You’ll find there are a number of different types of hydroponic systems and components to choose from. There are several key questions you need to answer to decide on which type of kit or system is right for your situation.
Your hydroponically grown plants will require much the same environment as soil grown plants do, with two most important factors (besides water and nutrients) being proper temperature and lighting. Whether outdoors on your deck or patio, indoors in a basement or spare room, or in a greenhouse solarium, you need to be sure that your plants are given the right temperature and plenty of light.
If growing indoors, you will need artificial lighting. fluorescents are fine for some low profile plants, you will need high intensity lights, usually metal halide, for larger plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. Proper light is critical to the success of any garden.
If growing outdoors, on a patio, deck, balcony, or even a rooftop, producing hydroponic vegetables can be a very rewarding experience and a real conversation center when you have guests over for the backyard barbecue. Most kits will work on your patio, some better than others.
As mentioned earlier, there are active and passive systems. An active system is one that uses a pump to circulate the water and nutrients fro a reservoir to the plants’ roots. A passive system uses no pump, but instead it relies on a growing medium with high capillary action, or a wick of some type, to bring the water and nutrients to the plants’ roots.
Passive systems use expanded clay pellets as the growing medium. If you wish to try hydroponics on a small scale to begin with or want to grow just a single plant as foliage, African Violet, Orchids or others this type of system is an ideal way to start.
A passive system using capillary action is ideal for small vegetable crops, lettuce, herbs, cherry tomatoes, and even flowers. Remember no timer, pump, only light and nutrients, perfect for science projects, or fair projects or starter kits. The Tomato Barrel, Tomato and Pepper Tree and the Tomato Trellis Garden on Wheels are examples of a passive system.
For larger hydroponic gardens, inside or outside, most serious hydroponic growers choose an active system. There are several different types of active systems with the most common of them described here.
Ebb & Flow Systems: Also called the flood and drain system, this system uses a pump to deliver water from a reservoir to growing medium. The pump is usually controlled by a timer and operates for a specified time to flood the medium, then shuts off, allowing the solution to drain back into the reservoir. This action draws oxygen into the growing medium and the process is repeated several times a day. The medium used in an ebb & flow system is usually a type of porous stone, expanded clay pellets being a good choice. The Megagarden is an example of an ebb & flow system.
Nutrient Film Technique: is very popular with commercial lettuce and herb growers, and works great with the hobbyist too. In an NFT system, a thin film of nutrient solution is circulated over the root system. The thin film is very important as it allows for plenty of air to reach the root system. Since you are relying on that flow of solution however, a dependable power supply is very important. The roots will dry out quickly if left without water for very long.
Drip Systems: The drip system works with a pump and plumbing system that has a nutrient delivery tube to each plant. The pump is turned on and off with a timer or time clock, and delivers nutrient solutions for a few minutes each feeding. The growing media, usually perlite, rockwool, or expanded clay pellets, will retain some of the nutrient solution but will also allow for plenty of oxygen around the roots. The drip system is a very popular with commercial growing and works well with hobbyists as well.
Aeroponics: Aeroponics uses no growing media other than the seed cube, and a unique pump to produce a fine mist of nutrient solution that is sprayed onto the roots that are suspended partially in air and partially in the nutrient solution. This allows excellent aeration and high oxygen levels to the root system, a perfect environment for rooting of cuttings, especially those difficult to root in a growing media. The AeroGarden is an example of this.
Trickle System: A trickle system uses a small air pump, the type used in aquariums, that continuously circulates small amounts of nutrient solution through the growing medium where it returns to a reservoir and is recycled over and over again. The Waterfarm is an example of a trickle system.
Hybrid Systems: There are some hybrid types of systems also available also, with minor variations of the systems described above. They can work quite well too. You may wish to design your own system with material and components available through us.
Aquaponics: With raising fish in a closed loop system and growing hydroponically with the fish emulsion, this has become a very attractive method of farming!