Growing With Hydroponics For Beginners


Growing your own food is easy with a hydroponics growing system. You can produce healthy, fresh, toxin and chemical-free food for your family all year round. Growing plants hydroponically means growing in a medium other than soil and using nutrient and mineral solutions derived from standard nutrients, fish waste, or duck manure. No harmful chemicals are used in hydroponics growing systems!

For the beginner hydroponics grower, some systems and methods are more manageable and less complicated to use than others. Hydroponics systems can easily accommodate from one to many different growing plants at a time, depending on the system configuration.

Photo 87670272 © Wintakorn Choemnarong – Dreamstime.com

Starting your home-based hydroponics system can be enjoyable if you follow the correct procedures and start growing the right way. 

By deciding on the suitable growing method for your circumstances, you can grow the plants you like to eat even if they are not in season. As there are many different growing methods on the market, we have listed seven of the best types available for beginners.

How To Get Started Using Hydroponics As A Beginner

There are many different types of hydroponics growing systems varying in complexity, so the method you choose depends on whether you want to start small or go big immediately. Fortunately, most hydroponics systems are scalable, so even on complex systems, you could start small and scale it up as your confidence and needs require.

There are various methods of hydroponics growing systems available on the market. We will discuss each of them from the basic to the more complex. The main hydroponics growing systems are as follows.

  • Static solution culture hydroponic system
  • Wick hydroponic system
  • Dutch bucket hydroponic system
  • Deep water culture hydroponic system
  • Ebb and flow hydroponic system
  • Nutrient film hydroponic system
  • Drip hydroponic systems 

My favorite system for growing food is the Tower Garden vertical aeroponic growing system. The simple system can be unboxed and setup in minutes and the pre-programmed timer makes growing big yields effortless. Check out our full article on What is a Tower Garden for more information.

Tower Garden Aeroponics System

Static Solution Culture Hydroponic System

If you are looking for an effective, useful method to grow relatively maintenance-free plants, then the static solution culture hydroponic system is the method to choose. This is the ideal method for beginners as the system can be scaled down for indoor growing or increased for outdoor growing according to the space available.

The requirements for this growing method are:

  • Containers – glass jars, plastic buckets, tubs, or any sturdy container. If the glass jar is see-through, cover it with material or cardboard to prevent sunlight from entering the jar, encouraging algae to grow.
  • An aquarium pump if you are going to have an aerated system. This system can be aerated or un-aerated; the choice is yours.
  • Nutrient solution and EC meter (electro-conductivity) to monitor the nutrient level.
  • Water

No water pumps are required for this system as it is not a flow-in system; it is a static system, meaning the water does not flow. The plants are grown directly in containers that hold the nutrient solution. 

If you are using a non-aerated system, then the plants need to be suspended in the air space between the top of the growing container and the nutrient solution to allow air to pass freely into the roots. 

If you are using an aerated system, the plants can sit in the water, and the pump will push the oxygenated water up to their roots. If you are going to use a pump, use a bigger container for a few plants at a time to prevent the need for multiple air pumps.

The beauty of this system is that you can have multiple containers growing plants in different locations around your space at any one time. You can have one or two containers indoors on your window ledge or many containers outdoors in the back yard or on your balcony. 

The downside of this technique is that it can become labor-intensive as your containers grow, and you need to check the nutrients in each container daily.

Wick Hydroponic System

Wick systems are considered an entry-level hydroponics growing system, so again, great for beginners! 

This method is a passive system as no moving parts are used to deliver the nutrients to the plants. If you live in a location where power is a constant challenge, this is the method for you to use.

For this growing method, all you need is a growing medium like coconut coir or perlite, a container for the nutrients, and a wick of some sort, for example, a piece of natural fiber rope or felt.

The plants are planted into the growing medium and then suspended above the container. One end of the wick is placed into the growing medium, and the other end into the nutrient solution.

The wick transports the nutrients into the growing medium, and the roots of the plant will absorb what they need.

This method is excellent for smaller plants and small outdoor spaces but can be challenging when used on larger plants or more extensive gardens with higher water demand.

This is a reasonably cost-effective system to set up, but your plants can wither and die if the hydroponics system is not set up and maintained correctly.

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Dutch Bucket Hydroponic System

A Dutch bucket system is easy to build, easy to use, scalable, and allows you to grow different varieties of vegetables and fruits all at the same time! This system is ideal for small gardens, but even a scaled-down version can be set up indoors for your favorite herbs and veggies to grow in!

The requirements for this growing method are:

  • Sturdy containers big enough to hold your plants
  • A growing medium – coconut coir or perlite
  • A separate reservoir (bucket) to hold the nutrients
  • The nutrient solution and water
  • A pump and irrigation pipe with drip emitters, the pipe should be long enough to deliver water from the reservoir to the plant containers
  • A drainage pipe

This system begins with the reservoir, which must be lower than the plant containers. Mix water and nutrients into the reservoir to feed through the bucket system. The pump pushes the water up and along the irrigation line. The water drips out from the drip emitter above each plant container into the growing medium.

The plant uses the water that it needs and any excess drains out into a shared drainage line. Gravity allows the excess water to be pulled along the drainage pipe back into the reservoir, where it is recycled, and the process begins again.

A Dutch bucket system can happily run unattended for a few weeks before the water needs to be changed, but you should check the nutrients more often. With this system, you can grow a few smaller plants in the same container or plant one larger plant like peas or tomatoes in a single pot with a vertical trellis.

The only disadvantage to using the Dutch bucket system is that it can take up a lot of space as the system grows, so if you are growing indoors, you could very quickly run out of space.

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Deep Water Culture Hydroponic System (DWC)

The Deep Water Culture system is relatively inexpensive and straightforward to set up, manage, and maintain. Using this growing method, a float with holes in it is placed on top of the nutrient solution in the reservoir. The plants and the growing medium are placed inside a net pot and then placed inside the holes in the float.

The float containing the plants and the net pots is placed over the solution in the reservoir, with the roots half in and half out of the solution. The roots of the plants will have constant access to the solution allowing the plants to absorb what they need to thrive. 

For this system to work correctly, the plants need oxygen, or they can drown. This can be provided to them utilizing an air stone connected to an electric air pump which bubbles air up and through the water. 

This is a water and nutrient recirculating process which means less waste and greater savings as the excess nutrients are recycled back into the solution in the reservoir. If not managed properly, the plants can suffocate if their roots are left in a solution that does not contain the correct air and nutrient levels.

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Ebb And Flow Hydroponic system

The ebb and flow hydroponics system is often referred to as a flood and drain system as it floods the plants with nutrients on a timed cycle then drains out and back into the reservoir. While this method does provide an efficient use of water and energy without exposing your plants to cold water, it does require constant monitoring.

Using this method, you would need to fill a tray with a growing medium like coconut coir or perlite and your plants. The tray is flooded with the fresh nutrient solution by a pump on a timed cycle. After flooding, the plants absorb what they need, and the excess solution is gravity fed back into the reservoir to be recycled. 

The reservoir needs an air pump to provide oxygen to the plants and a pump and timer to pump the solution through to the plants in the tray. The advantage of this system is that the pump does not run constantly, reducing wear and tear and maintenance, but the disadvantage is that if the timer fails, the plants don’t receive the nutrients they need, the roots could dry out, and they could die.

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Nutrient Film Technique Hydroponic System (NFT)

The Nutrient Film Technique is a combination of methods using DWC and the ebb and flow methods. This method supplies the plant’s roots with a constant film of nutrients, so even if the pump malfunctions, the plants can survive for a few days without fresh water and nutrients being pumped into the reservoir.

With this method, the nutrient solution is stored in a reservoir with an air pump and air stone to provide oxygen through the system.

Plants are grown in a separate growing chamber in net pots. The pots are suspended on a shelf at the top of the container, with the roots dangling through and partially submerged in the solution already in the container. 

The growing chamber is installed at a slant, allowing the excess nutrients to flow out of the growing chamber and back into the reservoir.

Because the growing chamber is at a slant, the overflow pipe is raised enough above the water to keep the water from draining entirely and leaving enough water in the growing chamber to prevent the roots from drying out should the pump malfunction.

This is the ideal hydroponics growing system to set up indoors as it can be built using many different configurations and using a variety of materials. 

To maximize the use of your indoor growing space, build a simple vertical frame using PVC piping for carrying your hydroponics system. Install casters on the bottom to wheel the frame around your space to use the natural light.

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Drip Hydroponic Systems

A drip system simply delivers water and nutrients to each plant or container by means of drippers connected to irrigation pipes. The solution drips into the container, and once the plant has absorbed enough for its needs, the excess flows back into the reservoir.

The drip system can be gravity or pump fed giving you the option for a backup plan if the power in your area is erratic.

There are two types of drip hydroponic systems:

  • Recovery drip system – a drainage system drains the excess solution back into the reservoir
  • Non-recovery drip system – the excess solution is not drained back into the reservoir. The drip rate per plant is controlled, preventing the plants from becoming waterlogged.

A non-recovery drip system is ideal for use indoors as you can have one or more plants using the system at a time, and it doesn’t take up very much space.

For beginners starting in the hydroponics growing world, this is the perfect, easy to get started, easy to use, system.

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How To Start Your Hydroponics Growing As A Beginner

Now that we have explained the different hydroponics growing methods to you, the next step is how to start! Starting any new venture isn’t easy, but growing the hydroponics way should be fun, so we have drawn up a short list to get you started.

  1. Choose the hydroponics system that will suit your budget, time, and space.
  2. Pick the plants that you would like to grow and start growing them from seeds or buy seedlings from your local garden center. 
  3. Purchase your growing medium. Before planting any plants in the growing medium, remove all soil from the roots first by submerging them in clean water and gently removing the earth. You don’t want soil in your hydroponics system as it could clog up the pump.
  4. If you are setting up an indoor system, do your research and choose a light source. If you are setting up outside, make sure that the plants have a few hours of sunlight a day.
  5. Purchase hydroponic nutrients, the EC meter to test the nutrients in the solution, and a PH meter to test the PH level.
  6. Set up your system, add the plants and the nutrients, and don’t forget to switch on the pump if you are using one!

Conclusion

The beauty of growing with a hydroponics system is that you can mix and match any system to suit your unique situation. As long as you meet the minimum growing requirements of water, nutrients, a growing medium, and sunlight, your plants will grow and thrive and provide the food that you need for your family, no matter which system you use.

As a beginner hydroponics grower, you should do your research and visit your local garden center to see how hydroponics systems work and find out what it takes to set up a system from scratch.

Once your hydroponics system is up and running correctly, you will be rewarded with fresh, healthy produce in return for maintaining the growing system.

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