Are you interested to try hydroponic gardening but still feel intimidated because you are still a beginner? Then this article can help you. With this hydroponics for beginners’ guide, you will know how to set up this type of garden for plants growing indoors or outdoors.
What is the Hydroponic System?
The hydroponic system refers to a soilless form of gardening. This means you will not be using any soil for it. It is different from soil gardening as what you need to do, instead, is to let plants grow in a water and nutrient solution.
Hydroponic gardening systems gained popularity lately because of their ability to grow plants and veggies quicker compared to growing them outdoors in the soil. You will also be able to use this system for the entire year.
It can grow terrestrial plants that utilize water as a means of delivering every nutrient needed. Such nutrients will be directly delivered to the roots, which means that it is unnecessary for the plant roots to dig around to acquire advanced nutrients within a body of soil.
With the help of the nutrient-rich water solution, the plant’s roots will be able to receive all the nutrients they need conveniently.
What Nutrient Solution Can You Use?
The majority of hydroponic systems built at home make use of a nutrient solution that you can make on your own. You just have to use water to dissolve a commercial fertilizer blend. If you want your hydroponic garden system to be on the organic side, you can also use natural sources of advanced nutrients, including manure, wood ash, kelp, and bone meal.
Several forms of hydroponic systems grow plants within an inert growing medium. It has the goal of supporting the weight of the plant while also ensuring that oxygen and nutrient solution are readily available for the roots to absorb.
You can choose from a wide range of hydroponic growing media for your own system. The most commonly used ones are perlite, coco coir, clay grow rocks, and rock wool. There are also systems that no longer need a growing medium.
In that case, you will have to hold the plants in place at the stem’s base. After that, it is important to expose the roots to the nutrient solution placed in the container for the growing plant.
Benefits of Hydroponics Gardening
Hydroponics gardening may look and sound complex for beginners but learning about it is worthwhile. The reason is that it has plenty of notable benefits – among which are the following:
Improves yield and growth
Expect hydroponics beginners to delight in the ability of this system to promote higher-yielding and faster-growing plants. It is mainly because of the higher level of oxygen provided by the nutrient solution. You can also expect this benefit because hydroponics growers require properly controlled environmental factors.
Growing leafy greens in a hydroponic garden is, therefore, a great idea since you can expect more yield and healthier growth.
Allows the plants to grow anywhere
Compared to traditional gardens that only need outdoor space for plants, it is more convenient to do hydroponics. The reason is that it is easy to incorporate into several homes, no matter what its location and size are. This means hydroponics lets plants grow anywhere.
Does not require the use of soil
The fact that hydroponics does not require you to use soil is a big advantage as it means that it is not that messy.
The plants in this system are capable of growing healthily even if you only have less space. The reason is that it is not necessary for them to spread their roots just so they can obtain advanced nutrients.
Hydroponics also requires covering the reservoirs, which can contribute to preventing evaporation. This can further result in saving significant amounts of water.
In addition to the mentioned benefits, the hydroponics system is good as it can completely prevent and avoid the threat of soil-borne diseases and pests often found in soil. You do not also need harmful herbicides and chemical insecticides. Moreover, hydroponics does not require you to till or weed, which is one of its own advantages.
Types of Hydroponics for Beginners
Now that you know what is hydroponics and its benefits, it is time to start this form of gardening at home. To get started, familiarize yourself with the hydroponics systems that are ideal for beginners. That way, you can choose one that you can conveniently work with, which is the first important step in growing plants using the best hydroponic system.
Basically, hydroponics systems come in six primary types. Each simple hydroponic system utilizes nutrient solutions and water and does not require the use of soil. While they have the same basic elements, take note that every system tends to deliver the needs a bit differently.
Deep Water Culture (DWC) System
The cheapest and simplest method of doing hydroponics for beginners is the deep-water culture. The DWC hydroponics system requires putting your chosen plants in a basket on top of a nutrient solution reservoir.
You can expect the roots to hang down from there while being fully submerged in your prepared nutrient solution. One thing to note about the DWC hydroponic system is that the fact that it requires constantly submerging the roots means that it needs aeration as a means of preventing suffocation.
It is possible to provide aeration through air stones and an air pump. It is even okay to get them from a water system that is already malfunctioning and starts creating air bubbles. Since the deep-water culture is the most suitable for beginners out of the several systems out there, it helps to learn the actual steps in setting it up.
Step 1 – Make the water reservoir
You can do that by using nutrients and water to fill up a reservoir container. Use an opaque container, which is not translucent or clear. The minimum depth of the water reservoir-filled container should also be 12 inches.
Step 2 – Prepare the aeration system for the water
In that case, the most frequently used and the cheapest method of aerating water is to use a submersible pump and air stone. What you should do is to put the air stone, the bubbler you often find in household aquariums, in water.
Connect it to the air pump, which is outside of the reservoir. Expect the submersible pump to help in pushing air using the stone. It works by blowing out small bubbles as a means of distributing enough oxygen through the water.
Step 3 – Start making the growing raft
To do that, get a floating Styrofoam platform and cut it in such a way that it will fit inside the topmost part of the water reservoir.
You should then cut holes as a means of inserting the net pots, or the plastic containers that have perforated bottoms with the seedings and the growing medium, like clay balls, perlite, and coconut noir. Ensure that the roots touch the reservoir water.
Step 4 – Build a light fixture
This is a step that you can skip in case you plan to use natural light. However, if you won’t use natural light, you can just build a light fixture on top of the growing tray.
In case you intend to use the incandescent light bulbs, have them set at around 24 inches away from the plants because they may be too hot. Fluorescent and LED lights do not emit so much heat, so if you are using them, you can put them at around six and twelve inches from your plants, respectively.
Now that you know how to make the deep-water culture hydroponics, here are the other systems you can use, though, they are a bit more complex and are intended for more experienced gardeners.
Many consider the hydroponics system as the simplest and easiest one mechanically. The reason is it does not require any electrical or moving parts. Note, though, that the wick system is not suitable for plants that are water-hungry, such as tomatoes and lettuce.
The reason is that they tend to use the nutrient solution quicker than what the wicks can provide. It would be a lot better to use the wick system for herbs, peppers, and microgreens.
Ebb and Flow System
Also called the flood and drain, the ebb and flow hydroponic technique involves using a water pump with the help of a timer. This technique works by flooding the root system with nutrients and water and then draining it.
You can expect water to reach a height that soaks the plant’s roots while draining any excess water with the help of an overflow tube. Once the water pump turns off at a specified period, you will notice water draining back to the reservoir.
Expect it to remain there until you turn on the pump again. What’s great about the ebb and flow is that it can supply the root system with oxygen and air alternately, then nutrients and water.
Nutrient Film Technique
Another hydroponics system you ought to try is the Nutrient Film Technique. This setup is so simple and considered to be a famous choice among many household gardens. The NFT works by letting the nutrient solution flow through a shallow stream and using a downward sloped channel.
It is highly likely for your plants’ roots to hang into the stream while they also absorb nutrients from the consistent and steady flow. You can expect the NFT system to work well for small plants that tend to grow fast, like herbs, baby greens, and lettuce.
The aeroponic system is capable of providing the roots with a growing environment that gives them plenty of oxygen. To make the aeroponic system work, allow the roots to hang in the middle of the air inside a growing chamber. You have to do it without any growing medium, thereby helping expose the whole roots.
While inside the growing chambers, aeroponic misters are used in spraying the roots regularly. The misters ensure that the plants will receive a continuous supply of the nutrients they need while preventing the roots from drying out.
The drip hydroponics system is also famous for being a straightforward and simple process. In this specific technique, you will have to look for a growing media, like gravel or perlite where you can place the roots.
After that, it will work by pumping the nutrient solution and water from a reservoir with the help of tubes. This helps in making the solution drip deep onto the plants’ roots. The next thing to do would be to soak the roots and growing medium.
Once done, expect the dripping back of the solution to your container. It will then flow back to the reservoir. This system seems to have worked better if you use it on large plants that already have a strong and extensive root system.
Overall, the drip system works effectively. The reason is the ability of the growing medium to retain moisture while ensuring that larger roots remain properly hydrated.
Growing Plants through Hydroponics
Once you have chosen the best out of all these systems, preferably the DWC (deep water culture) that is perfect for beginners, it is time for you to work on completing the remaining steps when performing this gardening technique. In that case, here are the steps and tips to guide you in creating hydroponics for beginners.
Pick plants that are suitable for hydroponics
Ensure that you will be using plants that will never have problems growing hydroponically. As much as possible, choose plants with a quick turnaround so you will be motivated to continue growing them.
The best hydroponic plants for beginners are herbs and vegetables. Among the vegetables that are ideal for this technique are lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and kale. As for the herbs, you can go for parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, and oregano.
You can also choose to grow fruiting plants, like strawberries, tomatoes, and hot peppers. When it comes to choosing the right plants, it is advisable to consider the size of those you intend to grow.
Also, ensure that your chosen system has enough room for the plant’s root. There should also be a frame that is strong enough, supporting the structure of the plant.
For hydroponic gardening newbies, starting with a live plant instead of seedlings would be much better. Regardless of which one you choose as the starter, you have to rinse the roots thoroughly to remove the soil completely. This helps prevent the solution and the water from getting contaminated.
Gather the equipment and supplies
Hydroponics gardening requires a different set of equipment and supplies depending on the system you have chosen. The most common equipment and supplies that you may have to gather for this gardening technique are the following:
Your plants require a sort of support. It may come in the form of a basket or a wire mesh capable of letting the roots hang down. It is also necessary to have a container where the roots can hang. It could be a large bucket or long plastic piping.
If you plan to use a bucket that has a lid, put holes in the lid by cutting. This is where you should place the basket or mesh. This is a big help in forming an enclosure capable of preventing the escape of moisture.
Depending on your chosen system, a growing medium may or may not be necessary. If your chosen system requires it, though, your best choices would be perlite, vermiculite, and gravel.
Place your chosen growing medium in such a way that it surrounds the roots. It should be atop a wire mesh or inside a basket. If you wish to use seeds to start planting, you may also find hydroponic sponges useful.
What’s good about the tubing you can use for your hydroponics gardening project is that it is not only inexpensive but also easily accessible online and in physical stores. The tubing is useful in transporting the solution with essential nutrients and water coming from the reservoir to the root basin and then returning it.
Choose a tubing with the right diameter. This should help in connecting with all mister fittings and water pump you intend to use. The tubing should also be one that will not interrupt the flow of water and kink up easily.
Of course, you will be needing water since this is what your plants will need to grow. However, you can’t just use any water. It is crucial to assess its quality as it also contributes to the manner through which the plants will grow.
Tap water may be used but note that it has unwanted minerals. The pH level of tap water may not also be the one that your plants need. In that case, the best choices would be bottled spring water and fresh rainwater.
Another important supply you need for your hydroponics gardening project is the solution containing the nutrients needed by the plant. You have to make sure that you pick a high-quality one that is suitable for the type of plant you decided to grow.
Once you become an advanced and experienced gardener, creating your own would be easy and convenient. You can also just stick to pre-made ones but again, be one hundred percent sure of their quality.
It is also crucial for you to have a water pump around. The good thing about these water pumps is that they are not that expensive. You will also love using the water pump that has a built-in timer if you have chosen the ebb and flow hydroponics system.
The reservoir is the one you need for storing the water and nutrient solution. Since you are a beginner and probably going for the deep-water culture system, take note that the root basin and water space will have a similar space.
Provide the correct conditions for the plants
Remember that various plants also require various conditions for growth. Make sure that the environmental conditions you are setting up can encourage them to grow healthily.
For instance, your plants will grow with the right amount of direct sunlight, so you should be able to give them that. In case you prefer indoor gardening, you can use LED grow lights. You also need to provide the plant with the correct temperature to support its healthy growth and development.
Maintain the system
Upon setting up the system with everything that you need for them to work, like the floatable material suitable for your plants, container, soil alternative, light source, nutrients, water with the right pH level, and airflow, the next step would be to maintain it.
Make sure to carry out maintenance tasks regularly, so the plants will continue to have the right pH level. The plants should also be able to easily access the nutrients needed for their vegetative growth stage.
Another thing you have to make sure of is proper airflow. There should be proper and regular airflow to the roots, promoting ease in breathing in the water. Examine the system regularly to find out prospective leaks, too.
Caring for your Hydroponics Garden
As a beginner, you can also give your hydroponics garden sufficient care by focusing on the following areas:
To grow plants hydroponically, especially if they are edible, a minimum of 6-hour sunlight daily is necessary. It would be much better to go for 8 to 10. If possible, use a timer for your chosen lighting system so it will automatically turn on and off consistently.
The most appropriate temperature that the plants in your hydroponics garden need would be around 68 to 70 degrees F. Avoid extremely high temperatures as much as possible as such may only stunt plant growth. High water temperature may also result in root rot.
In terms of humidity, ensure that the growing room for your plants has around 40 to 60% relative humidity. The level of humidity should not go beyond that, especially if the hydroponics system is in a room that has poor air circulation.
The reason is that it may only lead to fungal diseases and powdery mildew. If you want to make adjustments to the relative humidity, using a dehumidifier or humidifier can help.
It is also important for the room where your hydroponics plants are in to have a sufficient amount of carbon dioxide. This will promote the faster growth of plants hydroponically. You can provide your plants with enough CO2 by ensuring that there is consistent airflow in the room.
If possible, invest in an air circulation tool or a fan. That way, you can improve the flow of air in the area.
When it comes to water, you should keep in mind that hard water is known for having high amounts of minerals that may only dissolve nutrients. With that said, it is crucial to have this water filtered.
Also, ensure that the water’s pH level is around 5.8 to 6.2. This is a bit acidic and your hydroponic garden will thrive well in it. You can utilize chemicals to make adjustments to the pH level to meet the perfect range.
The fertilizers or nutrients you can feed your hydroponic plants actually come in dry and liquid forms. You can also choose synthetic and organic ones. Pick fertilizers specifically designed for hydroponics and stay away from standard ones.
The best fertilizer is one that has the primary macronutrients, including nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It should also contain micronutrients, like iron, chlorine, zinc, boron, manganese, molybdenum, and copper.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the easiest hydroponic system to use?
Most gardeners say that the easiest hydroponic system they were able to use is the deep-water culture. The reason is that even beginners can easily set it up. You can also easily maintain it.
Moreover, it is cheaper to set up this system of hydroponics for beginners compared to the others while having the incredible ability to provide plants with sufficient air, water, and nutrients.
Is hydroponics good for beginners?
Yes, hydroponics is ideal for beginners. It would be a lot better for you to research it first and its various systems, though. That way, you will know how to do hydroponics gardening correctly.
Ensure that you are also fully aware of what your plants need. Know the precise amount of water, light, and fertilizer they need. This is to help guarantee your success in hydroponics.
What are the 6 requirements for hydroponic systems?
To provide your plants with the optimal growing conditions hydroponically, the following are six of the most important requirements you have to consider:
- Water – pH levels should be slightly acidic – around 5.8 to 6.2.
- Nutrients – Your plants should receive the main nutrients needed for their growth, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Light – The plants also need to be exposed directly to the sun or supplemental lighting for around eight to ten hours daily.
- Oxygen – Promote optimal nutrient uptake in your hydroponics garden by supplying plants with supplemental oxygen.
- Temperature – Your plants also need the appropriate temperature for growth consistently.
- Support and structure – This often comes in the form of a string or stake to support the growth of plants.
As you first try your hands on hydroponics, you may get overwhelmed by the complexities of the system. However, with proper research, you will be able to learn everything about hydroponics for beginners.
It would also be best to choose a hydroponics system that is perfect for beginners, like the DWC. It is low-maintenance plus you can put it anywhere, whether you go for outdoor or indoor gardening, provided there is sufficient light. It is the best way to start learning the basics of hydroponics for beginners and slowly move on to more advanced and complex systems.