Whether you’re a beginner or pro, you’re probably wondering about the best indoor hydroponic grow system. We all know there are lots of products and setups out there. So, how do we choose which one is best?
First off, it’s important to remember the best system depends on your specific needs and circumstances. The best system for a hobby grower likely isn’t going to be the best for a commercial grower. With that said, we’ll explore the individual factors that determine the best setup for you.
What is Hydroponics?
Before we dive into the best system, let’s make sure you know what hydroponics is.
In hydroponics, plants grow in an inert media, rather than in soil. Since plants can’t obtain nutrients through the soil, they’re fed nutrients via a liquid solution. Hydroponics does not necessarily mean the plant is kept sitting in solution. In fact, air is an important component of keeping a plant’s roots healthy.
It’s important to note that hydroponics consists of many different types of grow setups. Some systems use flowing nutrient solutions and some use solutions sitting in containers. They can also be a variety of scales, from one small container to a system that covers acres.
Pros and Cons of Hydroponic Farming
When we’re looking at the pros and cons of hydroponics, we’re usually comparing it with soil-based systems. To help you decide if hydroponics is right for you, consider the following pros and cons.
Uses less water
Compared to soil-based systems, hydroponics uses less water. This may seem strange since this whole system is based on a liquid nutrient solution. However, studies have shown that hydroponics systems can use less than 10% of the water used in soil-based systems.
Great for Small Spaces
You can easily set up hydroponic systems in small spaces. By utilizing a vertical system, you can grow a lot in a small space. In fact, in the same sized area, your crops will yield higher quality and quantity than you can using soil farming.
Uses nutrients efficiently
In hydroponic systems, nutrients are delivered straight to the plant via a nutrient solution. You don’t have to worry about nutrients running off and negatively impacting the environment.
Decreased Need for Pesticides and Herbicides
Since hydroponic systems are very controlled, there’s less of an issue with pests and diseases. Therefore, you don’t have to apply many pesticides or herbicides.
High Start-Up Costs
Compared to soil-based systems, hydroponics has a higher start-up cost. You’ll need to purchase equipment such as containers, pumps, and aeration devices. Growing indoors also involves purchasing lighting and environmental control equipment.
Sensitive to Mistakes
Since there’s no soil to buffer nutrients, hydroponic systems are sensitive to overapplications of nutrients. It’s easy to overapply nutrients in a hydroponic system. If you mess
What are the Different Types of Hydroponic Systems?
Now that you’ve learned – or been refreshed – about some of the basics of hydroponics, let’s dig into the different types of systems. While you can tweak different elements of each system, the type you choose largely impacts your overall setup
Drip systems rely on drip tubes or individual drippers to deliver a nutrient solution to plants. The plants sit in containers filled with a growing media.
Once the solution flows into the media, it runs out of the bottom of the containers. The solution can be collected and reused, or it can flow out onto the ground.
As you might have guessed, a wick system uses a wick to draw the nutrient solution up to media holding the plant. This is a very simple system, and it doesn’t require electricity for pumps or aeration devices. Therefore, it’s known as a passive system.
Ebb & Flow
In ebb & flow, a pump fills an entire tray up with a nutrient solution, so that each plant is sitting in a couple inches of the solution. Then, the solution drains back into a reservoir after a predetermined amount of time.
The good thing about this system is it will water every plant in the tray. However, this system requires more water than any other system except deep water culture. Due to the bottom-up feeding method, nutrients build up inside the grow media, so flushing becomes a necessity as the plants age.
Finally, you’ll have humidity spikes when the system is running because all the water is on an open tray. However, this system works pretty well with aquaponics, and plants with low nutrient requirements like lettuce.
Nutrient Film Technique
This system relies on a constantly flowing nutrient solution. The plants’ roots are placed in containers where their roots are exposed to the solution. Growers often use PVC pipe to hold the plants and solution.
This system works great for vertical growing, since layers of PVC can be stacked on top of each other. However, the small plant container and bare roots limits this system to small plants. Did we mention lettuce?
This is perhaps the most difficult system. In aeroponics, plants are misted with a nutrient solution. Since plant roots are never sitting in solution, it’s easy for roots to dry out.
This system requires constant monitoring and increased knowledge to get everything right.
Deep Water Culture
In Deep Water Culture (DWC), plants are placed on top of a tank filled with a nutrient solution. The plants often sit on styrofoam rafts, or they can sit on a tray suspended above the solution. The key part of DWC is that plants are constantly sitting in the nutrient solution.
While this system doesn’t need a water pump, it does need an aeration system. Because the plants are submerged in water the whole time, it’s essential to inject air into the nutrient solution using an air pump or aeration stones.
Most Efficient Hydroponics System
All hydroponic systems are efficient growers properly run them. If you’re looking for an efficient system, you want to make sure you recover your nutrient solution to reuse, rather than letting it run to the ground.
In terms of efficient use of time, make sure to set up timers in your system. When you use timers, you won’t have to worry about turning pumps on and off. Also, timers help keep your system on a set schedule.
Top Hydroponics System/Best Type of Hydroponics System
There truly isn’t one best type of hydroponic system. The best system for you depends on your context.
To figure out what type of hydroponics system is best for you, ask yourself the following questions.
- What is my start-up budget?
- What is my operating budget?
- How big of a space do I have to use?
- What crops do I want to grow?
- How many crops do I want to grow?
- What is my knowledge base?
- Am I looking for a challenge or an easy project?
By answering these questions, you can figure out what system fits your specific situation.
For example, if you’re a beginner who wants to grow a single tomato plant, you might choose a simple drip irrigation system. However, if you’re part of a commercial operation producing thousands of lettuce heads each week, you might choose a system that uses nutrient film technique.
Also, the best system depends on how well you manage aspects such as lighting, temperature, and vapor pressure deficit. If you’re unfamiliar with these topics, check out our guide to indoor growing.
Choosing a Grow Media
While choosing a hydroponic system is important, so is choosing a good grow media. Grow media is an inert substrate that absorbs the nutrient solution and provides structural support. Common options include coco coir, rockwool/stonewool, perlite, and hydroton/clay pebbles.
The key to selecting the right growth media is determining which one will allow your plants to perform best with your system. For example. some grow media dries out faster than others.
Coco coir is shredded coconut husk. It’s great at retaining moisture. It’s also more forgiving than hydroton or rockwool.
Coco coir has certain qualities that modify the availability of nutrients to the plants, so it’s common for growers to use coco specific nutrients to optimize plant growth.
It’s important that the coco coir comes from plants that are not near salty bodies of water, like the ocean, or the product will be unsuitable for plants.
The neutral pH level of this medium makes it perfect for use with a variety of plants. It is often mixed with perlite for better root aeration, and sometimes with organic ingredients like guano or compost.
Coco husk is the less processed version of coco coir. It’s basically chunks of the hull of the coconut. Many growers use this instead of perlite to aerate the root zone. It’s also used alone for plants that naturally grow in trees, like orchids. We recommend using this in conjunction with coco coir for most crops.
Commonly called Rockwool, which is a brand name, stonewool is basically a rock melted and spun in something that looks like a cotton candy spinner. The final product provides an excellent water to oxygen ratio which allows your plants to thrive.
It’s available from several manufacturers like Grodan, in cubes, slabs, pieces, and a loose bail that looks like pillow stuffing. Be careful not to breathe it in or get it on your skin. If you do, it can be very irritating.
Unlike coco coir, Rockwool has an alkaline pH value. In recirculating systems, you’ll see it move the pH of the nutrient solution upwards. A simple test is to measure the pH of the runoff from the Rockwool.
Perlite is another grow media that is best used in conjunction with another media. It works great for orchids, but for the majority of crops, it’s best as an additive. This material is made of quartz sand, heated until it expands and puffs out. Kind of like puffed rice!
Adding it to coco coir, soil, or rockwool, will enhance the aeration and draining properties of the media.
Perlite is suitable for growers who find it difficult to get enough air to the root zone. Usually, perlite will make up around a third of your potting mix. Perlite is often available in different size ranges, from pieces slightly larger than sand, to large chunky pieces. We recommend the large chunky perlite.
Hydroton/ Clay Pebbles
A very popular choice among indoor growers, hydroton was once the most popular grow media for hydroponic gardens. Those days have long past since the advent of stonewool and coco coir.
Hydroton is basically a porous clay pebble with a brown color on the outside. It’s often available in different sizes, from small pebbles to larger ones. Their porousness enhances the supply of oxygen to the roots because little bubbles of air are formed on all sides of the pebble.
It’s often important to provide additional support for a plant in hydroton, as the pebbles are rather light and can shift around easily.
Final Thoughts on The Best Hydroponics Grow System
So, there you have it, our brief yet comprehensive guide to choosing an indoor hydroponic system ! We hope the information we provided is helps give you the confidence to start growing. At the end of the day, these seemingly simple decisions can have a lasting impact on your success. Grow on!
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