Hydroponics is mess free gardening where nutrients, medium, and water is used for growing plants. There are different types of hydroponic systems available in the market to suit different levels of gardening. A beginner can go for basic hydroponic system whereas an advanced hydroponic gardener may prefer expensive and sophisticated system. If you are a beginner who is interested in starting a hydroponic garden at your home, then it is advisable for you to go for a basic hydroponic system. There are various hydronic designs available, but you can design one based on your gardening needs and budget. One can easily set up a basic hydroponic system in less than £75. The basic system can work well for everyone who is interested in starting a small garden indoors. The system is free from tubes, pumps and has almost zero maintenance. One can comfortably accommodate eight to ten plants in a small space.
Supplies required to set up a basic hydroponic system
• 50 litres storage bin
• 2-inch mesh pots, 8-10 no’s
• Rockwool cubes/ coconut fibre/ expanded clay pellets or sand 8-10 numbers
• LED lights or bulbs for lighting
• Nutrients to mix with the water
Prepare the storage bin to accommodate the saplings. In the lid of the storage bin drill, eight equally placed holes to place the pots. Once the holes are drilled, remove the plastic shavings and thoroughly clean the storage bin. Replace the lid and place the pot to check whether they fit perfectly.
Place all the pots in the holes drilled in the lid and place the top on the storage bin. Fill the container with the water to a level to a point where at least ½ to a 1 inch of pot is immersed. Once the water level is achieved, remove the lid with pots and add fertilizer or hydroponic nutrients to the water as per the instructions on the nutrient package. Now replace the cover with pots.
Place the medium which can be either Rockwool cubes or coconut fiber or expanded clay pellets or sand in each pot. If the medium is in cube form, place one each in the pot or if it is in granule form then fill to the brim of the pot.
The growing lights are crucial for hydroponic gardening. However, if you are growing plants outdoors and there is adequate natural light, the growing lights are not required. It is advisable to research into the type and intensity of light necessary for your gardening requirements. Fix the lights in the area where you want to place the storage bin. The lights should be at least 2 to 4 inches above the top leaves of the sapling. The lights should not be set too close to the leaves as the heat may dry out the leaves and plant. If the lights are placed too far from the plant, then the warmth cannot be received, and the plant will not grow.
The growth of the plant can be noticed in about a week, and the roots of the plant can be seen extending towards the nutrient solution. The colour of the roots should be white and not brown. White roots indicate healthy roots whereas brown roots indicate rotten roots which means the roots are deprived of the right amount of oxygen. If the roots are rotten, the plants need to be replaced with the new ones as the condition cannot be cured. However, stirring up the nutrient solution occasionally can ensure adequate oxygen supply which prevents the roots from rotting.
The fluid level depletes as the roots grow longer and longer. The roots continue to absorb the fluid as they grow longer. Plants grow big leaves in about 30 days where only 1/10 of liquid remains in the storage box.
If you are growing the plant for leaves then at this stage the plant is ready for harvest. However, if you are growing plant for flowers or fruit or vegetable purposes then carefully remove the lid and fill the storage container up to 1/3 with water and then add the required nutrient depending on the plant. Make sure that you remove the lid gently as forcible removal will break the tangled roots and cause damage to the plants. Once the water and nutrients are added, replace the lid and place the container back under the growing lights.
The nutrients and water need to be refilled whenever it reaches 10% till the crop is harvested. Remember the more the plants grow the more nutrients and water is required. So it is crucial to monitor the liquid nutrient level in the container frequently to prevent the roots and plant from drying. Once the crop is harvested, then it is recommended to empty the pots and thoroughly clean the container before reusing it for the new crop.
The above set up is simple and easy and proves to be best for beginners who want to grow plants in a small area using hydroponics. However, there are other designs and advanced hydroponic systems that use pumps and tubes for growing plants. Irrespective of the type of system, the steps involved in hydroponic gardening remains the same for all.
The following are the general steps involved in hydroponic gardening.
- Assembling hydroponic system
- Adding the hydroponic nutrients to the water
- Planting the saplings in the tubes or inert medium
- Supporting the plants by tying them to the supports
- Check the growth and colour of the roots.
- Add water and nutrients if the level of the solution is depleted.
- Monitoring the growth regularly.
Growing plants using hydroponics technique cannot ensure healthy growth of plants and do get infected with diseases and pests. The plants can be infected with diseases or attacked by pests even when the soil is not used for growing. Checking plants regularly for pests’ diseases can protect the plants and helps to prevent the disease from spreading.