Hydroponics can at times seem overly complex and certainly overwhelming . The various styles and methods of hydroponic gardening only further exasperate the situation.
There are however basic hydroponic equipment and supplies that are universal regardless of what mode of hydroponic gardening you choose.
Properly executed hydroponic growing can result in phenomenally higher yields as opposed to soil based gardening. Cost effective use of space and time leads to a more rapidly maturing crop with higher yields.
A reservoir is fairly universal in hydroponic setups. It is simply a container where your water – nutrient mix is stored and drawn from. The fundamental theory of soil-less gardening aka hydroponics is to keep your plants root systems awash in a balanced mix of water, nutrients and air. The reservoir stores the water, and the water stores the nutrients.
Reservoirs can be anything from elaborate and expensive commercial versions, down to a simple 5 gallon bucket. The larger ones are naturally better, and for a mid size to full scale home hydroponic operation they are generally more cost effective. If you are simply putzing around with a small scale set up – more power to ya – a 5 gallon bucket or even a decent size Tupperware container will suffice.
Any reservoir you decide to use must have a lid or you will be loosing fluids to evaporation faster than you would ever think possible.
The loss of fluids is not simply a lower fluid level – it also louses up your nutrient ratio and contributes to salt and mineral build up which can become a real problem.
It is also crucial that the reservoir is not metallic, any metals are more than likely to introduce harmful mineral elements and instigate chemical interactions that can be damaging and deadly to your plants.
Water Pumps ~ Delivery System
Water is the key to all life as we know it, plants are no exception. Irrigation is obviously necessary for any type of gardening, more so in hydroponics as the soil has been replaced with a media and fluids. A water pump to circulate water and nutrients your plants makes the entire set up viable.
Water pumps are measured by either “GPM” which is gallons per minute or “GPH” which is gallons per hour. Larger commercial pumps can circulate thousands of gallons per hour. Small output pumps which are fairly inexpensive put out as little as 30 – 40 GPH, which is all that is really neccesary for smaller setups.
The substrate/grow media you select will also have an effect on the irrigation equation. Large, smooth rounded growing medium drain quicker and generally need frequent watering cycles, while moisture retentive porous media drain more slowly.
With a water pump, a timer is also advisable. You could manually turn the pump on and off at the correct intervals, but a timer is more efficient.
A timer shuts off the pump at pre-set intervals and allows nutrient solutions to drain back into the reservoir awaiting the next feed cycle. For most plants and setups, as little as 4 cycles daily is sufficient, some plants and setups perform better with about a dozen daily cycles. If you are uncertain what cycle to use for your setup and crop – choose the middle road to start with, 6 -8 cycles daily and adjust your schedule from there.
Related Article – Water Timers
All plants need air and in particular the oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) it is comprised of. Some hydroponic systems are somewhat self oxygenating but none are truly and wholly self aerated. An airstone / airpump combo is not an absolute necessity for a hydroponic system, but it is advisable.
Some Deep Water Culture (DWC) hydroponic systems incorporate what is known as a bubbler. Net Pots sit in nests in the top of the reservoir while the bubbler basically carbonates the water and provides ample air and oxygen.
The simplest air pumps are the same as those that are used in aquariums , a small 5 watt pump with an airstone attached to a tube.
An essential element to your list of hydroponics supplies is nutrients. Nutrient is the fertilizer and plant food. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and trace elements in a water soluble format. Requirements vary from plant to plant the same as they would in nature.
Any nutrient formula will supply the 3 key elements Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous. However, a problem sometimes associated with hydroponic gardening is that plants do not always have access to the same trace elements that they would normally find in the soil. That doesn’t mean you should go out and spend exorbitant capital on designer nutrients. Shop for hydroponics nutrients that provide trace elements, secondary and micro-nutrients. These will be listed on the label.
Related Article –Hydroponic Nutrients
Hydroponic – Horticultural Lighting
“And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”
Plants require both light and dark to survive and thrive.
Plants take in carbon dioxide during the daylight while involved in photosynthesis. At night in the darkness, they release carbon dioxide. It’s the equivalent of breathing , you can’t continuously inhale and never exhale – it’s a physical impossibility. The same is true with plants they need a separation of day and night ,light and dark cycles.
Grow Lights , Hydroponic and Horticultural lighting, allows you to extend the natural growing season of plants by providing your plants with artificial sunlight. Related Article – Grow Lights
Growth Media ~ Substrates
Hydroponic gardening is soil-less gardening .. No soil! However the plants need to be supported or held up . This is done with Hydroponic Growing Mediums which is a soil-less media… inert, non-organic materials. Hydroponic Growing Mediums act as an anchor to the plant to prevent it from falling over as it grows, provides good drainage of nutrient solution and allows the flow of oxygen to the plant roots.
Many things will suffice as growing media, some perform better than others under varying situations. They should all meet the following very basic requirements.
1. A Hydroponic growing medium should be reasonably dense in order to provide enough weight and mass to anchor a plant, but not so dense that it will impede the flow of oxygen and nutrient solution.
2. It must be clean and/or sterile to impede the spread of disease, pest and parasitic organisms.
3. Each individual growing medium ‘nugget’ must be small enough to provide a larger amount of surface area to remain damp with nutrient solution between flooding allowing the plant to feed.
Related Article – Growth Mediums