Different Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic Systems Explained

For those who prefer a natural, more efficient system for growing plants, a hydroponics system is your best bet. That’s because, in actuality, there’s just no way to achieve more effective growth rates by using other forms of traditional growing methods. However, when I first decided to employ hydroponics methods, I was a bit overwhelmed by the types of systems that are out there. In reality, there are hundreds of choices!

But the thing to keep in mind is the fact that every hydroponics system is built around similar principles. In this article, I’ll endeavor to explain some types of these systems, so you’ll have an idea of what you might be looking for, when implementing your first hydroponics system. With that said, here are the seven different hydroponic systems.

Break Down Of Different Systems:

  1. Drip Systems
  2. Aquaponic Systems
  3. NFT Systems (The Nutrient Film Technique)
  4. Aeroponic Systems
  5. Flood And Drain Systems - (EBB + Flow Systems)
  6. DWC Systems (Deep Water Culture)
  7. Wick Systems 

Drip Systems

The drip system is the most used hydroponics system, today. The primary principles behind this system are relatively simple, which translates into ease-of-construction and ease-of-use. This is exactly why this system is so popular.

First of all, the “nutrient reservoir” is created by adding the necessary nutrients to a tank of clean water. This reservoir is kept separated from the plants, themselves. Then a system of tubes is constructed that will pump the nutrient water from the reservoir to the plants on an individual basis. 


The reservoir pump is placed on a timer, which saves the owner the trouble of having to keep constant watch over the watering/feeding time. It will also allow you to accurately set the watering/feeding cycle to the optimum times that will be specific to the type of plants that are being grown. With multiple timers, this type of system will also make it possible to grow more than one variety of plants, within the same system, by setting different times for different plants to be watered/fed.  

You’ll have a choice of two types of different drip systems, which are; the non-recovery and the recovery drip systems. With the recovery system, the excess solution drains back into your solution reservoir. That way, the nutrient solution may be re-used. This increases your system’s level of efficiency and cuts down on your system’s maintenance time.

The main thing to keep in mind is that your nutrient solution will need to be checked every now and again. That’s because as your plants utilize the solution, the actual nutrient percentage of your solution reservoir will begin to change as time goes on.


AquaPonic Systems

This rather delightful hydroponics system actually features live fish! But the fish aren’t just for the sake of decoration purposes. In essence, the fish become part of a complex, living ecosystem that serves as a benefit to both the fish and the plants that you’re growing.

Here, your fish are actually living within the nutrient tank while releasing ammonia through their excrement. In addition, the solution will also contain any uneaten fish food. All of this will create an excellent natural fertilizer for growing your plants. This occurs when the ammonia is mixed with the bacteria in the solution, thus creating nitrate, which your plants will require. However, the solution will need regular changing in order to keep the fish from dying, due to the toxic ammonia.


With this system, the solution will be pumped into your “grow-tray” from which your plants will be fed. The plants, themselves, remove the present toxins from the nutrient solution and after the ammonia has been removed, the solution is fed back into the reservoir, which houses your fish. This can be enjoyable to observe, due to the swimming fish, and any children that you have can view this as a hydroponics and ecosystem learning experience.


NFT Systems - The Nutrient Film Technique

This particular hydroponics system is often utilized in commercial systems for growing certain crops. The primary difference in this type of hydroponics system is that it won’t need any timers. It’s basically a continuous watering cycle in which the nutrient solution is pumped into the plant’s grow tray where the plants are suspended in the air, while their roots hang down. This design will allow the nutrient solution to dribble into the grow tray from top to bottom since the tray is placed on a slight incline. Afterwards, the solution is fed back into the reservoir as recycled nutrient solution.

Since no timer is involved with this system, there is less of a chance for the system to fail due to a technical issue. This allows for minimum maintenance. The main thing to remember, however, is that an “air stone” is usually placed within the reservoir to ensure that the solution’s oxygenation is facilitated.



Aeroponic Systems

This system is considered the most advanced system insofar as its technical design is concerned. As a matter of fact, there are a number of scientists who have claimed that this system could be used to ease our world’s food shortages!

With this system, the plants to be grown are suspended in the air, much the same as in the NFT System and the plant’s roots will be hanging down. Here, there are two pumps in which one is used to pump the solution through a tube, while the other is used to spray the solution over the hanging roots in the form of a mist. 

The plant’s misting will be timed far more frequently than in a hydroponics drip system. This is because each mist will provide the pants with far less nutrients with each misting cycle. This will require that the timers to be used will need to be of a far more advanced design. In addition, the pump that is used to mist the plants will need to be of a high-pressure design. These more advanced components will cause this hydroponics type to be more expensive than most other types.

This also means that the solution is utilized more frequently than other systems due to the greater frequency of plant feedings/misting. In addition, the growth rates of the plants will be faster, since the solution’s oxygen levels will be higher. Also, the plants, themselves, will adapt to the mist feeding cycle by producing a greater number of roots, in order to absorb the maximum amount of mist nutrients.

The plants in this system can also be grown in a vertical direction by being suspended along a vertical wall with the roots sticking out the wall’s other side. This enables growing plants with less land needed to farm. However, this system works best for plants that require a lot of water (such as lettuce) due to the constant feedings.


Flood And Drain Systems - EBB + Flow Systems

The flood and drain system (also known as the ebb and flow system) can also be considered as a common and popular form of a hydroponics system. In function, it acts similarly to the drip system that has already been covered. However, in design, it’s even simpler to utilize. Because of this, many experts consider it to be one of the perfect hydroponics choices for beginners.

It’s similar to the drip system insofar as it utilizes a water/nutrient reservoir which the grower keeps separated from the plants that are being raised in the grow tray. The pump that is hooked up to the reservoir is set up on a timer in order to flood the tray with the nutrient/water solution that will facilitate the maximum amount of growth potential.


Once the grow tray has been flooded, then the system is designed to shut itself off and will allow the excess solution runoff to drain back into reservoir. Therefore, this system gets its name from that continuous cycle of draining and flooding. This type of continuous flooding and draining action is, in actuality, nearly self sufficient, with the exception of periodically checking the nutrient percentage in the reservoir water.

The only real difference between this system and the drip system is that there isn’t any way to customize the amount of solution to individual plants. Here, all of the plants will equally be flooded.

This form of simple hydroponics is quite easy to set up in your home. But if you wish, you can also purchase a complete system at a reasonable price. Since this type of system is so simple in its design, the ones that you can buy are pretty much plug-and-go. This makes the system more or less fail-proof!


DWC Systems - Deep Water Culutre

The DWC form of hydroponics system is considered to be the simplest type of hydroponics. As a matter of fact, DWC hydroponics is so simple that it can often be seen in classrooms as demonstration models of the concept of hydroponics. If you’ve ever seen a hydroponics model in your school, chances are that it was this type!

Unlike other hydroponics systems, what distinguishes this particular type is the fact that the grow tray and the reservoir are not kept separately from one another. Rather, there is a growing platform (usually Styrofoam) that floats on the surface of the nutrient water solution. This platform is designed to hold the plant’s top (leaves, etc.) above the surface of the solution. The platform will have holes that are designed to allow the growth of the roots directly below the surface of the nutrient solution. The main thing to remember, here, is that the solution will not experience any circulation. Therefore, an air stone needs to be used in order to provide oxygen to the water.


Something else to remember is that not every type of plant can be grown with this hydroponic method. That’s because some plant types will end up being overfed due to the fact that the plant roots will remain submerged in the solution.


Wick Systems

Another very simple hydroponics system is known as the wick system. For beginners who are interested in easy-to-grow plants (lettuce, herbs, etc.), this is a great system to start with. This way, someone new to hydroponics can grow plants that can be used on a daily basis in cooking and food preparation and can be grown all throughout the year. 

This type of hydroponics system is known as a “passive system”. That’s because it doesn’t utilize any pumps or other types of mechanics in its design. Rather, the nutrient solution will move through a wick, much like the wax in a candle (capillary movement).


In this type of system, plants will be sitting very close to the nutrient reservoir, which will shorten the travel distance of the nutrient solution through the wick. Due to the lesser amount of nutrients being delivered to the plants, this system is better for smaller plants and those plants that require less water.

When building a hydroponic wick system, you’ll need the following items; a support system (or container) that is designed to hold the plants in their places, the nutrient solution container (reservoir), the actual growth medium that can be used for wicking (such as perlite or coco coir) and the wick material (which can be made of a felt strip, string or rope).

Since the wick system of hydroponics is extremely basic in its design, it will require that you maintain your wick system manually, on a regular basis. There are several ways that plant damage can be avoided. For example, you can use more than one wick, which will increase the amount of water/nutrients to your plants. Also, you will want to keep your water level relatively high up within the reservoir, which will shorten the amount of space for the nutrient solution to travel. Also, you can avoid toxicity to your plants, which can come from nutrient buildup, by regularly rinsing your growing medium. You can also add an air stone in order to add more oxygen to your solution.   

All-in-all, growing with hydroponics can be a highly productive and easy method of growing plants, using a minimum amount of supplies and space. You can come across many different and inexpensive resources for growing plants using a hydroponics system that will certainly fit your growing space and budget.


Interested in starting a hydroponic garden?

Get in touch with our hydroponic experts. 


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