The Different Types of Hydroponic Systems

The Different Types of Hydroponic Systems
External Guest Writer
July 14, 2022

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in soilless mediums such as peat moss, sphagnum moss, and perlite, to grow a variety of plants and crops. Hydroponic systems pump nutrient solution directly into plant roots, allowing plants to take in more nutrients. This is a sustainable form of agriculture that uses less resources to grow plants.

The hydroponics system is an efficient method to produce fresh herbs, as the setup balances the pH and nutrient levels that the plants intake. Hydroponic systems introduce roots to deep water culture to grow lush, quality crops for consumption or selling. 

Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic setups typically have two levels: a water chamber, and plant trays. Some setups may have gullies to distribute nutrient solution to plant roots, or use a misting system to provide plants with moisture. An air pump oxygenates the water, leading to healthier root systems for plants. Hydroponic setups can be scaled to large or small-scale farms. 

Plants are suspended above the water, with the roots in contact with moisture. Hydroponic systems may use rockwool, perlite, or other soilless mediums to stabilize plants, but these are optional. The method is favored by many organic growers as the medium prevents soil-based bacteria from harming the plant.

Hydroponic growing is considered an organic and clean way of growing plants to harvest for safe consumption. Hydroponic systems also inhibit soil-living pests from attacking plants, as well as mold and fungus from growing through the aerated nutrient solution. 

How Do Hydroponic Systems Work?

The main focus of hydroponic systems is to deliver nutrients directly to the plant's roots without the risk of overwatering, underwatering, and without the use of soil as a growing medium. Depending on the type of hydroponic setup, a water pump may be used to bring water up to the roots of the plants in a holding tray.

A simple wick system would just need a pot with holes in the bottom, a wick, and a water reservoir to operate. Other hydroponic methods may need air pumps and automatic timers to ensure the growth of the plants. The roots will take only the nutrients they need, and some systems allow for drying periods before the roots are provided with nutrient solutions again.

Hydroponic systems keep plants hydrated. The growing media is chosen depending on the requirements of each plant, where humidity-loving plants can get a spongy medium like peat moss, while plants that prefer periods of drought can be placed in net pots instead. 

The Different Types of Hydroponics Systems

There are different types of hydroponic systems, but all focus on bringing as much nutrients and water to the plants without waterlogging the roots. Some hydroponic systems can be easily replicated at home, while others are better for plant growth in commercial farms instead. 

Wick System

The most basic of all hydroponic systems is the wick system, where water passes through a thick wick to provide nutrients to the plant. The plant is placed in a sturdy medium, which uses the wick like a straw to suck up water.

As one of the easiest ways to begin an indoor hydroponic growing system, wick systems can be easily made using a large wick, a pot with bottom holes, and a cup of water. Self-watering pots often use wick systems to deliver water and nutrient solution up to the plant, and make use of expanded clay pebbles to keep plants stable in pots.

Deep Water Culture System

The deep water culture (DWC) system functions similarly to wick systems, but without the use of a wick. The roots of the plants are encouraged to grow through the holes at the bottom of the pot suspended above a water reservoir. Roots of growing plants naturally grow towards water, which makes the DWC system a simple form of passive hydroponics. 

Nutrient Film Technique

The nutrient film technique, also known as the NFT method, is an advanced setup of hydroponic systems. The setup requires the use of an air pump and an air stone to aerate the water, as well as a water pump to drive nutrient water up to the plants suspended above the water reservoir.

The NFT system is a water recirculating system. The water flows through a channel like a stream, passing through the exposed roots before recirculating the water back into the water reservoir to be cycled through the setup again. It is a controversial hydroponics system, as select growers believe disease can easily spread through the cycling solution.

Drip Systems

The drip system is a commonly used hydroponic system that works by using an automatic timer and dripline to provide the plants with the nutrients they need to grow. Much like an IV drip, the nutrient solution is carefully monitored and only drips as needed to keep the plant well-supplied with nutrients without the fears of waterlogging.

EBB and Flow System

Also known as Flood and Drain Systems, EBB and flow systems are popular in urban gardening. Ready-made kits are often sold with this type of hydroponic gardening. The method works by flooding the tray with the plants and a growing medium, then an automatic timer will drain the solution out to prevent overwatering. 

However, the EBB and flow system is not suitable for growing large plants as the space may limit their growth, or stunt the root systems from spreading out. This setup is best for manageable, low maintenance plants such as herbs and leafy greens.

Aeroponic Systems

The aeroponic system is a highly complicated form of hydroponics that is used for crops and plants that prefer dry periods between waterings. The plants are suspended in the air with their roots exposed, and an automatic timer would mist the exposed roots with nutrient solution a few minutes at a time. 

Aeroponic systems are advanced setups that require ample research and development to provide the exact amount of nutrients needed per plant. However, aeroponics tends to reduce water wasted in traditional hydroponic systems up to 90%. 

Aquaponic Systems

Aquaponic systems merge fish ponds and hydroponic systems. These operate similarly to deep water culture setups, but make use of fish excrement instead of nutrient solution to provide plants with the necessary minerals needed for healthy growth. An air stone provides oxygen to the plant roots and fish.

In return, plants purify the water for the fish, and protect them from harsh sunlight and predators. Aquaponic-hydroponic systems present a symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna, and are self-sustaining ecosystems that lets nature do the work.

Vertical Hydroponic Systems

A variation of the EBB and flow system, as well as the NFT system, vertical hydroponic systems stand upright in tall, hollow structures. These systems work by flowing water through the pipe, allowing plants suspended around to take in as much nutrients as they need.

Vertical hydroponic systems were made to utilize the limited space in urban settings. These systems allow small-scale farmers to optimize their harvests, and increase their yields with the limited space they have. Vertical hydroponic systems are popular among urban gardeners, and can be moved around using a trolley to best optimize the farm space.

Choosing the Best Method

Hydroponic systems like self-watering plant pots with soilless potting mix or peat moss, and some water-soluble plant nutrients are simpler systems that can be done indoors. This hydroponic system can provide the necessary nutrients to plants such as leafy green lettuce, chives, and herbs that work perfectly in a simple hydroponic system.

More advanced setups, such as the NFT system, are suitable for small-scale commercial growers as the space requirements are minimal, and the setup is fairly simple. Commercial hydroponic systems may benefit most from drip systems or the NFT system as these advanced setups can ensure that plants get ample water and nutrients without the risk of root rot.