What is Hydroponics? The Little Explainer.

basics of hydroponics

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Whether you have just stumbled upon hydroponics or are a veteran, it is always good to understand the system that can feed you and your family.

In this post, we’re going to get into the basics of hydroponics, so whether you’re ready to start growing or are just curious, you’ll learn some cool things about this system throughout today’s article.

Hydroponics has been around for centuries and has contributed significantly to how we grow our food today. But what is it?

What is Hydroponic System?

Simply put, hydroponics is the cultivation of plants in a water-based solution, without the use of soil. The nutrients required by the plants are added in water, instead of traditional soil and then the water is circulated through the soilless growth mediums.

The word “hydroponics” comes from two Greek words, “hydro,” meaning water, and “ponos,” meaning labor or work.

How Does The System Work?

Hydroponics uses nutrient-rich water instead of soil to grow plants. In a hydroponic system, the roots of plants are exposed to mineral nutrient solutions, and not to soil. This water solution contains plant food to nourish the plant.

In a hydroponic system, the nutrient solution is pumped to the root zone where it absorbs by capillary action. The solution then drains back to the reservoir, completing the cycle.

Advantages of Hydroponic System:

There are several benefits of this system when compared with the traditional way of gardening. Here are some of them:

  • Little to no dirt is involved in the hydroponic growing system.
  • This is system is environmental as it helps to stop topsoil erosion.
  • Hydroponic gardening uses water and light to grow vegetables and fruits. Water in hydroponic gardening stays in the system and can be reused. So you don’t need a constant fresh water supply.
  • Hydroponics is a great option if you lack yard space or have a tiny balcony. It also lends itself really well to indoor gardening.
  • Hydroponic growing means less time spent and less money wasted on unnecessary materials.
  • You can grow your vegetables and fruits all year round.
  • You also need not spend hours weeding and tilling the soil.
  • In hydroponics, the yields on crops are much higher and the plants will generally produce richer, brighter, and more nutritious fruits compared to a traditional form of gardening.
  • The growth rate is faster than traditional soil-based gardening. The roots receive good aeration and can absorb nutrients much faster than when in the soil.

Some of the plants which thrive in this system are Spinach, Lettuce, Cilantro, Tomato, Peppers, Strawberries, etc.

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Growing Medium/Substrate:

There are many different substrates that can be used with hydroponics. They promote better root structure development. They also retain moisture longer.

Some most popular hydroponic substrates are

  • Rock wool,
  • Expanded clay aggregate,
  • Grow stones,
  • Coconut coir,
  • Rice husks,
  • Perlite,
  • Vermiculite and
  • Pumice.

Select the substrate based on what is available locally and what will work best for the type of plants being grown.

Types of Hydroponics:

Hydroponic systems are generally divided into two categories: passive systems and active systems.

Passive Hydroponic Systems:

Passive hydroponic systems are so-called because they require little to no maintenance after setup. An example of a passive hydroponic system is the wick-style system.

Active Hydroponic Systems:

Active hydroponic systems require more maintenance than passive ones. They include Deep Water Culture (DWC), Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Ebb and Flow system, and Drip system.

There are six popular hydroponic systems:

1. The Wick System:

The system works by placing a wick into a reservoir full of liquid nutrients. The wick draws the liquid up through itself into a top tray filled with growing medium (you can use coconut coir, perlite, or vermiculite for this).

Water then trickles down through the pellets and out holes in their bottom sides, which surrounds each plant’s roots in an inch or two of water.

A wick is a string or piece of cloth that is used to transport water and nutrients up to the plant roots. In a wicking system, there is no pump or pressurized water system. The wick acts as the water supply line.

You can easily build a wicking system at home using common materials and tools that you might have lying around your house.

Wick systems are the simplest form of hydroponic gardening, but they’re also the least efficient. The plants also don’t receive a continuous supply of nutrients, so they require regular feeding.

The main problem with the wick system is it will not work very well for water-hungry plants.

2. Deep Water Culture (DWC):

DWC systems use a slightly more complex setup than wicking systems. because the plant’s roots are suspended directly in water that contains all of the nutrients needed for optimal growth.

The Deep water system uses net pots to grow plants. A net pot filled with the growing medium has its bottom holes covered with air stones that deliver oxygen to the roots and keep them from sitting in stagnant water.

Unlike a wick system, a DWC system needs an air pump and air stones to create air bubbles.

this system is quite cheap and easy to implement but it won’t work for growing larger plants.

3. Nutrient Film Technique (NFT):

NFT or Nutrient Film Technique works by having a constantly recirculating film of nutrient solution flowing through the plant roots which is then collected at the bottom of the system and recycled back to the top.

The plants are placed in holes or pots that have net pots around them allowing the plants to be suspended in the air.  This system is often compared to a conveyor belt because as water flows out from one end, it re-enters from the other end.

The Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) system is one of the most common methods of growing plants using hydroponics. It’s fairly easy to set up and can be used for many types of plants such as lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, etc.

4. Ebb and Flow System:

The ebb and flow system works by placing your growing medium into buckets or beds that are raised up above your water reservoir, but still able to drain down into it.

The water then flows up from your reservoir through each bed or bucket until it reaches the top. When it reaches the top of each bed or bucket, it then runs back down into your reservoir again.

5. Aeroponics:

An aeroponic system does not use any type of growing medium. Instead, the roots are placed directly in the air or a mist.

Nutrient-rich water is sprayed directly onto the plant’s roots instead of being flooded over them. This allows for much less wastewater and also results in faster growth rates than other methods.

Aeroponically grown plants grow very quickly, making them ideal for commercial use.

Aeroponics is also much more expensive than other types of hydroponic systems so it is usually only used by commercial growers or very advanced home growers.

6. Drip Systems:

Drip systems are used almost exclusively by commercial growers for large-scale growing operations.

Drip systems usually consist of a reservoir for holding the nutrient solution, an emitter that the plants’ roots hang down into the water from, and a pump that pushes the nutrient solution through the tubing and into the reservoir. 

Some drip systems have a timer that runs for several hours during the day or night to provide a steady stream of nutrients to your plants.

The drip system allows for the easiest control over nutrient levels and cleanliness in a growing environment. it can hold many plants together closely.

However, it can be expensive to set up and maintain and is difficult to use by inexperienced people.

Equipment / Tools For Hydroponics:

While hydroponic gardening can be slightly more difficult than growing plants in soil, it is certainly not impossible. The tools and equipment necessary for hydroponic gardening are readily available and will make the process of growing plants hydroponically much easier.

Some of the equipment and tools that you need to grow your hydroponic plants include:

  • Water
  • Water basin
  • Grow Lights
  • Temperature controller
  • Grow trays and tables
  • Fertilizer or nutrients
  • Growing medium or substrate

Hydroponic system-specific equipment:

There is some equipment that is specific to the hydroponic system you choose to grow a plant. Things like air pumps, tubes, time controllers, etc. will be optional depending on the type of hydroponics.

Disadvantages of Hydroponics

Hydroponics Can Be Expensive To Set Up:

Hydroponics requires you to buy an expensive setup, plus purchase all of the nutrients that your plants need. Depending on your style, hydroponic systems can cost a lot of money.

The System Is Vulnerable To Power Outages:

If you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages, hydroponics is not for you. Because hydroponics relies on electricity, a power outage could result in the death of all of your plants.

Hydroponics Needs Constant Monitoring And Maintenance:

Because hydroponics has more variables than other types of gardening, it’s very easy for things to go wrong. Plants can suffer from nutritional deficiencies easily if you’re not careful about maintaining the right pH level and nutrient balance. 

You’ll need to regularly check up on your system, add nutrients when necessary, or fix leaks as they happen.

The Plants Are Prone To Waterborne Diseases:

Because water is constantly flowing over your roots in hydroponic systems, it’s easier for diseases to spread quickly through your plants. This is especially true if you’re using tap water

Problems Affect Plants Quicker Than In Regular Gardening:

If something goes wrong with your system, it can mess up your plants faster than if they were growing in dirt. This also means that you have to watch out for problems with your system and fix them as soon as they arise or they could cause serious damage to your plants.

Inorganic Gardening:

In most cases, a hydroponic system uses an inorganic or chemical form of nutrients. But as an organic grower, we always recommend you to use organic fertilizers.

One of the most interesting ways to use organic fertilizers is switching your hydroponics to an Aquaponic system. You can learn more about the Aquaponic system here.


Hydroponic Growing Tips

Maintain Water Quality:

Efficient hydroponic growing relies on water quality and nutrient delivery. Ensuring the water remains of high quality has to be one of the top priorities when growing crops in a hydroponic system. you can do this by regularly checking the pH level, nutrient levels, and temperature.

Start Small and Easy:

When starting a hydroponic system, it’s important to start small and work your way up to larger systems. If you are a beginner you can start with “Deep Water Cultivation”; it is very easy to set up and very economical.

Methods like the “Nutrient Film Technique” on the other hand is good for large-scale farming.

Use The Right Kind of Fertilizers:

The standard garden fertilizers and hydroponic fertilizers are different, always use fertilizers that are designed for hydroponic farming. Follow the instructions mentioned on the package.

Clean The System Regularly:

It is also important that you check your reservoirs regularly to ensure they are clear of debris and algae. Any build-up in the reservoir can cause damage to the plants or even block the flow of water through your system.

Choose The Right Growing Medium:

Choosing the right growing medium is one of the keys to growing a successful garden. The right medium will not only promote healthy plant growth but also reduce pests and disease. Understand the type of medium you are using and its pros and cons.

For example, Rockwool can hold up quite a lot of water and air but it is not biodegradable and must be changed after every use. Clay pebbles, coco coir are biodegradable and can be re-used but can be a bit expensive.


In this article, we’ve covered some of the basics of hydroponics. With a little knowledge and research, anyone can have a great time growing his or her very own plants with hydroponic methods.

If you want to grow your own hydroponic vegetable garden, you want to invest in a quality hydroponic system. The best hydroponic systems will not only allow you to serve up large crops that would be impossible with conventional gardening methods, but they will do so without the use of a lot of water or fertilizer.

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what is hydroponics

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