Garden Hydroponics (6 different types of hydroponic systems)

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While soilless cultivation may seem straightforward, hydroponics offers many creative and detailed ways to grow plants. However, contrary to what one might assume, garden hydroponics is far from a one-size-fits-all approach.

Hydroponic systems offer a unique way to grow plants without using traditional soil-based methods. Instead of soil, these systems use water enriched with nutrients to give plants the essential elements they need to flourish. 

There are various types of hydroponic systems, such as the nutrient film technique, deep water culture system, and ebb and flow. The innovative hydroponics approach brings several benefits, like faster plant growth, increased vegetable yields, and efficient resource usage.

rows of leafy green lettuce growing indoors hydroponically under grow lights

Today, I will introduce and teach you the various types of hydroponic systems, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they transform how we cultivate crops and gardens in the 21st century. Although there are many ways to grow a home garden, whether you possess extensive experience or are just beginning your hydroponic journey, join me in revealing the intriguing potential and eco-friendly techniques of soilless cultivation.

Humble Highlights

  • Empower yourself and discover the 6 most common hydroponic systems you can choose from so you can grow fresh vegetables at home AND reap the benefits of these exceptional and proven techniques. 
  •  Stop guessing which hydroponic system can work for you with this done-for-you guide so you can match your experience and gardening goals with the proper method quickly and efficiently.
  •  Save time with even more helpful hydroponic resources and articles to take your herb hydroponic growing to the next level starting today!  

Six Different Types Of Hydroponic Systems

While there are many ways to grow plants without soil, these six hydro systems are the most popular for growing your greens in water. 

hydroponics system

Hydroponic systems work either by using an air pump or a water pump, which is called active hydroponics. In contrast, others rely on a wick or the use of hydroponic growing media like vermiculite, coconut coir, and perlite, called passive hydroponics. However, these systems work best when you have the right tools and knowledge, so learning each method before growing is essential. 1

Humble Tip:

Most backyard gardeners choose the least expensive and simpler systems, such as the Wick or Kratky. These hydroponics systems are budget-friendly and require minimal equipment, making them accessible to beginners.

Additionally, Wick and Kratky systems are simple and don’t have any complicated components, which makes them great for beginners in hydroponics because there’s less chance of making mistakes.

Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponic System

This unique hydroponic system involves filling a container with water, such as a bucket or a tub, while plants are placed in a platform or raft that floats atop the surface. As the plants grow, their roots extend down, reaching into the water below through pre-cut holes in the design. 

hydroponics plants

How It Works:

  • Deep water culture uses an air stone to aerate the water and provide oxygen to the expanding roots. It is most effective when nutrients are supplied in a liquid solution, as the roots have no soil to draw nutrients from.
Humble Tip:

You must monitor water and nutrient levels and ensure the air stone is working or will continue to work. You can watch the water by regularly checking it in your hydroponic system and ensuring it remains at the appropriate level to cover the plant roots.

Additionally, ensure the air stone is clean and debris-free to maintain proper oxygen levels by checking the air pump and tubing for damage or blockages and replacing them if they are no longer efficient.

Strengths :

  • Budget-friendly, as these systems require minimal equipment.
  • Promotes faster plant growth by providing ample oxygen directly to the root system. Growing hydroponic lettuce is a great option with this system.

Weaknesses:

  • Risk of root rot if water maintenance is neglected or pathogens develop.
  • It is more suitable for smaller plants as supporting larger or heavier plants can be challenging.
  • Requires regular monitoring and adjustments of water levels to maintain plant health.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The NFT hydroponic system is a well-known commercial hydroponic method for growing plants. It uses a specialized channel or sloped trough where the plant roots sit. The channel is slightly tilted, creating a thin film of nutrient-rich water that flows along the bottom. The plants are placed within the water flow, with their roots submerged in the nutrient solution.

hydroponic setup

Strengths:

  • Efficient water use, as it recirculates water, minimizing wastage. 3

Weaknesses:

  • Not suitable for plants with large, deep root systems. Using it for such plants is ineffective. For example, hydroponic eggplant is better grown in an alternative system due to the plant’s deeper root structure.
  • Requires regular attention.
Humble Tip:

Remember, no matter what hydroponic system you choose for your growing needs, it’s vital to monitor and balance pH levels in your solution constantly.

Regularly monitoring and adjusting pH and Electrical Conductivity (EC) levels in hydroponic systems helps optimize nutrient uptake, promotes plant health, and maximizes yields.

Wick System

Wick hydroponic systems are a passive and straightforward choice. This hydroponics method operates without machines or pumps, making it ideal for situations where electricity is unreliable or unavailable.

In a Wick System, the plant’s root system draws water and nutrients from a smaller pot, and excess water is wicked back into the reservoir. It’s one of the best hydroponic systems for ensuring your plants have consistent access to essential elements, especially various kinds of leaf lettuce varieties. 4

hydroponics at home

How It Works:

  • Plants are nestled in growing media on a tray above a water reservoir in a wick system. The fabric acts as a wick, absorbing nutrients and water from a smaller pot and delivering them to the plant and its roots in the main pot.
  • Roots can access this moisture and nutrients as needed, with the process being similar to sipping through a straw.

Strengths:

  • Best for smaller plants, especially those not requiring excessive water and nutrients, such as lettuce and herbs.
  • This type of system is simple and requires low maintenance.

Weaknesses:

  • Inadequate for large, thirsty plants that demand rapid water delivery. Growing hydroponic tomatoes, for example, would be better served with other systems due to their frequent need for water and deep rooting systems.
  • Effectiveness depends on the length of the wick and the distance between pots.
  • The Wick System may not deliver nutrients in the precise ratios or concentrations needed for optimal growth.

Although discovering the differences between hydroponic systems can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. To simplify the process, choose a design that matches your expertise level, fits your available space, and determine which plants you’ll grow. The video below provides essential details to help you make your decision even easier.

Drip System

Drip systems, widely favored by commercial hydroponic growers, can accommodate a larger volume of growing media, making them well-suited for plants with extensive root systems. They are most effective when using rockwool, coco coir, or peat moss, all known for their efficient water retention capabilities.

By growing plants using the drip system, a hose equipped with small openings is strategically placed near the plants. Nutrient-rich water flows through the hose and gradually drips onto the soil surrounding the roots. 5

hydroponic gardening for beginners

How It Works:

  • Water can be delivered through a pump or gravity, especially on slopes.
  • A timer controls watering frequency, ensuring precise moisture levels for your plants.

Strengths:

  • Efficient watering helps deliver water directly to the roots, minimizing waste.
  • Nutrient-rich water saturates the root zone, nourishing the plants effectively.
  • Requires minimal maintenance once set up.

Weaknesses:

  • Hose holes may get clogged with dirt or minerals.
  • Initial setup may be time-consuming and costly.
  • Drip systems may not distribute water evenly across all plants.

Ebb And Flow Hydroponic / Flood And Drain

The Ebb and Flow system, also called the Flood and Drain system, is a hydroponic method that facilitates plant growth without using soil. The size and depth of your hydroponic grow tray play a pivotal role in this system’s effectiveness.

For instance, if you intend to cultivate plants like carrots or potatoes, a deeper bed or tray is essential compared to the requirements for growing lettuce or strawberries.

hydroponic plants at home

How It Works:

This system intermittently floods the container with nutrient-rich water, enabling the roots to absorb essential hydroponic nutrients and moisture efficiently. Subsequently, the water is drained back, completing the cycle of nourishment for the plants.

Strengths:

  • Versatile, meaning it can accommodate a wide range of plants and growing media. 6
  • Precisely control water and the necessary nutrients that ensure consistent plant growth.
  • Draining creates air spaces in the medium, ensuring an oxygen supply to the roots.

Weaknesses:

  • Requires the use of equipment like a pump and timer.
  • Possibility of pump blockages or clogs.
  • Demands vigilant water conservation, especially in arid regions.

Aeroponic System

Compared to other hydroponics, plants are suspended in the air in an aeroponic system without using soil or any traditional growing medium. Instead, in this distinctive system, roots are exposed to the air as a delicate mist or spray of nutrient-rich water is directly applied and proven an efficient hydroponic technique.

hydroponic system guide

How It works:

  • Specialized misters spray the plant’s roots with the nutrient solution as pressure increases.
  • Afterward, the excess nutrient solution returns to the reservoir.
  • This mist, carrying the essential nutrients, delivers them directly to the roots, which absorb them efficiently for growth and nourishment.

Advantages:

  • Provides your plants with an oxygen-rich environment promoting remarkably rapid growth.
  • It gives you precise control over the nutrients your plants receive, enabling you to tailor their nutrition like a customized meal.
  • Demonstrates superior water efficiency compared to traditional soil gardening by recirculating the mist, minimizing wastage. 7

Challenges:

  • Setting up an aeroponic system can be complex, demanding precision in equipment and maintenance.
  • There’s a risk of clogs, similar to a water gun jamming, presenting a challenging issue to resolve.
  • Often relies on electricity to operate, particularly for the misting system and timers.

Other Hydroponics System: Kratky System

The Kratky method presents a pioneering technique for growing greens without the use of soil. In contrast to conventional methods where plant roots remain submerged in water, Kratky elevates the roots a few inches above the water’s surface, generating an environment that facilitates air circulation around the plant roots.

hydroponic veggie garden

What distinguishes this method is its autonomy from the traditional bubbling air stones often employed in other hydroponic systems previously mentioned. It achieves efficient oxygenation of the roots without relying on these supplementary components. 8

Humble Tip:

The Kratky System is not as widely adopted as some other hydroponic systems. If you’re uncertain whether this method suits your needs, it’s advisable to select hydroponic plants that are well-suited for you and your garden needs.

Another hydroponic option is LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate), a popular and effective method of growing plants without soil.

In this system, plants are grown in a soilless medium of clay pellets that provide support and stability for the roots. LECA is inert, pH-neutral, and does not compact over time. This allows for excellent aeration and drainage, making it ideal for nutrient-rich water to deliver essential nutrients directly to the roots.

home hydroponic garden

LECA hydroponics is prized for its versatility. It can be used in various hydroponic setups, including flood and drain, drip irrigation, and deep water culture systems.

Additionally, LECA is reusable, making it a sustainable option for hydroponic gardening. Overall, LECA hydroponics offers an efficient and productive way to grow a wide range of plants, from vegetables to ornamentals, with minimal environmental impact.

Choosing The Right Hydroponic System

Although hydroponic gardeners should familiarize themselves with the six types of hydroponic systems, here, I’ll provide you with a guide that will help you make an informed choice when selecting a method for use to grow your plants, particularly if you have extensive root systems, taking into account factors like your available space.

Below is a table that will help you study which hydroponic system is best for your needs.

ConsiderationSmall Space (e.g., balcony or countertop)More Room Bigger Area
Space AvailabilityCompact systems like wick or Kratky systemsNFT or drip systemsEbb and flow or aeroponic systems
BudgetAffordable options like wick or Kratky systemsMid-range cost with NFT or drip systemsPotentially higher cost with ebb and flow or aeroponic systems
Experience LevelBeginner-friendly with wick and Kratky systemsManageable for newcomers with NFT or drip systemsMore advanced; better if you have experience or enjoy a challenge
MaintenanceLow-maintenance and forgiving for wick and Kratky systemsModerate maintenance for NFT or drip systemsMore attention required for aeroponic systems

Humble Tip:

Opting for a basic hydroponic system that you are well-acquainted with is advisable to prevent potential complications that can cause your greens to decay and ultimately perish. When you choose a system you have experience with, you gain confidence in managing it effectively and reduce the likelihood of costly errors that can harm your plants. 9

If you are a complete beginner, start small and choose a model suited for a novice, such as Deep Water Culture or a Wick system.

Moreover, being already familiar with the hydroponics system lets you concentrate on improving how you grow your plants. You can ensure things stay steady and your plants get all the care they need for great results. 

Tips For Growing Herbs Hydroponically

Cultivating hydroponic herbs is a method that not only accelerates their growth but also provides a level of precision in nutrient delivery that’s hard to achieve through traditional soil-based gardening. Additionally, hydroponic herb cultivation is incredibly efficient in terms of space utilization. 

Suppose you’re interested in delving deeper into hydroponic herb cultivation. In that case, we’ve prepared a comprehensive article covering everything you need to know, with an entire article dedicated to insider tips for growing herbs hydroponically.

Grow Your Own Nutritious Hydroponic Vegetables

Hydroponic gardening represents a cutting-edge and efficient approach to growing fresh, nutrient-rich vegetables. Unlike traditional soil-based gardening, hydroponics harnesses the power of water and nutrient solutions to nurture your plants. This method offers numerous advantages that are environmentally friendly and result in healthier and more abundant yields.

We’ve got you covered no matter what vegetable you desire to cultivate in your home hydroponic system. Check out our full article on growing your nutritious hydroponic vegetables, and start today!

indoor growing systems for vegetables

Conclusion

Selecting the most suitable hydroponic system from the array of six types can be as challenging as choosing the ideal outfit for a special occasion. It’s a process that may seem bewildering. Still, by considering factors like available space, budget constraints, and your level of expertise, you can make a more informed decision that is sure to help you achieve success.

Additionally, the time and attention you devote to your hydroponics system should be considered, especially when dealing with systems that require extensive care to hold the nutrient solution.

By carefully assessing these factors and selecting the best system for your specific circumstances, you can cultivate your plants with precision and flair, especially if you’re a commercial grower wanting to grow in net pots. Consider the time you can dedicate, as some systems need more care. Find the one that suits you best, and you’ll grow your plants at home with style!

Do you currently cultivate vegetables hydroponically? We’d love to hear your success story! Drop us a line below and tell us which system you use and why it works for you.

SOURCES

  1. Wikipedia – Hydroponics
  2. IOP Science – Analysis Of Deep Water Culture (DWC) Hydroponic Nutrient Solution Level Control Systems
  3. ResearchGate – Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Hydroponic Nutrition Controlling System Using Linear Regression Method
  4. ResearchGate – Performance Of Wick Irrigation System Using Self-Compensating Troughs With Substrates For Lettuce Production
  5. MDPI – A Review On Hydroponics And The Technologies Associated For Medium And Small-Scale Operations
  6. ASHS Journals Publications – Evaluation Of A Novel Shallow Aggregate Ebb-And-Flow Culture System And Transplant Size Effects On Hydroponic Basil Yield
  7. National Library Of Medicine, National Center For Biotechnology Information – Aeroponic Systems: A Unique Tool For Estimating Plant Water Relations And NO3 Uptake In Response To Salinity Stress
  8. National Library Of Medicine, National Center For Biotechnology Information – A Simplified Non-Greenhouse Hydroponic System For Small-Scale Soilless Urban Vegetable Farming
  9. United States National Agricultural Library, Department Of Agriculture – Hydroponics

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