Hydroponic gardening is a fun hobby. Some of the fun comes from experimenting by growing different plants in water, that too without going thru all the dirt, sweat, complicated compost making processes, uncertainties surrounding the use of conventional fertilizers.
Even though hydroponics is fun, preparation is also important to success. There are several things you need to do to get your garden setup.
First of all one obvious thing you need is plants. Either a seed or plant that is already started growing is needed. Almost any plant with the right care can be grown hydroponically. A good plant for beginners would be tomatoes.
You also need some kind of support against gravity to replace soil. Usually a container that has supports for the plant stems will work well for hydroponic gardening.
Common supporting mediums are- Coco-peat, Hydrotons, Rockwool, Sand, Perlite etc. depending upon your requirement & the availabilty/cost etc. you can decide on which one to go with.
The size of the container you need will depend on the size of plant you are growing. Since even single plants will need room to grow it is better to usually go with a larger container.
Water is the most important thing in hydroponics. Note that the water doesn’t have to be distilled and in fact it’s even better for the plants to use water with minerals in it. It is important for the water to be sterile however so be sure to boil it if needed.
Aquarium Pump/Air Pump (For pure DWC,NFT,Ebb& Flow Systems)
Next you will need to aerate your water since the roots need oxygen. A pump from an aquarium will suffice. Not needed for growing in grow bags.
Another important consideration is getting light to the plants which require about 7-8 hours a day of it. If you can’t supply the plants light needs with natural sunlight then you will have to use artificial lights that are designed for hydroponics.
Making nutrients is also a fun part of growing hydroponically, when you know all the elements for a plant to thrive are in their in your nutes mix you know you are bound to succeed. Making the right nutrient solution is very important for growing hydroponic plants. The most important are elements in a nute solution are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. There are also other trace elements that are important. For the plants to grow the balance of the three main nutrients is important. To ensure that the plants thrive I recommend nutrient solutions made by yourself. NPK is not a good solution for this purpose as it doesn’t contains Calcium & Magnesium, unless you have a formula to add them separately which is again a tedious process. Use hydro-buddy to create your own mixes, PPM values are available in a lot of hydroponic books & is also available in other websites.
Neem sprays & garlic juice will help you keep most of the bugs in control. Buy neem based pesticides, they even work to get rid of pests like mealy bug, aphids etc. Look for caterpillars & worms they do more damage than anything else. If you have a greenhouse you wont be much worried of pests.
The pH of the water needs to be checked regularly. You need a PH meter for that purpose, ideal PH ranges from 5.5 to 6.2 for most vegetable plants.
Water temperature needs to be kept around 25-30 degree Celsius. The environment where the plants are growing should not be exposed to high temperatures for very long, idle high temps should not go beyond 35 degree cel. If the climate is unfavorable then some sort of protection needs to be provided in the form of shade net, poly house or a controlled green house, even misting plain water helps a lot during hard summer days.
Drip, Reservoir & Drain collection-
You definitely want to look at these aspects even if you have a small setup, automating the irrigation process saves a lot of effort and recycling the nutes is the only way to survive in hydroponic world as the salts used in the nutes are not cheaper, I’ve learned that the hard way. Setups like NFT, Dutch buckets etc are the way forward. Passive hydroponics is not the sustainable way of doing it. Even to survive the heat in summers you need continuous feeding for which a setup like NFT is needed.
TDS & EC tells the strength of nutrients in your the water feed that is supplied to the plants. Nutrients deplete over the feeding cycle as the plant uptakes most of it from the water. A TDS meter will tell you how much nutrients are present in the water at any given point of time, fresh made solution will have more TDS than a solution which is in use by the plant, based on the TDS readings you can decide to add more nutrients or even make a fresh nutrient solution. For starters just go ahead and buy a TDS meter, if not now later you will understand why you need it..
Those are the basic requirements of getting a hydroponics garden setup. Following them will help ensure successful plant growth.
Personal Advice : Please read as much as you can about this subject before you start, watch a lot of videos available on you-tube & there’s lot of resources available on internet, many blogs, sites etc. Please do your homework well it can save you money, time and embarrassment 😉