Tips to find success: As a growing medium, you should use net pots as these absorb more and thus allow more nutrients to reach the plant roots.
One of the most expensive of all the systems we have talked about, aeroponics, is high tech and uses mist to feed the plants growing in it. The plants grow in the air without using a substrate. The plants remain suspended in the air as the roots receive mist full of nutrients. The process can be automated or done manually.
Plants grow fast in this hydroponics system with more exposure to oxygen. The system is easy to maintain and doesn’t take much space. You can grow it vertically or horizontally.
Best for: Environment friendly people. It is a pesticide-free option for them. This kind of hydroponics system uses very little water or fertilizer. Both the water and fertilizer are recovered, preventing fertilizer runoff, which can kill aquatic life if allowed to run into waterways.
Crops you can grow: Plants with complicated root systems grow well in aeroponics. These encompass eggplant, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, ginger, edible flowers, and squash.
Limitations: As the plants are entirely dependent on mist. So, if there is a power outage, your plants may die. Also, a good understanding of nutrient requirements is a must. You cannot afford to go wrong in aeroponics with the nutrients. It is slightly challenging to manage as the root zone temperature is unstable, and the nozzles may clog up.
Tips to find success: Install a pressure releasing valve on the accumulator tank. This will prevent any mishap in case there is a problem with the pump. And the mister nozzles producing automated mist should not deliver it at a higher velocity; it can damage root hair. Ensure an accurate velocity.
Whether you have experience or are a beginner in indoor gardening, starting a hydroponics system should be easy for you with the information we have provided. This should give you an idea of what will suit you the best. Go ahead and make a good selection in the hydroponics system.