5 Hydroponic Grow Systems to Cultivate Plants without Soil

The Latin word ‘hydroponic’ means working water. Today, the term is used for one of the most popular forms of contemporary gardening methods.

Hydroponic systems are convenient modern plantation techniques that allow gardeners to grow plants without soil. There are multiple benefits of opting for hydroponic gardening over other forms of plantation processes:

  • Grow a vast range of plants indoors
  • Protect the crops from freezing in winters
  • Enjoy high yield throughout the year
  • Reduce agricultural water consumption up to 90%
  • Requires less space than traditional farming
  • 2x times faster growth rate compared to soiled cultivation

Do you need more reasons to switch to hydroponic gardening techniques?

Furthermore, there are different forms of hydroponic gardening methods.

Sounds good. Isn’t it. Use a grow system that suits your gardening needs, budget, and other aspects.

To ease your decision-making, we have herein provided an in-depth guide on 5 types of hydroponic gardening systems.

5 Hydroponic Systems for Soilless Indoor Gardening

01. Wick System

Wick systems are an excellent gardening option for small spaces. You can set up this form of a hydroponic garden anywhere.

Compared to other forms of gardening, a wick is easy to set up for beginners. After completing the installation, the plants require minimal care to grow well.

The advanced system allows a moderate water supply throughout the day. So your plants will receive water supply continuously throughout the day. There is no risk of dryness or lack of nutrition supply.

This hydroponic method does not run on electricity. So you can save on expensive wiring installations. No need to spend money on monthly energy bills.

One of the major drawbacks of growing plants in wick systems is the shortage of water supply. Wicks can provide moisture in small quantities only. This cultivation method is not suitable for plants that require plenty of water supply to thrive well.

The wicks must get sufficient moisture to provide dampness to the plants. Prolonged exposure to water promotes fungal and algae growth. Your plants may be at a higher risk of rotting or developing fungus.

Hence, gardeners must perform a periodical cleaning regime to keep these problems at bay.

Essential Requirements

  • Grow tray
  • Grow media
  • Air pump
  • Air stone
  • Reservoir
  • Wicks
  • Grow lights (optional)

Best For
Herbs, Peppers, and Microgreens

Pros

  • simple and hassle-free
  • continuous water supply
  • space-saving plantation
  • cost-effective

Cons

  • minimal water supply for the plants
  • vulnerability to fungus and rotting

02. Deep Water Culture (DWC) System

Setting up a water culture system is a simple task. You don’t need expensive equipment to install such a hydroponic garden.

It is the best indoor gardening method for novice growers. Once the installation process is accomplished successfully, the gardeners do not need to dedicate much time or effort to the process.

Take care to change the old water nutrient mix with a fresh supply every 2-3 weeks. The air pump system must operate properly to regulate the oxygen supply.

Water culture hydroponics is easy to set up with little arrangements. You can do it with simple things at home. The only investment required is the air pump installation for regular water supply.

Deep water culture gardening is not suitable for growing flowering or long-living plants such as tomatoes. To succeed with this form of hydroponics, you may choose lettuce, herbs, microgreens, etc.

The water-nutrient solution remains static at the base of the container. So the roots will receive water at room temperature.

Hence, you must choose crops based on the temperature requirement. It is wise to grow something matching your local climate for optimum growth.

Essential Requirements

  • Reservoir
  • Styrofoam sheet
  • Grow media
  • Air pump connected to air stone
  • Grow lights (optional)

Best For
Lettuce and Herbs

Pros

  • simple low-cost setup
  • requires minimal care and maintenance
  • affordable DIY installation

Cons

  • not suitable for long-term harvests
  • no temperature adjustment facilities

03. Ebb and Flow (Flood & Drain) System

Some plants like tomatoes grow too big with passing time. The ebb and flow system with an extended grow bed offers the perfect growth environment for such plants.

You can grow various types of plants like fruits, veggies, flowers, and many others in these hydroponic systems.

There are endless possibilities to construct the grow bed design for the ebb and flow system garden. You need the equipment based on the size and design of your hydroponic garden.  

The submersible water pump and the electronic timer are two essential pieces of equipment used in the ebb and flow hydroponic technique. This is expensive compared to wick or water culture systems.

There are several aspects to focus on if you have installed a flood and drain system for your plants.

Make sure the pump is functional 24×7. If the pump does not operate properly, it can affect plant growth and life.

Frequent drainage and storing can alter the pH balance of the water in the grow bed. You may need water pH treatment depending on the type of crops.

Essential Requirements

  • Reservoir
  • Timer
  • Water pump
  • Grow media
  • Liquid return pipe (PVC)
  • Grow lights (optional)

Best For
Strawberries, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Beans, Peas, and Peppers

Pros

  • excellent choice for large plants
  • suitable for growing wide-ranging crops
  • customizable DIY set up

Cons

  • operates on expensive equipment
  • requires care and maintenance

04. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) System

NFT systems are best suited for commercial farming. As a beginner, you can start with a small channel. Later, you can expand the system by adding multiple channels to grow more plants.

You may set up multiple channels and connect them to separate pumps. This allows you to mass-produce and grow various species at the same time.

NFT systems are connected to pumps for the automated circulation of nutrient-based water solutions. The constant water flow promotes healthy plant growth that too at minimal nutrient and water absorption. The process also eliminates the risk of salt accumulation near the roots.

The roots of the plants in NFT hydroponics are submerged directly into the grow bed. Here they receive a supply of a thin film of water and plant food. It saves a few bucks that you may need to spend for grow media in other hydroponic cultivation methods.

The constant flow of water at a controlled speed is necessary for plant life and growth in NFT systems. Even a minute mechanical cliché can be fatal for the plants.

Unlike other hydroponic systems, the roots are submerged in the grow bed directly. Since the grow bed receives thin film of circulating water constantly, there are no issues of rotting.

However, if the roots grow too big, they may get intertwined with the root hairs of other plants. In the due course, this can cause blockage in the channels and prevent water flow.

Essential Requirements

  • Slightly sloping grow bed (channels)
  • Reservoir
  • Grow media (slow draining)
  • Liquid return channel (PVC)
  • Air stone
  • Air pump
  • Nutrition pump
  • Grow lights (optional)

Best For
Kale, Mustard Greens, Spinach, Lettuce, Strawberries

Pros

  • low water and nutrient consumption
  • no growing media required
  • easy to expand/ customize
  • ideal option for mixed cultivation

Cons

  • dependent on pump performance
  • water clogging

05. Drip System

The foremost reason to opt for drip systems is the facility of cultivating a variety of crops together. Drip systems are available in various sizes to support almost any type of plant. So if you are planning to grow big plants with large fruits and veggies, this is a considerable option.

You can easily accommodate oversized grow media in drip systems as required for big roots.

Some plants thrive well in media with high water holding capacity (WHC). Drip systems are ideal for grow media with slow draining capacity such as peat moss, rock wool, coco choir, etc.

Drip systems are easy to expand once you get some hands-on experience. If you are planning to add more plants to your hydroponic garden later, just connect a new tubing to your reservoir. This is the best fit for large-scale commercial farming as well.

For non-recovery drip systems, growers need to take intense care to maintain periodical nutrients and water supply.

Additionally, some other vital care measures including pH level monitoring, water treatment, and replacement are necessary for healthy plant growth.

Much like the NFT systems, drip hydroponic systems may also get clogged due to the accumulation of plant parts, debris, etc.

From equipment set up to plant care, the processes are quite complicated. So novice home growers may have problems with this type of gardening system.

Essential Requirements

  • Reservoir
  • Air pump
  • Nutrition pump
  • PVC drip lines
  • Grow tray
  • Drip manifold
  • Grow lights (optional)

Best For
Watermelons, Zucchinis, Onions, Pumpkin

Pros

  • suitable cultivation method for large plants
  • ideal for plants with large roots
  • supports heavyweight plants
  • works great with slow draining media
  • expansive and customizable

Cons

  • requires regular care and maintenance
  • prone to blockages
  • complex mechanism

Final Words

No matter the availability of resources, tools, space, or budget, you can set up a hydroponic garden of any size. Today hydroponic systems are largely used for commercial farming to protect the plants from freezing and year-round harvesting.

Plants in the hydroponic system require 6-12 hours of sunlight depending on the size and type. If this is not possible, you can do it with grow lights too.

I hope this article has given you a basic idea about various forms of hydroponic cultivation methods. Beginners can start with a small wick or deep culture set up for herbs. You can do it with a few things easily available at a local store.

Now that you have read all about these wonderful indoor gardening methods, it’s time to get started.

Happy Gardening!

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