How to Build a Hydroponic Garden?

How to Build a Hydroponic Garden?

Whenever we talk about plants or decide to grow something, the first thing which comes to our mind is a good growing media. Growing media usually includes soil, combined with compost, manure, or any other nutrient boosting product. Primarily, this growing media provides plants with all essential nutrients and ensures proper and healthy plant growth.

Soil provides a good anchorage for plant roots and holds the plant so that it will stand still and upright. But the question is, whether the soil is so necessary to grow a plant? Let’s have a look at how a plant grows. Plants are autotrophs, which mean they can produce their own food. This is the reason that they are the primary producers in our food chain.

Plants produce their food through photosynthesis, a process in which water and carbon dioxide are converted into glucose (sugar) in the presence of sunlight. Chemically, it is done like this:

6CO2+6H2O→C6H12O6+6O2

The point that needs your attention is that there is not any mentioning of the soil in the equation of plant growth. And it’s true, plants not only can grow without soil but they also grow better. The technique of growing plants without soil, i.e., growing them in water, is called hydroponics. Plants grow better when their roots are in the water or even just moist in the air. Many of our foods, like tomatoes, are already being produced hydroponically, these days.

Plants need water and nutrients for their growth, and the basic medium in which they grow is soil, which provides them with all the essential nutrients and water. What if nutrients were supplied to the plant without using soil? For example, what if we grew them in a nutrient-rich solution? This is the basic principle of hydroponics, i.e.,growing plants in water or more precisely growing plants without soil.

Why Hydroponics?

This is the most important question which is raised. Why hydroponics?  The answer lies in its advantages.

More Yield: Many hydroponic growers have produced more yields by using this technique as compared to conventional farming, and the reason behind it is that roots are dipped in a nutrient-rich solution. Roots absorb these nutrients more easily and rapidly than they do from the soil, and they don’t have to compete with other plants for their food.

Smaller Root System: They need a much smaller roots system in liquid media, and because of that, they utilize maximum energy for leaf and stem growth. Another advantage of smaller roots is more plants in a smaller space, which means you can get more yield from using a limited area.

Rapid Growth: Hydroponic plants grow faster.

Fewer Pests and Diseases: Soil carries many pests and disease-causing micro-organisms, so if there is no soil, there are very few chances of plants getting infected by these problems. Hydroponics provides you with a hygienic growing system with fewer issues of pests and diseases.

Indoor Growing System: Since this system is ideal for an indoor environment, one can use it to grow any crop all year round.

With all these advantages, it also has some drawbacks, like the cost of it. The equipment you’ll need is very costly, e.g., containers, lights, pumps, nutrients, and many more items. You will also need skilled management for its functioning, as the plants grown in water are much more vulnerable to and respond quickly to the environment, they need much more care.

Sometimes smaller roots also cause problems, whereas heavy fruiting plants need a much-elaborated root system.

The Technique

There are various methods of hydroponics; each offers its own advantages. The nutrient-film technique is one of the most practiced methods. In this technique, a plant is grown in a plastic holder, and a nutrient solution is trickled past its roots. The solution continually slides through the roots and delivers the nutrition they need.

You can also grow your plant in a nutrient-enriched medium like rock wool, vermiculite, or sand. These are sterile substitutes for soil. Another technique is called aeroponics, as the name indicates; it’s the practice to grow plants in extremely humid and misty air with roots inside a container. This container acts as a cloud, packed full of minerals.

Moreover, there are other suitable systems, which include

  •         Wick system
  •         Water culture system
  •         Ebb and flow system

Wick system

The wick system is the most straightforward system, which uses the capillary action of water to draw up water and nutrients from a reservoir to the plant. There are no electrical or mechanical parts included in it. This system is suitable for herbs and peppers but is not ideal for plants that need surplus water for their growth.

Materials required:

  1. Water
  2. Bucket for water reservoir
  3. Growing tray
  4. Growing medium
  5. Hydroponic fertilizer
  6. Cotton cord
  7. Seedlings

Procedure:

  1. Take a bucket or basin, fill it with water, add nutrients, and put it in your planting tray.
  2. Use a growing medium that does not drain too quickly. e.g., perlite or vermiculite.
  3. Connect one or two wicks with your growing tray. The wick soaks water from the reservoir and pulls it up into the growing medium
  4. If you are doing this indoors, set up a light above your growing tray. If you’re using incandescent bulbs, place them 24 inches (61 cm) above the plants. For LED and fluorescent lights, set them at 6 inches (15 cm) and 12 inches (30.5 cm) above the plants.

Water Culture (Raft) System

The raft system is another example of a simple system to set up. The plants are placed in styrofoam; this styrofoam floats on the surface of a nutrient-enriched water reservoir. Unlike the wick system, water is needed to be aerated in the reservoir. The system is suitable for water-loving plants.

Materials required:

  1. Water
  2. Bucket for water reservoir
  3. Hydroponic fertilizer (dry or liquid)
  4. Styrofoam sheet
  5. Airstone
  6. Seedlings

Procedure:

  1. Set up a water reservoir that consists of nutrients and places it under your planting tray.
  2. Aerate water reservoir. For this purpose, use an airstone and pump. Airstones work on the mechanism of a bubbler that is used in aquariums. An airstone is placed in the water and connected with the pump outside the reservoir, which helps in distributing oxygen through the water.
  3. Take styrofoam and cut it according to the size of your water reservoir’s surface. Make holes for net pots (a plastic container with perforated bottoms). The roots of seedlings must touch the water present in the reservoir.
  4. For an indoor plantation plan, set up lights above your growing tray. For incandescent bulbs, place them 24 inches (61 cm) above from the plants. For LED and fluorescent lights, set them at 6 inches (15 cm) and 12 inches (30.5 cm) above the plants.

Ebb and Flow System

Ebb and flow system is a complex but versatile hydroponic system and is also sometimes referred to as a flood and drain system. As the name suggests, it works by flooding the medium with a nutrient solution and drains it back into the reservoir again.

Materials:

  1. Water
  2. Bucket for water reservoir
  3. Growing tray
  4. Hydroponic fertilizer
  5. Pump
  6. Timer
  7. Seedlings to be grown

Procedure:

  1. The water and nutrient reservoir is placed directly under the stand of flood trays. Change the water weekly and make sure to renew the nutrients, every time you change the water.
  2. Connect the reservoir to the tray by using the fill and drain tube. The fill tube is attached to a submersible pump, which controls the flow of water. The drain tube pulls the flooded water back again into the reservoir so that it can be reused.
  3. Connect a timer to the submersible pump; it allows you to adjust water frequency according to your plants’ needs.
  4. Set up flood trays on a tall stand. Use perforated pots for plantation also use a growing medium like perlite. The pots should be twice as deep as the flood tray.
  5. If you are doing this indoor, set up a light above your growing tray. For incandescent bulbs, place them 24 inches (61 cm) above the plants. For LED and fluorescent lights, set them at 6 inches (15 cm) and 12 inches (30.5 cm) above the plants.

Nutrient Film Technique

In this technique, the water-nutrient solution continuously flows in a reservoir where plant roots are suspended in the air. Roots absorb nutrients as the nutrients solution flows by. It resembles the ebb and flow system. Contrary to ebb and flow, it’s a continuous flowing system that never takes a break.

Materials:

A. Basin for water reservoir
B. Water
  • Hydroponic fertilizer
  • Pump
  • A plastic tube or PVC pipe to fit the seedlings
  • Seedlings

Procedure:

  1. The reservoir filled with water and nutrients is placed under the flood trays. Water present in the reservoir must be aerated through an air pump.
  2. Connect the tray and the reservoir via drain tube and fill tube. A submersible pump is attached to the fill tube, which pulls the water up into the flood tray. The drain tube automatically drains the water into the reservoir by the effect of gravity so that the water can be reused.
  3. Use tubes as growing trays. These tubes allow us to set them at an angle that lets the water flows through the tube, passing through the roots and drain into the reservoir easily. You may also use PVC pipes for this purpose.
  4. For an indoor plantation plan, set lights above your growing tray. For incandescent bulbs, place them 24 inches (61 cm) above from the plants. For LED and fluorescent lights, set them at 6 inches (15 cm) and 12 inches (30.5 cm) above the plants.

Aeroponic System

In this system, suspended plant roots are misted with water and nutrients solution, every other minute. It is a highly effective technique but requires more expertise and skills. By checking the equipment to prevent malfunctioning, you can ensure healthy plant growth.

Materials:

  1. Basin for water reservoir
  2. Water
  3. Hydroponic fertilizer
  4. Airstone or bubbler
  5. Pump
  6. Sprayer
  7. PVC pipe to fit the seedlings
  8. Seedlings in net

Procedure:

  1. A bucket or container filled with the nutrient solution is placed under the growing chamber.
  2. Use a bubbler to add oxygen to the water present in the reservoir.
  3. A submersible pump is attached to the misting machine, which pulls the water up into the sprayer. This sprayer aims at the plant’s roots in the growing chamber.
  4. Evenly suspend seedlings in the chamber.
  5. If you are doing this indoor, set up lights above your growing tray. For incandescent bulbs, place them 24 inches (61 cm) above from the plants. For LED and fluorescent lights, set them at 6 inches (15 cm) and 12 inches (30.5) above the plants.

Some Tips

  1. Nutrient Solution: Regularly change your nutrients solution—usually every one to two weeks.
  2. Water Temperature: Water temperature in the reservoir must be between 18–26 oC (64–79 oF). You may use a heater or chiller for this purpose.
  3. Air Pump: An air pump is essential to keep your nutrient solution oxygenated.
  4. pH: Unhealthy and discolored plants are mostly affected by the solution’s pH, adjust the pH of the solution and maintain it between 5.8–6.2. 
  5. Sterilization: After one growing cycle is completed, drain your reservoir and sterilize the whole system. You can use non-chlorine bleach and water for this purpose.
  6. Fertilizers: Hydroponic fertilizers are available in both liquid and dry forms. Don’t use standard fertilizers for hydroponics. Only the fertilizers which are specially made for hydroponics should be used.
  7. Composition of Fertilizer: Fertilizer must contain macronutrients N, P, and K as well as micronutrients Fe, B, Mn, Cu, Zn, Mb, and Cl.
  8. Humidity for Indoor Planting: Ideal room humidity should be 40 to 60% in the room. Higher humidity with poor ventilation can cause disease and fungal attacks to the plants.

Some Facts

Not all plants perform better under hydroponics. Spinach, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, and oregano are among the plants which can be grown easily under this technique, whereas plants like peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes are also an excellent choice to start with.

Conclusion

Hydroponics is an excellent technique to grow plants through controlled variables. It gives you a choice to manipulate all the factors which can affect your plant’s growth. You can ensure high yield and better quality by using this technique.

Starting from a small project and slowly making progress will never disappoint you in your choice of trying this non-conventional way of growing vegetables and fruit plants.

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