Ready to grow healthy greenhouse plants in less time? Install a hydroponic system and reap the benefits of growing your favorite plants without soil. Hydroponic agriculture has been around for a few hundred years. But in recent decades, it has gained traction with every group that grows things from big agriculture to amateur gardeners and urban farmers.
One of the great things about this way of growing plants is that you don’t need a lot of space. Just the right equipment and some know-how. Here, we spell out how to build your own hydroponic system.
Why Use a Hydroponic System?
Instead of soil, hydroponics uses water and nutrient solutions to nourish plants. There are several benefits to not growing plants in soil.
- First, hydroponics tends to increase growth rate. Depending on your location, this can lead to a significantly longer growing season.
- Second, there is practically no risk of soil-borne pests, disease, and fungus. Not caught in time, such issues can destroy an entire crop.
- Third, it takes less time to tend to hydroponic plants. There is no weeding or watering.
It’s a good idea to know what you’d like to grow before you start building a hydroponic system. The goal isn’t to get too specific. The kind of plant is enough. For example, if you think you’d like to try Boston lettuce, kale, and arugula, the fact that they are all leafy greens is what matters.
Why does this matter? Because some kinds of plants are better suited to hydroponics than others. Plus, you have to know if you need a trellis for climbing plants, deeper trays for root vegetables and so on.
If you already have a greenhouse, assess the available space inside. Take exact measurements, including the height of your greenhouse ceiling. If the roof is sloped, note the height at the peak and lowest point.
Don’t forget to allow space for you to move around. Also make sure that the floor or ground is flat and level.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, there are many styles and sizes available. Consider all the likely ways you’ll use a greenhouse. If it’s only for hydroponic growing, buying a greenhouse with hydroponic kit might be the best solution.
Make note of the amount of natural light and which direction(s) it enters the greenhouse. Too much direct sunlight can be overwhelming for many plants so you might need to filter it by covering the greenhouse walls at certain times of the day.
Some natural light, ideally diffused by a tree canopy, can help reduce the cost of energy for artificial light.
How will you power the lights and pumps? Before you can set up a hydroponic system, you need a safe, reliable source of electricity. For this reason, most people set up their greenhouse hydroponic garden near a house, garage, or work shed.
Of course, a reliable, flowing water supply is essential to a hydroponic garden. Reservoir tanks have connectors so a garden hose is all you need to keep it filled.
Now that you have the right conditions for building a hydroponic system in your greenhouse, you need to get the right equipment. But the right equipment varies depending on the kind of hydroponic system you want.
The main types are:
- Deep Water Culture
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Ebb and Flow
Deep Water Culture
This kind of hydroponic system is commonly known as the reservoir method. The plant roots are suspended in an aerated nutrient solution. An air pump continuously adds oxygen into the reservoir so that the plant roots don’t drown.
The reservoir method of hydroponics is the easiest to set up and requires a minimal amount of equipment. Primary pieces: reservoir with containers to suspend the plants, aquarium-style air pump, lights.
Make sure light can’t penetrate the reservoir. If that happens, algae will grow and disrupt the nutritional balance of the solution. It can also clog the air pump.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
With this type of hydroponic system, the nutrient solution continuously flows over the tips of the roots. As a result, the plant gets more oxygen from the air than the solution and often grows at faster rate.
NFT is popular for outdoor home use because it uses less water. Plus there are many affordable kits suitable for different kinds of plants and growing seasons.
This is the easiest and most inexpensive type of hydroponics and there are two ways to set it up.
One way has the plant roots suspended in a growing medium such as vermiculite. Tucked into the growing medium is also a natural absorbent material such as cotton. One end of the absorbent material is placed in the nutrient solution.
The idea is that the nutrients are slowly drawn into the growing medium where the roots can access them.
You can also not use the absorbent material and let the nutrient solution seep directly into the growing medium. Either way, very little equipment is necessary.
Ebb and Flow
This is an active recovery type of hydroponic system. It’s also sometimes called the flood and drain method.
A pump submerged in the reservoir sends the nutrient solution up into the plant container, flooding the roots. Using a timer, the pump turns off after 20-30 minutes. Gravity drains the container where the roots are and sends the nutrient solution back into the reservoir.
The pump can restart by timer or gauge that measures the level of recycled nutrient solution. The gauge method is preferred because it reduces the risk of drowning the roots.
The drip method of hydroponics has a slow, steady drip of nutrient solution entering the growing medium surrounding each plant. Slow draining mediums such as peat moss or coconut coir are best for this method.
More equipment is needed for this method because each plant (or cluster of 2-5 plants) needs its own drip tube. There is also the risk of nutrients building up in the drip tubes and causing blockages.
But the advantage is the ability to adjust the drip rate for each plant to help adjust grower rate.
Should You Build Your Own System?
For those new to hydroponics, building a system from scratch can be intimidating. Often, people begin their hydroponic gardening journey with a greenhouse kit.
Once familiar with the setup and processes, it becomes easier to make DIY enhancements. No matter how you approach greenhouse hydroponics, you’re sure to enjoy the results and get hooked on hydroponic gardening.