The Beginner’s Guide to Hydroponics

Dipping your toes into hydroponic gardening can be daunting, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the scientific jargon. Here’s a straightforward glossary of common terms to help you on your way!

Hydroponic Systems

The first step to hydroponic gardening is deciding which system suits you best. This depends on a number of important factors, including what you want to grow and how much space/time/money you have at your disposal.

Hydroponic systems are split into two categories- active and passive. Active systems have moving parts that pump the nutrients through the growing medium. Passive systems use wicks or capillary action to pass nutrients to the roots. Active systems tend to be more efficient than passive.

There are six main hydroponic systems- wick systems, water culture, ebb and flow, drip systems, N.F.T and aeroponic systems.

Growing Medium

A growing medium is simply the material that supports the roots of the plant and keeps it upright. In traditional gardening, soil is the most common growing medium. In hydroponics, most inert substances (ie difficult to break down) can be used to host the roots.

Common hydroponic mediums include Rockwool, perlite, gravel, sand and coconut fibre. The type of growing system you choose will influence which medium is required. No single growing medium is better than another, so picking the right one can be confusing. Experimentation is the key!

Grow Tray

The grow tray is the part of the system that houses the plants. Grow trays come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the type and quantity of plants to be grown. It is here that the roots access their nutrient solution. Plant roots are delicate and should be kept out of direct light, so the root zone of your grow tray needs to be light proof.

Nutrient Reservoir

The nutrient reservoir stores the nutrient solution. Nutrient reservoirs can be made from any type of water tight plastic container. As with the base of the grow tray, your nutrient reservoir should be light proof. This minimizes the risk of algae and microorganisms growing and contaminating your nutrient solution.

Nutrient Solution

The nutrient solution is the all-important star of the hydroponic show. In basic terms, it is simply nutrients dissolved in water. Nutrient solution can be bought pre-mixed, or the nutrients can be bought separately in a soluble form and added to water when necessary. A balanced solution allows you to provide the optimal level of nourishment to your fruit and vegetables.

Delivery System

Most hydroponic systems have separate grow trays and nutrient reservoirs. Basically, the delivery system is the plumbing that transports the nutrients from the reservoir into the grow tray. PVC tubing and connectors are good materials for a simple delivery system. Some hydroponic systems use drip emitters, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they tend to clog and can be troublesome.

Submersible Pump

The pump works in conjunction with the delivery system to propel the nutrients from the reservoir to the grow tray. It also circulates the water within the reservoir, maintaining oxygenation and preventing algae growth. The pump and its filter require regular cleaning.

Air Pumps/Air Stones

Air pumps are necessary for keeping the roots oxygenated in water culture systems. They are optional for other types of hydroponic systems but are beneficial and quite inexpensive, so should be considered. They work on a simple principle- air is pumped through a line into air stones which release the air as bubbles up through the nutrient solution, speeding up the growing process and aiding with oxygenation.

Grow Lights

Grow lights are an extra that will come in handy if your hydroponic system is built in an area with restricted natural light. They emit colour spectrums that mimic sunlight, boosting photosynthesis in the plants.


Timers are another optional addition that prove very useful for switching the submersible pump and grow lights on and off automatically. Analogue timers are ideal as they do not reset in the event of a power failure like digital timers.

The sky is the limit when it comes to hydroponics systems, and there are always upgrades and improvements that can be made. However, for a beginner, the basic necessary equipment can be sourced relatively cheaply. Meaning you’ll be on your way to super charged, super speed vegetables in no time!

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