Hydroponics is a relatively new way to grow plants. It is distinctly different from conventional methods because the systems don’t use soil to grow the plants, instead they are rooted into a substrate like leca, perlite, or pumice. This means that the plants cannot draw nutrients from their growing medium and instead need to be supplemented with nutrients that are added to the water.
Hydroponics systems can be set up outdoors where the climate permits, meaning that plants can be grown in polytunnels using natural light. This is commonly adopted by commercial growers, though it does limit plant production to the natural growing season. These days, hydroponics systems are affordable enough to be installed in the home and other indoor spaces and where this is the case supplemental lighting must be used.
All plants need a few key things in order to grow and become productive. Light from the sun, water from precipitation or irrigation, nutrients from the soil or from fertilisers, and a certain level of warmth. When you grow plants in a hydroponics system you will need to provide all of these things for your plants, and this is all taken care of when you have gotten the right setup.
There are several different types of hydroponics systems available but the one most popular among beginners for its affordability and effectiveness is the deep water culture (DWC) system. These simple systems are configured in such a way that the plants’ roots are always submerged in water rather than using a more complex delivery system. They are generally cheaper to buy than other kinds of systems and are easy to run and maintain.
Once you have done your research and have decided that you want to give DWC hydroponics a go, you will need to start planning how you will build your system. Your DWC system can be as expensive or as affordable as you like depending on the budget you have available for your project. First things first, you need to decide how much space you are going to dedicate to your system.
If you have a decent attic space or a spare room then this can give you a good amount of space to play with. You can go smaller with your system if you need to, with some being small enough to fit in the cupboard under the stairs, inside a wardrobe, or on your kitchen counter. You need to measure the space so you know which of the best LED grow lights will fit, and how large of a water tank you can fit into the space.
Once you know where your DWC will go, look for a large plastic tub that is big enough to house the plants you’re growing at their mature size. Choose a large tub, or opt for smaller, individual buckets or pots. Whichever container you choose, you need to be aware of one important aspect of using a DWC system. As previously mentioned, the roots are permanently submerged in this kind of system and anyone familiar with plants may be wondering how they survive.
If a plant is allowed to become waterlogged, the roots will be starved of the oxygen that is usually held in the pore spaces within a substrate. This can lead to severe issues with rot which can kill the entire plant. In a DWC system, plants need to be protected from rotting roots by installing an aeration pump within the water tank. The pump needs to be in operation for most of the day, though many choose to keep them running all the time.
As your plants will be growing indoors, you need to make sure your grow lights are powerful enough to give your plants the energy they need for growth. You can find information on the energy each type of bulb will provide on the packaging, and may need to research the needs of the plants you want to grow so you can avoid burning them with too much light or not giving them enough. Nutrients are also needed, and you can buy these premixed to suit your plants’ needs or you can have a go at mixing your own.