Types of hydroponic gardens

Wicking

Wick systems are the simplest of hydroponic gardens and are incredibly easy to set up.  They are passive, meaning they use no electricity and have no moving parts to break down, but they are less efficient than other growing techniques and may not be suitable for plants that need a lot of water.

Wicking systems work by capillary action.  The nutrient solution is brought to the growing medium by one or more wicks.  Adding more wicks results in more water being brought to the plants.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

In a deep water culture garden the plant’s roots are suspended in oxygenated nutrient solution.  The plants are typically grown in net pots which allow the roots to hang below in the nutrient solution.  An aquarium air pump is placed in the solution to provide oxygen for the roots.  With enough oxygen in the nutrient solution, the roots can remain submerged indefinitely.

DWC systems are the most popular for home hydroponics due to their simplicity and because the plants grown rapidly due to the high oxygen levels the roots get.  The only moving part that could break down is the air pump, and it’s a good idea to have a spare, since without oxygen reaching to roots, the plants will quickly suffer if the pump stops.

Drip System

Drip systems are among the most widely used hydroponic systems.  A pump on a timer transfers nutrient solution to the growing medium at set times.  The excess nutrient solution can be drained back into the reservoir to be reused, or can be discarded.  Reusing the nutrient solution is more efficient and better for the environment, but takes more care to keep the nutrient levels right.

Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)

Ebb and flow systems work by flooding the growing area with nutrient solution and draining it back into the reservoir.  A timer turns on a pump, transferring the nutrient solution to a tray or table containing the plants.  When the timer turns off the nutrient solution drains.  This is usually done several times a day, depending on the needs of the plants, the temperature, humidity and other environmental factors.

Ebb and flow systems can be used with many growing mediums including rockwoold, gravel, perlite, coconut coir and more.  Some mediums will retain more nutrient solution for the plants in between cycles, and some drain quickly, allowing more air to the roots and preventing plants from drowning.

Plant’s roots will quickly dry out if something stops the flood cycles.  A pump breaking down or a malfunctioning timer can quickly cause disaster.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

Nutrient film technique systems are what most people thing of when they think hydroponics.  A constant flow of nutrient solution is pumped into a growing tray (often created from PVC pipe), flows over the roots of the plants, then drains back to the reservoir.

The plants are normally grown in net pots, allowing their roots to dangle in the nutrient solution.  Traditional growing mediums are usually not used, eliminating the costs of replacing the growing medium with every crop.

NFT systems require a constant flow of nutrient solution and the roots will quickly dry out if there is a power outage or other interruption.

Aeroponics

Aeroponics is possible the most high-tech method of hydroponic growing.  The plants roots hang down in air which is misted with the nutrient solution.  The misting are usually performed for a few seconds every couple minutes.  Because the roots are exposed to air, they will quickly dry out if sometime interrupts the misting cycles.

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