Traditional farming with soil and all is good fun, but why not take it to the next level by using a hydroponic system? Instead of soil, you place your plants on top of a pool of nutrient-rich water, where you can easily control everything from the acidity to the specific nutrients your plant is growing in. This system also lowers the risk of infection and when done right, can make plants grow faster with better yield.
The best part is that it’s also incredibly easy to set up, perhaps even more so than potted plants or traditional gardens.
1. What You Need to Start Your Own Hydroponic System
Now, there are several kinds of hydroponic systems, including the wick method, water culture method, drip method, and aeroponic method. The easiest to set up by far would be a bubbler system, which is what we are going to focus on today.
For a bubbler system, you first need a bucket with a lid. You can find this lying around in just about any hardware store, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem. Ideally, you should get a 5-gallon bucket, but anything more is fine especially if you intend to have more than one plant in each system.
Next, you’ll need a net cup. Net cups are basically little net baskets made of plastic or styrofoam. While there are many available, it is not necessary to get the more expensive heavy-duty ones. In fact, you can make your own by drilling small holes in any plastic cup. These holes are where the roots of the plant will emerge from.
Apart from placing your plant in the net cup, you will also need a growth medium. Again, it’s not hard to find at all, and you can use anything from gravel to clay pellets or even rocks. If you have enough budget, consider using Rockwool or oasis cubes. These mediums are slightly more expensive, but typically have more nutrients and allow for more permeability.
On top of these, you’ll need an air stone, air line and small air pump. Additional tubing isn’t necessary at the start though it can be helpful to modify the setup as your plant grows. If you do choose to get it, opt for PVC or vinyl materials.
2. How To Start Your Own Hydroponic System
Now it’s time to assemble and get started! First, measure out the circumference of your net cup and drill a hole for it in your bucket lid. This is where your plant will stick out and receive light, so make sure the size is just right. On the bucket lid, you’ll also need to drill a hole just wide enough for your air line, just about a quarter-inch wide. Make sure it’s not too big, as this could introduce unwelcome pests to breed and potentially infect your new plant.
Once you’re satisfied with the hole, run your air line through the lid till it reaches the base of the bucket. Then, attach the air stone to the air line. Ideally, the air stone should sit perfectly flat on the base with additional air line to spare.
Now you can proceed to fill the bucket with the nutrient solution, just until the level of solution rests slightly above the bottom of the net cup. Be careful here as too much water will drown a young seedling. Before putting the lid over, attach your air pump to the other end of the air line and turn it on. Observe the water — if you see bubbles emerging, give yourself a pat on the back as you’ve set the airflow right.
Now close the lid and place your plant into its new home, the net cup. Let the roots hang outside the cup and then cover the plant with your growth medium. And voila, your own hydroponic growth system is complete.
3. Things To Look Out For In Your Own Hydroponic System
Just like how you would take care of your plants in regular soil, you have to constantly look out for your plants in a hydroponic system, too. Here are some tips to make sure that you reap the immense benefits of this method of growing.
To start off, keep a lookout for the water level in your bucket. As the plant absorbs water and natural evaporation processes happen, it’s natural that the level of the liquid nutrient solution will fall over time. This can pose problems like having unbalanced pH levels which is detrimental to plant growth. To help you with this, consider getting tools like a fluid level indicator or even liquid silicon to ensure that pH levels are stable. Ideally, the pH level should rest somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 for optimal levels of nutrition.
Next, the temperature of the nutrient-rich solution is also important. If it’s too warm, you risk a low oxygen level and lower nutrient uptake. This can lead to the influx of things like algae and the Pythium disease that will invade your hydroponic set up. Keeping the solution under 68 degrees Fahrenheit can be hard in the summer months, so use a chiller to prevent an unwanted rise in temperature and the resulting diseases that might come with it.
Lastly, unlike traditional gardening methods, you can’t dump fertilizer into your hydroponic system. In fact, you should avoid any organic ingredients as much as possible, so that strikes out things like seaweed, manure and molasses. The reason why is simple — these organic materials are biologically still active, so they will react to the additional oxygen in your hydroponic tank. They can become sticky, ferment, foam, and lower oxygen levels, creating a huge mess for you to clean up. As such, always go for clean mineral solutions and plant food which don’t react to oxygen. You can even find those that cater specially to bubbler systems, such as VitaLink Hydro MAX Nutrients.
To conclude, hydroponic bubbler systems are one of the most popular systems taking hold of America’s households and it’s quite easy to see why. The simple set up paired with the greatly improved gardening results make it attractive to gardeners of all levels. Maintenance is also fairly easy, making it a favourite for busy gardening enthusiasts everywhere.