Q: I have a NFT hydroponic system. I can’t seem to find away to stop the plug (in which I started the seed off in) from sitting in the flow of water. Please can you help?
A: Some moisture in the transplant plug is usually desirable to prevent the roots in the plug from dying. However, some plants do not like to be fully submerged in standing water. Depending on how deep the nutrient solution is in the channels of your hydroponic system, you have a few different possible solutions.
One idea is to use very small netted pots. The strategy here is to place a seed (or clone) into the transplant plug, then to place the plug directly into a netted pot just big enough to hold the transplant plug. You want to do all of this before your seed (or clone) grows any roots. Once you see the first sign of roots, you want to place the netted pots into your hydroponic system. Ideally, the very bottom of the plug come into contact with the nutrient solution just a little bit. This allows the plug to “wick up” the moisture it needs until it can grow roots down into the bottom of your channels.
Another strategy is similar to above, except the plugs are suspended an inch or more above the nutrient solution (usually because of the design of the system). In this case, you may want to consider adding a drip system. This will provide enough moisture to each transplant plug until your plants have the opportunity to grow roots down into your system.
If the nutrient solution is shallow (about 1/2- 1 inch deep) you may want to consider anchoring your transplant plugs into 3″ netted pots with a few clay pellets, then sitting the netted pots down into the channels of your hydroponic system. In this strategy, the netted pots sit right down on the bottom, but the re-circulating water is very shallow and therefore stays well oxygenated. The pots also can wick up the moisture they need until they can grow roots down into the system. With a little modification to your system, the netted pots can even be lifted out of the standing water and suspended above the nutrient solution once there is significant root growth.
Lastly, many plants will tolerate being grown straight in standing water. Even plants that prefer fast draining soil will grow well in these conditions, as long as an effort is made to keep the nutrient solution well oxygenated and to keep the temperature of the nutrient solution between 68 and 72 degrees. This is true with my most successful hydroponic system. The whole strategy can be found at the link above, and the system works very well with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, spinach, and many other plants. I hope this helps you out, and Happy Growing!
Each of the hydroponics growing systems has its own way of supporting the plants. Plants require food, water, and oxygen for the roots to keep them from drowning.
People often do not realize that hand watering can be one of the simplest hydroponics growing systems, but hydroponics boils down to this…the food is in the water.
If you mix perlite, vermiculite, and coconut coir (all nutrient free) and use this to grow your plants in a container garden, you will HAVE TO include some plant food in the water when you hand water. By definition, this is an example of hydroponics gardening. A 50/50 mix of perlite/vermiculite would work just as well.
Coconut coir and vermiculite retain quite a bit of water. By using more of them in the soiless mix, the containers will stay moist between hand-waterings (every day or two). Sphagnam peat is the base of many commercial potting soils and can be used as a substitute for this purpose also.
Because of its simplicity, this is obviously an easy home method. This is one of the hydroponics growing systems that will easily support organics. No matter what type of system you choose, you will need to learn some hydroponics feeding tips.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
The deep water culture method, also known as the reservoir method, is one of the easiest of all the true hydroponics growing systems. A container holds about two inches of nutrient solution. Several plant containers sit down in the nutrient solution. An aquarium air pump constantly bubbles in the nutrient solution, keeping the plants roots from drowning.
Often, small holes are made around the bottom 2 inches of the plant pots, allowing the roots to grow out into the nutrient solution. As in the example above, an effort is usually made to keep light from getting to the nutrient solution.
Wherever there is light and nutrients, algae will grow. Algae eat the nutrients you are trying to feed to your plants, and when pieces of algae die they attract fungus gnats. Fungus gnats lead to many other problems.
Because of its simple design and simple function, the reservoir method is a good choice for homemade hydroponics. Since there are no drip or spray emitters to clog, it is also a good choice for organic hydroponics growing systems.
This system is well suited for volcanic lava chips media, or else a mixture of one part vermiculite to 5 parts expanded clay pellets. As with any hydroponics growing system, you will want to brush up on your hydroponics feeding tips before beginning.
The Flood and Drain Method
aka Ebb and Flow
In the flood and drain method, the plants sit in their own container separate from the nutrient reservoir. From time to time, a pump will kick on. The nutrient solution from the reservoir floods the upper container for a while, soaking the plant roots and the grow medium. The pumps than turn off, and the solution drains back into the reservoir.
Your choice of grow media determines how often and how long you flood the container for. Fast draining, clay pellets may be flooded for a half hour 4 times a day, while the slower draining rockwool can be watered less. This system is also well suited for growing in straight perlite or lava chips.
The parts and function of this hydroponics growing system are pretty basic, making it another good option for a homemade hydroponics system. With a good water pump, you can also use this method for organic hydroponics. It is always a good idea to have a filter before the pump in any system.
Of course, you will make any hydroponics growing system work its best with the right hydroponics feeding tips.
The Drip System
With the drip hydroponics growing system, the plants are again in their own tray, separate from the nutrient reservoir. A pump pushes nutrient solution through many small tubes, which feed each plant from the top. Different emitters can be placed on the end of each tube to make the drip slower or faster.
Once again, a faster draining medium (like clay pellets) will need faster dripping emitters (or more of them per plant). Slower draining media (like rockwool) would use slower dripping emitters.
The standard media for drip systems is rockwool, although clay pellets and lava chips are also sometimes used. Straight perlite should work well in this system also, although I’ve never tried it myself.
The flow rate is difficult to control on a drip system, and the emitters are famous for clogging. These problems are even worse when you try to make your own drip system. You will probably spend a lot of money and have a poorly working system if you try to build a homemade drip system (I know this from personal experience).
Furthermore, organic nutrients are full of small particles that ALWAYS seem to mess up the drip emitter. If you are trying to do organic hydroponics, this is not the system for you.
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The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
In this hydroponics growing system, plants are placed in a tray or gutter separate from the nutrient reservoir. One end of the tray is lower than the other, to encourage the flow of water.
A pump delivers a steady flow of water at one end, creating a constant stream of nutrient solution in the bottom of the tray. In order to make sure the water flowing through the bottom of the tray is nice and even, a layer of absorbant material (called capillary mat) is placed in the bottom.
NFT is another method that is both easy for the homemade hydroponics do-it-yourselfer and also a good choice for organic hydroponics growing systems. Once again the parts, the design, and the function are all simple. once again, there are no drip or spray emitters to clog.
There is one thing to consider, however. You must start with plants that have a root system large enough to hang down into the flowing nutrient solution. Your other option would be to top feed the plants with a drip system until their roots are large enough (which is a pain).
It doesn’t matter what type of media you start your plants in. Once they are in place in the system, the roots will be growing right in the water! This system, when the proper hydroponics feeding tips are followed, works very nicely.
The Wick System
In wick hydroponic growing systems, the plants are again in their own container, separate from the nutrient reservoir. Pieces of absorbant material (usually nylon rope) are buried partially in each plant container. The other end of the rope is allowed to dangle in the nutrient solution. The absorbant material pulls the nutrient solution from the reservoir up into the growing medium.
The system is easy to make as a homemade hydroponics system, and will support organic hydroponics without any problems, but there are a couple of things to consider.
Sometimes it is difficult to get the right moisture level in a wick system. You will have to experiment a little with more absorbant growing mediums (vermiculite/coconut coir). Also, I have seen the wicks suck up less and less water over time (especially when using organics).
If you want to give this method a try, I suggest a 50/50 mix of perlite/vermiculite. Perlite and coconut coir would work as well. Altogether, I think other systems are just as easy to use, and produce better results.
The Aeroponics Method
In these hydroponics growing systems, a large container like this contains several gallons of nutrient solution in the bottom. A pump pushes nutrient solution through spray heads that constantly soak every inch inside the container with a fine mist of nutrient solution.
As you can see, there really is no growing medium in this method. The plants roots hang down into the container and grow mostly in air, except for the few that grow long enough to make it into the nutrient solution in the bottom.
The pump used is a high-pressure pump, and the spray emitters are made specially to deliver a very fine, highly oxygenated spray.
It is often very hard to assemble individual parts into a well-working system, and the individual parts can be expensive as well. Also, the fine-spray emitters will instantly clog if you try to use anything except high quality hydroponic fertilizers (no organics).
Of all the hydroponics growing systems, this is the most difficult to master and the most temperamental. Ph changes and nutrient imbalances occur more quickly because of the increased absorption rates and high levels of oxygenation. Furthermore, with no grow media to protect the roots, the plants react negatively to these changes much more quickly.
More recently, some innovative gardeners have begun to push this new area. Systems are beginning to pop up that are much simpler and that do not rely on pumps.