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Different Types of Hydroponic Systems

by The Big Tomato

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Emily's Garden Wick System
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There are several different types of methods that a gardener can employ in hydroponic gardening. This article helps explain the different types of hydroponic systems and the potential challenges and benefits of each type.

Wick System:

The wick hydroponic system is hydroponic gardening at one of the most basic levels. The way it works is the plants sit in their own container, separate from the reservoir that holds your nutrient-rich, plant mineral solution. Each plant will have an absorbent wick material, typically a nylon rope is used, and the wick will run from each plant container, to the nutrient solution. The wick pulls up the nutrient solution from the reservoir into the growing medium (soil replacement), within the wick system. The plants roots will grow throughout your growing medium, nourishing itself from the nutrients and water pulled up through the wick. The wick system requires little attention in comparison to other hydroponic systems, but the returns for your garden will be the least impressive of all the systems.

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Ebb & Flow System:

The Ebb & Flow technique, also known as the “Flood and Drain” or “E & F”, is the typical hydroponic system that most beginners start out with. It is commonly referred to as the most simplistic and reliable hydroponic grow system available. The initial investment to get started is very low in comparison to other hydroponic gardening techniques. The Ebb & Flow hydroponic system works by setting up grow pots with inert media such as Rockwool, perlite, or clay pebbles as examples. The inert growing media acts the same as soil would in traditional gardening. This allows you to utilize your own nutrient-rich solution and maintain complete control over the health of your plants. The medium in the pots acts as an anchor for the roots. The ebb & flow system, at regular intervals controlled by a simple timer, provide a temporary reservoir of water and mineral-rich nutrients that flood into the system (“Flow”) and immerse the plants roots with nutrient-rich water in an upper tray, all the while circulating the water past the roots until the pump turns off and the feeding time is over. The water is then allowed to “ebb” or regress back out to a lower reservoir. By having the water and nutrients flow in to the system, and then ebb back out, you are essentially ensuring that your plants get flushed regularly with both nutrients, water and air which are essential to proper plant growth. The feeding schedule or “ebb & flow” schedule is going to vary greatly depending on what type of growing medium you are using, as each type of growing medium retains different levels of moisture.

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Top Feed/Drip:

Drip systems are the most commonly used commercial hydroponic system in the world. They also provide simple operation and reliable growth results, similar to the ebb & flow system above.

The top feed drip system is very similar to the ebb & flow system. The main difference is that instead of flooding in from the bottom, the submersed pump channels a nutrient-rich water solution up through a manifold that then drips the nutrient solution down on top of the plants through ¼ inch drip tubing.

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NFT (Nutrient Film Technique):

The Nutrient Film Technique, also referred to as “NFT”, works as an active recovery type of system. This system also uses submersible pumps and recycled nutrient solutions the same way that the top feed drip and ebb & flow systems work. The NFT also employs a reservoir that contains the water and nutrients. This solution is then pumped into a grow-tube where the roots are residing in a suspended state. The grow-tubes are set up at a slight downward angle to allow the nutrient-rich solution to flow slowly over the roots and back down into the reservoir.  The decline used will typically range between 1 to 3 inches from top to bottom. The idea behind this concept is to create a nice nutrient-rich film across the plants roots.

Because it is not uncommon to have the water and nutrients flowing across the plant roots up to 24 hours per day, either air stones or capillary matting should be used within the grow-tube to make sure that Oxygen is being fed to the plants as well. In an NFT system no growing medium is used, so the plants are instead held up in a grow basket or support collar.

The NFT is typically not advised for the beginner grower. It has been labeled as hard to fine tune and the risks this technique carry if there are any interruptions to the nutrient flow can essentially kill the plants if the roots dry out for too long.

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Aeroponics:

Aeroponics is a growing method by which the roots have a consistent saturation environment where  a fine mist spray lightly coats the roots with your preferred nutrient liquid solution. By utilizing this aeroponic method of growing, the grower is required to suspend the plants roots in some sort of growth chamber which provides the darkness roots require in a semi-closed or closed environment where they will be periodically sprayed with a light mist of nutrient-fortified solution.

The aeroponic technique has been proven time and time again to be successful at a commercial level for seed germination, propagation, micro-greens, tomato production, seed potato production and leaf crops. One of the advantages of aeroponics is that you no longer have to use a water intensive hydroponic system. Whether you use aerators or not, every 1 kg of water you use in a traditional hydroponic system can only hold 8 mg of air for oxygen intake. In an aeroponic system, because the plants are suspended in air, the plants will receive 100% of the available carbon dioxide and oxygen to its stems and leaves and roots zone which results in accelerated growth rates and reduced rooting times.

According to NASA research, aeroponic systems can cut the amount of water used in a traditional garden by up to 98 percent; it can cut the use of fertilizers by up to 60 percent, and also completely remove the need for pesticides. It does all this while at the same time producing maximum yields  which have been found to be typically healthier and potentially more nutritious as a result of the huge increase in essential minerals to the plants. (Click for Details of NASA’s Research)

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DWC (Deep Water Culture):

Deep Water Culture, a.k.a DWC, is a hydroponic gardening technique that is typically used by gardeners who are growing a minimal number of plants and are on a small budget. The disadvantages of this method are that it requires a lot of maintenance and it is complicated to manage.  DWC operates by suspending your plant roots in a heavily oxygenated, nutrient rich solution.  A high level of oxygen through sufficient use of air stones allows for the plant roots to remain submerged indefinitely.

When the plants are ready to flower, the grower will slowly reduce the level of the nutrient-rich solution to offer greater oxygen intake levels for the roots. The reason for this is that plant roots can intake a much greater level of oxygen through the air then they can from oxygen dissolved in water. By maximizing and balancing the nutrient intake and the oxygen intake, the growers typically experience rapid growth through the entire life of the plant. 

Tags

hydroponics, systems, hydroponic, ebb & flow, wick, top feed drip, aeroponics, nft, nutrient film technique, types of systems

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