Hydroponics is a method of gardening that skips soil, requiring only water and nutrients to grow plants. There was a time when hydroponics was considered a fringe alternative way to grow food, but the movement toward sustainable living has brought hydroponics into the mainstream. There are even hydroponic gardening classes for children. Growing your own food, even if it’s just a handful of plants, is satisfying. For individuals who aren’t afraid to go into it with full gear to those who prefer a simple first try, there are plenty of options.
The Kratky method is considered the most straightforward way for beginners to get the hang of hydroponics because it is a hands-free system that doesn’t require a pump or electricity. All you need to get started is a 5-gallon bucket and a liquid solution that contains all of the nutrients your plant of choice needs for its entire life cycle. Place your seedling on a raft over the solution so that its roots dip into the solution. Over time, this closed system will provide adequate water and air to the roots, and all it requires is a quick initial setup.
Those who think that they can’t possibly grow anything would be shocked at how easy it is to grow a hydroponic plant. A half-gallon tub with a lid, a 2-inch net cup with a seedling, fertilizer solution, a bubbler with tip, and a cube of rock wool are all you’ll need. You just cut a hole in the tub’s lid that will hold the net cup snuggly, and also make an opening for the bubbler tubing, which goes to the bottom of the tub.
Creating a window farm has multiple benefits, including repurposing old 3-liter soda bottles and using less water. For this project, you’ll need some items, including eye holes, S-hooks, and chains, to suspend the plants that will be held in the cut bottles with the riveted holes you've made. The water pump must be strong enough to handle the height those ½- and ¼-inch poly tubes will scale. Plus, you can easily automate the water supply with a timer.
Pre-made grow boxes cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, but building your own requires a few items that won’t cost that much. Building materials include a dark-colored 18-gallon bin with a lid, a ½-inch PVC pipe with fittings and caps, the preferred grow media, hoses, and sprinkler heads. The most intensive part of the DIY process is the sprinkler system, as it needs to be tested for proper fit and function. This grow box holds 7 or 8 pots.
A drip bucket system is good for larger plants, like beefy salad tomatoes. With this design, the solution is pumped to the plant instead of having the plant take the nutrients from the reservoir. The advantages of this system are that the bucket doesn’t need as much water, and the pump recycles unused nutrients. You can try one or two seedlings per bucket. Use flag drip lines to regulate the solution and keep the growing medium moist.
If you’re short on finding buckets and tubs, you can make your own PVC hydroponics system. You need tools, such as a power drill, hack saw, and a soldering iron. Most importantly, you’ll need at least 10 feet of 4-inch PVC pipes and corresponding elbows, along with pipe glue and other materials. Once you cut the holes and create the pipe’s flow design, it’s crucial to ensure proper aeration. For this design, consider adding LED grow lights.
In this hydroponic system, each 5-gallon bucket has a hole with a ½-inch PVC pipe that’s about 3 or 4 inches long. The pipes are connected inside and outside using elbows and grommets. Perlite is the medium here because it’s relatively light and easy to manage. The plants will still develop strong root systems, and with the help of a paint strainer to line the bucket before you put in the medium, you avoid polluting the irrigation system and, if you decide to use one, the pump.
With an A-frame hydroponics system, you can grow twice the amount of produce in less space. The key to this type of garden is preventing root rot by maintaining an optimal temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. First, you’ll need timber to build the A-frame, in addition to PVC sewer pipes, tubes connectors, caps, brackets, and a reservoir tub. Once you’ve cut the larger pipe, you can snake them against the frame.
If going horizontal is a problem, the rain tower hydroponics system is the answer. This space-saving vertical garden requires a fence post or other vertical support, buckets, and PVC pipes along with other standard tools and attachments. The protruding fittings are 3-inch pipes cut at a 45-degree angle, so the pots fit comfortably and won’t tip.
Find a flat site to place the container for your floating raft. The container can be something as simple as an empty kiddie pool, or you can construct your own raft frame. Among the many materials, you'll need thick styrofoam with holes cut into it that are big enough to hold the net pots securely. Once the hydroponics solution is poured, put in the styrofoam bed and add the plants.