How to Build a Hydroponic Flood and Drain (aka Ebb and Flow) System

Flood and Drain systems also known as Ebb and flow systems supply water and nutrients to the plants by periodically flooding the bed / grow tray. The water / nutrient solution is stored in a reservoir and the water is continuously drained back back and forth from reservoir and the root zone / grow tray at predetermined intervals.

The grow bed should be level and uniform for the even distribution of the nutrient solution. Lopsided uneven beds/tray create multiple problems. Some roots can become too saturated and not drain adequately, leading to rot and poor oxygenation. Other roots will not receive adequate moisture and solution which leads to nutrient deficiencies.

Diagram ebb and flow aka flood and drain Hydroponic System

Adequate levels of oxygen are essential not only to plant vigor, but their very survival. With ebb and flow hydroponics system it’s imperative that the roots not be in the solution for any more than 20 minutes to 1/2 hour at most. Leaving the roots soaking too long creates an ‘anaerobic ‘ environment, basically the plants drown.

The Reservoir

The reservoir harbors a pump that is generally submerged, the pump works in conjunction with a timer. When triggered by the timer, the pump delivers nutrient enriched water to the grow tray. When the pump turns off gravity returns the nutrient solution to the reservoir, although some systems use another pump which in my opinion is a waste of resources.

The needs of the plants, usually determined by their size and quantity determines the frequency of the flooding. Other factors that dictate the frequency of the flow are growing medium, some will retain moisture some not so much, as well as temperature and humidity.

Grow Mediums

A number of various grow media will work for an ebb and flow system. Clay pebbles [hydroton], rockwool in various forms, coco coir [coconut fiber] is sometimes used but works best with a top feed system, where the water is pumped into the grow tray for above. Coco coir does not drain properly if left to sit in standing water for too long.

Some people will fill the entire grow tray with grow media, this is not really necessary, is a waste of resources and creates unnecessary labor in cleaning excessive media. Net pots themselves can be filled with media which works just fine. Another method sometimes used is rock wool slabs in conjunction with clay pebbles or similar media, the rockwool is set atop the pebbles. Avoid ultra light media that will float as it can easily foul things up in a flood drain / ebb flow system.