Hydroponics Gardening for Beginners Explained
Thanks for taking the time to read our article on Hydroponics gardening for beginners. The word "Hydroponics" is derived from the Greek meaning of the words:
- Hydro - this means "water"
- Ponos, which means "labour or water-working"
When you put these two together, Hydroponics gardening then means that growing growing plants with their roots in other nutrient solutions and without soil.
It is a unique method of gardening, but there are still many similarities, between the key aspects of gardening generally.
Any form of growth needs a few important and natural characteristics. These are:
- Light - usually from the sun
- Temperature - important for the growth of many plants
- Water - plants need this for food
- Humidity which is the moisture in the air
The one difference then is really that hydroponics does not use soil. Instead this type of gardening brings the roots of the plants to a container that holds mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. (Sounds technical but is is not)
More often than not the roots can also be exposed to these mineral water solvents which are sitting in gravel, styrofoam or perlite base. This type of hydroponic growing is often referred to as soil less cultivation.
This is because you don't need any soil at all in this type of gardening.
Where Should Hydroponic Gardening Begin?
For most UK people, and especially for beginners, they will try hydroponic gardening as an experiment. Almost always this is done as indoor gardening, or as greenhouse gardening.
You can basically buy an indoor kit, and that type of kit is quick and easy to set up. It is probably the best idea for any beginner to this type of gardening.
Indoor hydroponic gardening is not that hard to get right and plants respond well to this method of growing. Now if you don't want to have plants inside the home, then a greenhouse is another possibility, or even a garden shed or garage, if you have the room.
Options for Starting Out
If you have never tried this type of gardening before then you should know that there are three types or methods of hydroponic gardening. These are:
- Wick Systems
- Deep Water Culture Systems
- Ebb and Flow Systems
That all sounds pretty good, but what are those systems and what are the differences in them?
This is the easiest system of hydroponic gardening to start with, but it has limited growing opportunities. In this system a reservoir is filled with water and nutrients, and above it, there is a container filled with the growing medium.
These two containers are then connected by a wick. This simple wick system then draws the water into the growing medium, where it goes to the roots of your plants.
Although the wick is an easy way of transferring water it is not that useful at moving large amounts of water. If you simply want to grow herbs and peppers, then this system is a good choice.
There is very little that can go wrong with a system like this as there are no moving parts. It is also by quite a distance the cheapest method to start up.
In the video below you can see the wicking method, and some really good home methods of doing this cheaply.
Deep Water Culture Systems
This is a slightly more advanced system where the plants are placed into a styrofoam platform. This goes on top of the reservoir holding the solution of water and nutrients.
An air pump is added to the reservoir to deliver oxygen to the plant roots. This system is perfect for water hungry plants.
For this type of system you don't need a lot of parts so cheap enough to get started. Your biggest cost will be for a submersible or "bubble pump" and these are not crazy expensive to buy.
This system is often referred to as a deep root system.
Ebb and Flow Systems
This is the best of the three systems. It is a more complex system and it does take some time to set up and get used to.
As the name would suggest this works by flooding the growing medium with a water/nutrient solution and then draining it back into the reservoir.
It uses a submersible pump with a timer. The timer allows you to schedule your watering, which is very important.
Basics of Hydroponic Gardening
We now know what the options are when it comes to buying a system. The one that you pick will be determined by how much you want to spend, and how serious you are about doing hydroponic gardening.
- Simple wicking systems are cheap and cheerful
- Deep culture systems are the most popular but again involve some regular work and maintenance
- Ebb and flow systems are without doubt the best systems but they are more expensive to set up.
Check This Before Picking Any System
We have explained the systems above. The first big step for you if contemplating setting up your first hydroponic garden is picking a system that best fits your needs from among several options.
- How much space do you have
- What plants/vegetables do you want to grow and
- How much can you afford to spend on a system?
- How much available time do you have to spend maintaining the system?
When you are starting out with hydroponic gardening, it is a very good idea to stick with the basics. Once you learn the basic skills really well, then of course you can get into the more advanced techniques.
Understanding The Key Features of Hydroponic Systems
For any type of plant to grow it will need light. Natural light as we know comes directly from the sun. Most hydroponic systems are however indoor systems. It is not always possible to find natural sunlight in most places indoors. It is even harder to find areas indoors when there is natural light all day long.
The ideal period of sunlight is anything between 12-15 hours per day. The minimum amount of sunlight is between 6-8 hours a day.
If you have a greenhouse, conservatory or some type of sun house then you may be fortunate. However if you don't have this type of natural sunlit areas in your home, then you will probably need to provide artificial light.
The type of lighting is often referred to as grow lights. Most kit systems usually come with the necessary light fixtures. If you are not going to buy a kit then you may need to buy separate lighting fixtures.
Most hydroponic gardeners use "High Intensity Discharge" lights. They give out a red light ideal for early growth. Some prefer a fluorescent light with low heat and low energy consumption.
You may know that there are different types of water in the UK. These range from hard water types to soft water types. You can check with your local council website to find out which water type you have.
The only problem you may come across is if you live in a hard water area. Hard water contains a lot of minerals. That makes that type of water not very good at dissolving nutrients. If this is the case you may need to filter the water.
The ideal pH level for water used in a hydroponic system is between 5.8 and 6.2 Try where possible to get close to this level.
There are two types of nutrients available for hydroponics:
- Liquid form
- Dry form
These two types also come in organic and synthetic types. There is no big preference as to which you should use. They will both dissolve pretty easily in water.
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Any nutrient should contain nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium. Ideally they should also contain the metals of iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, and also molybdenum, and chlorine.
Always pick hydroponic nutrient products that are designed for your what plants you want to grow.They differ slightly as to which is best such as flowers or vegetables.
Room conditions are also important to understand. In any room you will always find some type of air circulation, humidity, temperature, and CO2 levels.
Humidity in any hydroponic grow room should sit at around 40 to 60 percent relative humidity. If the relative humidity gets higher than that, then your plants may start to suffer from mildew and other fungal problems.
The ideal room temperature should be between 68 and 70 F. Any temperatures over this range can lead to rot root and also reduce the growth of the plant.
Realistically you need good air circulation in the room so fresh air can make a lot of difference to growth.
When starting out with hydroponics you do need some standard equipment. If you then enjoy it, there are other bits and pieces of equipment that you may find useful.
Our advice is to not go too crazy at the start, and just buy bits and pieces as you develop your hobby.
- PPM and pH meters and measuring tools are very useful to test the quality of the water that you are using.
- Likewise something that can measure the temperature and relative humidity of the room is very useful
- If you want to get technical then a humidifier or dehumidifier can be of great benefit as those allow you to impact and change the relative humidity in the grow room
- Likewise a simple fan is useful for better air circulation
Top Tips for Beginners to Hydroponics
Moisture & Humidity
In any type of hydroponics humidity is always a very good thing. That is because if the temperature in the room rises, the air will be able to hold a sufficient amount of moisture that your plants will need.
Hydroponics is a water based gardening system so the good news is there is no need to be digging in any type of soil, and as such no weeding is required. You can also re-use the water to prevent wastage.
With hydroponics, you do get an excellent yield of quality plants. 25% higher than normal gardening methods.
- Make sure that this nutrient solution maintains a pH level of 5 to 6 after dilution.
- In hydroponics gardening, the plants should be watered more than three times a day - this is almost always automated using a pump and timer
- If your hydroponics garden is inside the home, the best temperature is between 21.6 - 24.4 degrees Celsius (71 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit)
You do however have to match the temperature to the different types of plant you are working with, e.g. tropical plants.
- Remember plants need light and natural light is always best. If you have no natural light then use artificial light. The best way to do this is by using high pressure sodium lights or bulbs
What Kit Do You Need to Start Hydroponic Gardening?
You will need the following if you want to get started in hydroponic gardening in any serious way:
- Rockwool Propagation cubes (pack of 24 cost around £8)
- Hydroton (Around £1 a litre)
- LED grow light (£100-200)
- Fluorescent light (£60-120)
- Air Pump (£18-35)
- Air line tubing (£2-3)
- pH meter (£7-12)
- ph Control kit (£70-75)
- Net Pots (vary in price depending on size)
- Nutrients (£10-15)
We know that sounds expensive, but in reality once you have bought the grow lights, then that is your main investment done. You can pick up all the other parts pretty cheap on eBay or other online stores.
What Hydroponic Plants Should Beginners Grow?
When starting out, again our advice is to keep your plant choice really simple. Start with something like lettuce, spinach, kale or a few herbs such as parsley, basil, mint and oregano.
These are easy to grow, and they also provide a good learning curve.
When you have tried those then we would recommend trying strawberries, tomatoes and peppers.
Benefits of Hydroponic Gardening for Beginners
If you like or even love gardening, then this type of gardening has many benefits:
- Faster - As you will know each plant takes a certain length of time to grow - however using this method it is about 20% faster and that is always a good thing
- The Yield - Yield is normally referred to as the amount of growth you get from one plant or from several plants. It has been tested and proven that hydroponic gardening yields up to 25% larger yields.
- More plants in the same space - As there is no soil required you can place plants closer together, and make better use of your available space
- Easy to be Successful - It is not the traditional method of gardening but it is one that is easy to master. So if you are not a natural "green finger" gardener then this type could be a very good choice for you.