Welcome to Part 2 of the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics. If you haven’t seen the 1st Part you can find it at the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics Part 1
3. Drip System
The Hydroponics Drip System has gotten very popular of late but is not a new technique. First experimented in the 1960’s, they’ve been widely used in conventional outdoor gardens to deliver water and nutrients to individual plants. Drip systems were developed to improve water efficiency, particularly in drought areas. Hydroponics borrowed this concept for improved control over the health of the plants as well as water management.
Hydroponics Drip Systems are also known as micro or trickle irrigation by some growers. This system is popular for its water and nutrient waste management. The system utilizes small emitters attached to the ends of 1/4 inch tubing with a mechanism that can actually control the amount and rate of flow activity where needed. With this feature, a diversity of plants will receive individual water levels that they need.
How Does This Drip System Work?
Hydroponic drip systems utilize a submersible water pump located in a reservoir tank that contains the nutrient-rich water solution. The water is pumped through a irrigation network of tubes that lead to the grow tray. Typically a main line runs from the pump to a manifold device that distributes drip lines to individual plants in cups resting in the grow media. The drip lines along with their emitters are delivered at the base of every plant lowering any waste of moisture.
The nutrient reservoir usually has an airstone at the bottom of the container, and often with an air pump attached. These are applied in order to aerate the water which will ultimately deliver more oxygen to the plants and their roots.
The grow media that fills the growing trays needs to have periods to breath in between the delivery of water. This is why a timer is needed to control the pump so that the plants won’t drown in constant flooding. The grow trays also have an outlet where excess water is drained back into the reservoir because roots don’t absorb all the moisture.
This is called a Recirculating/Recovery System, one of 2 types of a drip system for hydroponics. This is best for home based setups that are small as opposed to commercial systems. One of the disadvantages of this is that the pH level is affected as water is recycled back into the reservoir continually. This means additional maintenance is required periodically to bring the nutrients and pH levels back to their optimal levels. However, this type is still great for small cost-effective garden systems
The other type is known as the Non-Recovery/Non-Circulating System. This is used mostly in larger commercial structures where excess water is enabled to run off as waste. Commercial growers are able to use more expensive complex timers for extreme management of the water flow, keeping the runoff minimal.
Hydroponic Drip System DIY
For home-based growers, building your own drip system isn’t that difficult. It varies depending on just how large you want this hydroponic system to be. For beginners such as a educational project for kids, you’ll only need a few components to get up and running. With this small system you may not even need a pump as long as you can structure it so that gravity does the work you. If you prefer a system that takes up significant space in your green house, you will need more resources. Here is a list of what you may need dependent on its size:
1. A Flood Tray or container that houses the media and moisture for the plants. and drains the excess water back to the reservoir. Size of it depends on the number of plants you plan to grow.
2. A Reservoir container that holds the nutrient water solution. Can be made of plastic or even glass but needs to be light proof.
3. A Submersible Water Pump. A pond or fountain pump will do, but the power of the pump needs to match the size of the grow container(s) total area space.
4. A timer to regulate the pump so it turns on and off.
5. An Airstone with external Pump to aerate and oxygenate the reservoir water. Even though there is some aeration done by the circulation from the recycle draining, this will enhance the oxygen levels that ensures healthy plants.
6. The Drip Tubing and the manifold that disperses them. The main tube line from the pump to the manifold and the drain line should be 1/2 inch, with 1/4 inch tubing for the drip lines. It is recommended that all of the vinyl tubing be black and light proof to discourage any algae growth.
7. Optionally Water emitters/drippers to control amounts of nutrients in the water to the variety of plants.
8. Grow media fill for the plants. Hydroton is most recommended but others such as coco coir, perlite,rock wool,and vermiculite mix work as well.
9. Nutrients- these can be a premix solution or even a homespun mixture.
10. Optional System Controllers-This includes components such as flow valves, pressure regulators and the timers mentioned earlier. These all are handy to have for monitoring control of flow ratio and overall health of the system
4. Flood and Drain Hydroponic System
Ebb and Flow (AKA Flood and Drain) systems are popular with home-based growers both indoors and outdoors. They don’t take up much space, can be built with inexpensive components, and there are limitless design possibilities.
The basics of this system is to flood the grow area bed with nutrient-rich water, and then drain it from the plant roots. This happens regularly in intervals so the roots aren’t sitting in water continuously. The theory behind this method is to get increased nutrient absorption rates and reduced water waste.
Like the DWC system, there is a reservoir container holding the nutrient solution and a submersible pump. First, a timer turns the pump on, and the water is pumped through a tube into the grow media bed where the plants and their roots reside. The tray is now flooding with water.
An overflow tube, for example A bell syphon, is set at a predetermined level to stop the water from overfilling the tank. When the grow bed is full, the timer shuts the pump off and the overflow tube siphons the water back into the reservoir below.
When the grow bed is fully drained, the timer turns the pump back on, and the water is pumped back into the grow bed until it is flooded again, thus finishing a cycle.
As with the drip system, the Flood and Drain hydroponic system works best if you add an airstone to the reservoir with an external pump to generate enough oxygen into the nutrient water solution.
There are a variety of Flood and Drain systems growers have experimented with. These include the Flooding Tray Design (sometimes with containers in series), the Overflow Tube Height System, The Surge Tank Ebb & Flow, and The Dutch Bucket system.
Building Your Own Ebb and Flow system
1. Ebb and Flow Reservoir- Needed for containing the water and nutrients for plant health. Only one required unless your system is growing enough plants to warrant it.
2. A Grow Tray that you can fill with grow media. This is where the plants reside and you may need several on them depending on how many plants you are growing.
3. A submersible Pump with a strong flow rate to push the water into the growbed in short periods of time.
4. A timer to control the pump on and off.
5. Tubing that attaches the pump on one end and the grow bed on the other. An overflow pipe or tube that is set to your water level height.
6. Grow Media such as hydroton pebbles for the growbed tray(s).
- Low Cost for components
- Not complicated and easy to build
- Ideal for small rooted plants
- Higher nutrient absorption rates
- Less water wasted
- Many pre-made kits are commercially available
• Won’t work for large plants
• The pumps, drains, and pH levels must always be monitored closely
5. NFT Hydroponics System
A Nutrient Film Technique System layout is a straightforward yet effective design. Long channels usually made of PVC function as plant grow beds. Instead of a container of grow media, these channels, or Growing Gullies, are home to the veggies and their bare roots that are placed in net pots along the top of each tube channel.
Water is pumped continually into one end of a channel which is sloping downward towards the other end. This way, gravity provides the shallow flow of water which is a thin film of nutrient solution. The water cascades down the gully bringing constant moisture to the dangling roots that absorb the nutrients as well as the oxygen inside the tube.
At the bottom end of the channels is a return system of tubing or pipes that drain the nutrient solution back into a reservoir below that houses the pump.
NFT System Tips1. Having small grooves along the bottom of the channels facilitates the nutrient-rich water to continuously flow below the roots even when they thicken and start to take up space. Be sure to periodically trim the roots back if they get too thick as it can clog up the system.
2. It’s not a bad idea to fill the net pots with perlite, vermiculite, or some time of clay pebbles to stabilize the plants.
3. An NFT system is good for fast growing small rooted plants such as strawberry’s, lettuce and herb types.
4. It is best to build channels that aren’t any longer than 6 ft. Anything longer can result in plants at the end of the tube not getting the same amount of nutrients then those at the beginning.
5. Since the slope of the channels are the responsibility of the speed of water flow, and not the water pump, you’ll need an appropriate grade of incline. Recommended is a 1:40 ratio or for every 40 inches of channel length, a one inch drop of slant is needed. Another tip is that you should make slope adjustable. As the plants grow and roots get bigger they may dam up areas so you’ll want to be able to increase the grade in order to speed up the water flow.
What You’ll Need to Build an NFT system
1. NFT Gully System- these can be cylindrical 2-3 inch diameter PVC pipes. Some growers use pipes with a flattened bottom for a larger area space for the nutrient solution. This also makes the grooves mentioned above more efficient.
2. A reservoir container that holds the nutrient solution water. The reservoir needs to be low enough in height to fit under the channels.
3. Tables or a frame structure to support the channels. Some growers build a trellis structure that holds the channels with hangers, and design them to be one on top of another vertically.
4. Submersible Water Pump– The size of the pump depends on the number of channels in your system.
5. Airstones with an external air pump is optional- this can help to add oxygen to the water with bubbles that aerate the reservoir nutrient solution.
6. Grow Net Pots- These are the cups that a placed in holes at the top surface of the channels, and distributed end to end roughly 3 inches apart.
7. Nutrients- This can be in the form of a non-organic or organic mixed supplement that is water soluble. the type of mix will need to match the crops needs you’ll be planting.
8. Delivery and Runoff tubes- this can be PVC pipes or vinyl tubing that delivers the water being pumped into the channel on one end, and the drain flow back into the reservoir at the other end.
9. Accessory Devices- A pH test kit and water thermometers are vital to maintain a healthy advantageous environment for the absorption of oxygen and nutrients in your system.
6. Vertical Grow Systems Hydroponics
What You Need To Build a Tower Garden
- 1. PVC pipe 3-4 inches in diameter- is PVC safe? There are several types of PVC used industrially and a few of them such as the chlorinated shows some concerns. However, NSF-51 standards along with FDA approval have shown that Plain PVC is food safe, in particular the UPVC type.
- 2. PVC End Cap for the top of the channel. You would use this instead of an open top to keep rain out if the system is outside. The cap will sit on the top of the channel with a hinge fastened to both so it can be opened easily. A hole saw is needed to drill a hole for the tube coming up from the pump below.
- 3. Flexible Net Pots that will fit in the slots-generic net pots are brittle and will crack over time and the rims are not wide enough
- 4. Grow media pebbles such as Hydroton to put in the net pots for the plants to grow in.
- 5. A container that serves as a reservoir for the water – minimum 5 gallons but usually more dependent on how big a system you are building.
- 6. A submersible Pump with 200-1200 Gallons per Hour depending on the size of your system. It will need enough power to push the water up the tubes to the top inlet, and provide a continual thin stream of water gravitating downward and flowing over the root network of the plants.
Depending on the height of the tower, you may even have several tubes pumping water and nutrients to various levels of the tower in order to provide equal amounts to all level of plants.
- 7. A timer that will turn the pumps water flow off and on. Growers have different ideas on how to set the timer but 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off will do for most tower systems, but if the plants are not thriving optimally then adjust the timing as needed.
- 8. Vinyl blind stop 5/8 X 5/8 for flow control mentioned above.
- 9. Additional PVC for slots to hold the net pots assembled up and down the channel.
- 10. Drill and hole saws to make the openings up and down the channel for the plant housing.
- 11. Loctite PVC Epoxy to fasten the PVC segments to the channel holes you’ve cut out.
- 12. Vinyl hose for the pump tubes that deliver water to the channels.
Advantages of a Tower Garden system
- 1. You can grow more produce even in small indoor spaces.
- 2. no soil needed
- 3. efficiency of of crop volume in space provided in the channel
- 4. The water flows in a closed system circulation so no water runoff though occasionally a little water needs to be added.
Disadvantage of Vertical Systems
- 1. Delivering equal amounts of water and nutrients to plants from top to bottom can be a challenge
- 2. Delivering water to the top of the channel requires a higher powered pump
- 3. Indoor systems require installing a number of grow lights so that all levels of plants receive enough light
- 4. Cost of added components
7. Aerogarden Hydroponic System
Aerogarden systems are a fantastic way to get started with Hydroponics Systems. You can grow your plants using only water, nutrients, seeds, and NO soil.
There are a number of Indoor Gardens to choose from. Edible plants can be grown indoors any time of the year and harvested in a matter of weeks. It’s simple to get started:
- Fill the reservoir with water.
- Add 4 ml of liquid nutrients.
- Put seeds in the grow media and net pots provided then insert into the pods on the tray.
- Plug in the electric chord and program the digital display
- Kick back and let it do all the work.
Growing Seedlings For Outdoor Transplanting
There are also many Gardens available you can use to start seedlings that you can transplant into your soil garden when ready. This comes in handy when you want to get a head start in winter weather. Your seedlings will be ready to transplant outside when spring is warm enough, just as the pro nurseries do.
Liquid nutrients should be added to your water every two weeks. When the seeds are in the germination phase they only need a small dose of nutrients. As they grow they will need an increased amount, as indicated in the instructions that come with your device.
One school of thought is to change the water in your aerogarden once every 2 weeks. If you don’t the plants might begin to show distress, wilting leaves, spots etc. The theory here is that over time the water with its ions may become unbalanced. This may be the Nitrogen availability is greater than the potassium, or visa versa. Refreshing the water can bring it balance back to normal. I find that this is an occurrence when growing more advanced plants like squash and tomatoes as opposed to lettuce and herbs.
Some Vegetables To Consider
Peppers are a must in my Aerogarden. Habanero, Poblano, Cayenne, Jalapeno and more. Health and cuisine benefits abound in these easily raised peppers.
One thing you need to know is that they are pollinators. So in a indoor environment you need to shake the flowers daily as they bloom. You could even keep a fan going on them periodically, just be sure the lights are on.
Strawberries are a favorite of ours but they are difficult to grow from seed. So we buy bare roots that grow readily and produce juicy red strawberries.