The market is full of many different types of hydroponics
systems, and it can be hard to pick the right one. The hydroponics system you
end up buying will have a big influence on how much time and money you need to
maintain your garden, which hydroponics nutrients you buy, and what plants you
are able to grow. There are two main kinds of system: active and passive.
Passive types deliver nutrients via the growing medium, but active systems use
a pump. An active system will cost more and take more to maintain, but may get
Below are examples and explanations of the most popular
hydroponics types being used today:
Aeroponics - This method is probably the most high-tech type
of hydroponics gardening. Aeroponics Systems use little to no growing medium.
The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The misting is
usually done every few minutes. Because the roots are exposed to the air, the
roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted. However,
managing the hydroponic garden is even trickier, since disease and pests have
it much easier in this setting. Plants are continuously kept wet, either
immersed in water ('true' hydroponics) or continually sprayed (aeroponics) or
reside in a permanently wet medium such as perlite or sand. Fortunately, as
with soil-based gardens, there is a large array of available methods to manage
A timer controls the nutrient pump much like other types of
hydroponic systems, except the aeroponics system needs a short cycle timer that
runs the pump for a few seconds every couple of minutes. Other types of
Aeroponics systems run constantly, requiring no timer. These systems are easily
contaminated by rot-inducing anaerobic bacteria, and should only be used by
experienced gardeners and researchers.
Deep Water Culture - This is the simplest of all active
hydroponics systems. Plants are in a basket of grow rocks, suspended over a
container of aerated nutrient solution. An air pump supplies air to the air
stone that bubbles the nutrient solution and supplies oxygen to the roots of
Water culture is the system of choice for growing leaf
lettuce, which are fast growing, water loving plants, making them an ideal
choice for this type of hydroponics system. This type of hydroponics system is great for the
classroom and is popular with teachers. A very inexpensive system can be made
out of an old aquarium or other water tight container.
Drip System - This method is probably the most widely used
type of hydroponic system in the world. Operation is simple; a timer controls a
submersed pump. The timer turns the pump on and nutrient solution is dripped
onto the base of each plant by a small drip line. In a Recirculating Drip
System the runoff is collected back in the reservoir for re-use.
The Water-to-Waste System does not collect the runoff. The
advantage of Water-to-Waste is that the nutrient solution in the reservoir has
never passed through the system, so it is unchanged. In a Recirculating System,
the nutrient solution can fluctuate in both nutrient concentration levels and
We recommend a soilless mix for Water-to-Waste systems,
because soilless mixes retain more water. This way, the pump kicks on less
often, so you use less nutrient solution. With quality nutrients and a good
soilless mix, a Water-to-Waste Drip System can be one of the best ways of
gardening with lights.
Ebb and Flow - Ebb and Flow works by temporarily flooding
the grow tray with nutrient solution and then draining the solution back into
the reservoir. This action is normally done with a submerged pump that is
connected to a timer. When the timer turns the pump on, nutrient solution is
pumped into the grow tray. When the timer shuts the pump off, the nutrient
solution flows back into the reservoir. Depending on plant requirements, the
tray can be flooded once, or several times, each day.
The main disadvantage of this type of system is that with
some loose types of growing medium (Growrocks, Perlite, etc.), there is a
vulnerability to power outages as well as pump and timer failures. The roots
can dry out quickly when the watering cycles are interrupted. This problem can
be relieved somewhat by using growing media that retains more water (Rockwool,
coconut fiber or a good soilless mix). This is the system we often recommend
for first-time hydroponics gardeners. It is simple, reliable, and easy to set
N.F.T. System - N.F.T. systems have a constant flow of
nutrient solution, so no timer is required for the submersible pump. The nutrient
solution is pumped into the growing tray (usually a tube) and flows over the
roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir.
Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket
full of grow rocks, with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution. N.F.T.
systems are very susceptible to power outages and pump failures. The roots dry
out very rapidly when the flow of nutrient solution is interrupted.
There is usually no growing medium used other than air,
which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop.
Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots
dangling into the nutrient solution.