Types of hydroponic systems range from simple to complex setups that allow plants to grow without soil. In hydroponics, plants are cultivated using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.
We’ll cover the various types of systems you can build from the basics all the way up to advanced options. Whether you want to grow a few herbs on your windowsill or a full garden in your backyard, understanding the different hydroponic methods will help you decide which system works best for your gardening needs and goals.
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Types of Hydroponic Systems To Choose for Your Garden Now
1. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
The nutrient film technique (NFT) is one of the simplest types of hydroponic systems. We start by building channels with a slight incline to allow nutrient-rich water to constantly flow through. Plant roots are exposed to the nutrient film, which provides a continuous supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients. The flow of the nutrient solution also washes away waste products from the root zone.
This technique ensures healthy plant growth as the nutrient solution reaches the roots and enriches your plants. With precise control of the temperature, nutrients, and pH levels, NFT systems allow for high yields year round. Most NFT systems are made with plastic pipes, gullies, or grow channels.
The roots are exposed directly to the thin stream of nutrient-rich water that is constantly being pumped through the system. The nutrient solution trickles down through the root zone absorbing nutrients and oxygen before exiting the channel and being recirculated by the water pump.
An airstone is typically added to the reservoir tank to oxygenate the nutrient solution and keep the roots healthy. Plants grown using the NFT technique adapt well to the consistent supply of water and nutrients. Roots grow robust and leaves remain large and healthy. Crops like leafy greens, herbs, and some fruiting plants thrive in NFT systems.
However, the setup requires diligent pH and temperature monitoring along with a constant flow of nutrient-rich water. The simple design also means that root diseases and algae growth can spread quickly if not managed properly. Still, for small-scale growers looking for an easy way to produce nutrient-dense vegetables, NFT systems provide simple yet effective results.
2. Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Deep water culture is a type of hydroponic system where plants are grown with their roots submerged in nutrient-rich water. We begin by filling a container such as a bucket, bin, or tube with the nutrient solution. The roots hang freely in the water while the plant’s stems and leaves grow above the surface. An aeration system like an air stone is used to oxygenate the roots and nutrient solution.
DWC systems provide plants with an abundance of oxygen to the roots while delivering water and nutrients easily. The nutrient-rich water is periodically changed or recirculated to ensure it remains fresh. Since the roots are suspended in the nutrient solution, plants adapt quickly and produce rapid growth and high yields. Crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs do especially well in DWC systems.
However, lacking an organized root structure, DWC systems are more susceptible to root rot from pathogens and algae growth if the nutrient solution is not properly aerated and managed. Regular monitoring and solution changes are required to maintain a healthy environment for the submerged roots.
3. Ebb and Flow Systems
Ebb and flow systems, also known as flood and drain, are simple hydroponic setups that work by periodically flooding roots with nutrient-rich water. We begin by filling a growing tray or table with an inert material like gravel, clay pellets, or sand. Plants are placed so their roots sit within the medium. On a set timer, a water pump fills the tray with a nutrient solution which soaks the roots.
The nutrient solution absorbs nutrients and oxygen through the roots before the pump turns off and the solution drains away. The cycle then repeats to resupply the roots again. As the name implies, the system cycles between regularly flooding the roots and then allowing them to dry.
Ebb and flow systems are easy to set up, inexpensive, and suitable for growing a wide range of crops.
The intermittently flooded roots receive abundant oxygen when exposed to air between flood cycles. Automating the flood and drain portions also makes the system hands-off once programmed correctly. However, the roots sitting in media can be susceptible to fungi and mold if the trays are not properly drained and dried between floods.
Aeroponics is a hydroponic technique where roots are constantly misted with nutrient-rich water in an enclosed space. We begin by housing plant roots in a chamber such as a cube, tent, or box. A system of misters is set up to regularly spray the roots with a nutrient solution. The roots are suspended in the air and receive moisture and nutrients from the frequent misting.
In aeroponic systems, roots receive an abundant supply of oxygen as they are exposed to the air in the chamber. The roots are also misted regularly to ensure they remain hydrated. Plants adapt quickly to aeroponic culture and often exhibit explosive growth. Many vegetable crops including lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes do well using aeroponics.
However, aeroponic systems require precise environmental control and automation. The misting system must operate consistently and the nutrient solution needs to be monitored closely. Any interruptions to the misting cycle can cause roots to dry out quickly.
Pathogen buildup can also arise if the nutrient solution and chambers are not properly sterilized and maintained. With close management, aeroponics enables some of the highest plant yields through optimal root oxygenation.
5. Drip Irrigation
Drip irrigation or trickle systems are a form of hydroponics where individual plants are fed nutrient-rich water through a system of emitters and tubes. We start by placing each plant in a growing medium like rock wool or clay pellets. Low-flow emitters are attached to each plant and fed by tubing connected to a water pump and reservoir.
On a timed schedule, the pump pressurizes the tubing and emitters to deliver a slow trickle of nutrient solution directly to each plant’s roots. The flow rate is low enough that water only drips out of the emitters and does not pool around the roots. Each plant slowly absorbs the nutrient solution through its root system.
Drip systems are ideal for crops that require controlled irrigation like berries, citrus, and vines. Emitters for each plant can be programmed to deliver precise amounts of nutrient solution.
Access to individual plants is also improved for tasks like pruning and inspection. However, drip systems require intensive installation and maintenance of the tubing network and emitters. Clogs and leaks in the various parts can interrupt nutrient delivery. Regular flushing is also needed to prevent buildup in the lines.
6. Wick Systems
A wick system is one of the simplest types of hydroponics where plants roots absorb water and nutrients through a wicking material. We start by placing each plant in a pot filled with an inert medium like clay pellets or gravel. A wick made of cloth or rope hangs from the bottom of the pot into a reservoir filled with nutrient solution. Capillary action draws the nutrient solution up through the wick and into the growing medium where it is absorbed by the plant roots.
As the solution is taken up by the roots, more moves along the wick from the reservoir to keep the medium moist. Plants receive water and nutrients passively without pumps or emitters. Wick systems are ideal for small plants like greens, herbs, or succulents. The setup is inexpensive and easy to operate with minimal maintenance.
Only periodic monitoring of the reservoir levels and nutrient solution is needed. Wicking systems allow for consistently moist growing conditions with abundant oxygen around plant roots. However, only a limited amount of nutrient solution can be absorbed through wicking.
Larger plants tend to outgrow wick systems quickly. Roots can also become entangled with the wicking material over time. Regular wick inspections and replacements are required to maintain optimal plant performance.
7. Raft Systems
Raft hydroponics involves growing plants on floating boards or panels suspended above a reservoir of nutrient solution. We begin by constructing a raft from a buoyant material like Styrofoam or polyether panels. Holes are made for plant roots to reach down into the reservoir below. The raft floats on the surface of the nutrient solution inside a container or tank.
An air pump is used to oxygenate both the reservoir and the roots of the plants on the raft. The raft also lifts the plant’s foliage and leaves above the nutrient solution so they remain dry. Roots dangling below gain access to an abundance of water, oxygen, and nutrients. Raft systems are ideal for leafy greens, herbs, and some fruiting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers.
The constant supply of nutrients and aeration promotes vigorous root systems and rapid plant growth. Crops can also be spaced closely together on the raft to maximize yields. However, with roots submerged in the reservoir, pathogens, and algae growth must be monitored and managed closely. Long-term submersion can also lead to root rot and deficiencies that require solution changes.
Over time, roots may clog the holes in the raft needing replacements. Still, for commercial-scale crop production, raft systems offer an effective and productive hydroponic approach. As with all hydroponic techniques, optimal growth from raft systems depends on precise control of temperature, nutrients, pH levels, and aeration.
Regular testing and adjusting of the reservoir’s nutrient solution is required to avoid deficiencies or nutrient burn. Keeping the raft and roots clean and free from algae buildup through periodic disinfection extends the life of the system. With proper care and maintenance, raft hydroponics provides a balance of simplicity, affordability, and high productivity.
8. Flood and Drain Systems
Flood and drain hydroponics work by periodically submerging plant roots in nutrient solution and then allowing the medium to dry out. We start with a tray or table filled with an inert growing medium like gravel, clay pellets, or coarse sand. Plants are placed so their roots sit within the medium. On a timer, a pump floods the system by filling the tray with nutrient-rich water.
Roots absorb water and nutrients from the solution during this period. The pump then turns off and excess solution drains away. Roots are left to partially dry and take in oxygen between flood cycles. This process repeats on a set schedule.
Flood and drain systems are simple and suitable for most plant types. Crops have access to abundant water, nutrients, and oxygen as roots are alternately submerged and exposed to air. Flood and drain tables allow for larger plantings and effective spacing of crops.
However, the set intervals require precise tuning for different plant types. Root rot from poor drainage can also become an issue over time. Still, flood and drain hydroponics provide a simple approach for beginners
9. Kratky Method
The Kratky method is a passive hydroponic technique where roots are submerged in a finite amount of nutrient solution. We start by filling a container such as a jar, bucket, or tube about two/three full with nutrient-rich water. A plant with an expanded root system is placed so its roots sit in the solution. As the roots absorb water and nutrients from the solution, the nutrient level slowly drops over time.
The exposed roots above the diminishing reservoir take in oxygen from the air. No pumps, timers, or machinery are needed as the system operates passively. The Kratky method suits small plants with low water requirements like herbs and greenhouse crops. Setup is extremely affordable and maintenance is minimal once the initial nutrient solution is prepared.
Roots have access to a plentiful supply of oxygen, water, and nutrients as the reservoir depletes. However, as the solution decreases, nutrients can become concentrated, which may burn plant roots. Ensuring the proper nutrient concentration and pH level of the initial solution is critical for optimal plant growth. The system is also limited in scale and unsuitable for large crops with high water demands.
10. Dutch Bucket Systems
Dutch bucket hydroponics uses buckets with holes in the sides to grow plants in media-filled containers. We start by pouring an inert growing medium like clay pellets or gravel into each bucket. Holes are punched around the sides of the buckets near the bottom to allow drainage and aeration. The buckets are placed upside down into tube-shaped racks and filled with nutrient solution.
Plants sit in the media-filled buckets and extend their roots down into the nutrient solution below. During the day, roots absorb water and nutrients from the solution which is then replaced overnight. Excess solution drains out the holes in the buckets. Dutch bucket systems allow for higher plant densities compared to other methods.
Multiple crops can grow at different stages within the same setup. The constant supply of nutrient solution and aeration of exposed roots promotes rapid growth and higher yields. However, monitoring and replacing the nutrient solution daily is time-consuming. Ensuring buckets drain properly while maintaining consistent nutrient levels can be challenging.
Cleaning algae and biofilm buildup from the buckets and racks is also required regularly. Still, the productivity and versatility of the system make Dutch buckets popular for commercial-scale hydroponic farming.
In summary, here are the top favorite types of hydroponic systems to choose from:
- The nutrient film technique offers precise control of nutrients and pH levels for high yields.
- Deep water culture provides plant roots with ample oxygen while submerged in nutrient solution.
- Dutch bucket hydroponics use buckets with holes in the sides to grow plants in media-filled containers.
- Aeroponics provides optimal oxygenation for roots through intermittent misting in an enclosed chamber.
- Wick systems provide a simple way to hydrate roots using capillary action through a wicking material.
Hydroponics opens up new possibilities for growing high-yield crops in innovative ways. With the right system and tailored care, you can enjoy fresh, nutritious produce from the comfort of your home with ease!