Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without using soil, by feeding them on mineral nutrient salts dissolved in water. There has been renewed interest in this method following wider installation of living walls, roof gardens and other growing situations where conventional potting media is too heavy, inaccessible or bulky. Hydroponics can include the sub topics Aeroponics, Aquaponics, Fogponics/Mistponics but essentially can be listed as follows
- DWC (Deep Water Culture)
- NFT (Nutrient Film Technology)
- Ebb and Flow
Information regarding these can be found here.
Why Would You Want To Start Growing With Hydroponics?
A hydroponics vs. soil comparison for Holland Hybrid tomatoes showing taller plants from hydroponics.
- Faster Growth! Plants grow faster with hydroponics because it’s a more efficient way to grow them. For example, most experts agree that plants will grow at least 20% faster with hydroponics vs soil. That’s a huge time saver!
- Bigger Yields! Scientists have lots of theories as to why this is the case, but the fact of the matter is that experts also agree you can expect at least 20-25% more yields with hydro as compared to growing in soil. That truly adds up!
- No soil! This can be a benefit because you may live in an area where there is no good soil to grow plants outside. Or perhaps you don’t have any outside area because you live in an urban area. With a hydro grow you can still grow plants, even if you don’t have soil!
- Space Saving! Because your plants don’t need to spread their roots out into lots of soil to get the nutrients they need (because they’re surrounded by oxygenated nutrient-rich water solution)–you can pack more plants closer together. This saves a TON of space and one of the amazing features about indoor grows is how many plants can be put together and grown in a small space. Again, this is perfect for urban dwellers who want to grow a lot of plants with little space.
- Water Saving! Because you are using reservoirs that are covered (to prevent evaporation) and no water seeps out of the bottom (because they’re sealed)–the plants take up the exact amount of water they need at any one time and the rest remains in the reservoir to be used later. Compare this to soil gardening where you have to water your plants daily and most of the water is wasted. It’s easy to see how the same amount of water used to water a plant in soil for a day can water a plant in a simple hydroponic system for multiple days or even a week at a time! In short, you can save about 90% of your water by switching to hydro growing.
- No Weeds! One of the most tedious, time-consuming and frustrating activities for many gardeners is cleaning their gardens and pulling out weeds. With hydroponics growing there are no weeds to pull!
- Less Diseases & Pests! Because you’re not using soil, you also get rid of a lot of soil-borne diseases and pests that can normally wreak havoc on your plants and make gardening a pain.
A graph showing bigger circumference (size) plants from hydroponics. From A hydroponics vs. soil comparison for Holland Hybrid tomatoes.
Why NOW Is A Great Time To Start Your Own Hydro Farm
The truth is that Hydroponics gardening has never been more popular than right now!
In fact, you can get started with your own indoor garden hydro setup by buying many of your supplies right off online sites like Amazon.com.
The Different Types of Hydroponics and How They Are Different
When it comes to hydroponics systems, there are six main types to choose from. These are:
- Deep Water Culture (DWC)
- Ebb and Flow (Flood and Drain)
- Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
Now, there are actually multiple variations of each of these different types of hydro systems, but these are the “high level” overviews and categories of basic designs.
Here’s the important thing to remember:
ALL these systems are hydroponics because they don’t use soil, and because you’re feeding the plants a nutrient-rich water solution instead of planting them in soil. The only difference between each type is HOW they deliver the water, oxygen and nutrients that you’re feeding the plants.
The EASIEST Type of Hydroponics System To Setup
Without a doubt, most hydroponics experts would agree that a Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydroponics system is the easiest type of hydro system to use for indoor growing because it requires the LEAST amount of materials, supplies, and know-how to get started:
The Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydro system is the easiest for beginners to use.
Then a continuous oxygen supply is added to the water. The most common way that growers oxygenate the nutrient solution reservoir is with an air pump and airstone to pump bubbles into it. This keeps your plant’s roots from “drowning” which — while it sounds weird — is a real concern because your plants will suck the oxygen they need out of the water.
Using the DWC system, you’ll find it’s extremely simple to setup (once you understand how it all works) and extremely low-maintenance (again, once you understand how it works) making it perfect for hydroponics beginners.
How To Setup a SuperSimple Deep Water Culture Hydroponics System For About $25 and 1 Hour of Work!
Diagram showing how a 5-gallon bucket Deep Water Culture Hydroponics System is setup.
The good news is it’s easier than you think!
Probably the most simple way to get started is to use a traditional 5 gallon bucket for just one plant. From the picture diagram above, you can see this setup is extremely easy.
What About Lighting For Your Plants?
The fact is that your plants need light to grow.
The simple answer is that if you can locate your hydroponics system where your plants can get at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, that is the best. Sunlight provides all the lighting that your plants need to grow correctly.
If you can’t locate your plants in direct sunlight, then you will have to provide artificial lighting using your own indoor grow lights. The truth is that a complete discussion of the proper indoor grow lights is beyond the scope of this article, but you will need to select the proper lighting system with the correct spectrum of light, intensity, power and that covers enough “footprint” to work with your garden. For more information on choosing the right hydroponic grow lights, click here.
For a simple, 5-gallon bucket DWC hydro system like we’re encouraging on this page — you should try to just place your 5-gallon bucket system in direct sunlight.
Big Tip: Start Your Plants From Clones
A plantlet seedling.
That’s why we recommend starting from a live plant instead of trying to use seeds for your first grow. This is called “cloning” and more tips on how to do this can be found here.
To use herbs as an example, simply acquire an herb seedling and gently remove it from the soil and potting container it came in and wash away all the dirt from the roots of the plant. You don’t want to contaminate your water.
Once you have rinsed the plant’s roots with water, then you can simply add it into your net pot in the lid of your bucket. If the seedling already has roots that you can pull through the net pot into the water, that’s even better and going to make your job easier. Then you simply cover the root system with your growing media and let the system do the rest of the work!
How To Make Sure Your Water Doesn’t KILL Your Plants!
If possible, you want to use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water for your nutrient solution because if you don’t you could seriously harm your plants. See our article “Why all hydroponics growers should use reverse osmosis water systems” for complete details.
Also, if you are using RO water and especially if you are using tap water, you need to know that pH is an important factor. Most tap water is in the 7.0-8.0 pH range. The recommended herbs in this guide thrive in water that’s a little lower pH than this, around the “sweet spot” of 5.5-6.3
Example of commonly available pH testing kit made for pools.
Why is this so important? Because when the pH of your hydroponic system gets out of balance—which can happen quickly if some kind of stabilizing agent or mechanism is not put in place—the ability of your plants to absorb macro, secondary, and micronutrients, as well as vitamins, carbohydrates, and other beneficial sources, is limited.
The truth is that dealing with pH issues can be a real hassle. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, if you use the right products, you can completely eliminate all your pH issues and you will never have to worry about this!
The Best Nutrients For Beginners Are From Advanced Nutrients
The fact of the matter is that, no matter what you’re growing, the nutrients from Advanced Nutrients are the best nutrients for beginners (They’re also the best nutrients for professional growers too, but for different reasons that are beyond the scope of this article!).
How can we make such a bold statement?
Quite simply, it’s because all of Advanced Nutrients products are specifically designed for hydroponics growing. And they are the only nutrients to utilize scientific breakthroughs like pH Perfect Technology.
The fact is that Advanced Nutrients has spent many thousands of man-hours developing a technology that automatically balances your pH for you — putting it in the “sweet spot” and holds it there for weeks.
You can see more about pH Perfect Technology when you click here but the point is that for a beginner, again, the less variables the better. And utilizing the best nutrients in the world will only make your job easier.
Specifically, for the types of herbs we’re recommending on this page for beginners, we recommend using pH Perfect Sensi Grow A & B because you don’t actually want the herbs to bloom (because that could make them bitter).