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Hydroponic gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby, if not a somewhat challenging one. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Starting and maintaining a hydroponic garden takes a good deal of time, a certain amount of patience, and a whole lot of dedication.
Even more, hydroponic gardens need tending daily, if only for a few quick minutes. But, the yields are well worth it, at two to three times larger than traditional gardening methods.
What is Hydroponic Gardening? Hydroponics is a method for growing plants that excludes soil and includes nutrient-rich water in its place. The grower controls the environment of the hydroponic garden and provides everything the plants need including lights, water, nutrients, ventilation, pest control, and more.
Read on and learn everything you need to know about hydroponic gardening at home.
Hydroponic Gardening 101: Everything You Need to Know
As mentioned above, hydroponic gardening is a growing method that involves growing plants in water instead of soil. Because it takes place in a controlled environment, hydroponic gardening is best practiced indoors.
Below, we discuss exactly how hydroponic gardening works, section-by-section, explaining everything you need to know about gardening hydroponically, including comparison tables, growing tips, and more.
How Does Hydroponic Gardening at Home Work?
Hydroponic gardening takes place in a hydroponic system, typically inside your home. The first step is selecting the type of system you prefer and setting it up. The type of system and space it may require vary widely, based on your needs.
After your graden’s hydroponic system is in place, the next step is germinating seeds and transplanting them into the hydroponic system. With plants in place, hydroponic gardening involves learning, taking notes, and improving as you go.
Harvesting fruits and vegetables from hydroponic gardens is extra-rewarding because the plants usually yield two to three times as much as traditional garden variety plants. But, there is plenty of upkeep and maintenance involved with hydroponic gardening as well.
Types of Hydroponic Systems for Gardening
The first step to getting started with hydroponic gardening is picking which type of hydroponic system you want to use. It can be a bit intimidating at first, trying to choose from the many types of systems available.
Try to make your decision based on your needs, rather than which system is the most fascinating.
There is a perfect hydroponic system for you, depending on the type of crop you’re growing, the environment you will put the system into, the amount of space and lighting available, and other factors.
The main systems used for hydroponic gardening are:
- Deep Water Culture systems. This type of system anchors the roots of plants into deep water rich in air and nutrients.
- Recirculating Deep Water Culture systems. These systems are individual DWC systems connected to a single central reservoir by hoses, pipes, or tubes.
- Ebb-and-Flow systems. This type of system works on the “flood and drain” principle, allowing water and nutrients to ebb and flow to the root zone of plants.
- Wicking systems. These systems draw water and nutrients up into the root zone of plants via a wicking medium.
- Drip systems. This type of system provides a steady dripping of water and nutrients onto the root zones of plants.
- NFT systems. This type of system provides a constant thin film of water and nutrients to the root systems of plants.
- Kratky systems. These systems are primitive DWC type setups, allowing a gap of air to the root zone of the plants, between the growing medium and the surface of the deep water.
- Hybrid systems. Mixes, matches, and all sorts of creative alternatives for all of the above types of hydroponic systems pop up every year.
Hydroponic Gardening Systems Setup
Setting up your hydroponic garden after selecting the type of system you’ll be using is the next challenge to getting started with hydroponic gardening. It won’t be hard, but it won’t be exactly easy either.
Depending on the size of the operation, you’ll require anywhere from the corner of a room, or a closet, to an entire room, or more to set up and secure the hydroponic gardening system.
The most basic components of hydroponic gardens include:
- Container for the reservoir(s) and/or grow sites
- Tubes and/or pipes for grow sites
- Water pump
- Air pump and air stones/bars
- Extra tubes, pipes, or hoses
- Connecters, elbows, and end-caps
- pH and EC meter(s)
- pH and EC adjusters
- Grow lights
It requires precision and attention to detail to properly set up a hydroponic garden, let alone maintain one. But, once you figure that little gem out, and begin to apply yourself and what you’ve learned to your hydroponic gardening, you’ll find things going much smoother.
You also need to consider the following when setting up a hydroponic garden:
- Costs (including components and power usage)
- Space (where will it fit)
- Sound (will it interupt you while your sleep? watching tv?)
- Maintenance (how much time and energy will it take to keep it running?)
- Water source (where will your system draw its water from?)
- Flushing (where will your system flush its water?)
In hydroponic gardening, every little thing about the water is crucial and has an effect on the entire system, including the health of the plants. Three key aspects about hydroponic water that you should familiarize yourself with are, the pH level, the temperature, and the upkeep.
pH Level for Hydroponic Water
There is no “correct” pH level for hydroponic water, rather the type of crop you are growing determines that factor.
5.5 to 6.0 is a generally safe and acceptable pH level for many garden variety plants.
Just keep in mind that some plants, like certain tomatoes, require a slightly higher pH (6.0 to 7.0), and others, like blueberries, prefer a lower pH (4.5 to 5.0).
Temperature for Hydroponic Water
The best temperature for your hydroponic garden’s water is another factor that is best determined by the crop you’re growing (or planning to).
The hydroponic water temperature goldilocks zone is 65°F to 80°F.
It is in this window of temperatures that most hydroponic garden plants thrive, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even trees.
Hydroponic Water Maintenance
Your garden’s hydroponic reservoir needs to be flushed and changed out with fresh water and nutrients once every two to three weeks.
When you are changing the water, make sure to take a few minutes and scrub and rinse the reservoir. That way, bacteria and/or diseases are less likely to occur in your system.
Nutrients for Hydroponic Systems
There are many types of nutrients that are used in hydroponic gardening. Thankfully for you, the most you’ll ever need to think about nutrients is when you’re first finding a reliable product to use in your hydroponic system.
Because plants in hydroponic systems depend 100-percent on the system to deliver nutrients to their roots, it’s your job to do just that.
Most plants grown in hydroponic gardens require macronutrients, like nitro, phosphorus, and potassium, and micronutrients, like copper, iron, and zinc.
Make sure that you check the label for ingredients before purchasing, and make sure that any liquid nutrients you’re thinking about buying has exactly what your plants need.
The market is ripe with liquid nutrients for hydroponic gardening, three of the most popular are:
- General Hydroponics
You may also consider researching and creating your own organic nutrients at home from leftovers (from the garden, and kitchen).
Lights Used for Hydroponic Gardening
When you’re hydroponic gardening inside, you need to use grow lights. Even more importantly, you need to use good grow lights.
The worst disappointment is going through all the time and trouble of raising a crop that never quite matures or fully ripens due to weak lights.
The 5 best types of lights that are strong enough for hydroponic gardens include:
- HID (High-Intense Density)
- T-Type Fluorescence
- MH (Metal Halide)
- HPS (High-Pressure Sodium)
Hydroponic Gardening Maintenance
Taking care of your hydroponic garden properly takes some time and attention. There are tasks that need to be completed on a daily, weekly, every other week, and monthly basis, as well as in-between crops.
Below, we break it down for you in detail:
Daily Hydroponic Gardening Tasks
Hydroponic gardening isn’t hard, but it does take a bit of effort on a daily basis. Here are a few of the tasks that need completed every day of the week:
- Check water for temperature
- Measure the pH level
- Take an EC reading
- Briefly inspect plants
- Briefly inspect system
- Keep a record in a log book
Weekly Hydroponic Gardening Tasks
On top of daily tasks, hydroponic gardening demands that certain tasks be undertaken every 5 to 10 days (every week or so):
- Closely inspect individual plants
- Check each component of the system for signs of wear
- Test water
Bi-Weekly Hydroponic Gardening Tasks
Once every two weeks, several extra tasks need to be carried out in order to ensure that your hydroponic garden runs as smoothly as possible:
- Flush the water
- Scrub the reservoir
- Rinse the reservoir
- Refile the reservoir with water
- Add nutrients
- Balance the pH and EC
Monthly Hydroponic Gardening Tasks
Every now and then (we suggest once per month), your hydroponic garden needs some TLC. That means, once per month you should:
- Remove parts from the system, clean them, and put them back
- Replace parts that are wearing down or broken
- Change the water
- Scrub reservoir, rinse it, and santize it
- Take readings and balance the pH and EC
Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening
Hydroponic gardening is a hobby or career full of benefits; from having cleaner air indoors, thanks to the plants you’re growing, to harvesting twice as much (and tastier) fruits and vegetables as you would with traditional gardening methods.
A few of the most significant benefits of hydroponic gardening include:
- Increased control of the environment
- Use of advanced technology
- Easy to learn
- Educational for all ages
- Produces higher yields
- Produces larger and tastier fruits and vegetables
- Fewer pests on crops
- Fewer bacteria on crops
- Less disease on crops
If you’re willing to take on the learning curve involved with starting from scratch, there are far more benefits to hydroponic gardening than disadvantages.
Challenges of Hydroponic Gardening
As many benefits as come with hydroponic gardening, it also comes with a fair share of challenges; from learning about the different types of hydroponic growing techniques, to learning how to take pH readings and adjust the levels in your system.
Some of the major challenges and disadvantages of hydroponic gardening are:
- Finding the time to plan and set up
- Creating the space for a hydroponic garden
- Keeping up with the learning curve
- Following through once you’re all set up
- Performing daily, weekly, and bi-weekly maintenance
- Needing to troubleshoot and fix things from time to time
- Having to replace parts when they go bad
- Issues caused by power outages
Every challenging experience with hydroponic gardening is a chance to learn and improve your skills as a gardener.
Hydroponics vs Aquaponics
The terms hydroponics and aquaponics are often thrown around together, despite the fact that while they are indeed similar in certain aspects, they are also quite different growing methods. Each technique involving slightly different concepts.
The most dramatic difference between the two is that aquaponics involves fish that create nutrients for the system. Otherwise, the two are almost identical in fashion.
Let’s take a closer look at the key similarities and differences between the two water-based growing methods, below.
Key Similarities of Hydroponics and Aquaponics
|Quicker and more efficient than soil-based gardening|
Centers around water pumping through pipes or hoses, carrying liquid nutrients, and air created by hoses or tubes and stones, delivered directly to grow sites and the roots of plants
Works indoors and outdoors
Needs lighting if indoorsInvolves a learning curve to get started
Requires the use of certain tools like pH and EC meters
|Faster and more effective than traditional gardening|
The system works with water pumps, fish-produced nutrients, water cleaned by plants, and air filtered by fish, all circulating and maintaining a nice balance
Works inside and outsideLights are needed indoors
Takes a good bit of research and practice
Needs monitored daily with pH meters and other tools
Key Differences Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics
|Requires less money to get started than aquaponics|
Quicker and easier to set up than aquaponics
Takes more money to operate on a larger scale than aquaponics
Nutrients must be manually added to the system indefinitely
Offers more types of systems and gardening techniques than aquaponic gardening
|Takes more money to get started due to fish|
Requires a bit more time to get set up and established, again due to fishIs more affordable to run long-term, and on larger scales, than hydroponics
No nutrients are needed once healthy fish are in place in the system
Fish are produced in addition to whatever crops you are growing
Again, the main takeaway here is that hydroponics involve manually adding nutrients to the system on a regular basis, and aquaponics has fish to produce nutrients for the system instead. Everything else is extremely similar.
The Final Word About Hydroponic Gardening
Hydroponic gardening isn’t for everyone, but, chances are, if you made it this far, you might just have some hydroponic gardening in store for your future.
If you are going to try your hand at hydroponic gardening, feel free to bookmark this page and refer back to this guide as often as necessary.
Thanks for reading, good luck with your hydroponic garden!
Suggested Reading: KRATKY HYDROPONICS: SUPER EASY NO-SOIL GARDENING
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