Growing your own food has many rewards. It saves you money, provides fresh produce, and you can control what goes on and into growing your food. However, setting up an outdoor garden isn’t an option for everyone. Setting up an indoor hydroponic gardening system allows for you to grow your own vegetables, berries and herbs year-round.
Why and How?
Hydroponics are great because you don’t have to deal with messy soil, and they can be automated to allow for very little maintenance. Instead of your plants receiving nutrients from the soil, you feed them via nutrient-rich water that saturates their roots. The type of medium that you choose allows for different rates of absorption and added nutrients. Replace sunlight with artificial lighting and you’ve got a hydroponic setup off and running!
Ebb and Flow (aka Flood and Drain)
Image credit: Gardenious
This is the most simple of the systems, displays the basic concept of hydroponic gardening, and is the easiest to build yourself. The system setup has an individual spot for each potted plant that allows the exposed roots or absorbent soil medium reside in the slanted reservoir. The reservoir is flooded with nutrients that then drains the excess solution into a another reservoir situated below the system.
The reserve tank of nutrient solution can be equipped with a pump and timer to automate your watering schedule, or you can hand flood your plants on a set schedule. This system works best for plants that benefit from short periods of dry spells of up to 10 hours, such as peppers, tomatoes and melons.
There are a number of complete kits to build your dream hydroponic tomato garden that can be purchased with all the needed equipment, but some systems are easy enough to build yourself.
How to Build Your Own System
You can save yourself a lot of money by creating your own homemade hydroponic gardening system. To build such a system you would want to gather the following supplies:
- Plastic tray table in size of your choice (can be typically be found at a hobby or craft store)
- 1x 1” and 1x ½” tubing with length enough to reach reservoir from the base of the tray table
- Rockwool cubes
- Nutrient rich solution
- Large bucket or container to serve as reservoir
- Epoxy or water resistant caulk
Step 1: Designate the area in your house for your new hydroponic system, and measure to purchase an appropriately sized table.
Step 2: Adjust the table to have a slight slope by either adding height to one side by propping the table up or by sawing off a small section of the legs on one side. Make sure that the table is high enough to easily slide the reservoir in and out from underneath of it.
Step 3: Drill two 1” holes in the lower positioned side of the table to fit tubing through.
Step 4: Situate the 1” tube with one end of the tube inline with the top of the rockwool cubes and the ½” tube flush with the bottom of the table. The larger tube will act as an overflow release, and the smaller tubing will allow the water to slowly leave the table and return to the reservoir.
Step 5: Place the bucket or storage container below the tubing. Drill holes in the lid for the drain tubes to enter.
Step 6: Place your plants sourced in the rockwool cubes evenly spaced on the table.
Step 7: Test your setup with a small amount of water and seal any cracks or gaps with a sealant of your choice.
Step 8: Begin your first flood and enjoy your new in home hydroponic garden!
Type of System
The size and financial investment that you want to put into your hydroponic setup will help you determine what type of system that you install. There are four main types of setups with the addition of costly “plug and produce” options. The most cost-efficient and simple system is the ebb and flow (or flood and drain) system.
You can also use this same system to create a top feed system. By adding a pump into your reservoir and another ½” tube, you can string the tubing over the canopy of your plants. Puncture a series of small holes along the tube that hangs over your plants to allow the solution to drip through. The pump will push the water through, flood the plants and make its way back into the reservoir after filtering through the soil media.
Plants need nutrients, light and water to grow and produce. Your ebb and flow system will provide two of those three, leaving lighting as your only issue. If you have natural light available to you, attempt to place your new hydroponic setup near the windows of your home. Most hydroponic setups are small enough to only require one light but there are many lighting options to choose from, based on the amount of energy use, energy output, and cost. Be sure to place your light at least 12 inches above your canopy to avoid burning the tips of your plants’ leaves.
Medium and Nutrients
You can also use net pots filled with other types of soil media such as clay pellets, coco or rockwool depending on your preference. Some plants benefit from having a more silica rich medium. Additionally, there are many options of nutrient rich solutions available on the market, from synthetic fertilizers to organic recipes. Different plants will require different availability of vitamins and minerals to ensure optimum growing power and health. When flooding your plants you want to fill the table to only 80 percent of the height of the soil medium to avoid oversaturation.
Growing your own food in your living room, office or even bedroom is a fulfilling experience for you and your family. It allows you to cut down on your carbon footprint and to have access to fresh vegetables, herbs and berries throughout the winter. With a minimal amount of effort and time, you can literally be reaping what you sow on your investment within weeks.
About the author: W.M. Chandler is a Colorado native and works best with her head in the clouds. She is an avid researcher and enjoys writing about unfamiliar subjects. She writes passionately about nature and the outdoors, human connections and relationships, nutrition and politics. Twitter: @wmchandler1212