Introduction to Hydroponic Systems

If you are planning to study about hydroponic systems. This guide is for you! We will discuss the basics of hydroponic systems and how it works. We we will discuss in here the materials that you’ll need to start your own simple hydroponic system. At the end of this article, if you still have questions, please feel free to leave your comment and we’ll try to answer your questions.

What is Hydroponics? 

In simpler terms, hydroponics is a method of growing plants without the use of soil. Instead, plants rely on growing media that will hold the plant and a water solution that will provide the nutrients for their growth. This technique has been widely used for personal consumption of fruits and veggies as well as in commercial greenhouses as it can provide a controlled quality product. 

Remarkably, plants grown in hydroponic systems yield better and faster, all the while requiring less space and time to grow. Hence, this system can be adapted even if you live in a small apartment or condo and lack the appropriate outdoor area. Throughout the growing process, you will be able to control factors such as lighting, nutrients, and air circulation.

How Does Hydroponics Work? 

Hydroponics allows plants to grow in a system controlled by you. Traditional planting requires soil for nutrients, sunlight, and air to nurture the plant. Hydroponics operates similarly but with alternative materials.

In hydroponics, you replace the soil with a nutrient-rich solution mixed in the water. The plant is usually held by growing mediums such as foam, coco coir, or rock wool. The sunlight which is needed by the plants to produce their food is replaced with grow lights.  

What Do I Need To Start One?

There are many types of hydroponic systems. The materials that you will need will depend on the type of hydroponic systems that you will use. Here are the 5 things you’ll need to start a basic hydroponic system:

  1. Seeds or Plant to Grow
  2. Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
  3. Growing media
  4. Plant Containers
  5. Net pots (optional)

Seeds or Plant to Grow

There are many plants that you can grow in a hydroponic system. Some of the famous seeds planted in hydroponic systems are lettuce, basil and pechay. It is important to choose a plant that is suitable to your environment. When choosing a plant, ask yourself the following:

  1. Will I grow the plant indoor or outdoor?
  2. How much light does the plant need? Will I use grow lights or just sunlight?
  3. Is the temperature suitable for the plant?

You need to know these things so that you know which plant you can grow and which plant you can’t grow using a hydroponic system.

Growing Media (Growing Medium)

In the absence of soil, you will need a growing media to hold your plant. The growing media should be absorbent enough so that it can contain the moisture that holds the nutrients from the hydroponic nutrient solution.

There are many types of growing media to choose from and these include coco coir (cocopeat), clay pellets, foam and rockwool to name a few. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you are not sure what type of growing medium to use, we recommend that you use rockwool. Rockwool is the most popular and most widely used growing medium and can be used in almost any type of plant.

Rockwool with holes for the seedlings

Hydroponic Nutrient Solution (nutsol)

A plant needs both macronutrients and micronutrients and water alone does not have provide enough nutrients. This is why you will need a hydroponic nutrient solution (nutsol). A nutsol is usually a liquid substance that contains the much-needed nutrients needed by the plants. This solution is usually mixed with water so that plants can absorb the nutrients better.

Hydroponic Nutrient Solution A and B
Hydroponic Nutrient Solution A and B

Plant Containers

Plant containers can be a simple as mason jars, plastic bottles or as complex as pipes with holes. It all depends on the type of systems that you will use. Because I live in a condo with limited space, I use kratky method and this allows me to use a simple as small mason jars to contain my plant and nutrient solution.

Mason Jar used as Plant Container in Kratky Hydroponic Method
Mason Jar used as Plant Container in Kratky Hydroponic Method

Net Pots (optional)

Net pots are like small plastic cups with net like features that prevents your growing media from being completely submerged in the water. The net pots prevents your plant from drowning because they are anchored from the top of your portion of your plant container. When choosing a net pot, choose a size that can hold your plant better. Large plants will require larger net pots while small plants will require smaller net pots.

3-Inch Net Pot for Hydroponic System
3-Inch Net Pot for Hydroponic System

Advantages of Using Hydroponics

Better Growth Rate

The most significant benefit of hydroponics would be a better growth rate for your plants. Take the pepper plant, for example. Studies have shown that it will mature at a rate of 25% higher than average if you use hydroponic system. Aside from this, it would have 30% more fruit than the one raised in soil.

Through hydroponics, your plants can save their energy, which they can use to mature further. This idea revolves around the concept that the expansion of the roots underground would not be needed. Instead, it will allow those supposed excess energies to give the plant additional vertical height.

Less Water And Space

This method also uses 20 times less water than soil-based gardening. Since a hydroponic system is enclosed, it allows less evaporation and saves a more considerable amount of water.

Aside from reduced water consumption, you will save up to 20% less space for your plants. Looking at it from the macro scale, you can expect a more significant effect on your income because you can transform those spaces into more plants. 

Eco-Friendly

Hydroponics is better for the environment since it reduces wastes and pollution caused by soil runoff. Applying this method would also minimize or stop people from using pesticides to ensure that their setting is already sterile. As a result, it reduces the toxic chemicals from reaching your dining tables.

It also promotes water conservation because it encourages you to reuse the water in your hydroponic system. You would also save yourself from the hassles and frustration of irrigation problems.

More Efficient Gardening

In traditional planting, the presence of sunlight could trigger the growth of algae on the solution. When this happens, it could eventually stunt the growth of the plant.

Harvesting in a hydroponic system would be more comfortable compared to its traditional gardening. You can also grow your plants indoors so that you can garden all year round. You would no longer need mulching, tilling, and changing of soil anymore because you are using nutrient solutions instead.

Disadvantages

Complex Set-Up

The construction of a hydroponic system is not that easy. It would involve considerable research and advanced materials to build one successfully. Moreover, you would need the technical knowledge to ensure appropriate functions daily.

Expensive

Building a hydroponics system can be costly. If you are looking at an advanced hydroponic system, you need to prepare a considerable amount of money to set it up.

Moreover, it requires the outsourcing of materials depending on the complexity of your set-up. You might also need a generator as some systems run on electricity and are thus vulnerable to brownouts.

Constant Monitoring

Hydroponics requires a considerable amount of man capacity and constant monitoring. You need to keep an eye on pests, which, upon accumulation, can compete with the plants’ nutrients. Hence, aside from monitoring the appropriate functioning of the system, there is still a need for constant cleaning and changing of the medium.

Plant Diseases

Lastly, diseases are also one of the weaknesses of the hydroponic system. If one plant catches a virus, it can easily infect all the other plants living on the same network.

How much does it cost?

Kratky method is probably the simplest and therefore the most affordable type of hydroponic system. A simple and complete kratky hydroponic will cost about 2000 Pesos depending on the type of materials that you will use. Here is an example of expenses for a simple kratky hydroponic system.

  1. 50 Basil Seeds at 50 Pesos
  2. 5 Mason Jars at 190 Pesos each (you can also use plastic bottles if you are low on budget)
  3. 5 Net pots at 15 pesos each
  4. 1 Hydroponic Nutrient Solution at 400 Pesos each
  5. 5 Rockwool at 15 pesos each

Total Cost: PHP 1,350

Other type of hydroponic systems can cost thousands to millions depending on the size and complexity of the system.

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