To those who are new to the idea of hydroponics, getting started with their first system might seem complicated and out of their scope. This couldn’t be further from the truth however.
Yes, there are some very complicated hydroponic systems out there that take a lot of previous knowledge to run and maintain, but the concept of hydroponics itself is not very complicated at all. Some of the most popular systems out there are really simple setups using PVC piping, a water pump, or even just simply a 5 gallon bucket.
Anybody can grow plants with hydroponics, and we are going to tell you how to get started...
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics involves growing plants without soil. The benefits are faster growth, and higher efficiency with both space and water.
There are many reasons to start growing with hydroponics. Whatever your motivation to start was, it’s important to plan it out properly so you can avoid as many problems as possible.
Here are the steps you need to take to start a hydroponic system…
1. Decide What Type Of System You Want To Build
There are many different kinds of hydroponic systems available, each with their own benefits and negatives depending on what you are trying to grow.
There's deep water culture, EBB and flood, drip, aeroponics, aquaponics, undercurrent DWC, NFT, coco coir, and vertical gardening. Some of these methods will overlap slightly, but for the most part are completely unique and come with their own challenges and advantages.
Choosing the system that is best for you will depend on the crop you're growing, the space you wish to place your system, and how complicated you want it to be.
For beginners, the best systems are generally EBB and flood, DWC, or drip. For more advanced users, or beginners looking for a bit of a challenge, aeroponics, aquaponics, and NFT are all great methods for growing just about any plant.
2. Source The Materials To Build It
You can either build your own system, or purchase a prefabricated hydroponic system. Building your own can be fun, but will require some handiwork and tweaking. Prefabricated options will work perfectly right out of the box and have been well tested by both the manufacturer, and consumers alike.
If building your own system, the materials can be bought at your local hardware store for most of the PVC piping, buckets, and stands. Some of the more hydroponic-specific parts, like the inline water pumps, flood tables, net pots, rock wool, and air pumps can be purchased at your local hydroponic store, or online at TheHydroponicStore.com
One of the items that is most often overlooked at first when starting a hydroponic system, is plant nutrition. Having a fully functioning hydroponic system is great, but if you don't have any nutrients to enrich the water, your plants won't make it more than a few days.
Nutrients come in a wide range of formulas and fancy packaging. This is one of those areas where you can go incredibly specific and seek out what many manufacturers will consider the perfect ratio of nitrogen to phosphorous, to potassium… but for beginners we recommend the Shogun Samurai A+B for a simple rock-solid veg formula.
3. Add Your Plants To The System
This is the best part, once you have either assembled your prefabricated hydroponics system, or built your own, it’s time to add your plants to the system. You can use seedlings, take cuttings, or use soil-grown plants to start it off.
If using soil grown plants, the idea is to rinse away all the dirt from the roots in a sink or with a garden hose. Make sure to remove all the soil so that there’s nothing left to clog your pumps or tubing. Placing the plant in the system itself with the bare roots will usually involve a net point, and some clay pebbles. The pebbles act to stabilise the plants, and keeps them sitting comfortably in the pots.
Maintaining Your Hydroponic System
The maintenance of your hydroponic system comes down to keeping the water pH in check, changing the reservoir out every 1-2 weeks, and checking your plants over each day for signs of nutrient deficiency, insect infestation, or fungal growth.
The best way to approach this is to treat it like a routine. Enter your growing environment during the day cycle (it’s not good to disturb your plants while they are sleeping... it can confuse their rhythm and cause delayed growth and reduced yield). Once inside the growing environment, create a routine of checking them over, cutting away any dead leaves, and making sure the pumps are all working correctly. Inspect the leaves for any signs of discolouring or insects.
Making this a normal routine helps to make this process more efficient and can prevent any devastating deficiencies or infestations from wiping out your crop. Pumps fail from time to time, insects form colonies and feed on your plants, and pH can lock out nutrition. It happens either way so the best thing to do is keep your eyes open and fix any issues as soon as they are seen.
Doing this will ensure your crop stays safe, and healthy for the entire growing cycle.