Vegetable gardening is no longer confined to having to muck around with dirt and getting our fingernails messy with rows or mounds of soil. Many fresh fruits and vegetables that you may purchase from the store these days are grown hydroponically. Hydroponics is growing crops without soil. Like in a traditional garden, hydroponic crops are also grown in row or up a trellis, but they no longer use soil as a source of nutrients. Hydroponically grown plants thrive better and are actually healthier than plants in soil as they do not need to contend with soilborne diseases and all food and water required is directly supplied to their roots.
Advantages of Hydroponics
There are many kits, do-it-yourself systems and fully automated growing tables available to a home gardening enthusiast. Hydroponics is in many ways, simpler than growing plants in soil. The basic need of a plant is food, water and air. Hydroponic growing methods allow gardeners to grow more plants per square foot because the roots are directly fed and there is no competition for root space. This gives you a higher yield per square foot for each harvest.
As mentioned above, plants grow faster in hydroponics systems because they are getting all the nutrients required in the right proportions. There is no requirement to enhance and strengthen the root systems because sufficient nutrients are provided, eliminating competition between plants. Each plant can then concentrate its energy on producing plant mass, instead of building root mass.
While there are various systems used in hydroponic gardening, all of them aim to improve your control the basic requirements of a plant via its roots, which is nutrient, water and oxygen supplies. The nutrient solution used in hydroponic gardening is circulated around the roots some of the methods listed below, the allowed to drain off.
Thus the success of hydroponics comes with the ability to create a continuous cycle of watering, draining and aerating. Hydroponic systems are categorized into two types, passive and active. Within this group are several types of system. This includes: Flood and Drain (or Ebb and Flow), Deep Water Culture (DWC), Drip feeding, Wick feeding, Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), and Aeroponics. The method that is most basic and suitable for beginners is the wick feed system. This article touches on the construction of a DIY wick feed system.
Wick feed hydroponics systems are the most basic form of hydroponics kits that are available in the market. The system works by way of submerging the roots of the plants under water, with a pump provide aeration to the nutrient in the reservoir (see Figure 1). The plant is grown planters (net pots) with mediums like grow rocks or rockwool (or both) to provide them with support. The planter is then submerged into the reservoir with a wick strip transporting water from the reservoir to feed roots that is not submerged under water or growing at the top level of the root system.
Tools and Materials
- External pump
- Airline/tubing with airstones
- Reservoir (water proof bin, bucket, or fish tank) – spray paint black if transparent
- Mesh Pots
- Rockwool or grow rocks as growing medium
- Hydroponics nutrients (Grow fertilizers, Bloom fertilizers, Supplements, pH)
- Knife, box cutter or scissors
Building a Wick Feed Hydropic System
- Spray paint your reservoir of choice black as this will stop light from entering the media and promote the growth of algae.
- Scratch a straight line from top to bottom (on top of the black paint) which will give you a visual indication of how much water is in reservoir. It will let you determine how far down the floater (in this case the StyroFoam) has sunk and indicate nutrient solution level in the reservoir.
- Cut the StyroFoam according to the width and length of your reservoir about 1/4″ (inch) smaller. The StyroFoam should fit with enough room to adjust to water level changes. For a reservoir that tapers at the bottom, cut the StyroFoam about 2″-4″ smaller.
- Before placing the StyroFoam in reservoir cut holes for the net pots. Trace the net pots on the StyroFoam and cut the trace with a knife or box cutter.
- Cut a small hole next at the end of the StyroFoam to run the air line into the reservoir.
- Note: the number of holes you cut depends on the number of plants you are growing. Space them so that each plant receives sufficient amounts of light (do not overcrowd). You must be able to gauge how large your plant will grow into to be able to approximate the distance between net pots.
- Choose an air pump that will be able to efficiently distribute air inside your nutrient solution. This depends on the size of your reservoir. Consult the supply store who should be able to help you with recommendations.
- Connect the air pump to the air line and air stones.
- You can now start filling the reservoir with nutrient solution.
- Then place the floater (StyroFoam) in tank, and run the air line through the hole you made.
- Place one plant in each net pot filled with growing medium (rockwool or grow rock). Make sure you also include the wick that will supply nutrient solution to top roots.
- Place the net pots into the holes in the StyroFoam.
- Turn on the pump
Your wick feed hydroponic system is complete.
If you\’ve set your system indoors, you will need to provide artificial lighting. The size of your hydroponic \’farm\’ will determine the amount of light fixtures you need. Consult a nursery or a hydroponic expert on this. Plants benefit from different types of light during different phases of growth HID (High Intensity Discharge) lamps are more beneficial during the growth stage, while HPS (High Pressure Sodium) increases yield and grow denser, heavier flowers.
You can use fluorescent light as well, but these do not the same amount of lumens (brightness) as HID\’s or HPS lamps. Fluorescent is more ideal for starters and seedlings as well as growers with ventilation problems. They also do not burn tender foliage as run cooler, so you can place plants closer to the light source.
Hydroponic gardening is definitely a plus especially if you have limited amount of space in your garden. It is also a great way to maintain an indoor garden when light is not readily available. Not only does hydroponic gardening overcomes the limitation of traditional garden, it is the best way to let you enjoy fresh, nutritious vegetables all year round.
Gardening Without Soil – Hydroponic Vegetable Growing:
A Guide to Hydroponics: http://besthydroponicssite.com/
DIY Hydroponic: http://www.diy-hydroponics.com/media.html
Do-It-Yourself/Homemade hydroponics wick system: