What is a Hydroponic Gardening and How to Make a Hydroponic Garden at Home?

Ebb and drain hydroponic garden

What is hypdrophonics? Well in a nut-shell it means growing plants without soil. Baffled? Frankly this is a very simple and yet highly scientific method of growing plants using aggregate rocks as the growing medium and a nutrient solution to supply the mineral needs of the plants.

This article will give you a low-down on how to make a hydroponic garden by building, or buying, a system for planting and a basic introduction on hydroponic vegetable gardening indoors. So let's get started.

How to make a hydroponic garden system?

Before you consider growing a hydroponic garden you must be clear on the various components involved in the system. Basically there are three components involved.

  1. The growing medium
  2. The nutrient solution
  3. The solution flood and drain system

Once you are clear with the basic mechanics and concept involved you can build a hydroponic system of your own. Let's take up each of the component.

Growing mediums for hydroponic plants

Rockwool used a hydroponic growing medium

Hydroton and Shale are the most commonly used growing mediums in hydroponic gardening. Hydroton is basically a clay aggregate that is lightly expanded to allow for an airy medium for the roots to develop. Both hydroton and shale rocks can be reused after a harvest, though shale has a tendency to break down faster than hydroton.

Another popular growing medium is the horticultural rockwool. The basic components that make up rockwool are limestone and volcanic rocks. It cannot be reused and is usually just used once especially during plant propagation.

Other growing mediums include vermiculite and perlite. These are not as efficient mostly because of their moisture holding tendency. They are not consider to be effective growing mediums in hydroponic planting.

hydroponic nutrient solutions

Hydroponic garden solutions perform the function of a fertilizer as well as the garden soil. They provide all the necessary nutrients that the plant will look for in a soil. You can get them at any gardening store that sells hydroponic supplies. Usually the nutrient solution is highly concentrated and needs to be mixed up with ample quantities of water.

You have a few options here that you would need to consider

1. Liquid or powder - The nutrients can be bought in liquid form or a powdered form. Liquid is recommended because it dissolves more readily and has a pH buffer. It is slightly more expensive than powdered nutrients which does not have a pH buffer and is harder to dissolve.

2. Organic or chemical - The problem with organic nutrients is that they tend to jell together causing lump formation and blocks, making it difficult for the plants to get the nutrients. It is best to use chemical nutrients as the primary source while supplementing with organic nutrients every now and then.

pH testing in hydroponics gardens

You want to keep the pH of the growing medium in the range of 5.8 to 6.8. The optimal ph is 6.3.

In hydroponic gardening testing the pH is one of the chores you might have to perform once every week or so. If the pH of the growing medium rises or falls below the recommended range, permanent damage may be done to the crops.

pH testing strips are available at the several garden supply stores and they are quite easy to use. If the pH is too high you can add some phosphoric acid for lowering it, and if the pH is too low you can add some Potash to the growing medium. You can also purchase a pH meter, to test the pH, but is an expensive option costing around $100.

hydroponic systems for pumping and draining the solution

1. The wick system

As the name indicates it uses a wicking mechanism to absorb the nutrient solution to make it available to plant roots. Usually the growing medium consists of vermiculite, perlite and rockwool. This is also known a floating hydroponic garden.

The pots with holes in the bottom are placed as floaters in the reservoir so they can wick the solution up. This is a non-recovery based system and it is not very effective, for one it does not allow good oxygen flow because the growing medium stays wet and inundated by the solution.

how to build a floating hydroponic garden at home? You can build it quite easily, just fill a 4 inch deep tray with 2 inches of nutrient solution and place plastic containers with holes at the bottom in the tray. Fill up the containers with the above mentioned growing medium. You can come up with your own hydroponic garden plans based on this concept.

2. The flood and drain system

This is a recovery based system and makes use of a pump to supply the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the planting containers. The pump needs to be activated so it can flood the solution to the growing medium.Once the pump is done with its flooding action, the excess nutrients are drained back onto the reservoir.

Rockwool, hydroton and shale are usually used in this system and it is most effective in its functioning. Rich oxygen is supplied to the growing medium every time the the flooding and draining mechanism operates.

If you are planning to set up a hydroponic garden on your own using the drain and flood system, you will have to create a two level tray system. The tray on top will sit the planting containers and the bottom tray will contain the nutrient solution. Poke some holes on the top tray to allow for drainage. Use a pump to flood the nutrient solution to the top tray for a period of 30 minutes or so after which the excess will drain back to the reservoir. You can check out this youtube video on creating a ebb and flow hydroponic system. That about concludes our section on how to make a hydroponic garden.

Continue reading part 2 of this article: hydroponic vegetable gardening