When you look at some of the hydroponic systems available today, you quickly realize that this is pretty technologically advanced stuff; years of scientific research have gone into some of these systems, to produce the absolute best growing conditions possible. As a newcomer to hydroponics, this can put you off before you’ve even started, particularly if you don’t have much of a budget.
Let me tell you now: this really doesn’t have to be the case.
The premise behind many of the systems is actually quite simple. This means you can actually put together a basic one with ease, and with minimal investment too. In fact, many of the items you need to build your own hydroponic system you might already own, and probably have lying around in some forgotten corner of your house.
Today I will be encouraging you to put some of these bits and pieces to good use, by showing you how to make your very own hydroponic system.
Deep Water Culture System
Part 1: The Container
There are many different types of hydroponic system. The most simple of them all is known as a Deep Water Culture (DWC) system.
If you’ve got an old aquarium or fish-tank lying around, you already have most of what you will need to create an effective DWC system! If not, you will be able to pick up all the parts you need without great cost.
Now, a DWC system is unique in that the nutrient reservoir is not kept separate from the growtray. This means they are much cheaper to build — you only need one tank — and you don’t have to worry about setting up a complicated pump system: this makes a DWC system perfect for a beginner!
You will need a tank to house the nutrient solution though, and, in my humble opinion, bigger is better as this allows you to grow more plants simultaneously. You have several options when it comes to choosing your tank: an old aquarium works perfectly, but any large plastic container can work just as well. When I say big is better, I am referring to the surface area of the tank, rather than the volume. If you can get hold of a large, but shallow, container, this is preferable to a small, deep, one.
Part 2: Light
When you’ve got hold of your container, the next step is to stop any light getting into the water. Remember, the water is mixed with nutrients that support optimal growth rates in your plants. This will mean that, if undeterred, algae will also be able to grow, on the side of the reservoir. Any algae that grows will take oxygen from the water, which your plants obviously need for growth.
By removing the sunlight that reaches the reservoir, you will be cutting off the light supply that the algae needs to photosynthesize, which will keep algae growth to a minimum. The best way to do this is to spray-paint the outside of the tank black. If you are reluctant to do this — you may want to use a fish tank for its intended purpose again in the future! — then simply wrap the tank in a black bin liner. This will do the trick.
Part 3: The Grow Tray
The next step is to prepare the growtray. I would recommend using a piece of StyroFoam, which will float directly on the surface of your nutrient solution.
Measure the surface area of your reservoir and cut a piece of StyroFoam to this size. It is recommended you take an extra few centimeters off each side to make sure the foam fits comfortably inside your tank.
Now, you need to think of how you are going to get the plants to grow in the StyroFoam. My recommendation would be to purchase some net pots, then to cut several holes into the Styrofoam and attach the net pots to it. This will stop the plant falling through the foam, but will allow the roots to grow down and into the solution.
Part 4: The Pump
At this stage, I would be looking to set up the pump, and preferably one with an airstone attached. If you had an old aquarium lying around then you might already have these parts, but if not they are relatively inexpensive, and easy to get hold of — just head down to your local garden center. The pump is essential for a fully functioning, effective system as it circulates the water, keeping it oxygenated. The airstone also helps with this, creating bubbles which directly add oxygen to the water. It’s a simple process really, just connect the pump to the airstone and then plug in!
Finally, it’s time to mix your nutrients with some water to create the perfect nutrient solution for your plants. Fill the tank with this solution until it is about half full: this will leave you with plenty of room for your plants. When this is done, turn on the pump and you should see the airstone start to bubble away. Finally, place the StyroFoam that you’ve prepared with the net pots onto the surface of the water.
And that’s all there is to it! Now you can begin to add the growing medium and your plants to the net pots and you’ve got yourself a fully functioning hydroponic system!