Thanks to advances in technology, a wide variety of ready-to-go hydroponic systems are now readily available to buy. Simply plug and play! However, some people are born to be hands-on and thrive in the satisfaction of building something from the ground up. There’s nothing more gratifying than enjoying juicy tomatoes that were grown by your hand in a system that you created!
Given that hydroponics is firmly rooted in the scientific realm, with the success of your crop hanging on many crucially precise elements, it may be surprising to discover that making your own DIY system is ridiculously easy.
The Planning Process
It sounds like a chore, but doing your homework will guarantee that your home-built hydroponics system is as good as any shop bought model. Study every aspect of your scheme, from construction materials to plants and growing mediums. Hydroponic systems are like complex interconnected circuits, and every facet has a knock-on effect on the rest of the circuit. Researching every variable will ensure a smooth-running system.
You literally reap what you sow in hydroponics. The amount of time, money and effort you invest in your operation will determine the quality of the yield.
Important Factors to Consider
What to Grow
Deciding which plants to grow is the first step in your hydroponic journey. Choose wisely! Some plants require more monitoring and input than others, so make sure you are willing to commit to your selection.
If growing a variety of plants in one system, check that they all have similar nutritional and light/heat requirements. This minimizes the risk of deficiencies and growth issues down the line.
The type of plants you intend to grow will influence which system to use. The amount of time and money available are also deciding factors.
There are 6 main types of hydroponic systems- drip, ebb/flow, N.F.T, wick, water culture and aeroponic. Each system has its own attributes and benefits as well as pitfalls.
Wick hydroponics is the most primitive growing method, and a basic system can be built quickly for little outlay. However, it is a passive system so there is no control over the absorption of nutrient solution, meaning it isn’t as efficient at delivering a balance of nutrients as other hydroponic systems. Fine for a quick dabble, but it’s not going to grow you those prizewinning tomatoes.
N.F.T, drip systems and ebb/flow systems are the 3 most common techniques among amateur hydroponic growers. For DIY enthusiasts, N.F.T systems are easy to build yet effective.
Location and Lighting
The placing of the system can have a huge impact on the growth of the crop. Most plants prefer a consistent temperature an at least 12 hours of decent light a day. Great if you are lucky enough to live somewhere hot and sunny, as you can just put your garden in an area of good light.
However, for most of us who live in the real world of 6 months cold and rain per year, a lighting system is a terrific addition that ensures the plants receive the exact amount of light needed to reach their full growing potential.
Building Your Own N.F.T Hydroponic System
N.F.T systems are relatively effortless to build from scratch, with most of the components readily available from DIY stores. You will need:
- A water tank to hold the nutrient solution
- Lengths of 6” PVC piping with holes cut in them which will serve as the grow trays
- PVC piping which will form the plumbing for the nutrient delivery/return system
- A submersible pump
- Baskets to start your seedlings in
- Clay pebbles to hold the stems of the seedlings upright
- Nutrient solution
The design of N.F.T systems means that the seedling roots are completely exposed in the root zone. Nutrient solution is pumped continuously from the reservoir up into the grow tray, which is set at an incline so that the solution flows down along the gully before draining through the return tubing back into the reservoir.
The recommended slope for the grow tray is 1:30, so for every 30 inches of tray, there should be a 1-inch drop. The recommended flow rate is 1-2 litres per minute per tray. Having the flow rate too fast or slow can result in nutrient deficiencies.
The beauty of building your own system is that the layout is entirely up to you. It can be as big or compact as you want and can be created to fit any space perfectly, as long as you ensure that you have the correct incline for the grow tray and the delivery and return piping is functioning properly. Flushing the unit with water before you insert your plants is a good way to make sure that everything is operating as it should.
Putting your seedlings into the system is hassle free. Remove them from their containers and gently rinse the roots in lukewarm water to remove any soil or other matter. Place them into the grow baskets, making sure the roots are hanging freely through the bottom. Add clay pellets to the basket to support the stalk of the seedling, and slip the baskets into the holes in the grow tray. Add your nutrient solution to the reservoir, immerse your pump and switch on. Simple!
Maintenance and Care
As the roots of your plant are not embedded in a medium, they are very vulnerable to power outages. Any break in the pump cycle could be detrimental to your crop very quickly so examine your system regularly to make sure that everything is in working order.
The delivery piping is susceptible to clogging from roots. Cleaning once a month will prevent blockages in the tubes.
Monitor the pH of your nutrient solution frequently and adjust where required to guarantee that your plants are getting the correct balance of nutrients.
There’s no denying that assembling a hydroponic system from scratch is a challenge, but it is an enjoyable and rewarding project, especially when you see those plants beginning to bloom and bear fruit. With a little ingenuity and planning, you’ll be on your way to succulent strawberries in no time!