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The Six Types of Hydroponic Systems, Part 1

With all the different hydroponic setups on the market it can be confusing to tell them apart, especially because they all seem to look so different. But in reality there are only six different types of hydroponic systems. Any of these hydroponic systems can have many different configurations, different sizes and even made from many different materials. That’s why they can all look so different. But weather they are home built systems, or commercially manufactured systems sold in hydroponic supply stores, they all come down to the six types of hydroponic systems, or a combination of 2 or more of the six types of systems in one system.

If you understand the six types of hydroponic systems, as well as what makes them work, you’ll easily be able to recognize how any hydroponic system functions. That includes any store bought or any home built system. Even if it’s a straight forward system, or a combination system, because the principals that make them work is always the same. Another benefit to knowing how each of the different hydroponic systems work, is that once you understand the different types of systems, you’ll be able to build any of them on your own from most any material you can get from many sources, and for less money than buying them from a hydroponic supply store.

Wick System
The simplest type of hydroponic system is the wick system. This type of system has no moving parts at all. It works exactly the same way that a oil lamp or tiki torch works, by wicking up the liquid as it’s being used. Although it can be constructed many different ways and out of many different materials, the basic function still remains the same. The plant is placed in the growing medium, and the growing medium is kept moist from the wick. The wick is simply made from a strip of a highly absorbent material like felt or cotton. The wick runs through the growing medium and out the bottom of the container into the nutrient reservoir. As the plants drink up the moisture in the growing medium, the wick continually sucks up moisture, keeping the growing medium moist with the nutrient solution.

Water Culture System
The water culture system is second in line as the simplest type of hydroponic system. It’s sometimes called bubbleponics also, but the real term is “Water Culture.” With a water culture system the plants roots are suspended/floating directly in the nutrient reservoir itself. Usually on Styrofoam rafts (because it floats on top of water) with holes cut in it that the plants to be placed into. Although like any other hydroponic system water culture systems can be constructed in many different ways, and with many different materials, but the key aspect is that the roots are submerged in the nutrient solution all the time. The other key, and very important aspect to a water culture system, is the use of an air pump (and air stones) in the nutrient reservoir/solution.

The air pomp provides a continuous flow of tiny air bubbles to the root systems. That way the roots can get the air/oxygen they need so they don’t suffocate being completely submerged all the time. The air supply is left on 24/7. The air pump and stones are not expensive and can be found in any pet supply, or aquarium store. You may also hear the term DWC, that stands for “Deep Water Culture” witch is the same thing as a water culture system, it’s just referring to a the depth of the nutrient solution in the reservoir (usually about one foot or so in a DWC). Although most so called DWC systems are a combination water culture/drip system, or water culture/aeroponic system.

Ebb & Flow (Flood & Drain) System
The Ebb & Flow system is not much more difficult, but does need a submersible water pump (like a fountain pump), and household light timer to run the cycles. There are so many various ways to build a Flood & Drain system it’s only limited by your imagination. But the basic principal is always the same. It has a reservoir that holds the nutrient solution. This reservoir is placed below the plants, so the siphoning action that happens when the pump is not running will automatically drain the nutrient solution when the pump shuts off. The timer is used to periodically flood the system to keep the roots moist.

The second part of the Flood & Drain system is where the plants are contained. This is often constructed in any number of ways, but always has two main parts to it. First is the fill line, this is connected to the pump and fills (Floods) the system when it’s turned on. Second is the overflow tube, the overflow tube is set at a particular height, usually about 2 inches below the top of the growing medium. This keeps the water level in the system from overflowing out the containers the plants are in, and instead it flows directly back into the reservoir to be pumped back up to the plants again. But at the same time it is the height of the overflow tube allows the water to rise high enough to saturate the root system without causing stem root. That is why it’s usually about two inches below the top of the growing medium, instead of the top of the containers.

To Be Continued..

The Six Types of Hydroponic Systems, Part 2

2 comments to The Six Types of Hydroponic Systems, Part 1

  • joe dyer

    new to this. I live in Honduras. Iam at 5000 ft elevation, where the weather is mild all year. summer the max it gets is 80 degrees, and in winter 60 minamum I need help in setting up a unit here spare land is 25×75. Ilike the water to flow through the roots 10 to 12 times a day Ifeel Ican set up three treys 2fdt by 60 ft recovering the water to use again and again. I need lots of help with this what do you recomend. JOE

  • Eric Shotts

    Instead of using trays look into pvc pipe to use at this distance it may be beneficial, you can drill holes in it so it can hold your plants while it can also be used to collect the water if you cap it off and use a hose connector at the ends which can flow through a line to a reservoir type pvc which can be connected to a pump to circulate the water back up to your plants.

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