Hydroponic drip systems supply water and nutrients directly to the base of your plants using a specialized emitter nozzle. The constant dripping prevents the roots from drying while reducing water usage and wasteful evaporation.
The main components of a drip system include :
- Nutrient Reservoir
- Growing Tray
- Water Pump
- Net Pots
- Grow Medium
- Irrigation Tubing
- Drip Emitters
- Hydroponic Nutrients
Operation of A Drip System
A Submersible Water Pump delivers nutrient-rich solution from the reservoir through a drip irrigation network to the grow cups. Each drip line ends at the base of each plant thereby emitting the solution next to the plant base reducing wastage.
The grow tray has a draining outlet allowing the system to recycle excess nutrient moisture. The excess nutrient solution drains back into the nutrient reservoir creating an efficient closed loop system.
Drip hydroponic systems are fairly simple and easy to use. The maintenance required is typically limited to monitoring the reservoir water levels and adding nutrients when required. The number and size of plants you’re growing will directly determine the nutrient and water consumption of the system.
The beauty of this hydroponic farming system is that you can control the amount and rate of nutrient delivery to different crops enabling you to grow different plants on the same grow tray.
Growing Food at Home
The most efficient method of growing your own food at home is by using the Tower Garden aeroponic growing system. The easy to use vertical garden combines the water efficiency of a drip system with the faster growth and larger yields of aeroponics.
With its automatic watering and lighting system, the Tower Garden can grow over 20 plants in a 3′ x 3′ space and comes with everything you need to get started quickly. To see all the benefits of this unparalleled growing system check out What is a Tower Garden and How Does it Work?
Drip Hydroponic System Supplies
1. Flood Tray
This is a large tray that holds the grow pots. The tray is used to collect excess nutrient solution and drains it back to the nutrient solution reservoir. The size of the flood tray depends on the number of plants you intend to plant.
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2. Nutrient Solution Reservoir
This reservoir can be any non-transparent container big enough to hold the nutrient solution. If the container is transparent, paint it black leaving a clear vertical line for monitoring nutrient solution levels.
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3. Submersible Water Pump
A submersible water pump is used to pump the nutrient solution to the manifold which in turn spreads it to the drip network. The power of the water pump depends on the size of the growing area. You should invest in a powerful pump if you are planning on expanding the capacity of the growing area in the future.
The pump should be fitted with a water filter to prevent debris from clogging the drip network and the pump itself.
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4. External Air Pump, Air Tube, and Air Stone
Although the nutrient solution is circulating, the use of an air pump ensures that the nutrient solution is well oxygenated. An air stone is used to diffuse air into the nutrient solution. The size and number of the air pumps and air stones depend on the amount of nutrient solution in the reservoir.
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5. Drip Tubing and Manifold
These make the bulk of the hydroponic system, and they include delivery lines, drip lines, drain lines, and connector manifold. It’s recommended you use half-inch light-proof black vinyl tubing to prevent the growth of algae which could eventually clog the drip system. The polyvinyl pipe uses simple barbed manifold connectors that fit comfortably and tightly using PVC cement. The length of the tubing should be equal to the distance from the water pump to the plants and the size of the growing area.
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- Waters up to 8 plants with one unit
6. Water emitters/drippers
The water drippers allow you to control the amount of nutrient solution delivered to each plant. In simple systems, one can forego the emitters by drilling small holes on the delivery tubing. But if you intend to grow different crops on your system, it’s recommended you use emitters to ensure optimal nutrient delivery according to the individual crop’s needs.
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- Slow watering rate allows soil to absorb water more completely in the root zones of plants
- Self-piercing design; use with 1/4" Drip tubing or insert into 1/2" or larger Drip tubing
7. Growing medium
Some suitable growing media for hydroponic drip systems include rock wool, coco coir, perlite-vermiculite mix or hydroton rocks. These hold and support the plant’s roots.
The choice of growing medium determines the drip irrigation cycle. For example, rock wool needs irrigation once every 3-5 hours while hydroton rocks are suitable for continuous dripping.
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8. Drip System Controllers
These include pressure regulators, flow valves, and timers. It’s possible to get by without these in a simple beginner system, but they are critical in larger, more complicated setups.
Timers regulate drip irrigation. It helps in automatically turning the pump on and off at regular time intervals.
The flow valves and pressure regulators let you monitor and control the flow rate of the nutrient solution throughout the system.
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9. Hydroponic Nutrients
These can be either premixed or homemade organic essential water-soluble nutrients needed by the crops. There are many different options available for nutrient solutions, I’ve put together an article to help you decide which is best for your plants and setup
Read more about the Best Hydroponic Nutrients to learn which will be the right one for you.
10. Temperature and pH test kit
The thermometer and pH test kit are used in monitoring the temperature and pH of the nutrient solution. This ensures the solution is in a conducive state for optimal absorption by the roots. PH adjusters are used to adjusting the pH of the solution either up or down as needed.
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Other tools needed in setting up the drip system include a drill, cutters, filter material, shovels, tape measures, and PVC glue.
How to assemble a simple hydroponic drip system
- Using a drill, drill a hole on one end of the bottom of the flood/grow tray. This hole connects the drain line from the grow tray to a hole in the lid of the solution reservoir. Cover the hole with filter cloth to prevent grow medium from falling through to the reservoir.
- Fill the grow tray with well-draining media such as rock pebbles. The grow tray is placed in an elevated area to allow draining by gravity.
- Fill the grow pots with more water-holding media such as rock wool or perlite-vermiculite mix. Place a single plant in each of the grow pots and place them in the flood tray. Remember to use the recommended spacing guidelines.
- If the solution chamber is transparent, paint it black to make it light-proof. Remember to scratch off a vertical line that will serve as the level meter.
- Drill a 1″ hole on each end of the lid of the reservoir. One hole is for the airline from the air pump to the air stone and electric cord to the submersible water pump. The other hole is for the tubing delivering the nutrient solution from the pump to the manifold.
- Cut out another hole on the lid of the drain line from the grow tray. The drain line holes can be as many as the drain pipes.
- Connect the line from the water pump to the manifold.
- Connect each drip line from the manifold to the respective grow pots in the grow tray. The drip lines should already be fitted with drip emitters.
- Fill up the reservoir with nutrient solution and then test and adjust the pH accordingly.
- Place the submersible water pump and air stone in the reservoir and connect the lines accordingly.
- Connect the water pump to the timer’s power outlet to start your drip hydroponic system.
Drip System Hydroponics Irrigation Maintenance Tips
- The most common problem with the system is clogging. Clogging is caused by debris in the drip system. This is solved by cleaning and flushing your water filters and drip lines. The water filters should be replaced regularly to ensure optimal functioning.
- Since the system relies so much on external power, prolonged power outages can starve the crops to death. This small beginner system can be protected with a small UPS (uninterrupted power supply), but large commercial systems require an automatic alternative power source such as a generator.
- Monitor the nutrient solution regularly. Check the temperature and pH and adjust accordingly. Refill the reservoir as frequently as needed and flush the system occasionally.