Different types of hydroponics techniques have been developed, and this article will cover what these methods are, also what are their main advantages and disadvantages.
The existing six techniques are as follows: Aeroponics, Deep Water Culture, Drip, Ebb and Flow, NFT, and Wick.
Let’s now “deep dive” on each one of those.
This particular technique is considered as the most technologically-advanced hydroponic method developed. As the name implies, it uses a little amount to no growing medium at all; thus, the root system of the plan hangs in the air and is misted with the nutrient solution. These particular types of system are perfect for growing herbs and small plants. Bigger plants are definitely not so easy to support by this method due to the lack of substrate. The base of the plants is held by a contraption to make it stable, and misting is done every regular interval to keep the roots moist. What makes this particular method technologically advanced is that it comes with a timer that is connected to a pump that automatically runs the pump to mist the roots. Without the timer, the roots will quickly dry out due to exposure to air. There are many benefits to the aeroponics technique. Since the plants do not require a potting medium, it is lightweight, and you can build the planting panel to suit your needs. Some hydroponic systems use this technique that uses vertical panels to increase the planting surface area without taking up too much space. For these reasons, this type of hydroponics system is perfect for places that have small areas such as apartment buildings, small greenhouses and research laboratories.
On the other hand, some disadvantages apply once using this particular system. Take note that since the roots are exposed to the air, the system can easily be contaminated by root rot-inducing bacteria. Moreover, it also requires constant monitoring to ensure that the timer and the pumps are working correctly. Lastly, installing a hydroponics system that uses this method is too expensive due to the complexity of the set up as well as the accessories. Due to the complexity, the aeroponics method, it is used mostly by experienced gardeners as well as researchers.
Deep Water Culture Technique
While the aeroponics technique is considered as the most technologically advanced among all types of hydroponic systems, the deep water culture technique is the simplest. As the name implies, the deep water culture technique is an excellent example of an active hydroponics system. The plants are usually planted in a contraption full of holes. In most cases, the contraption is placed on top of a platform such as a hollowed out Styrofoam that floats above to the nutrient-rich solution. The roots are supported by rocks or other types, of course, growing medium such as grow rocks. Since the roots are always submerged to the solution, it is essential to use a growing medium that does not retain moisture. The plants are then suspended over a receptacle that holds the nutrient solution. In most cases, the roots grow down towards the nutrient-rich solution to actively absorb the minerals in the water. The solution is aerated so that the water can, thereby providing the needed oxygen by the plants. Due to the simplicity of its set up, the deep water culture method can easily be done even by inexperienced gardeners. This inexpensive system can be made from an old aquarium or any watertight containers.
Building elaborate setups are not required for this particular system. Because this particular system is expensive, it is often used by novice hydroponics gardeners as well as teachers who want to demonstrate hydroponics to their students. This particular method is perfect for the propagation of fast-growing plants such as leaf lettuce. This medium is excellent among plants in their vegetative stage, but plants that are in their flowering stage usually do not thrive well in this particular system.
Moreover, there are only a few plants aside from leaf lettuce that prefer this type of hydroponics system. In fact, this system is not advisable in growing long-term plants, and it also does not work well with large plants. Although this set up does not require too much maintenance, it is still important to check the nutrient solution from time to time. Since the nutrient-rich liquid is continuously present in the container, there is a possibility that your hydroponics solution might be breeding mosquitoes already. If you do live in the tropics, this is especially true. Therefore, it is vital to check and replace the liquid, regularly.
The drip technique is considered as the widely used hydroponics method in the world. This particular system is straightforward. The pump which is submerged is controlled by a timer, and then connected to small pipes dipped to the base of the plant.
In most cases the pipes come with nozzles that can easily be adjusted to control the amount of water from being pumped into the plants’ roots. The pump is automatically switched on by the timer to provide a measured amount of the nutrient-rich liquid to the plant. Since the liquid is introduced to the plant at regular intervals, it is best to use a soilless mix to prevent water from accumulating, which can result in the rotting of the roots. In most cases, this particular system uses rocks to support the plant. Because there is a measured amount of liquid introduced to the plant at regular intervals, this particular system is considered as one of the most cost-efficient types of hydroponics system.
There are two types of drip techniques and these include the recovery and non-recovery systems. Recovery system- This particular system is considered as the most efficient of all types of the hydroponics system. The excess solution that drips from the plants is collected back to the reservoir where the liquid is kept.
For this reason, the system also allows the use of an inexpensive timer since this particular type of system does not require a timer that can precisely control the watering cycle. This particular method requires periodic maintenance to check the pH and concentration of the liquid in the reservoir. Non-recovery system – As the name implies, this particular system does not collect the runoff liquid from the plants thus, it requires a precise timer to ensure that the plants get enough solution. Although a bit expensive, this type of system requires less maintenance because the nutrient-rich liquid is not recycled back to the reservoir thus the pH and concentration of nutrients do not vary from time to time unlike in the recovery system.
Ebb and Flow Technique
The “Ebb and Flow” method is simple and very reliable. It works by flooding the grow tray temporarily with the nutrient-rich solution then draining it back to the reservoir. This particular method is done with the aid of a submerged pump that is connected to a timer. Whenever the timer is activated, the pump is switched on so that the solution is pumped to the plant trays. Once the timer ends, the pump stops and the nutrient solution flows back to the reservoir by virtue of gravity.
The number of times that the pump is switched on depends on the specific plant requirements. Because it can easily be set up, this particular hydroponics method is a perfect option among many first time gardeners because of its ease of use. However, disadvantages to using this system still apply. Since this system uses a loose growing medium such as perlite and grows rocks, there is a possibility of the loose medium getting stuck in the pump thereby causing a power outage. If the watering cycle gets interrupted, what happens is that the roots can quickly dry out. Although this may be the case, another solution to the problem is to use a growing media that retains water, which includes coconut fiber and rock wool.
The NFT system stands for the Nutrient Film Technique. This particular technique involves the constant flow of the nutrient-rich liquid; thus, the time may not be needed for this method. The submerged pump provides the continuous flow of water to a tube that is located underneath the growing tray, which then drains back to the reservoir by gravity. This particular system is perfect for large scale greenhouse production. The plants are usually placed inside a plastic basket that is filled with grow rocks and another loose medium so that the roots can dangle to the nutrient solution. Similar to the Ebb and Flow method, the use of loose potting medium often results in a power outage because the small particles from the medium can get trapped and jam the machinery inside the pump.
On the other hand, most large scale greenhouses use a backup generator if in case there is a power outage to provide a continuous supply of nutrients to the plants. Due to a power outage, the roots quickly dry out when the watering cycle is interrupted and this is the reason why it is crucial always to monitor the pump and remove the debris that sticks on it. This particular method is excellent for the more experienced gardener because it requires a lot of maintenance check to ensure the efficiency of the pump and the timer.
Another simple hydroponics technique, the wick system is an excellent example of a passive system. Similar to the deep water culture technique, this particular method does not require a pump or a timer. The growing tray is placed above the nutrient-rich solution. For the plants to get the nutrients from the liquid, a wick is used to draw water from the in-place reservoir to the growing medium passively. This particular system is perfect for planting water-loving plants such as lettuces and other herbs. To provide constant moisture to the roots, the system uses different types of a medium which retain moisture well. The most popular growing medium used for this method includes vermiculite, perlite, coconut fibers, and pro-mix. Since water is continuously drawn by the wick through capillary action, large amounts of the nutrient solution are needed because the plants have the tendency to use the nutrient solution faster than the wicks can supply. Another solution is to use a growing medium that retains moisture or to increase the surface area of the wick. However, if these happen, it is essential to continually check the amount of moisture in the growing medium, considering that too much of it can cause rotting of the roots.
Moreover, since this particular system does not need a pump and an aerator, the water can easily stagnate, which can then support the growth of anaerobic bacteria which can also lead to root rot. The best growing medium for this system is coconut fiber, which helps retain high oxygen levels on the roots, thereby preventing root rot.
With the different types of hydroponic systems that are available today, choosing the right one can be very overwhelming. However, with proper knowledge regarding the different types of hydroponic systems, making a decision on which system to choose is no longer difficult.
Choose the one you believe you prefer the most, based on what you want to grow, how much space you have available and how easier for you it is to keep the “system always working”.