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Starting a Hydroponic Garden: Tips for Beginners

Starting a Hydroponic Garden: Tips for Beginners

Hydroponic gardening is defined by the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions or inert mediums such as perlite, gravel, or mineral clay pebbles without any use of soil.  Hydroponics is a widely used method for harvesting plants, but can also be very complicated. Here are a few basic tips and tricks for starting your very own hydroponic garden.

The first tip when hydroponic gardening is to select the right system. A system is the technique you would use to grow your garden. There are 3 very common and easy techniques for a beginner to choose from.  The first technique is the wick system. This by far the most simple and easy to set up of all the systems because it has no moving parts. It includes a reservoir filled with water and nutrients with a container filled with growing medium above it. All you do is connect the two containers by a cotton wick that feeds the plants it nutrients. This method does not require anything special like pumps, timers, or aerators. However, this system may not work well with water hungry plants because the wick will be unable to supply a sufficient amount of water fast enough.  Another easy system is the Water System.  This technique is probably the cheapest because you grow plants inside a Styrofoam plank that sits on top of the reservoir filled with the nutrient solution. Make sure the reservoir is slightly shallow so that you can add an aerator that will help deliver oxygen to the roots of your plants. Unlike the Wick System, the Water Culture system is better suited for water hungry plants, but not for a very long time.  The third and final technique is the Ebb and Flow system. The Ebb and Flow system is the most complicated of the three, but highly adaptable.  Keep in mind it can house pots of any size. Start by arranging potted plants onto a drain table that is filled with 2-3 inches of water and pumped with nutrient solution.  The system works by flooding the growth medium with solution and draining it back into the reservoir. The trick is to use a submergible pump with a timer, which would allow you to customize your plants water schedule based on size, temperature, etc.

Once you have chosen a system and assembled your growing bed, be sure to pick the right growing media. The best mediums for beginners are Coconut Coir and LECA. Coconut Coir are great because they can absorb up to eight times their water weight, but they are not suitable for the Ebb and Flow system. LECA or Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregates are clay pebbles that are dense and hold water very well. Since they are heavy and don’t move, they are a great fit for the Ebb and Flow system.

The best tip for beginners when hydroponic gardening is to start small. When you’re first starting out use natural lighting, complete nutrient solutions, and fast growing plants. Some good starter plants include spinach, lettuce, herbs, and hot peppers. Hydroponic gardening doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you have mastered the basics, then it’s time to turn it up a notch with different vegetables, and more sophisticated setups.