Building a hydroponic system is one of the fastest growing techniques and most satisfying projects for hobbyist gardeners. Hydroponics are a technologically advanced growing method that actually require very little expertise or time to build, and they are easier to maintain than a soil garden.
Almost any plant can be grown in a hydroponic system as it nearly eliminates all the natural enemies, like the weeds, burrowing insects and bacteria of traditional gardens. Because of this, a hydroponic grow system can be a great way to nurse more fragile bulbs and saplings before planting them in soil.
Follow this guide to build an beginner's hydroponic grow system.
What You'll Need
You can purchase many of these items at a hydroponic supply store. However, this guide is intended for small-scale personal gardening, so it has been written with reused materials in mind.
- External air-pump (the same as with a fish tank)
- Plastic tubing that fits the external pump (usually included with the pump)
- Water proof container with a depth of at least 1 foot and the same dimensions on bottom and top
- Black spray paint (only if container is not already light proof)
- Polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) board; 1-inch thick and at least as big as the top of your container
- Mesh-wire pots
- Aeration stones (not vital, but recommended)
- Growing medium such as grow rocks (not soil of course)
- Hydroponics nutrients and pH balancer
- Utility knife
Light-Proofing and Beautification
If you have decided to go the more expensive, but admittedly easier route of purchasing a tank from a hydroponic supplier, then your reservoir tank should already be light-proof. This is because light entering the reservoir will lead to unwanted algae.
If you have decided to reuse an object for your tank, spray paint the outside black to block light and allow it to dry. Before painting, place a single strip of painter's tape (the narrower, the better) vertically on the front or an easily visible side of the tank. After you paint, remove the tape and the resulting line will allow you to view the water level of the tank.
If you want to get creative with your tank, you can paint over the black with white and then again with any desired color or design to fit your style. The base layer of black is necessary to keep out all light, but any color or design can go over it.
Making the Floater
Your polystyrene foam board is going to act as your floater, which holds your plants at the proper water-level.
Measure the inside width and length of your tank. If your tank tapers, then you will take the measurement from the narrowest point in the tank. Subtract ¼-inch from the width and length, and cut your polystyrene board to this size. This will allow the floater to move up and down unrestrictedly.
Next, you need holes for your mesh-wire pots. Arrange the pots to on the floater as desired. Remember to space the plants to allow for plenty of light exposure. Trace the outside of the pots and use your utility knife to cut out the holes. If your pots taper, then trim the holes so that about 1 inch of the pot is above the floater. Cut another hole for the tubing to run through on the side closest to where you want your pump to be.
Pot your plants in your chosen growing medium, and place the pots into the the polystyrene floater. Do not place the floater into the tank yet.
Attaching the Pump
Your pump is going to deliver vital oxygen to your plants' roots. The strength of the pump will be determined by the volume of your tank. You can ask in the shop where you are purchasing the pump. You will follow the same guidelines as with fish. If you are reusing a fish tank and its pump, then you are already set.
Your air pump will already be designed to sit on the edge of a tank. Fasten per its instructions. Connect the plastic tubing that will act as your air line. The tube should be able to reach the center of the bottom of the tank.
Your aeration stones will come in a bag or other container. It will be clear how to attach the stones to the free end of the hose, or instructions should otherwise be included. Usually, this entails a simple clamp or strong elastic band. Feed the hose through the floater and attach the aeration stones.
If you would like to fabricate a solution instead, you can fill a cheese-cloth bag with small glass or wooden beads. Slide the bag over the free end of the hose so that air will enter the center of the bead cluster, and attach securely with a clamp ring. Alternatively, you can cut a hole halfway through a natural sea-sponge and attach it in the same manner.
Test the aeration by submerging it under water with the pump on. The bubbles should be very small and evenly displaced.
Finalizing the Hydroponic Grow System
Fill the reservoir with water, compensating for the displacement the floater and plants will cause. Add your hydroponic nutrients and pH balancer in a quantity specified by the manufacturer.
Place your floater, with pots securely fitted, gently into the water. The air line should already be fed through, touching the bottom of the tank somewhere near the center.
Turn on your pump and your hydroponic grow system is complete!