Outdoor hydroponics is a great gardening option for people looking to try different methods to grow their crops and plants. An outdoor hydroponic system benefits homeowners like you by creating systems that increase the use of water by up to 90 percent.
This article will guide you in setting up an outdoor hydroponic garden in the easiest ways possible, so let’s get started!
- What Is an Outdoor Hydroponics System?
- Creating Your Own Outdoor Hydroponic Garden
- – Selecting Your Location
- – Choosing Your Hydroponic System
- – Powering Your Outdoor Hydroponic System
- – Building Your Outdoor Hydroponic System
- – Using Prefabricated Outdoor Hydroponics System
- – Putting Your Outdoor Hydroponics System Together
- – Selecting Your Plants
- – Monitoring Your Plants
- – Keeping Your Water Cool
- – Protecting Your Plants Against Pests
- – Harvesting Your Crops
- Advantages of Outdoor Hydroponics
- Disadvantages of Outdoor Hydroponics
- Can You Utilize Rainwater for Your Outdoor Hydroponic System?
What Is an Outdoor Hydroponics System?
Hydroponic gardening is the unique method of cultivating plants without the use of soil as a growing medium . This approach consumes less water than traditional soil gardens while improving growth rate and yield amounts at the same time.
The result is a highly efficient gardening system that reduces resource usage, decreases supply chains, and improves crop yield and quality.
Creating Your Own Outdoor Hydroponic Garden
While it can be intimidating for gardeners that are new to the concept, adapting a hydroponics gardening lifestyle is easier once you know how to do it. Let’s discuss the steps you’ll need to follow when setting up your outdoor hydroponic systems.
– Selecting Your Location
As with any real estate, the secret to creating a successful hydroponics garden system is the location. You’ll need to look at the following factors in order to consider the best area to place your hydroponic system.
Light: The most ideal location for your outdoor hydroponic garden should have access to bright, direct light. The second best option would be an area that receives bright, indirect light.
Direction: Locations, such as the east-facing areas of your outdoor spaces, are ideal for creating hydroponics outdoors. For diffused lighting exposure, the south-facing areas of your outdoor spaces will be perfectly adequate.
However, if you have limited space and can only construct your hydroponic garden in areas with harsh sun exposure, you can always use shade cloth or net coverings to diffuse the light.
Protection: You should also consider how your outdoor hydroponic garden plants will be protected from strong gusts of wind. You can always consider setting up structures to lessen any chances of the wind harming your crops.
– Choosing Your Hydroponic System
There are several hydroponic systems you can choose from. These range from simple setups that are perfect for beginners to complex systems enjoyed by experts. The beauty of selecting your hydroponic system is that it will be wholly unique to your vision and lifestyle.
As such, your hydroponic system will usually be in a constant flux of evolution to suit your ever-changing requirements. Here are some of the most popular hydroponic systems for you to consider.
Kratky Hydroponic System: This is one of the simplest setups you will find in the hydroponic gardening market. Some of the materials you will need for this approach are:
- A water reservoir container, depending on how large your plants will be
- A plastic or Styrofoam lid for your container
- Net pots
- Growing media
- Hydroponic nutrients
- pH measurement tools
- pH control kit
NFT Hydroponic System: This stands for Nutrient Film Technique, which utilizes polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. This system is ideal when growing multiple types of plants.
In this system, the crops are placed inside small openings on top of a tray, which is an enclosed channel. Nutrient water is pumped from a reservoir into the channels. Since the channels are angled, the water goes downwards toward the channel and through a drain due to gravity.
Most NFT hydroponic systems typically require the following:
- A water reservoir to store the nutrient solution
- A nutrient pump
- Tubes that act as distribution tools that facilitate water movement from the nutrient pump
- Enclosed channel or tray to house the plants
- Net pots
- A return system composed of channels and tubes to bring the distributed nutrient solution back to the water reservoir
Framed Hydroponic System: Ideal for gardeners with limited outdoor spaces, this system utilizes the best of hydroponics principles but requires advanced skills. While there are different frame setups, the most popular one is the A-frame design. It is similar to the NFT PVC setup but with a more complex system.
Some of the materials you will need to construct an A-frame system are:
- Timber to use as frames
- Sewer or drain pipes
- Water hose pipes
- Pipe caps and connectors
- Pipe brackets
- Digital thermometer
- O-ring or silicone to seal
- Water reservoir container
- Cable mount
Vertical Hydroponic System: This is the most ideal and cost-effective system for gardeners with very limited outdoor spaces. The vertical hydroponic system utilizes an outdoor hydroponics tower.
In this setup, a tube is connected to the water reservoir that is typically at the bottom. A hydroponic pump is then used to bring water to the top, recirculating the water efficiently.
Typically, you will need the following to create a vertical hydroponic system:
- A large PVC pipe
- The end cap for the pipe
- A water reservoir
- A submersible pump
- Net pots
- A vinyl hose for the pump
- PVC sealants
- LED grow light series
– Powering Your Outdoor Hydroponic System
Depending on the system you selected, electricity is not always required. For those with electrical pumps, an electrical supply is necessary. Setting up electrical pumps needs to be considered thoroughly to prevent unwanted shocks from the electrical conductivity of water and other conductive materials.
While the pumps consume electricity relatively lower than your other household costs, they can still add to the overall usage.
If you are conscious of this, you can always opt for a hybrid solar energy system that switches on during the day and turns off during the night. This way, your electrical consumption from your outdoor hydroponic system is reduced.
– Building Your Outdoor Hydroponic System
Systems that do not require electric pumps are classified as passive hydroponic grow methods. Based on your skill level, you can grow a single or a series of plants without using electric pumps. These are the most ideal for beginners as they are simpler, although they do require some maintenance.
Hydroponic systems that require electric pumps are better suited for intermediate to advanced hydroponic gardeners.
Based on your selected hydroponic system, you will require some basic materials for your needs. Let’s go over some of the basic materials you will need to make your outdoor hydroponics DIY system as easy as possible.
Water reservoir is the container that will be used to store your water. Depending on the size of your outdoor hydroponic system, your water reservoir will range from three liters to several gallons.
To determine the total required volume for your water reservoir, you will need to remember that each plant will require two to three liters of water.
As much as possible, choose one that is made of sturdy materials that will not leech unwanted chemicals into the water. Metal containers are not recommended as they may rust and introduce undesirable minerals into the water.
A water pump is required for hydroponic systems that need to pump and circulate water throughout the entire channel. Submersible pumps are ideal since they can be placed inside the water reservoir.
Any other types of pumps will have to be installed outside of the reservoir. When selecting your water pump, ensure that it is ideal for the size of your system.
Given that hydroponic systems do not use soil, you will have to use other forms of substrate for the roots of your crops to hold on to. You can take your pick from popular growing media such as bark, coconut coir, gravel, peat, pine bark, foam, mineral wool, growstone, perlite, and sand.
These will help anchor the plant while allowing the root systems to absorb nutrients from the water while draining it properly.
pH Test Kits
Just like soil, the pH level of the water inside your outdoor hydroponic system must have an ideal pH range for your crops to grow successfully. This applies to all systems, passive or otherwise. The nutrient solution in your water needs to be monitored for its pH level so that the growing environment is optimal for your crop’s health.
– Using Prefabricated Outdoor Hydroponics System
There are some gardeners who might not be inclined towards making their own system. If you are one of these, then you can always opt to purchase ready-made hydroponic systems. These can easily be found in garden centers, home depots, and even online. You’ll have to determine if they are indoor hydroponic systems or made for outdoors.
Some systems are even suited for outdoor hydroponics greenhouse systems, while some can be easily transitioned from outdoors to your indoor garden if you have or are planning to have one. As there are so many systems and types available, you should take your time in considering your short and long-term hydroponic needs.
These can include resources, such as time, money, and effort in maintaining your hydroponics system, as well as the consumption of your harvested crops.
– Putting Your Outdoor Hydroponics System Together
Now that you have selected and constructed your preferred outdoor hydroponic system, you can now begin adding your crops.
Depending on the type you have chosen, you will need these reminders before placing your plants to keep your hydroponic system functioning properly.
- You can grow crops from seeds, but this will take time.
- Growing crops from seeds in a hydroponic system is more suited for intermediate to expert growers.
- For beginners, using seedlings is a better option.
- When using seedlings, it is required to remove all the soil from the seedling’s roots.
- Any soil in the hydroponic system can clog up and damage the entire process.
- When removing soil from the roots of the seedlings, use lukewarm water to prevent shocking the plant.
- The soil should be removed gently by submerging the root system into lukewarm water to loosen the dirt.
- Repeat the entire process until the roots are visibly clear of any soil.
- Use another container with lukewarm water for a final rinse.
- Place your soil-less seedling in the netted pots.
- To anchor your seedling’s roots, pull them gently through the bottom of the netted pots.
- Gently fill the netted pots with your growing media of choice.
- Place the filled netted pots into the intended receptacles of your hydroponic system.
- Your water should ideally be distilled water to keep it as free from contaminants as possible.
- When in doubt, have your water tested for nutrients and micronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients and micronutrients can be added, amended, and balanced through appropriate water-soluble nutrient solutions.
- With outdoor hydroponics rain can cause the water in the reservoir to become diluted, so check the pH and nutrient levels after rainfall.
- Ensure that your plants are suspended in aerated water, which is also known as deep water culture.
- A deep water culture system is the most popular and effective way of hydroponic gardening system.
– Selecting Your Plants
For beginners, selecting the right kinds of plants is important. The plants should be relatively easy to grow and maintain without being susceptible to pests and diseases.
Some of the simplest plants to grow in an outdoor hydroponic system are:
- Green beans
Once you have learned to grow these plants, you can start growing crops that require more care and maintenance. One essential thing you have to keep in mind is to grow plants that need similar nutrient content when using the same water reservoir.
– Monitoring Your Plants
At this point, your outdoor hydroponic system should be functioning. During this time, you will need to check how well your crops are growing. Outdoor grow systems can be particularly vulnerable to the elements, especially when the setup includes outdoor hydroponics in winter conditions.
Here are some things you will have to keep in mind when monitoring your plants:
- Check your hydroponic system regularly.
- Make sure that everything is working properly, from pumps to water temperature.
- Check your plants daily for any pests or diseases.
- Monitor their sunlight exposure and adjust accordingly.
– Keeping Your Water Cool
The temperature of your water reservoir should be cool. When the temperature is too warm, it can scald the roots of your plants. When the water is too cold, it can shock your plants.
Here are some key reminders on how to keep the water in your reservoir container cool:
- Keep the water cool by placing your water reservoir in a shaded place.
- Water reservoirs with light colors also reflect heat instead of absorbing it.
- Burying your water reservoir partially in the ground will help keep the water cool.
- You can always place insulation over your water reservoir container to keep it cool.
- If you have the resources, you can always use a water chiller to help keep the water cool.
- Water chillers need to be proportional to the water reservoir, so select and purchase one accordingly.
– Protecting Your Plants Against Pests
Your crops are vulnerable to pests since they are located outdoors. You can use various types of homemade pesticides to combat these annoying insects. Synthetic pesticides are not recommended since they can leave traces of harmful chemicals in your hydroponic system.
To make your own pesticide from safe ingredients, you will need the following:
- Few drops of neem oil
- Few drops of mild dish soap
- Spray bottle
Mix all of them together and spray on the affected plants with pests. You will have to note that neem oil has a bitter taste, which discourages pests from feasting on your crops. At the same time, if you plan to consume the crops that have been sprayed with your neem oil solution, wash them thoroughly first.
– Harvesting Your Crops
One of the most enjoyable activities in hydroponic gardening is enjoying the literal fruits of your labor. To harvest your plants properly, here are some reminders:
- Use clean and sterilized tools and clothing when handling your plants.
- Bring a basket to place your harvested plants to keep them safe in one place.
- After harvesting, clean and sterilize all your tools.
Advantages of Outdoor Hydroponics
Compared to indoor hydroponic systems, an outdoor model has the following benefits:
- Increased space to grow more variety of different crops and plants
- Better light sources due to natural sunlight instead of using artificial LED grow lights
- The presence of natural pollinators will not require you to pollinate plants by hand
- Lower costs compared to indoor models in terms of ventilation fan systems
- Hydroponic plants grown outdoors tend to grow faster than ones that are grown indoors
Disadvantages of Outdoor Hydroponics
Unless you have equipped your outdoor hydroponic system in a greenhouse setting, you may encounter the following issues:
- Plants are highly susceptible to pests and diseases
- Your crops will require more monitoring and maintenance
- The water in the reservoir container can become contaminated by waterborne diseases
- Plant issues are quicker to develop
- Easily affected by weather conditions
- Vulnerable to electrical outages, unless your hydroponic system is passive
Can You Utilize Rainwater for Your Outdoor Hydroponic System?
Yes, filtered rainwater can be used for your outdoor hydroponic system. Make sure that your rainwater is free of any contaminants that may affect the water and nutrient solution inside your reservoir container and the entire system.
There might be pathogens and organisms that are invisible to the naked eye. However, when in doubt, use distilled water and save the rainwater for your plants grown in soil.
An outdoor hydroponics system does not have to be complicated or difficult, and as long as you are aware of what you need, you’ll find that picking the right system will work wonders for you.
Here’s a recap of what we’ve learned:
- Outdoor hydroponic systems can range from simple passive models to ones that are complex with electrical pumps.
- Your outdoor hydroponic system should be located in a well-lit area and well-protected from the elements, pests, and diseases.
- Hydroponic systems can be constructed or bought from garden centers and home depots.
- Selecting, monitoring, feeding, and harvesting your plants have to be done regularly to keep your crops healthy.
Now that you now have more knowledge about setting up outdoor hydroponic systems, you are better equipped to start one yourself. Take that first step, and start making plans today!
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