Making a homemade hydroponics gardening system sounds like something out of science fiction: plants growing without soil. Thanks to a budding science known as hydroponics, however, growing plants in water isn’t something out of the future. In fact, making a homemade hydroponics gardening system provides solutions to some of the problems we face right now.
What’s excellent about hydroponic gardening is that even hobby gardeners can take advantage of all the benefits.
This guide explores the pros and cons of hydroponic gardening, plus gives you instructions for building homemade hydroponics. First, let’s break down exactly what hydroponics means.
What is Hydroponics?
Officially, hydroponics is a type of hydroculture, which is a way to grow plants without using soil. There are two main hydroponic systems: a solution culture system or an aggregate culture system.
A solution hydroponics system consists of a nutrient-rich fluid or solvent (not necessarily water) for the plants to grow in. An aggregate system means the plants are growing in an inert medium, such as clay pellets or sand; even though the plants are not directly in water, they’re still receiving all of their nutrients through water alone.
Like any gardening system, plants like light, pH of the growth medium, sunlight, and protection from the elements are vital. Hydroponic gardening systems can be used inside greenhouses, in garages, on back porches, or in the backyard.
Why Go Homemade Hydroponics?
We’ve mentioned that hydroponic gardening systems have their advantages, and we’re sure by now that you’re wondering what those are!
One of the biggest advantages is the speed at which plants grow. Because homemade hydroponics is nutrient-rich and more efficient than soil as a growing medium, plants grow extremely fast.
Not only do hydro plants have greater growth rates, but they also have greater yields. For gardeners working with limited space, this makes hydroponics extremely beneficial. In the Netherlands, for example, where space is severely limited, the sustainable farming community has embraced hydroponic gardening systems as a way to produce more with less.
Another huge benefit to homemade hydroponics is that they’re closed systems.
You have only small control over the soil and rainwater. But control what kind of chemicals to use.
Crops are inefficient, in that the soil needs to rest for periods of the year and occasionally annually. With hydroponic gardening systems, however, there’s no need to take a break.
Because you’re reusing growing medium, don’t worry about replenishing the medium or allowing it to take a break. Simply keep up with nutrient replenishment and make sure you’re not losing water due to evaporation.
Hydroponics is also space efficient since you can utilize more vertical space, whereas with traditional gardening you spread out.
Finally, hydroponics is water efficient. It takes more water to grow plants traditionally, partly because so much water is lost to runoff and evaporation. You completely avoid these issues when you utilize hydroponics; plus, there’s no daily watering!
What Kinds of Systems Can You Build?
There are industrial-grade hydroponic systems set up, but you probably don’t need it! Smaller hydroponic gardening systems better suited to the hobby or backyard gardener.
A myriad number of creative ways build them, but most of them fall into roughly two categories: using PVC pipes to create water troughs. Either way has its benefits.
PVC pipes are usually more permanent and better suited to larger spaces that are protected from the elements (usually a greenhouse) but are perfect for growing enough for a family.
If you’d like a solution for a few plants or your garage or back porch, you might prefer utilizing buckets or tubs and specially designed lids, since these will be much easier to construct and you’ll be able to move these if necessary.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Building a Hydroponic System
Before you race off to buy your materials and get started building your hydroponic gardening system, there are a few things you should through. Here are the questions you should ask before beginning your project:
How Much Time Do I Want to Spend Assembling?
If you’re handy and have the time, you might want to build a PVC pipe system and frame. However, if you’re not especially handy or don’t have the time or the tools, this might not be a good project for you to take on.
How Much Do I Want to Spend?
Solutions for hydroponic gardening range from premade, premium, convenient, and expensive, to completely DIY. Sometimes when you factor in all the time and energy you’ve put into a DIY project, it turns out that it would have been cheaper to buy something premade.
That said, DIY projects–especially when it comes to gardening–are fun to try yourself, and the solutions we recommend below are simple enough for most beginners to take a stab at.
How Much Do I Want to Grow?
One of the most common problems gardeners encounter is growing too much, too fast. It’s not uncommon to find a gardener growing frustrated with his new hobby because he bit off more than he could chew. And now it’s too much work, he can’t use fast enough!
To avoid this problem, plan carefully. Pay close attention to expected yield but remember–hydroponics gets a higher yield! Because you’re not tied to a season, it’s worth planting less than you think you’ll need, and gradually grow your hydroponic garden.
How Will My Hydroponic Garden Get Light?
If you’re in a greenhouse or setting up your plants outdoors, you can utilize natural light. If you’re starting your garden indoors, however, you’ll need to substitute with a grow light. Make sure you have a place to hang it and plug it in.
How Much Space is Available?
Your spouse might not be happy if your new hydroponic hobby takes over your garage, and you might not have the room in your backyard for the kind of PVC frame you’re envisioning. Make sure you think through your plans carefully; don’t be afraid to whip out the tape measure.
2 Hydroponic Gardening Systems You Can Build Yourself
First, let’s learn about the Reservoir System:
Reservoir Hydroponic Gardening System
This system requires reservoir, pump, lid, and trays that hold plants. The pump tube, hydroponic nutrients for the water, a growing medium, and trellis.
For the reservoir, use five-gallon buckets if you want abundant algae, single plant, such as a tomato, or an 18-gallon tub to grow cucumbers. Make sure it’s reliable and translucent, as any light will cause algae to grow.
If the tub has a lid, drill holes into it. Conversely, use styrofoam sheet or bucket, find grow trays that can be placed directly on the bucket.
The trays are like sieves you drain, only smaller. Drill holes in your reservoir to attach the pump, remember, keep the holes about a half inch higher than the bottom trays, when they’re resting in the lid.
Pro tip: fill the tank with water after putting it in place. It will be very difficult to move after!
PVC Hydroponic Gardening System
A much more advanced system to build and needs to be thought out carefully. It also, however, gives you much more room for creativity in the design of your hydro garden!
Ultimately, to build a PVC system you’ll need PVC pipe, including elbows, planting cups or trays, and materials for the frame (either more PVC pipes, wood, or some other material). You’ll also need plastic tubing, a pump, clay pellets, a grow light, and a trellis, just like in the reservoir system.
You’ll assemble your PVC pipes carefully, allowing each large tube to carry plants space at least a few inches apart and connected via plumbing or tubing to a larger water reservoir with nutrients and a pump, to allow full circulation throughout the system.
Let’s Get Growing!
There are so many fun ways to grow plants as a backyard gardener, but we’ll admit that homemade hydroponics is just a little extra fun. Hopefully, these plans and ideas will help you get your system going in no time!