Gardening Vivian | 29 Apr 2011 03:26 pm

Hydroponic Systems

There are three main types of hydroponic systems. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and is more or less suited to growing certain types of plants.

Ebb & Flow hydroponic systems

The Ebb and Flow (or Flood and Drain) system is a “media-based” hydroponics system. This means that the planting tray is filled with a moisture-retaining growing medium such as vermiculite, grow rocks or coconut fibre.

A reservoir of nutrient-enriched water regularly floods the planting tray with the nutrient solution. he growing material helps the plants absorb the nutrients. As the nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir, it pulls growth-promoting oxygen – also important in hydroponics – around the roots of the plants.

An advantage of this hydroponics system is that it’s simple and suited to growing a wide variety of plants, making it the most popular choice for homemade hydroponics systems. The ebb and flow system is also ideal for flower and ornamental plant lovers. You can place potted plants in the tray instead of mass-planting, and remove and display your plants whenever you like.

A disadvantage of this system is that it relies on electricity. If cost or power outages are a concern, it is probably not the best hydroponics system for you.

Wick hydroponic systems

A second choice of hydroponic growing systems is the wick system. It is also media-based but, unlike the “active” ebb and flow system, the wick system is “passive” – it uses no energy.

Quite simply, one end of a wick is placed in nutrient-rich solution while the other is embedded in the growing medium close to the roots. The wick acts much like a straw – the solution travels up the wick to the roots of the plant, as needed.

An obvious advantage of wick-based hydroponic systems is their simplicity – the easiest option for homemade hydroponics systems. However, they are not suitable for large and therefore very thirsty plants as the wick cannot keep up with their needs. In addition, it can be difficult to ensure that plants receive an adequate supply of oxygen, affecting growth.

Water culture hydroponic systems

A third option is a “water-culture” (or raft) hydroponic gardening system. Plants are suspended on a Styrofoam platform which floats on nutrient-enriched water while the roots dangle below. An air pump bubbles through the water to create an oxygen-rich atmosphere around the plants.

The advantage of this hydroponics system is that it is simple and relatively cheap, and highly-effective for growing plants like lettuce that thrive on a lot of water. However, it is not suitable for plants that don’t like this level of saturation.

All these systems can be built at home, simply and inexpensively, and tailored to the amount of space you have available. For optimum results, decide which of these hydroponic systems best suits the type and variety of plants you want to grow.

Copyright 2007 Jenny Green

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