Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water without the need for soil. The plants can be fed in various methods using mineral nutrient solutions. ‘Hydro’ is Greek for water and ‘ponos’ is Greek for labor. Terrestrial plants can be grown with either a mineral nutrient solution or sometimes in an inert medium such as mineral wool or gravel.
There are six main types of hydroponic systems, as an overview these are:
· Aeroponic – this method involves growing plants in an enclosed environment with the help of vaporised nutrients.
· Drip – this method uses a growth tray which is suspended on top of a reservoir, which is filled with water and nutrient solutions. A pump placed in the reservoir is then connected to the growth tray, delivering nutrients via short ‘drips’
· Flood and Drain (aka Ebb & Flow) – in this method, plants growing in individual blocks in a large shallow tray. The tray is flooded with nutrient solution until the roots are wet and then the tray is drained to allow air.
· NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) – this method requires a constant amount of nutrients that flows through a pipe over the roots and then back to the nutrients reservoir. The roots of the plants are suspended in air while the nutrient solution sprays over the roots, referred to as a thin film.
· Water Culture – in this method, plants are suspended in a Styrofoam platform which floats on top of a container filled with water and nutrient solutions.
· Wick system – this method is the simplest of all hydroponic systems. It has no moving parts and this system consists of a nursery pot, a growing medium and a ‘wick’.
The Aeroponic System explained:
Aeroponics is technically different to hydroponics however this is commonly referred to as another hydroponic system. The reason that aeroponics is technically different is due to the plants roots being airborne or suspended. This is a very advanced technique which required diligent attention.
The roots of the plants are misted with nutrients. The pump pushes the nutrient solution through the system to mist the roots whilst with the roots being airborne or suspended, optimum oxygen is provided. Due to the constant care and attention that this system requires, the more precise your operation is, the better the results will be.
Similar to Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) systems, the nutrient solution used for the aeroponics systems are analyzed, increased and reused. Some aeroponics systems will mist the roots in cycles while others continuously mist the roots.
The Hydroponic Drip system explained:
Drip systems are a very common method of hydroponics. The drip systems are commonly used for commercial use, including common long term crops such as peppers and tomatoes. Drip systems operate in a very simple way.
A Nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of the plants where it can then trickle through the grow media and onto the roots. Once the nutrient solution has reached the roots, it then drains into the reservoir where it is then reused. Drip systems provide plenty of aeration because the plants roots are never totally submerged but these also never dry out due to the continuous feed from the system.
The Flood and Drain hydroponic system explained:
The flood and drain system is also known as the Ebb and Flow system. These systems are media based hydroponic systems, which means that the plants are grown in a tray filled with moisture retaining material known as ‘growing mediums’. The reason this hydroponic system is called flood and drain is because the planting tray is regularly flooded with nutrient rich water. The growing medium soaks up the nutrient solution and the excess drains (or ebbs) into the reservoir. During the draining/ebb process, air is also drawn down around the plant roots providing more oxygen.
The flood and drain process is controlled with a pump and timer. The simplicity and effectiveness of the Flood and Drain, also known as Ebb and Flow systems, is the reason why these are the most common choice for homemade systems.
The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydroponic system explained:
Nutrient Film Technique is one of the most widespread and widely used hydro methods, globally. Cultivating and growing plants and vegetables in an NFT hydro system is a very efficient and produces increased crop yields when executed properly.
NFT is a hydroponic method that focuses thin streams or ‘films’ of solution over the plants roots. As the thin stream or film of nutrient solution passes over the roots they absorb the nutrients out of the water – giving you a very effective, soil-less growing method.
NFT is often chosen as a method of commercial growing due to the productivity of this system. A wide range of vegetables and crops can be grown in an NFT system, including some as diverse as lettuce and tomatoes.
The Water Culture hydroponic system explained:
The water culture system is another form of hydroponics which involves suspending the plants above a nutrient solution but the roots of the plants are fully submerged in the nutrient rich water below. This method provides easy access to the nutrient solution and also a healthy supply of oxygen.
The Wick hydroponic System explained:
The wick system is the simplest type of hydroponic system to use and this is very easy to build yourself. There are no moving parts to this system and all you need is a growing tray and a water reservoir. This system can be used with various growing mediums and the nutrient solution is absorbed into the medium, from the reservoir by the wick. One thing to keep in mind is that, being such a simple assembly, if you wish to grow a plant which consumes large amounts of water then the wick may fail to deliver this effectively.