Despite the pandemic gloom of 2020, it has been a good year for DIY lovers. And out of all DIY projects, home gardening has been all the rage since the beginning. For one, when you are stuck at home, a little corner of the green is like an oasis in the otherwise drab interior of your home. Besides, an indoor vegetable garden can also boost your self-sufficiency, reducing your trip to the grocery store. Imagine being able to whip up a salad with some cherry tomatoes, kale, and lettuce right from your window sill. Sounds exciting, right?
However, not all of us are blessed with large balconies or windows where we can start our DIY indoor garden. For new gardeners who don’t have large indoor space to spare or who don’t want to deal with the hassle of weeds or bug infestation that comes with gardening in soil, hydroponics gardening might be the best solution.
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in water, without any soil. And don’t balk at the name Hydroponics. It might sound straight out of science fiction, but in reality, the process is quite simple.
Let’s dive in and find out how you can start your own hydroponics garden in your home.
Table of Contents
- How Does Hydroponics Work?
- What Are the Methods of Hydroponics?
- Deep Water Culture
- Required Materials
- Setting up the Reservoir
- Drilling Holes in Reservoir Cover
- Setting up the Air Pump
- Preparing the Nutrient Solution
- Measuring the pH Level
- Assembling the System
- What Are the Ideal Plants for Indoor Hydroponics?
- A Simpler Variation
- The Bottom Line
How Does Hydroponics Work?
If you are wondering how plants can survive without soil, here’s the answer for you: the soil is not necessary for plants. In a plant’s growth, soil serves two purposes. One is to anchor the plant against environmental factors while the other is to retain water and nutrients for the plant to extract.
Now, what happens when you substitute soil with another anchoring agent and provide nutrients through water? Your plants will still survive and thrive. And that’s where the concept of hydroponics comes into play. In a hydroponics system, not only the plant will survive, they will have faster growth because it is easy for plants to extract nutrients directly from water than from the soil.
What Are the Methods of Hydroponics?
There are several different methods for developing a hydroponics system for your home. Here’s a brief introduction to each of these methods.
- The wick system: In this method, the water and nutrients travel through a wick using capillary movement to the plants. The roots don’t have any direct connection with the solution.
- The deepwater culture: As the name suggests, plant roots stay submerged in the water in this method.
- Nutrient film technique (NFT): In this method, the nutrients are continually passed through a tube to the plants. Once the grow tray is overflowed the water travels back down to the reservoir.
- Ebb and flow: Nutrients and water are periodically sent to the plant through tubing in this method.
- Drip method: In the drip method, tiny drops of water and nutrients are dropped periodically onto the plants.
You can go as high-tech as the drip method or as low maintenance as the wick system and deep water culture with your hydroponics garden. In this article, we are going to explore the deepwater culture method, as it is the most convenient for beginners.
Deep Water Culture
There are three elements in the deep water culture system: oxygen, water, and macronutrients, and micronutrients. It is called deep water culture because your plants stay submerged in a large reservoir of water throughout the day.
Unlike soil, water doesn’t have loose particles where oxygen can get trapped for plants to survive. So you have to mechanically build a system to aerate the water. In deep water culture, it is done by a pump and a stone.
As the water doesn’t recirculate or need to be frequently changed in this method, it is a pretty low maintenance way to start off indoor hydroponics.
The basic materials you will need to build a hydroponics system using the deep water culture method are listed below.
- A large bucket or container
- An air pump
- An airstone
- Net pots
- A pH meter
- A bottle of pH down
- Plant nutrients
- A drill and hole saw
Setting up the Reservoir
As you set up your reservoir, try to get a deep one that has a sturdy cover. A deep reservoir can hold a large amount of nutrient solution and reduces the risk of fluctuations in the content.
As for materials, try to get an opaque one. If light gets into the water, there is a high chance that algae will grow inside your reservoir. Algae can eat up all the nutrients inside the water, thwarting the growth of plants.
Drilling Holes in Reservoir Cover
You need to make holes into the cover so that you can set the plants in them to extend their roots in the water. Once you have drilled and cut the holes you can place the net pots with plants in them. Make sure the hole sizes are slightly smaller than the net pots, otherwise they will fall through the holes.
While you don’t need to maintain a specific distance, as required for planting in soil, you still need some calculations so the plants don’t hog each other’s space when they grow.
Drilling holes through a thin plastic cover can be tricky. Try drilling a pilot hole and then reverse the hole saw for cutting the final shape.
Setting up the Air Pump
This step is quite similar to putting air pumps in an aquarium. In fact, you can just use the same simple $5 air pump. It is better to use several airstones if you have a large reservoir. This will ensure an even circulation of oxygen throughout the reservoir.
When you are setting up the tubing make sure you drill holes at the side of your container so that there is less chance of light penetrating inside the container. Fit the tube with the stone and check the valve then point the arrow at the air stone. After that, connect the check valve tube with the pump.
Preparing the Nutrient Solution
Put some water in the reservoir with the help of a measuring gallon. Measure out how much nutrients you need for each gallon of water and mix exactly the same amount in the water. Follow the instructions and proportions that come with the package.
The level of water is pretty crucial for the plants’ growth. Some parts of the roots are actually designed to be in the air and some parts are for submerging in water. If your water level is too high you might drown the parts of roots that are designed to stay in the air. Ideally, there should be at least a one-inch gap between the water level and the bottom of the net pot.
Measuring the pH Level
The pH in water indicates the level of acid and alkaline. On a 0-14 scale, the higher the number the more alkaline it is. In order for the macro and micronutrients to be able to mix with the water, they require a certain pH level.
The ideal soluble pH of these nutrients vary. However, there’s an average pH that is suitable for all nutrients to mix in water. Plants usually grow at an acidic pH, preferably somewhere between pH 5.5 to 6.5.
Tap water usually has a pH of around 7. If you need to bring down the pH level of your reservoir water, you can do that by adding some phosphoric acid to the solution.
Assembling the System
After you set up the pump and solutions, you need to assemble the system. Place plants and the anchoring agent (Rockwool plug or hydroton clay pellets) in the net pots and place them in the holes. Fix the top over the reservoir and turn on the pump. Make sure you position your container in the right place before you assemble, otherwise it will be quite difficult to relocate it once it’s filled with water.
What Are the Ideal Plants for Indoor Hydroponics?
Despite being a high-yielding method, not all plants are suitable for a hydroponics system. For one, water doesn’t actually have much to offer when it comes to anchoring a plant. So you need plants that are not top-heavy for a hydroponics garden. And fortunately for us, almost all herbs, vegetables, and shrubby fruits fall into that category. You can grow vegetables like spinach, lettuce, kales, bok choy, herbs like mint, basil, oregano in your indoor hydroponics garden.
A Simpler Variation
If you are still dubious about starting hydroponics, dealing with pumps, tubing, etc., you can start another low maintenance spin-off of the deepwater culture method — the Kratky method. It doesn’t need any pump or air stone for circulating oxygen. You just need to fill up a container (even a mason jar will work) with water and nutrients and place the plant so the roots stay immersed in the water. As the water level depletes with time, the air zone inside the container will grow, satisfying the need for oxygen. This can be a pretty easy step to get you started with hydroponics
The Bottom Line
As you first start with hydroponics, it might get overwhelming with all the methods and technical jargon. However, the process is pretty simple once you get started; you might even have your first harvest of lettuce in no time!