When we say gardening, it usually involves the word “soil,” which is a crucial component for different kinds of plants to grow. But an indoor hydroponic garden tells a different story.
Hydroponics allows you to do indoor gardening by not relying on soil but nutrient-infused water solutions. In 1627, a book named Sylva Sylvarum, which Francis Bacon wrote, mentioned growing terrestrial plants without soil use. But the first working nutrient solution was not invented until the 18th century, by Julius von Schaps and Wilhelm Knop. Hydroponic gardeners still use that same solution to this day.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a revolutionized gardening practice that doesn’t require the use of soil. The grower submerges the plants’ roots into a water solution containing all the necessary nutrients for them to grow. This method requires constant monitoring to ensure that the nutrient levels are balanced for the plants to survive. There are various types of hydroponic systems that can provide different nutrients your plant needs (water, oxygen, and more), but they all serve the same purpose.
The main focus of hydroponics is the roots. The different types of systems will deliver the needs of your plants using other nutrient circulations methods. By choosing the right hydroponic system, you can grow almost any plant all year long. If you’re a beginner who plans to have an indoor hydroponic garden, it’s best to do your homework first. Learn everything you can about the fundamentals of a hydroponic system. You can also seek professional help if you need to.
Benefits of an Indoor Hydroponic Garden
Hydroponics has many benefits. For starters, hydroponic systems use less water than the traditional growing method. That sounds strange, but here’s how it works.
Since the system does regular water circulations, it doesn’t waste much water. The nutrient-infused water solution is recycled over and over again. As a result, there is 98% less water consumption. In comparison, regular soil planting can result in constant water evaporation, resulting in more water waste.
Next, hydroponic systems are proven to have more yield than traditional soil-gardening techniques. There are several reasons for that.
Roots of plants that are in soil tend to expand to search for their much-needed nutrients. As a result, the plant invests more energy into searching than actual growth. This hunt for nutrients is not necessary with hydroponics. This method involves a water-based nutrient solution in direct contact with the roots. Therefore, you can put your plants much closer to each other and have more plants in a smaller space. The two mentioned benefits only mean one thing: you’ll get a bountiful harvest.
Soil-based planting is known to cause pest infestation and diseases for plants, urging gardeners and farmers to use pesticides and other chemicals to treat them. Chemical use can have harmful effects on the fruits and vegetables that we ingest every day. With hydroponics, it is avoidable. These systems usually are indoors, so there’s no need to use harmful chemicals. Because of this, you can harvest fresher, cleaner, and healthier food products.
Grow Anything, Anytime
This unique system also lets you grow and maintain your crops for a long time without worrying about climate changes. You can grow any fruit or vegetable locally without the need to wait for the perfect season.
A Few Drawbacks on Indoor Hydroponic Garden
If there are that many benefits, why isn’t this practice used more often by gardeners and farmers? The answer to that is because of the initial investment. To build an indoor hydroponic garden, you need to invest money. Investment is especially necessary if you’re building it on a larger scale. Also, it takes time to build extensive hydroponic gardens, so your patience is required.
Another reason is that hydroponic experts are hard to come by, so getting professional help to get started can be challenging. Additionally, hydroponic gardening requires constant monitoring, unlike traditional soil gardening, starting with water pH levels. Meaning, this type of gardening is not ideal for people who have a hectic schedule.
Types Of Indoor Hydroponic Garden Systems
Deciding on which system to use for your indoor hydroponic garden can be a challenge. You have to consider factors like the amount of space you have and the kind of plants you’re going to grow. Below are the six types of hydroponic systems from which to choose.
1. Wick System
The wick system is the only hydroponic system that doesn’t require any electricity, so naturally, it won’t need any aerators or pumps either. Unlike most hydroponic systems where there is nutrient circulation, this one is passive and stationary. Plants sit directly in absorbent substances like vermiculite, coco coir, or perlite, and then nylon wicks are put in place to be in direct contact with the nutrient solution below.
Since this is the more straightforward method of doing hydroponics, most people who plan to have an indoor hydroponic garden think this is the best choice. But there is a downside to using this wick method. It doesn’t allow plants to get the sufficient amount of nutrients needed. Doing this with large plants is not a good idea. The wick system is better for herbs or small house plants.
2. Deep Water Culture (DWC)
Unlike the wick system, which uses another absorbent material to distribute nutrients to plants, the water culture system submerges the roots directly into the nutrient solution. Using this method will give the plants the concentration of nutrients they need, resulting in a great harvest. Aside from that, diffusers or air stones provide oxygen to the roots, allowing them to proliferate.
The great thing about it is, you can grow any plant using this method, even the large, fruit-bearing ones. But you’ve got to remember that securing the plants in place is a vital aspect of this method.
3. Ebb and Flow (Flood And Drain System)
Ebb and flow is the method most popular with home gardeners. The flood and drain system allows the plants to be placed in large growth beds, filled with a porous growth medium like perlite or Rockwool. You’ll fill the spacious grow beds with a nutrient solution, just enough that it doesn’t overflow.
There is an automatic draining system that includes a water pump on a timer. It automatically sets off after a certain amount of time. After that, a drain will let the nutrients back into the water pump below, then repeat. But unlike the deep water culture system, the ebb and flow method is not ideal for larger plants. You need to keep a significant amount of space between the plants for this method to work.
4. Drip System
If you’re a gardener who loves to make constant changes in what you want to grow, the drip system is perfect for you. This system allows a pump to distribute nutrients directly to the base of the plant evenly. This method is more customizable than the others. In fact, you can adjust the amount of solution placed in each plant by using a drip emitter.
Moreover, there is an option for the system if you want them to be circular or non-circular. The circular method allows the nutrients to drip, continuously bringing the excess solution to the reservoir below. The non-circular system is a static method, where the dripping amount is slower and consistent.
5. Nutrient Film Technique
The NFT system uses a sloped channel where the nutrient solution is pumped slowly from the large reservoir. The solution’s flow here is consistent, allowing the plants to absorb what they need for growth. The excess solution then travels back towards the reservoir. NFT is also expandable because it will enable you to add more sloped channels to the system.
You do not need to use any grow medium for NFT, but you should use net pots and grow small rooted plants for this kind of method.
6. Aeroponic System
Lastly, the aeroponic system is the hardest and more expensive one to build out of all the other systems. This method requires you to set your plants suspended in the air, unlike most hydroponic systems. The mist nozzles connected directly to a water pump, spray the roots with the nutrient-enriched solution using a timer.
This method is very effective in growing both small and large plants. But keep in mind that you will need a large and deep reservoir for this system to work. Additionally, the freely suspended roots get the right amount of oxygen to grow quickly.
Necessary Materials To Build an Indoor Hydroponic Garden
For this type of gardening, more of the work is in the time you spend learning the basics than the building process itself. And now that you know the different types of hydroponic systems, you need to know what you need to start building your indoor hydroponic garden.
Space is the most critical part. You need the right amount of space to build a working hydroponic system. Your space availability will determine which method will work best for you.
For example, if you only have a small space inside your home, you should consider using the ebb and flow method. If you have a much larger area (like a greenhouse), you can use a system like the nutrient film technique or the aeroponic system.
Clean Water and pH
Plants prefer water with a 5.8 to 6.5 pH level. If you can’t provide this type of water, you can adjust the level by using a water solution. You can monitor the pH levels by getting a pH testing kit or pH level meters. You must check the pH level at least once a week. Remember that this step is crucial to maintain. Without the proper pH level, the plants won’t absorb the proper nutrients. As a result, the plants will show signs of deficiency or die.
Indoor Hydroponic Garden Nutrients
Nutrients are the critical materials in every hydroponic system. Without them, your plants will not grow. The nutrients necessary for plant growth would include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and more. The right mixture of water and nutrient solutions will be appropriate for your plant’s growth. You can make solutions at home, in which you can customize the right amount of nutrients for your plants’ needs. But it’s a lot easier to buy ready-made mixtures that are available in stores.
Airstone, Air Pump, and Air Tubing for Indoor Hydroponic Garden
Airstone is the one that distributes bubbles of air inside the reservoir. One of the essential types of “food” for a plant is enough oxygen, and using an air stone can give the same benefit. Plants in a hydroponic garden live submerged in water. Therefore, if they don’t get enough oxygen, they will drown and die. An air pump is a tool that will help the air stone to produce constant air. And finally, air tubing is the piece that connects the air stone and air pump to one another.
Net Pots and Grow Mediums
These items will act as the primary root support. There are various types of growing mediums that can work well with the different types of hydroponic systems. Here’s a breakdown of each of them.
The word “coco” is derived from “coconut” because that’s what it is. Coco coir is from the outer husk of coconuts, which are ground up and sold in either blocks or slabs. Over the years, coco coir has been the favorite of many hydroponic farmers. One reason is that it is highly absorbent with water retaining abilities. Another reason is that coco coir has natural antifungal properties. And lastly, there’s no need for regular replacement of the medium. These are reusable as long as there is plant disease control in place.
Expanded Clay Pellets
Clay Pellets are porous grow rocks that are popular with a lot of hydroponic gardeners. They are made by heating clay to over 2,000 degrees celsius, resulting in tiny air pockets. These air pockets can retain a fair amount of oxygen and moisture. But despite this feature, they are quickly drained and dried out. As a result, they are in constant need of water irrigation. It makes them the perfect growing medium for deep water culture and flood-and-drain hydroponic systems.
These are also known as volcanic rocks, mined from lava flows. They are lightweight, absorbent, and provide excellent aeration, making them perfect for the wick system. Meanwhile, don’t use them for flood and drain systems because they float in water. But like clay pellets, they tend to dry out fast between circulations, so they are excellent at oxygen retention.
Rockwool is a molten rock made from volcanic rock, coke, and limestone, then spun to make them appear like cotton candy. Despite being made from rocks, they are long and thin fibers, and you can purchase them as blocks, slabs, or plugs. Rockwool is a popular growth medium with many downsides, unfortunately. First, it is non-biodegradable, so it lasts forever. You need to plan for proper disposal if you’re going to use them. Second, the rock fibers are harmful and irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs. It’s best to equip yourself with protective gear like goggles and gloves before handling them.
Sand is a cost-effective option. This medium is cheap or even free of charge if you live somewhere with an abundance of it outside. Sand is one of the oldest forms of hydroponic growing media but not the most effective if you use the wrong kind of sand. Small-particle sands almost have no water retention capabilities, but the large-particle kinds are pretty effective. Many gardeners mix sand with perlite, coco coir, or vermiculite to achieve a more customized and effective grow media.
Gravel is another inexpensive option, especially for beginners with a limited budget. Since gravel is popular in aquariums, it is easily obtainable in many aquarium stores and pet shops. But cheaper, in this case, means limited benefits. Gravel has zero water retention capabilities and is heavy in large quantities. Thus it is not a popular medium among gardeners and farmers.
Vermiculite is the same as perlite but with a softer, sponge-like texture. It can retain more water and improve root aeration, making it perfect for the wick hydroponic system. The only downside is that vermiculite is hard to come by.
Also known as phenolic foam, which has impressive water retention capabilities. But since it is synthetic foam, it is easily crumbled if there’s constant water contact or submersion. It’s best to avoid these practices because they can leave particles and pieces in your nutrient solution.
Floral foam is reusable, but be sure to check its life span. Additionally, they will work best with the wick system since they don’t do well when left in submerged water for a long time.
Oasis cubes are used as a starter grow medium for seedlings. These phenolic foam cubes hold seeds in place. Oasis cubes have adequately sized capillaries that provide both moisture and oxidation to sprouting plants or plant cuttings. Moreover, they are pH neutral, meaning they don’t mess with your water’s pH levels in any way.
One disadvantage of oasis cubes is that they are expensive with limited use. They are designed to aid with the early stages of plants, but not the rest.
You don’t have to worry about grow-mediums affecting your water’s pH levels because most of them won’t. However, Rockwool is an exception. You may need to soak Rockwool in a pH-balanced solution before using them in your system.
Meanwhile, for keeping plants secure over your hydroponic system, net pots are most recommended. They allow roots to be free and expand, especially for deep water culture and flood and drain systems.
Material to Use as a Reservoir
The material used can vary depending on the amount of space you have and the type of system you use. For home gardeners, you can use small to large plastic storage bins or totes. It is easy to customize due to its material and a lot cheaper as well. However, if you plan to build a more extensive hydroponic garden, you will need a much larger one to suit your needs. Additionally, you can also consider getting aquariums or bathtubs to accommodate more plants.
Building an indoor hydroponic garden in a greenhouse can easily give plants much-needed sunlight. But if it’s inside the house, you should consider getting lighting for your plants. Each plant requires a different amount of lighting to survive, so it’s best to research them first.
A Hydroponic Garden Is a Worthwhile Investment
As you can see, building an indoor hydroponic garden can be beneficial to any plant grower. But keep in mind that it requires a lot of money, effort, time, and patience. It’s best to equip yourself with the proper knowledge and tools to succeed in the field of hydroponic gardening.
FAQ for Indoor Hydroponic Garden
There is a lot to think about before building a hydroponic garden. You must:
- Consider your available space
- Provide clean water that is pH balanced (5.8 to 6.5 pH levels)
- Make your nutrient solutions, or buy them at the store
- Purchase an air stone, air pump, and air tubing
- Decide on mediums and nets pots
- Obtain materials to use as a reservoir like a plastic tote or bathtubs
First, it takes a significant investment to start up. Second, getting input from a professional in this field can be rare. And third, the process includes constant monitoring, so this is not ideal for busy people.
There are many benefits; You can save more water (due to the system’s water circulation and recycling methods), get more bountiful harvests, you can grow anything any time of the year, and get chemical-free food products.
Growing plants need soil to absorb nutrients, but hydroponics acts as a soil-less alternative. Using various hydroponic systems allows them to distribute “plant food” using nutrient-infused water solutions. The six types of hydroponic systems are: wick systems, deep water culture (DWC), ebb and flow (flood and flow), drip systems, the nutrient film technique, and aeroponic systems.