What is Hydroponics?
Indoor hydroponic gardening involves growing plants in water containing mineral nutrient solution rather than in soil. And although you may think this is too complex for you as a beginner, don’t worry — there’s not that much to learn to get started.
Plants don’t need soil to grow! All they need is the nutrients that are normally contained in it. Hydroponics is soilless gardening.
In a hydroponic system, plants are planted in a neutral, non-organic medium such as clay balls or perlite. The growing medium itself provides no nutrition.
You can buy a ready-made kit or you can create a homemade hydroponic system. The homemade option will be cheaper but requires more effort. If you’re looking for a fully organic hydroponic system, this is known as bioponics.
Simple hydroponic indoor gardening guide
Hydroponics doesn’t have to be a rocket science. If you want to give it a go, try making your own float or ebb and flow system. Hydroponics can be made easy by sticking to the basics.
There are a number of types of hydroponic setups and designs you can make or buy. They include:
- float system (roots submerged permanently, only suitable for certain plants like lettuce)
- ebb and flow – a container gets filled with water which then drains out, watering the plants from the bottom
- nutrient film or flow technique (I won’t cover this here)
- top feed drip system (I won’t cover this either. If you’re interested, here’s a good explanation and plans of how to build one)
The flow system works similar to planting your plants on a boat and leaving the boat in the river. In a homemade example, holes are cut into a piece of styrofoam that will act as the float. Into the holes you place pots containing the plants which have been set in a hydroponic growing medium such as perlite. The pots must have plenty of holes to let water and nutrients through.
The float with the pots is then allowed to float in tray filled with water and nutrient solution. An aquarium air pump supplies air bubbles to the solution to ensure that the plants’ roots get sufficient air.
The float system is only suitable for certain plants such as lettuce which can handle having their roots submerged permanently. Nutrient levels and pH of the water must be manually checked and corrected.
Ebb and Flow Hydroponics System (also called Flood and Drain)
The ebb and flow hydroponics system works by filling up a tray with water containing liquid nutrients.
A growing medium is the soil-substitute that you use for planting your plants. Hydroponic growing media are inorganic products that are good at retaining water while at the same time providing the roots with air.
Some common hydroponic growing media are:
- Expanded clay pellets (e.g. Hydroton)
* Wear a mask when working with perlite or vermiculite. The dust is harmful to your lungs.
Hydroponic nutrients are what you put in the water to provide your plants with nutrition. There are hundreds of different types of nutrients suited to different growing situations. Look for a hydroponic plant food that is suitable for what you’re growing.
Hydroponic seeds are just normal seeds. When you sow them, you will need a medium that is capable of supporting them such as rockwool plugs.
Most often your indoor hydroponic garden will not have sufficient light from windows, so you’ll need to use grow lights. This will also be the case if you use a grow room or growing chamber.
You can grow virtually any plant using hydroponics. Tomatoes are very popular as a hydroponic crop and there’s nothing stopping from growing a smaller variety in your indoor hydro garden.
Some indoor gardening hydroponic supplies may not be available at your local gardening store. Try a hydroponics specialist store for things like growing media and nutrients.
The Aerogarden is the best known of a new type of hydroponic appliance that is as close to a ready to grow hydroponic system as you will get.
By following my tips in this indoor hydroponic gardening guide and the other tips on Beginner Indoor Gardening, you should have no problem getting started with a basic indoor hydroponic gardening setup.