For beginners, it is good to start with a pre-built Hydroponics solution like the Miracle-Gro AeroGarden 7-Pod Kit.
However if you have the time and are interested in putting together your own hydroponic garden at home and want to start with a simple, foolproof method, a Deep Water Culture (also known as “Raft system”) might be perfect for you. This method allows you to grow several small, lightweight greens such as lettuce, spinach, or herbs such as basil, parsley and cilantro. The concept behind this setup is simple: plants are grown on a “raft” made of rigid Styrofoam or plastic floating in a pool of nutrient-rich water.
To build a Deep Water Culture, here is what you will need
- 10 Gallon, plastic Totes (use a non-transparent one, to prevent the growth of algae)
- 3 inch net pots
- Air pump of 20 gallon strength (so you can power up to two Hydroponic gardens)
- Tubing for aeration (use a non-transparent one, to prevent the growth of algae)
- T valves (required if you do not have two air outlets)
- Two Aquarium air stones (preferably 4-8 inch length)
- Growing mediums (CocoPeat or Hydroton Clay Pebbles)
- Hydroponic nutrients
- Lettuce or other seeds
- LED Grow Lights (if you are growing in-doors, without natural light)
- Box cutter
- Circular saws (optional, but easier option)
- Go for a 10 gallon plastic tank, as the larger 30 gallon tanks tend to bend out-of-shape when they are filled with water.
- Start with the plastic lid, place the desired number of net pots in the inverted position, with the net portion pointing up-wards, then mark the desired layout (3×3 or 3×4) using a marker pen. Once you have marked the circles you can start cutting them using either a cutting tool like a circular saw or by simply using a sturdy box cutter.
- Next insert the net pots into the openings, smooth-en out the edges where required. Each Net Pot can house one plant, so with 9 pots you can have your own herb garden. With a system this size, you can grow Lettuce, Chinese cabbage, Bok Choy, Spinach, Basil and other similar greens in it. You can also grow tomatoes and Chilli Peppers, but will need to use tresses, to support the plant.
- Next using a electric drill make two small holes in the handle portion of the plastic tank, so that you can insert the tubing for the air-pump. This way it will not interfere with the handling of the lid.
- Move the tank to the desired location of the house and fill it with water up to the level where the Net Pots are submerged in one inch of water. Next add the nutrients to the water.
- Next fill the net pots with the filler, you can use Coco Peat or Peat Gravel
- Next place the saplings in the dead center of the Net Pot
- You may also want to cover the air pump with a plastic box to prevent damage from water and pests.
For germinating the seeds, you have a few options:
- Traditional seed starting kit – If you already have a soil based seed starter kit at home, you can germinate the seeds in them before transferring it to the Hydroponic grow bed.
- Rock wool plugs – You can use seed starting rock wool plugs and place them directly in the net pot, i.e. in the nutrient solution. Another advantage with this is you can transplant it without any roots getting cut.
- Pre-potted saplings – The last and easiest option is to walk into your neighboring Home Depot or similarly nursery and buy the desired saplings. You will need to carefully wash away all the soil from the roots before placing them in the dead center of the net pot.
Caring for your Hydroponic Garden
While it is important to pay attention to the leaves and shoots of the plant, it is equally important that you monitor the health of the root system. In hydroponics, since the plants are grown exclusively in a nutrient solution, it is possible that the roots may rot due to lack of sufficient dissolved oxygen. Signs of root rot are browning of roots and slimy nature of the rotten roots, sometimes it may also emit a fowl odor. White roots are a sign of healthy root system. The plant nutrient system that you are going to use is also very important, the plants will need micro-nutrients. Monitor the nutrient solution; make sure your plants are getting sufficient oxygenated nutrients to ensure rapid and healthy growth. The nutrient solution needs to be replaced every once a week with pH reading maintained between 5.5 and 6.5.
When replacing the hydroponic nutrients, make sure you wash the reservoir to get rid of any algae, mold, and / or other salt debris. The highly oxygenated environment in a deep water culture system will promote the growth of algae and mold inside the reservoir. That is why, it is important to use non-transparent tanks, which will help prevent the growth of algae due to sun-light exposure.