Most people are under the impression that hydroponic gardening is expensive, difficult and requires a lot of knowledge. The truth is, it can be simpler, easier, and more productive than in-ground gardens!
This is because with hydroponics, the grower has full control over the nutrition the plant is getting — and setting up a hydroponic system can be as simple as a bucket, some water-soluble nutrients and some Styrofoam.
Most hydroponics growers should begin with a simple, cheap system like the one described below, and learn all of the fundamentals before investing in a more complex system.
Simple Start Up for Hydroponic Gardens
Just getting started is usually the hard part. Most gardeners, because they are under the impression that hydro-growing is heavily scientific and requires a lot of knowledge and equipment, never make the leap to begin in hydroponics. All you need is the following:
- Some water-soluble nutrients (either liquid or powdered), available at most garden stores and any hydroponics outlet. These come with instructions and should be hydroponics-specific.
- A 5-gallon bucket, 32-gallon plastic container (storage bin), or something similar. Just make sure it is not see-through so that algae doesn’t form inside.
- A piece of Styrofoam 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick and larger than the opening of the bucket or container.
- Hydroponic grow baskets. It’s possible to use plastic strawberry baskets, home-made baskets made of string and wire, or anything similar. The idea is to give the plant roots a structure they can cling to but that will allow water to freely flow through the roots.
- A 1/2-inch pipe, tube or funnel for filling the container.
- Plants that are sprouted and have begun to grow roots.
- Cut the Styrofoam so that it fits inside the rim of the container as a lid. It should be tight enough to prevent too much light from getting into the container, but loose enough to float freely up and down a couple of inches as the water level fluctuates.
- Cut holes in the Styrofoam for the baskets and then put the baskets in the holes. They should fit snugly so that the bottom of the baskets hang down below the foam but they don’t fall through.
- Cut a hole and insert a 1/2-inch pipe, tube, or funnel at an easily-accessible spot of the foam. This will be your fill access for adding water to the system.
- Place the plants into the baskets.
- Now fill the container with water and nutrient solution (mixing per instructions), put the lid with the plants in place, and you’re growing with hydroponics!
As the water level drops, add more nutrient and water as needed. If growing indoors with lights, it’s unlikely that a deep container will lose enough during a growing cycle to need replacement.
When the plants are ready, harvest your crop, compost any leftover plant debris, thoroughly clean out the container, media, and foam, and use again! Simple and effective.
Media Based and Water Based Hydroponic Systems
Of course, once you’ve tried this system, you’ll probably want to get more complex. There are two basic types of hydroponics: media-based and water-based. The above example is a hybrid water-media system. A media-based system will have flowing water (or even use aeroponics) and use a lot of growing media to hold everything in place. A purely water-based system will have baskets only, no media at all, and flowing water (sometimes stationary, but not often).
Systems can be elaborate, involving many pumps and auto-mixers for nutrient. They can be very simple, like we’ve outlined here. Most of the time, they are somewhere in-between, suiting the budget and gardening needs of the grower.