What exactly is hydroponics? Generally speaking, hydroponics is the process of growing plants in hydroton (clay pellets), gravel, or sand, instead of using soil. There are many different variations of hydroponic farming and, of course, there are many opinions on all of them. Some are pretty basic and straightforward while others are somewhat complicated. Here is one option if you are looking to try your first hydroponic set up. Overall, no matter which method of hydroponic farming you use, you should see better results than you did with soil. It can feel daunting at first with all of the stuff you will need to buy and set up, but let me assure you that once everything is set up, it will actually be less work than if you had just grown with soil the whole time. This is a great place to start if you are new to hydroponic farming.
Pros – In my opinion, the pro’s will far outweigh the con’s, but nonetheless, lets go over everything so you can really know what you are getting into before you make the investment.
- Your plants will grow bigger and in a shorter amount of time than if you had a similar set up with soil. You will have bigger fruits and veggies or whatever it is that you are growing.
- I rarely have had issues with pests. More often than not, we will bring bugs into our garden when we buy soil from the stores. Pest problems have been way less of an issue with hydroponics. That’s not to say that you will never have an issue. It’s just less likely to be as much of an issue than it is with soil.
- I feel that the maintenance is way less of an issue. Think of it like this. When we grow with soil, we have go to the store and buy it, bring it home, and then use it in our garden. Then after you are done growing, you will end up tossing it. Then go to the store and get some more. With hydro, we are using Hydroton (clay pellets) in place of soil. And Hydroton is reusable. The only other thing we are putting in here is water and some nutrients.
Cons – Yes there are some things to consider here. It’s not all fun and games.
- If you lose power for very long you can lose whatever it is you are growing. If it’s just a few hours, you should be ok. If it’s much longer than that, you could be in for a rough day.
- It costs more to set up at first than soil. This list consists of about ten item’s and that doesn’t even include the light if you are growing indoors. While it can save you money with time, it is definitely not the cheapest way to go especially at first.
- Depending on how big your set up is, it could raise your electricity bill. Now this would be more of an issue in regards to the light fixture that you use if you are growing indoors, but nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning. If you have a small set up then this really should not be an issue at all, but depending on where you live, you could see your bill go up.
D.W.C. or Deep Water Culture – D.W.C. or Deep Water Culture is, in my opinion, the easiest of all the different methods of hydroponic farming. Here is a list of everything you need to set up a single plant, but keep in mind that you can add on to this single plant system and make it a multiple plant system very easily. I will explain everything. Don’t hesitate to message me if you have any questions getting started.
- A round bucket – Preferably dark or at least thick enough so that light will not penetrate through to the water. You don’t want light to penetrate to the water because light promotes algae and mold growth on the roots. This is something you definitely don’t want to happen. I know they do have food grade buckets as well and I think they are thick so light is not an issue. Just make sure it is thick so light cant penetrate it and it needs to be round not square.
- A Net Pot lid – You will need a “Net pot lid” which is the lid that will go on top of the bucket. It has the mesh built right into it. It will hold Hydroton and the plant itself.
3.Hydroton – Hydroton is basically just clay pellets. They take the place of soil. They will hold the plant in place while it is growning. And one really nice thing about hydroton is that it is reusable! Just give it a thorough rinsing between uses. 4. Nutrients – Yes you will need to buy nutrient’s for the water. There are many different varieties of nutrients for all types of different plants. So you are thinking, “where do I even begin?” Well a solid place to start is with General Hydroponic’s Flora series. I have personally used these products for years with excellent results. They are very easy to use. The instructions are right on the bottles. This is a three part system and I know that can sound intimidating, but it’s actually very simple and there are a couple of tools that you will use to guide you along the way so you will know exactly what to do.
5. pH tester – You will need a pH tester so that you can keep the pH where the plants need it to be. It all depends on what you are growing, but generally speaking you will want to keep the pH around 5.5-7
6.T.D.S. meter – T.D.S. = Total Dissolved Solids. It basically means exactly how many nutrients are in the water and it is measured in P.P.M. or Parts Per Million. Too little and the plant will be hungry for food. Too much and you will burn the plant and most likely kill it. When just starting out, I prefer to error on the side of caution especially with younger plants or seedlings. Go with 1/4 strength or less. You can always add more if needed. Now generally speaking, you will want to be in the range of 800-1500 ppm (parts per million) depending on your plant and what cycle of plant life you are in at the time. A quick google search of your specific plant will tell you exactly where you will want things to be.
7. pH up & pH down – Were you wondering how you were going to adjust your pH levels if they are off? Well this is what you will use for that step. It is just two liquids. One will adjust your pH up and the other will adjust it down. Just use whatever the recommended amount is and then mix it up well. Wait a minute or two and then measure your p.H again and see how you are looking.
8. Air pump – Next on our list is an air pump. Just like the kind you would use for a fish tank. This is how we are going to keep the water / nutrient combination oxygenated. There are many different kind of air pumps so lets make it a little easier. If you are just doing one or two plants or buckets then a single air pump with a single or double outlet is fine. But if you are like most people, you will be doing multiple buckets. So then you will want to get a little bit better air pump with the option to have up to 8 buckets or plants. You will really want something like this. This is something I personally use so I know it works very well.
9. Air stones & air line – These are the little stones that you would see inside of a fish tank where the bubbles come out of. One air stone per bucket. Make sure you soak them in water for about 10-15 minutes before you start using them. The air line is 1/4″ plastic tubing preferably in black as we don’t want light penetrating the lines because that will promote mold growth.
10. A Seedling – And finally you will need a seedling or a rooted cutting. You can also you an established plant although you don’t want one that is too big. You will need to remove the plant from the container and carefully remove the soil from the roots. Are you seeing why you want to start with something small?
Ok so now we have a list of everything that we will need to get started. So where do we begin? Lets get that first bucket set up.
- Start soaking your air stones in water. They need to soak for at least 10-15 minutes before you start running air through them.
- Drill a 1/4′ hole through the top of your bucket about 1″ from the top. You will need this hole to run your air line through to your air stone which will be at the bottom of the bucket.
- Once your air stones have soaked for 10-15 minutes or longer, grab one and hook up your 1/4″ black air line to it. Run that line through the hole in the top of the bucket to your air pump. If you bought a pump that has a carburetor in it, make sure all of the other ports are turned to the off except for the one that you are using. This will maximize your air going to the air stone and produce more bubbles. More bubbles equals more oxygen in the water which is definitely a good thing.
- Fill your bucket about 3/4 full of water or fill it to just below where the Net Lid bottom sits. Add your nutrients specific to whatever it is that you are growing. If it is a seedling or clone, go with about 1/4 strength. Generally that should be at about 200 ppm on your T.D.S. meter, but it’s ok to go a little less than that at first. Seedlings and clones barely need anything. Once they have been in there for a week or two you can start to increase the amount of nutrients that you are feeding it.
- Check your pH. Most plants are happy with their pH being somewhere between 5.5 to 7. But do your homework on your specific plants. You will want to check the pH after you have added nutrients because your pH can change after adding nutrients and you don’t want to do it twice.
- Grab your rooted clone or seedling. Be extra careful with this step. Take your clone and gently feed some of the roots through the net pot bottom and at the same time begin placing some hydroton around the clone. Be sure to hold the clone with one hand while using your other hand to put the hydroton into the net pot. You really want to be sure that you don’t disturb the plant too much. Assume that you are performing surgery here. You don’t want to hurt the plant at all. You want to fill the hydroton up enough to hold the clone in place firmly. If you haven’t already placed the lid on the bucket, now is the time. You should have some roots dangling from the bottom of the net lid into the water / nutrient solution.
- Plug in and turn on your air pump. You should see a nice healthy amount of bubbles. That’s it! Put it under a light or keep it in front of a window.
- Check your pH and water levels daily until you have an idea of just how much things change. Stay on top of it. Early on things won’t change very quickly, but once everything is established, you will be very surprised just how fast one plant can go through water and nutrients in a short amount of time. Overall, I have really enjoyed solid results with the D.W.C. or Deep Water Culture method. Yes it can be a little intimidating at first, but once you see how it works, you see that it’s really not so complicated. It really is a great starting point for anyone contemplating starting their own Hydroponic set up. I promise that you will be amazed at just how quickly your plants will grow. At times, you will literally see substantial growth each day.