Types of Hydroponics Systems

A hydroponics system is a procedure for growing plants with no soil. It is also known as soil-less culture or water culture. Hydroponics is an active hydroculture where the plant’s roots are directly exposed to an inert medium. It contains all the required nutrients to deliver these nutrients to sustain plant growth efficiently.

The demand for hydroponic systems is growing. A vast majority of the market is made up of home-use systems, with a smaller portion of commercial-use systems and a minuscule amount that are laboratory-grade. Hydroponic farming is becoming more popular, mainly due to the numerous benefits that it can provide for agricultural production. 

There are five distinct types of hydroponics systems:  

  1. The Wick System
  2. Ebb and Flow
  3. N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technology)
  4. Drip
  5. Aeroponic systems

Let’s take a round-up of all the systems.

The Wick System

Unknowingly, the masses have been using wick hydroponics for thousands of years. The simplest of all the hydroponics systems, the wick system, is for everyone, especially beginners and children. 

This simple system has four main components: the growing tray, the reservoir, the wick, and the aeration system. As is evident, there are no moving parts, and the wick does not use electricity or a pump. This kind of farming is also known as passive farming. A reservoir stores all the nutrients and uses a wick to move to the roots (through capillary action). The wick could be a candle, lantern, rope, or felt. 

The Wick Hydroponics System uses a range of growing media, namely vermiculite, perlite, pro-mix, and coconut fibre, to name a few. Generally, in wick hydroponic systems, the plants are kept directly in the growth media such as vermiculite or perlite. Then some nylon wicks are placed around the plants before they are kept in the nutrient solution.

The wick hydroponics system is not only easy to set up and maintain but is also affordable. This self-sufficient hydroponics system allows you to be hands-off. But in order for this to happen, it must be set up correctly. One thing to remember is that wick isn’t for larger plants. Also, you must clean it every 1-2 weeks as toxic minerals may accumulate due to an uneven absorption of water and essential nutrients. 

Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow hydroponics is a popular choice among home gardeners. Perfect for indoor gardening, this system has two main phases – ebb (flood) and flow (drain). In the first phase, the plants are flooded with water and nutrients. And in the second phase, the water with dissolved nutrients moves back into the reservoir.

Further, the Ebb and Flow hydroponic system has slightly more components than the Wick: growing tank/container, reservoir, water pump (reversible), an air pump, pipes, and a timer. First, the plants are placed in the pots in the growing tray. Then a timer is used to maintain the flow of water. As the timer starts, a submerged pump in the reservoir begins pumping water to the container (growing tray) placed above.

The pumping continues for short periods (generally 5-10 minutes) till the plant roots reach a specific set water limit. This is the Ebb (flood) cycle. The overflow tube maintains the water level and is also responsible for nutrient water wastage from the reservoir. As soon as the timer goes off, the pump halts. Due to the gravitational pull, the liquid nutrients drain back to the reservoir.

Aeration in Ebb and Flow

Aeration is essential in ebb and flow systems. It is either permitted from above the tube or through an air pump.
There are two ways ebb and flow systems drain water out:
Ebb and Flow kit – It has two fittings – outlet and inlet. Their names describe their functions.
Bell Siphon – It contains a water pump to fill the reservoir; a Siphon helps in drainage.

You can use a variety of growth mediums in the Ebb and Flow systems, such as coconut fibre, vermiculite, or an excellent soilless mix. You can also fill the tray with grow rocks, gravel, or granular Rockwool. This kind of hydroponics system is perfect for growing plants such as lettuce and tomatoes. Did we tell you ebb and flow is low on maintenance?

N.F.T. (Nutrient Film Technology)

Another popular hydroponics system is Nutrient Film Technology. It resembles the Ebb and Flow hydroponics system as it also uses a pump to deliver the nutrients. However, that’s where the similarity ends. In an N.F.T. system, the nutrient solution continuously flows over the plant roots and drains back due to gravity.

If you decide to go ahead with the N.F.T. hydroponics system, you need two main components: the grow channel (or tray) and the reservoir. Other than these, nutrient pumps, tubes, channels, and net pots are also required. The nutrient solution flows over the plant roots constantly through a tube and drains back to the reservoir. There is no timer needed here.

The net pots are kept in a growing tray filled with growth media (such as coconut, perlite, and Rockwool). The plants grow roots into the tray with foliage comfortably sitting over it, and a trellis system sometimes supports the plant. No growing medium is used in the N.F.T.

Moreover, the growing plants are placed in a small plastic basket with roots immersed in the nutrient solution. Here the growing medium is air. So, to facilitate plants with oxygen, air-tubes or capillary matting is a must-have. But this effective hydroponic system is at risk of pump failure or power outage. If this occurs, the roots may dry out quickly for the need for air, water, and nutrients.  

In all, N.F.T. is just perfect for growing green leafy vegetables that require a short growth time. Most commercial growers use this method.

The Drip Hydroponics System

The most used hydroponic system around the globe is the drip hydroponics system. It is also known by some other exclusive names, such as a trickle system or a micro-irrigation system. However, the common name “drip” comes from dripping the nutrient solution directly on the plants using small emitters. It is considered an active hydroponic system as it employs a pump to feed your plants with water and nutrients.

The drip system has a submersible pump placed in the reservoir with supplies to each plant. Generally, the growers can decide the amount of nutrient solution each plant needs and send it across with the help of a drip emitter. They use a timer to control the entire operation. As the timer is turned on, the nutrient solution drips via a drip line on the plant’s roots.

Drip hydroponics systems are of two types: recovery drip hydroponics system and non-recovery hydroponics system. After feeding the plants, the extra nutrient solution is not allowed to run away but is collected back in the reservoir in recovery systems. Non-recovery drip systems are incapable of this. Also, the recovery system is good at using nutrients; non-recovery systems aren’t. However, the latter requires less maintenance as compared to the former.

But be careful if you are using the recirculatory system; the nutrient and pH levels often fluctuate in the drip system. Rest assured, this system is perfect for growing all types of plants, even trees. But do gather knowledge of different growing media since each one has other properties. The choice of medium depends on your irrigation plans.

Commercial growers mainly use the drip system.

Aeroponics System

The Aeroponics hydroponics system is considered the most advanced technology of all hydroponics systems. This high tech indoor gardening has found recognition by NASA scientists. Just like N.F.T., it utilizes air as the primary growing medium. But in all other aspects, it is different from hydroponics. While the latter uses the liquid nutrient solution for plant growth, aeroponics uses fish waste and water.

Apart from the two main components, aeroponics requires a good pressure water pump, hoses and pipes with sprayers and nozzles.

Usually, the plant roots remain suspended in the air and are nourished with mist every few minutes. The mist contains water and nutrients, and the plants imbibe oxygen directly from the air. There is a timer to control mists and is run for a few seconds every few minutes. The frequency depends on the type of plant, the climate, and the pressure a grower wants to use in his system. Note that aeroponics uses two pressure systems: H.P.A. and L.P.A.

An Aeroponics garden can be of any shape to grow plants vertically or horizontally. This futuristic system is known for its ability to grow plants faster, approximately three times faster than soil-grown plants. Also, the yield is much higher than with any other hydroponic system on our list.

The risk of infection is also low as the plants do not share the same nutrient solution. However, amidst all these advantages, there is one disadvantage. Building an aeroponics system can be a costly affair. Anyhow, it is considered best for growing strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, and mint.

Wrapping up

Growing your plants and vegetables is a necessity. As hydroponics offers a myriad of benefits, it is only wise to learn more about the different types of hydroponics systems. We hope the comprehensive information in this article helps you decide on a suitable one for your hydroponics gardening system.

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