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How Hydroponics Works

DIY Home Hydroponics

Are you excited about what you've read so far about hydroponic gardening? Ready to start you own hydroponic garden and put theory into practice? Here, we'll compare the benefits and drawbacks to the different types of hydroponics system, and we'll discuss what kinds of plants can be grown at home using these systems.

When designing a home hydroponics system, it's generally recommended that a medium be used. This tends to support the use of either an ebb and flow or wick system. While a wick system is incredibly cheap and simple to use, it's hard to modify over time, and thus may produce poor results. There is concern over whether the plants are getting the right balance of nutrients, and if they're not, it can be difficult to adjust the nutrient flow. For these reasons, many at-home hydroponic systems tend to be of the ebb and flow variety. Any hydroponic gardening center, and in fact, most traditional nurseries carry all of the equipment required for setting of a home system.

To begin building your ebb and flow system, you first must obtain the required materials. A basic system will require:

  • A plastic tray capable of holding the weight of the medium, the plants and the water/nutrient solution
  • A support structure to place the tray on (it can be as simple as a spare table)
  • Container to be used as a reservoir (can be an aquarium, a plastic storage container or a garbage can)
  • Aquarium pump capable of pumping 132 gallons per hour (500 liters per hour)
  • Plant containers (make sure they have holes in the bottom to allow drainage)
  • Growing medium
  • Drainage tubing
  • 24 hour timer
  • Seeds or plant cuttings
  • Nutrient solutions

If you're willing to use some materials you already have on hand, this system can be set up for as little as $50 [source: Bareroots Hydroponics].

To build your ebb and flow system, simply place the cuttings or seeds into the plant containers, stabilize them using the chosen medium, set the containers into the plastic tray and set it on the support structure. Fill the reservoir with three teaspoons of nutrient solution diluted in three gallons of water (11.36 liters). Install your tubing so that it runs from the top tray to the reservoir, and then set the aquarium pump in place. The timer should be set so that the pump causes the top tray to flood twice a day. Monitor PH levels every two weeks, and you should have no trouble growing your own hydroponic plants [source: Roberto].

The easiest plants to grow at home hydroponically are salad greens, such as lettuce and spinach. Herbs are fairly simple also, with basil, mint and parsley being popular choices. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are possible, too, though these items require either a great deal of natural sunlight or the addition of grow lamps. Finally, any small plants and flowers can be grown using this system.

If you decide to grow plants that require a lot of light and sunlight is not readily available, consider adding an artificial lighting system. HPS lights work best for flowering plants or fruits, while metal halides work better for leafy greens like lettuce and spinach.

Certain plants can be difficult to grow using an ebb and flow system. These include potatoes, berries and bulb-based flowers, such as daffodils. While these items can be grown hydroponically, they work better in water-based systems, such as NFT or aeroponics, which are better suited for larger commercial applications.