Welcome to the ultimate guide to hydroponic gardening. In this article, you will learn the basic information that you will need to get started with your very own hydroponic garden. For further information about hydroponic gardening, you can visit Hydroponics Simplified.
Hydroponics is a type of hydroculture where plants grow in aquatic-based environments or mediums with no soil. The medium is not always water, as it may be solutions full of nutrients or inert growing mediums, such as perlite or sand. This hydroculture type allows for roots to directly contact a nutrient solution and access oxygen.
Hydroponic systems are structures like trays, A-frames or towers that hold inert mediums or water and offer a place for plants to grow. There are several different sorts of hydroponic systems that can meet the different needs of various plants. However, every system requires three essential ingredients for plants to grow: oxygen, nutrients, and water or moisture.
A hydroponics systems can be classified into one of two categories.
- Solution culture: For this system, nutrient-filled solutions are provided for the roots of plants to grow directly inside. This system is commonly referred to as a liquid culture
- Aggregate culture: For this system, mediums such as small clay pellets, sand or gravel are provided for root growth
Advantages of hydroponic systems
Hydroponic systems offer several advantages over traditional soil gardens.
- Plants grown in hydroponic systems have a greater rate of growth than do plants grown in soil when under similar conditions.
- Plants grown in hydroponic systems create greater yields. This is due to the constant availability of nutrients. Plants do not need to produce large roots to access nutrients, so they are able to devote more of their energies toward the production of their crop, resulting in larger yields.
- Plants grown in hydroponic systems have fewer problems with fungi, disease and insect infestations.
- It is possible to grow virtually all vegetables, houseplants and fruits that you desire in your hydroponic system.
- Hydroponic systems offer numerous benefits to the environment.
- Hydroponic gardening regularly reuses nutrient solutions, which leads to less water usage than that seen in traditional soil gardening.
- The erosion of topsoil is not a problem because hydroponic systems do not rely on soil.
If you decide to try hydroponic gardening and are looking to build a hydroponic system, there are three key ingredients that you will need:
- Water supply
- Reservoir for holding nutrient solutions
There is a huge variety of hydroponic equipment available to help you set up your own hydroponic garden. You can find out more about all these products at Hydroponics Simplified.
Finding hydroponic systems
You can buy a hydroponic system, hydroponic seeds, hydroponic growth nutrients, light sources and other equipment from various hydroponic suppliers. It is smart to purchase hydroponic equipment solely from reputable suppliers who offer informed recommendations and provide warranties for all the products that they sell.
Do-it-yourself hydroponic systems are another option that is worth considering for trying out hydroponic gardening.
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Building your own hydroponic system
People who are handy can easily make their own hydroponic garden. You can purchase the components, which include full tent kits, at hydroponic suppliers and develop your personal hydroponic system. Do-it-yourself hydroponic systems provide you with the liberty to customize your design to accommodate your available space and the types of plants that you would like to grow.
You will have to use special nutrients in your system, which need to be purchased from a supplier. You are also required to use a hydroponic medium, inert or wet, that does not break down too quickly. You can use hydroponic mediums, such as small clay rocks, coconut fiber, rock wool, sand, perlite and vermiculite.
If you choose to build an indoor hydroponic system, it will require a light source. There are artificial light sources that emit levels of light that are appropriate for the process of photosynthesis.
There are several different kinds of grow-light kits that are available, such as metal halide, high-output fluorescents, high-pressure sodium bulbs, compact fluorescents and LEDs. You can also decide to develop your hydroponic garden outside to take advantage of natural sunlight.
Hydroponic system tutorial
It is easy to develop your own hydroponic system using the following step-by-step guide.
Choose what you want to grow
You will have to choose what you want to grow and then purchase the corresponding hydroponic seeds. Purchasing seeds will allow you to be in total control of what you are growing.
After you decide on the number of each plant that you want to grow, you will need to prepare your seeds. This is accomplished by first covering them using a plate, and then putting them in a warm location.
You should label your seeds if they are for different plants. Ideally you should prepare your hydroponic seeds 3 to 4 days before you start to build your new hydroponic system. There are also seedling heating mats that you can purchase for seed preparation.
Decide on a location
You need to decide on a location for your hydroponic garden and make a rough estimate of the space that you will need. Consider the seed types that you intend on planting and their recommended spacing requirements.
Spacing and marking
Space and mark holes for your pots to be placed in. Shade cloths should be placed on top of them for the initial 3 to 4 weeks in hot climates.
Nutrient solution preparation
Use water and high-quality hydroponic fertilizers and nutrients to create a hydroponic solution at the recommended pH level.
You are now ready to plant the seedlings. Carefully remove them from the pots, and then gently wash all the soil off the roots.
Place your cleaned seedlings in your growing medium and hydroponic solution.
Examine your solution once a day and control the chemical balance of nutrients to water, as the water will steadily evaporate.
Watch your hydroponic plants grow. Ensure that all vermin and pests are kept away and check regularly for rot in the root.
Harvest your fully-grown plants once they are ready.
After you have completed your harvest, flush your whole hydroponic system. Use peroxide for sterilization and copper-based solutions for killing any bacteria and mold.
You require four main things to sprout seeds: light, water, oxygen and temperature. It is possible to create your own miniature greenhouse using a dome and grow tray. Here is a brief guide to creating your own hydroponic nursery.
- Fill your grow tray using either clean water or a very weak nutrient solution until you reach the halfway mark.
- Make sure that there is enough light, and the surrounding air is around the recommended temperature of 75 to 90 degrees. This may require the use of a hydroponic heating mat if the space you are using is too cold.
- Soak the starting cubes in clean water for around one hour, then shake any excess water out.
- Insert 2 to 4 seeds in every starter cube hole.
- Put the starter cubes in the nursery. You can use plastic bags and use extra water drops. Add nutrient solution or water directly into the tray as needed.
- When your seeds germinate, gradually increase your plant light intensity. This is accomplished by moving your lighting closer toward your plants every day.
- Continue to feed the seedlings using properly mixed hydroponic nutrients.
- When the roots begin to poke from your starter cubes, they are ready to be transplanted. This will vary from 2 to 4 weeks depending on the plant type.
- Transfer and cover your starter cubes by creating a small clear area within your growing medium.
- Water the transplanted seedlings using an appropriate nutrient solution during the first week. This allows your seedlings’ root systems to seek their new nutrient and water sources out naturally.
Main hydroponic system types
Using the appropriate hydroponic system, you can double the yield of plant crops. Below you can discover a few of the best simple hydroponic gardening systems for you to adapt to your specific needs. For help in determining the best hydroponic system for your needs, check out Hydroponics Simplified.
By far the simplest hydroponic system type is the wick system. The system is passive, and does not have any moving parts. Wicks are used for drawing nutrient solution into your growing medium from a reservoir.
However, keep in mind that large plants will often use nutrient solution at a faster rate than can be supplied by a wick. The most common growing mediums used with the wick system include vermiculite, coconut fiber, perlite and pro-mix.
Deep water culture
These types of hydroponic systems make use of platforms made most often from Styrofoam, which hold the plant. These platforms float directly on top of your nutrient solution. Air stones are employed for bubbling your nutrient solution and supplying oxygen to the roots of your plant. Air is directed into your air stone using an air pump.
Water culture is an ideal hydroponic system for fast-growing plants that love water, such as leaf lettuce, and are made from water-tight containers. That said, water culture systems do not work as well with long-term and large plants.
Ebb and flow
Also called a flood and drain system, this hydroponic system works through the use of a nutrient solution for temporarily flooding your grow tray, and then draining the solution.
The system employs a submerged pump that is connected to a timer. Mediums that are used in the ebb and flow system include granular rock wool, gravel and grow rocks. Growing mediums can be placed inside pots to make it easy to move plants around.
Drip hydroponic systems use a simple operation requiring a submersed pump and timer. When the pump is turned on, the nutrient solution will flow through a small line and drip onto each plant’s base. Drip systems are either recovery or non-recovery.
In a recovery drip system, the reservoir is used to collect the runoff nutrient solution for later use. Since this system has no requirement for exact control of the watering cycles, inexpensive timers are often used. The reservoir needs to be monitored periodically and adjustments made to the levels of pH and nutrient strength.
In a non-recovery drip system, any excess runoff goes uncollected. Precise timers are required for ensuring that any runoff is minimized and watering cycles will go uninterrupted, which allows the plants to receive appropriate amounts of nutrient solution. The system has no required adjustment of the pH levels, since the pH level and nutrient strength remain constant.
Nutrient film technique
These types of hydroponic systems have a steady nutrient solution flow. Timers are not necessary for the submersible pump. It pumps the nutrient solution in the growing tray, and it flows over the roots of the plants before it drains into a reservoir. This system requires only air as its growing medium.
This system also uses air as its growing medium. Roots are generally hanging out in the air, and are regularly misted by the nutrient solution, usually only a few minutes between mistings. If the misting cycle is interrupted, the root will dry out, so the system needs to be on a short cycle timer that will make the pump run every few minutes.
Hydroponic light types
Various forms of lighting are available in hydroponics for aiding with plant growth. It is critical to provide your plants with everything that they require for growth. Light is among the main factors that are crucial for plants to grow. A plant that receives all the other elements but not light will fail to reach its maximum potential.
Lightbulbs produce a variety of colors and plants will have different reactions to various color spectrums, and certain spectrums will lead to the highest levels of growth for certain plants. The use of the correct spectrum for your plants will ensure that you are able to achieve maximum yields.
These lights are not used often because household bulbs are inefficient for plant growth. They will also create a lot of excess heat, which will increase the cost for cooling your plants. The use of incandescent light is not recommended for hydroponics.
This light is great for an indoor plant. Bulbs with high outputs are extremely efficient, and can create more light with less electricity. Fluorescent lamps come in a variety of spectrums, allowing you to select the one that is most ideal for each plant.
However, they do not work as well with larger plants, as they fail to penetrate very deeply. A compact fluorescent lamp can also be employed when you use reflectors, as the light will be produced in all directions.
High-intensity discharge (HID) lamp
This lamp type is about 8 times as efficient as an incandescent lamp, and it features an extremely high level of light output. These lamps use a special bulb and a mechanical or electronic ballast. Added ventilation is necessary when you use HIDs because of the higher heat production. These lights are ideally hung 2 feet above your plants.
The invention of LED technology has brought great benefits to hydroponics. LED light features full-spectrum lighting, and is employed to provide greenhouses with an optimum environment for plant growth.
In controlled environments, this technology is employed due to the ability to closely monitor its effects, which allows adjustments to be made for maximizing yields. LED technology is used with plants that need different spectrums, since the technology is easy to tailor to specific needs.
LEDs are often used as the main source of light in hydroponics. Unlike various other forms of hydroponic lighting, LEDs do not need additional reflectors, as they will direct all the light that they produce toward the plant. They can also be put closer to plants because of their reduced radiance.
The best light for your plants
Your budget, the type and size of your enclosure and your system for ventilating are the main factors that require your consideration when you are purchasing grow lights. A fluorescent lamp is best if you are a low-budget grower, while a compact fluorescent lamp is better if you grow on a small scale.
A HID lamp will produce the greatest level of output and is ideal for large plants. An enclosed reflector is recommended when you are using HID lights. It is also recommended that you vent your growing space to the outdoors or into a crawlspace when you are using HID lights. LEDs are the best choice for long-term growers, and will help you in saving money over the long run.
Hydroponics is a vast and fascinating world for you to experience. While this guide will help you to learn the basics and get started, it is up to you to go out and explore the world of hydroponics for yourself, and discover the plants and techniques that you like the most.
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