Hydroponic Systems Overview


Hydroponic Systems Overview

Ebb and Flow (or Flood and Drain):  Popular for both commercial and hobby hydro growers, in this system, plants sit in a soilless medium (rock wool, expanded clay, coco coir, etc.) in a table or trough. The tray is flooded with nutrient solution (stored in a reservoir) for a chosen period of time, then drained with the aid of either a pump or gravity.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):  One of the most common hydro systems for commercial greenhouses that grow lettuce and other greens. A continuous flow of nutrient solution bathes the roots as it flows through a series of tubes or gutters, positioned at slight angles so that gravity can return the solution to the reservoir.

Deep Water Culture (DWC):  Utilizing a deep reservoir, this type of system allows the plant’s root mass to be mostly submerged in water with an air pump to provide oxygen. Easily DIYed with 5-gallon buckets and aquarium pumps, this type of system is most effective when the water temperature can be kept between 65-70 degrees F.  A water chiller can be added to the system to help maintain consistent results.

Top Feed (or Top Drip):  Feed lines, usually controlled by a timer, supply nutrient solution directly to the base of the plant at intervals or continuously. These systems can be set up to either recirculate or drain the solution after it has fed the plant. It can be easy to over- or under-water plants with this type of system, so inline valves may be helpful to control the flow rate of the nutrient solution, tailoring it to the needs of each plant.

Aeroponics:  Roots are intermittently sprayed or misted with nutrient solution through misters or spray heads. These systems are not as susceptible to warm temperatures because the root mass is not submerged, but there is generally more required maintenance as the sprayers or misters must be checked and cleaned regularly. Fully soluble nutrient solutions are necessary so as not to clog the misters or spray heads.

Kratsky (or Raft or Non-Circulating):  Similar to a DWC system but with no electricity required. In a Kratsky setup, the reservoir if filled to the point of submerging the bottom third of the growing media. Since there is no airstone, this will ensure your growing media is constantly wet during the beginning of the plants’ growth. With this type of system, you don’t refill the reservoir, so as the plants suck up nutrient solution, more root becomes exposed to the air, providing the plants with the oxygen they need.

Aquaponics: Utilizing symbiosis between plants and fish waste, aquaponics systems require a fish holding tank as well as a hydroponic system (any of the previously mentioned systems except aeroponics). The water and fish waste are pumped to the hydroponic system, where the plants use the nutrients and filter and clean the water. The water is then returned to the fish tank. Some crops require added nutrients.

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