Decide what you want to grow
Deciding what you want to grow before you begin building your hydroponic garden will help you decide where to setup your grow area, the best type of hydroponic gardening system, and the system capacity that best suits your needs.
Just about any plant can be grown hydroponically, but we suggest beginners start small. The best choices to get you started are herbs and vegetables that grow quickly, require little maintenance, and do not have a huge variety of nutrient needs. Here’s a list to get you started:
- Greens such as lettuce, spinach, and kale.
- Herbs such as basil, parsley, oregano, and cilantro
- Hot Peppers
Choose the right system
Your choice of hydroponic gardening system(s) will depend heavily on three main factors including the size of your grow area, what you are growing, and your budget. Tip: When determining what system is suitable for your grow room remember that you’ll want to leave some room to move around your reservoir tank(s), cleaning, and accessing your equipment and plants. For more tips visit hydroponicgardeningebook.com.
The three most common techniques for hydroponic gardening beginners are the Deep Water Culture, Drip, and Ebb and Flow systems.
- Deep Water Culture
The oldest hydroponic gardening system, and one of the simplest, a platform of planters simply floats in the nutrient reservoir while the roots of the plants dangle in the solution. Sometimes, an air pump is introduced into the system to oxygenate the solution. If you are a beginner, this is an easy and inexpensive way to get started.
Drip systems are probably the most widely used type of hydroponic gardening system in the world. Operation is simple, a timer controls a submersed pump. The timer turns the pump on and an advanced nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant by a small drip line.
- Ebb and Flow
In this most common method of hydroponic gardening, plants are set in a growth tray over a nutrient container, and a pump is used to flood the tray(s) with the advanced nutrient solution. The good thing about this method is that advanced nutrients that aren’t absorbed by the roots are drained into the reservoir and recycled. The drip hydroponic gardening system, where a pump continuously drips the advanced nutrient solution into the growth tray, is a variation of an ebb and flow hydroponic gardening system.
Tip: Recirculating systems can use up to 75% less water.
Choose the right medium
Soil-less gardening means just that, no soil but you must replace the soil with an inert medium. There are probably hundreds of different kinds of growing medium, anything that a plant can grow in can be considered a growing medium. Growing mediums can range from organic (natural) to man made mediums. The job you need to do will determine which growing medium you should use.
There are three mediums suggested for beginners: Coconut fiber (also called Coconut Coir) and expanded clay pellets (also called LECA).
- Coconut Coir
Coconut Coir is made from coconut husks and is composed of tiny micro-sponges which absorb up to eight times their weight in water. Coconut Coir is a great medium, perfect for almost any system with the exception of the Ebb and Flow system.
Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate or LECA is made by heating balls of clay under very high heat until it expands. LECA is great in terms of drainage and do not move so they are great with the Ebb and Flow system.
Perlite is mainly composed of minerals that are subjected to very high heat, which then expand it like popcorn so it becomes very light weight, porous and absorbent. Perlite has a neutral pH, excellent wicking action, and is very porous. Perlite can by used by itself, or mixed with other types of growing media’s.
Select the best lighting for your space
If your hydroponic garden is indoors, you will need a light source. Lighting is very important and depending on the size of your grow room and understanding “what to buy and why” can become pretty complicated. Open any hydroponic gardening catalog and you’ll soon be bombarded with hoods, bulbs, ballasts and timers. We’re going to keep it short today and cover just enough hydroponic lighting information to get you started. And if you want to learn more about hydroponic lighting our clear and easy to understand guide will help you choose the perfect lighting system for your indoor hydroponic garden.
Read Hydroponic Gardening for Dummies for an in-depth look at hydroponic garden lighting.
Germinate seeds and propagate plants
Propagation is cheaper than buying large numbers of plants, so with a little time and effort you can fill your garden quickly at minimal cost. Propagating new plants will keep your garden full of vigorous specimens, and you’ll probably have plenty to give away, too.
Create an advanced nutrient solution
Hydroponic gardening allows nutrients to be delivered via a soft water source creating a perfectly balanced “advanced nutrient solution” thereby maximizing crop yields.
All plants require nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S) and 14 less known elements…click here for our advanced nutrient cheat sheet and a list of the remaining 14 elements.An advanced nutrient solution of fertilizers and soft water with an average strength of 20-24 CF.
Tip: Remember to change the nutrient solution every 2 weeks. That is, discard the old solution and clean out the reservoir, pumps, and other equipment that is used with HOT WATER and 35% Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2). After cleaning, add tap water (distilled/purified water is best) that has been aged 3 days or longer to the reservoir and add the nutrient solution.
Read Hydroponic Gardening for Dummies for an in-depth look at hydroponic garden lighting.
Monitor your environment (CO2 Levels, Humidity, & Temperature )
Assuming you have good air circulation/exchange, your garden room will naturally have between 300-400 PPM (parts per million) of CO2; higher CO2 levels should accelerate growth rates. If you choose not to supplement CO2 in your garden room, it is important to address the air circulation/exchange so that your plants will receive fresh CO2. Lower than normal CO2 levels will cause your plants to stop growing. Plants only convert CO2 to oxygen only when the lights are on as light is required for photosynthesis. If you are using a regulated/timed source of CO2, it should be synchronized to match the lighting schedule.
There are five common methods of generating extra amounts of CO2:
- 1. Burning hydrocarbon fuels
- 2. Compressed, bottled CO2
- 3. Dry ice
- 4. Fermentation
- 5. Decomposition of organic matter
Temperatures in your grow room should be between 68- 75 F degrees. However, determining the optimum environment temperature depends solely on the plants.
Tip: Plants tend to grow best in climates approximate to human comfort…use common sense…if the plants are in 30-35 (C) degree temperatures and 60-80% humidity, it’s likely you would feel comfortable so will your plants.
Maintain your garden
The level of maintenance your hydroponic garden requires will depend heavily on the size and complexity of your hydroponic gardening system. Regardless the size of your hydroponic garden their are a few things you can do to insure a clean and healthy growing environment.
- Make a schedule and keep a Hydroponic Gardening Journal.
- Most plants love humidity so mist them continually and they will be happy.
- Watch your system and make sure it is performing properly. Small bits of growing medium can clog your system and leave your plants ‘high and dry’ or continually flooded.
- As your advanced nutrient solution evaporates, add tap water to refill it to where it should be. Do not add more advanced nutrient solution.
- Cleaning is critical to establishing a sterile growing environment, H2O2 is the best solution. Remember to clean the pots and tubing the plants are in before you start a new crop.
- Keep an eye out for pests and disease as well as nutritional deficiencies.
Check for pests and diseases
Pests can eat away your harvest and destroy foliage, while plant disease can decimate the entire system. Insects will not only eat your plants, but, will also help to promote and spread disease among your hydroponic plants. Many people assume that indoor hydroponic gardens are free from these issues. In fact, the nature of hydroponic gardening system makes it easier for insects and plant disease to survive and thrive. Disease and pests can thrive because plants remain moist by immersion (as in true hydroponic systems) or wet with spray (as in aeroponic systems) and grow in a moist medium like sand or perlite. Cleaning is critical to establishing a sterile, perfectly balanced growing environment.
Common Pests and Diseases
- white flies
- fungus gnats
- powdery mildew
- black mold
- sulfur-based compounds for thrips, white flies and mealy bugs
- pyrethrum as produced from flowers
- azatrol for many common pests