Growing vegetables or flowers usually takes a lot of space in a yard if you plant them in the ground. If you don’t own your home or have a large yard, growing plants could be difficult. However, there are alternative ways to grow plants in smaller spaces such as building a DIY hydroponics system.
What is DIY Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a way to grow plants without soil. A hydroponics system consists of water and nutrients that the plants need to grow. When plants grow in the ground, the soil provides the minerals and vitamins they need to be healthy. But that can be recreated by adding nutrients to water when plants grow in a hydroponics system.
Types of Hydroponics Systems
There are several types of hydroponics systems that people can choose from for delivering nutrients to plants. These systems include:
- Deepwater Culture
- Nutrient Film Technique
- Ebb & Flow
- Drip System
The Deepwater Culture system, or DWC, is a reservoir system and is considered one of the easiest way to grow plants hydroponically. It involves suspending plant roots in a solution of water and nutrients. An aquarium air pump is used to provide oxygen to the nutrient solution to prevent the roots from drowning.
Light is not needed in a DWC system because it can cause algae to grow, which can choke the plants by absorbing all the oxygen. It is a good system to choose if you’re new to hydroponics because you don’t need to worry about water emitters becoming clogged if you want to use organic nutrients.
Nutrient Film Technique
In this hydroponics method, the roots of the plants are submerged in the solution, which continuously flows over them. The flow is aided by gravity as the system is slightly tilted. The roots of the plants absorb more oxygen from air, which helps them grow at a faster rate than in other systems.
In an aeroponics system, the roots of the plants are suspended in air, and the nutrient solution is misted onto them by either using a fine spray emitter to mist the roots or by using a pond fogger. Aeroponics systems are available commercially, so you don’t need to build your own to start growing plants with hydroponics.
If you’re on a budget, the wicking method for growing plants is one of the easiest and least expensive methods to use. Wicking involves using a material, such as cotton, to distribute nutrients to the plants’ roots by sticking one end of the cotton in a nutrient solution and allowing it to wick it to the plants.
Another technique is to use a medium to wick the roots by sticking the bottom of the medium into the nutrient solution. Most growers recommend using mediums like perlite or vermiculite, both of which are minerals, in a wicking system.
Ebb & Flow
The ebb and flow growing system, which is also known as flood and drain, is a good system for using hydroponics to grow plants. It involves flooding the plants’ roots with a nutrient solution at specific intervals and allowing it to drain. Growers set up a submersible pump with a timer to flood the growing area at set times, then allow it to drain between floodings.
The drip system is a simple way to use hydroponics to grow plants. It involves putting the plants in a medium, like coconut coir or peat moss, and dripping the nutrient solution onto the medium. As the mediums drain, they nutrients feed the roots of the plants. A downside to using this system is that the emitters easily clog so that it can require constant maintenance.
Building an Ebb & Flow System
Although there are several hydroponic methods for growing plants, the ebb, and flow system is the easiest and least expensive one, so it is good for beginners. As you learn how to grow plants hydroponically, you can try different methods if you desire to do so.
Materials for the System
For a DIY hydroponics system using the ebb and flow method, you don’t need expensive materials. You may already have some of what you need laying around the house or in your garage. The items you will need for your system are:
- Containers for growing the plants’ roots.
- A container or reservoir that will contain the nutrient solution.
- A submersible pump, such as a pond, fountain, or aquarium pump.
- A timer.
- Tubing for sending the nutrients from the reservoir to the growing area.
- An overflow tube to maintain the correct water level.
- Filters for the tubing.
- Growing medium.
- Plant nutrients.
This growing method can be put anywhere you have room, like a basement, the garage, or outside.
Assembling the Supplies
Before you buy or scavenger for the materials you need, decide how big of a system you want. The system’s size can help you decide where to put it because a larger system will have more water needs, so you may wish to put it where you have a convenient water source. Otherwise, you would be frequently toting water to the system.
Once you decide how big of a system to build and where to put it, gather the supplies and to start building it. When choosing the reservoir or containers for the plants, try not to use transparent plastic. The clear plastic will let light in, which can cause algae to grow in the nutrient solution. Instead, try to find opaque containers or, once assembled, wrap transparent containers in a dark plastic material.
Where to Put the System
Many growers use a two-part box with a deeper bottom container and a tray that fits into the top part, so the bottom of it will be suspended above the nutrient solution. You could use buckets and set them above a larger tub that contains the nutrient solution. If you don’t already have what you need, any home improvement center should sell these materials.
If you’re starting the plants from seeds, buy a seedling tray and medium to place in the holes of the tray. The seeds will be planted in the medium instead of soil for a hydroponics system.
Start it in the seedling tray and, then when they are bigger, you can transfer them to larger containers that will set in the fill tray. The ebb and flow method can be used to grow flowers or vegetables and other plants that like heat.
Building the System
The growing seedling must be transplanted to the fill tray and reservoir. The tubes with their filters can be inserted in the bottom of the fill tray by drilling holes for the inlet tube and the overflow tube. The inlet tube doesn’t need to be precise, but it should be drilled big enough to allow the tube to fit into the tray. Use a connector that will screw into the tray to watertight.
The solution is pumped up into the fill tray. Drill the hole, insert the tube with the filter attached and screw it with the connector. You need to cut some tubing to fit between the connector and pump.
Next, drill the overflow tube, which needs to be more precisely done. The diameter of the hole is smaller to fit. If you accidentally drill the hole too big, it is okay.
Test the System
When everything assembled, place the fill tray over the reservoir and test the system. Insert the pump into the reservoir and fill the reservoir with water. The nutrients need to flow until the plants go into the fill tray. Turn the pump on to make sure water goes into the fill tray and drains properly through the overflow tube.
If it works correctly, you are ready to add the medium or the potted plants if that is how you prefer using the ebb and flow system.
There are several advantages to growing plants in a DIY hydroponics system. It takes up less space than an in-ground garden, it uses less water, and you can grow organic vegetables at home for much less than they can buy. As you learn how to grow plants hydroponically, you can expand your system to grow other types of plants.