Ever come across the uber-cool method of growing plants without soil? This type of plant culture is called hydroponics. Touted as the method of growing food in the future, hydroponics has immense potential going forward.
Hydroponics is a great way to grow plants even if you do have a garden. Once set up, it requires low maintenance and saves water and space. Plants in this system have also been shown to grow 20% faster than traditional gardening systems.
In your apartment, hydroponics can be done on a small scale as a hassle-free way to grow some herbs and vegetables.
If you do not have enough time or space for traditional gardening but still would like to experience all the positive aspects of indoor gardening, our Hydroponics for Beginners guide offers plenty of info to get you started.
What is Hydroponic Gardening?
Hydroponic gardening is a soil-less method of growing plants in which the plant roots are supplied with enough supplementary nutrients that support their growth. As all plant requirements are provided artificially, there is no need to rely on natural resources like the sun and soil.
The hydroponics system also provides healthier plants that have lesser weeds, pests, and diseases.
How to Choose Plants and Location for your Hydroponic Garden
Choose plants that traditionally grow well in hydroponic systems. Most greens, some vegetables, herbs, and decorative flowers grow very well in these systems and give good output.
Leafy Greens: lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, watercress
Vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, chili, cucumbers, beans
Herbs: parsley, dill, basil, chives, cilantro, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme
Decorative flowers: lavender, dahlias, orchids, amaryllis
Based on the plants chosen, you can also decide what kind of hydroponic system you want to install.
Find the location where you would like to place the system. If you live in a place with ample sunshine in the winter months, you can keep your system outdoors. This way, the bees will take care of pollination, and also, your plants might not need extra grow lights.
If you put it indoors, you might need to artificially hand pollinate the plants which is not as hard as it sounds.
Hydroponic Growing Media
The soil in a traditional garden does many jobs. Besides providing nutrition, it also acts as an anchoring medium for the plants. Since we don’t use soil in hydroponics, a rooting/growing medium such as perlite, rock wool, expanded clay pebbles, etc. is required in order to hold the plants in place.
Depending on your budget and system, you can choose which growing medium you would like to use.
Traditionally plants obtain their nutrients from the soil. Since there is no soil, nutrients have to be mixed in the water so that plant roots can absorb it.
Pre-made nutrient mixes with the right amount of essential and non-essential nutrients are available online. When you start, we recommend you use these mixes. After you become a pro at hydroponics, you can start making your own nutrient mix.
Sunlight Hours for Plants Grown by Hydroponics
Most plants require at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Based on where you live, the sunlight hours will vary.
If the winter months are cold and dark, we suggest you have an indoor system with a grow light that provides plants with the required light.
What are the popular types of hydroponics systems?
Although there are a fair few types of hydroponic systems, these are the ones that can be easily set up indoors:
Deep water culture: For a beginner, Deep Water Culture (DWC) is the easiest method to start with. The plant roots are suspended in a reservoir so that their roots can reach the nutrient solution. An aerating pump is also recommended to provide oxygen to the roots.
Nutrient Film technique or Ebb and flow technique: These systems have a continuous film of water running through the roots of the plants. This system can be set up with good old PVC pipes or a flood and drain table. This system would also require a small reservoir and a motor.
Kratky method: This method which is also called passive hydroponics is the same as DWC minus the aerating pump. To oxygenate the roots, the water level is allowed to dip below the root zone periodically so that the roots are exposed to air naturally.
Aeroponics: The roots remain in the air and the nutrient solution is misted onto them. The aeroponic system offers faster-growing greens with greater yields.
Wick system: This is a passive form of hydroponics. The system works without the need for any motors, pumps, or moving parts. It is considered one of the easiest to make as shown in the video below.
Hydroponics Starter Kit: no-hassle hydroponic gardening
There are also pre-made systems available online for those that do not want to commit to building a system from scratch. They come equipped with all the paraphernalia and instructions required to kickstart your hydroponics journey.
iDOO Hydroponic kit: This is a small system that comes with an independent water pump, 24-WATT LED grow lights, and a Simplified Control Panel. The system has three growing modes and two pump modes. The height is also adjustable.
CRZDEAL Hydroponics System: This system has water level indicating systems, 20-WATT LED grow lights and automatic light timing.
Moistenland Hydroponics starter kit: Equipped with a control panel and full spectrum 22 watts LED grow lights, it allows you to grow up to 12 plants at once. This system also has a built-in fan and water pump that mimics a natural environment (no need to hand-pollinate).
Hydroponics for beginners Care Tips
- Check for algae in the tank every once in a while. Clean it periodically (once in 1-3 weeks) so that your plants have clean water available for use
- As the plants consume the nutrient solution, they get depleted in the reservoir. This needs to be periodically replaced
- Take note when your plants start looking a bit off. When a certain nutrient is deficient, the plant will tell you by displaying symptoms. You then have to supplement it with the deficient nutrient. For eg- the deficiency of nitrogen is shown by yellow leaves.
- It is recommended to grow only one type of plant per system. For eg- tomatoes have a different nutrient requirement than herbs. This makes it easier to correct a nutrient deficiency.
- In systems that have stagnant water, there is a possibility that it becomes a breeding ground for insects. Take care to clean the tank regularly.
Hydroponics gardening is an option to grow fresh vegetables and herbs in small spaces. You don’t need much space or time, they are relatively easy to maintain, and at the same time rewards are high.
To learn more on how to grow vegetables, herbs and microgreens in your apartment, please check your Apartment Gardening guide.
What is a good pH level for hydroponics?
As a general rule, the best pH for hydroponics is a slightly acidic range of 5.5-6.5.
What’s the difference between an aquaponic and a hydroponic garden?
Is tap water ok for hydroponics?
Which hydroponic system is best for tomatoes?
Can onions be grown hydroponically?
Yes, onions can be grown hydroponically. Often they are referred to as one of the easiest plants to grow hydroponically.