Scientists started experimenting with soilless gardening in the 1950’s but the idea has been around since ancient times; represented by the extravagant Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Floating Gardens of ancient China. Hydroponics can increase growth rate by up to 50% compared to a soil-grown plant and increase yield. Growing with hydroponics is also a great alternative to a soil garden during cold months or for those that lack outdoor space.
Pick Your System
The four most common techniques for beginners are the Ebb and Flow, Top Drip System, Deep Water Culture and the Wick System.
Ebb and Flow
The Ebb and Flow is the classic hydroponic system. It can accommodate pots of any size and is easy to build yourself. Potted plants are arranged onto a drain table which is then filled with 2-3 inches of water and nutrient solution which is pumped into the drain table. The solution is then brought in through the hole in the bottom of the pots. After soaking for a few minutes, the reservoir is drained. This should be repeated 2-4 times a day.
Top Drip System
Top Drip Systems are the most common hydroponics system. In a drip system, the nutrient solution is held in a reservoir and is pumped through tubing to the base of potted plants. The excess solution is then released through the hole in the bottom of the pot and returned to the reservoir. This process should be repeated 2-4 times a day.
Deep Water Culture
A Deep Water Culture system is the most economical choice to build. Plants are grown in small net pots which are suspended in a floating Styrofoam plank. Underneath the plank lies a shallow pan of nutrient solution and the roots grow through the net pots into the solution. An aerator provides oxygen to the roots by forming bubbles in the solution.
The Wick System is the simplest form of hydroponics. This method does not require pumps, timers or aerators. The nutrient is fed to the plants roots by a cotton wick. The plant is merely potted in a large pot with a wicking mat in the bottom, which brings the nutrient solution up to the plant.