The hydroponic drip system is likely the most used hydroponic system in the world. Much like a drip irrigation system used in regular soil, the hydroponic drip system brings a water-based nutrient solution to the root system of plants. With the low flow, this system is very efficient. When the water is slowly dripped at the base of plants, there is very little evaporation, and it is more like natural rain falling from the sky. Because this system mimics a very natural process, is simple, and very efficient, it is used by people living in tiny apartments, families wanting to grow food in their yards, and even large commercial farms.
Hydroponic Drip System
This system can easily be used for plants in separate containers all in a row, or also used for vertical farming. Going up can substantially save space, especially if one lives in an apartment. In a vertical system, drip emitters are only needed at the top. The water trickles down, watering the plants along the way, and collecting at the bottom to be returned to the reservoir.
There are two types of hydroponic drip systems: recovery systems and non-recovery systems. A recovery system sends the nutrient solution through several times. Although this recycled solution can mean savings in the water and nutrient department, it requires a bit more monitoring and upkeep. The pH and nutrient levels will change in the discarded solution as the plants use it. This means that the pH level might need to be modified, and the nutrient solution might need to be emptied out and replaced with a fresh batch.
Non-recovery systems only send the solution through once, which may sound wasteful, but they are actually often more efficient. However, this is only accomplished by having very precise drip cycles. By using timers, and individualizing a drip for each plant, nearly every drop of the solution can be used. Since the solution is not being recycled, the reservoir will just need to be refilled with fresh solution, so there is no need to go crazy monitoring the pH and nutrient levels like in the recovery systems.
All things considered, this is a very simple system that is not very fussy. Some other setups will fail if the power goes out or has some other issue. This system is also very efficient and versatile. It can be used on the balcony of an apartment or in a huge commercial operation. Large plants such as squash and melons can also be supported in the hydroponic drip system. Most other systems can only support smaller plants.
Build Hydroponic Drip System
As with most other systems, there is certainly a kit that can be bought, but it is much more fun and cost-effective to build your own. Here are the things that will be needed and a few details in how to set everything up.
- Find a suitable container. There are several options for this. Choose one large container to hold all of your plants, separated containers for different types of plants, or a small, individual container for each plant. Whichever is used, make sure that there is a way for the nutrient solution to drain out of the bottom and either get discarded or sent back to the reservoir to be used again.
- Choose a growing medium. The plants need to be supported in this system by something that can hold water and air while also providing adequate drainage. River rocks can be placed at the bottom of the grow containers and media such as Rockwool, clay aggregate, or coco coir are good choices for around the plants.
- Search for a good container to use for the nutrient solution reservoir. This should be a closed container that is dark in colour and does not pass light easily. This is to ensure bacteria and algae growth do not become an issue. Put the reservoir in a place that is easy to get to and refill.
- Grab a submersible pump. There are many options for this, as it does not need to be high powered. Use a fountain or pond pump, or consider an aquarium pump. An air stone can also be added to make sure the roots are getting enough oxygen. This will help the plants to grow faster because the roots will be able to absorb more nutrients.
- Get a timer for the pump. This will allow the pump to go on and off several times a day. For most people, this does not need to be precise. However, if the plan calls for a sophisticated non-recovery system that aims for maximum efficiency, a precision cycle time will likely be needed.
- Rummage around for irrigation tubing and fittings, or go to the store to pick some up. As with many other aspects of this system, there are many options depending on what is desired. PVC, thin spaghetti tubing, flexible tubing, or regular drip irrigation supplies can be used. Each plant will also need one nozzle or drip emitter to deliver the solution. Although, another very simple option is to lay out some tubing with little holes poked in it to deliver the solution to each plant.
For anyone who has limited space or would just like to set up a hanging garden or “living wall” in their home, a vertical garden could be a good idea. These can even be made with recycled materials such as plastic bottles. These can be made super simple with soil and regular water or built using growing media and a drip system. Place a drip at every plant or only at the top, and allow the water to flow down to the plants below.
Maintaining Hydroponic Drip System
It is very important to take good care of the drip emitters in this system. Clogged emitters are the biggest problems in a hydroponic drip system. This can happen because of matter in the liquid solution, or dripper tips becoming plagued with the mineral build-up of algae. To keep these problems at bay, check the emitters often and tap them to knock off any sediment. Also closely watch the pH levels of the nutrient solution. Read the directions carefully to make sure all nutrient gets fully dissolved. Clean everything out very well in between growing cycles. Rinse and sanitize the growing medium, and also use nitric acid to flush out the irrigation system. This will help prevent bacteria and algae from building up.
Besides the emitters clogging, the biggest headaches of this system are keeping an eye on those pH and nutrient levels in recovery systems, or setting up the precise timing and delivery in a non-recovery system. All things considered, this system is very user friendly and versatile. Set up a large area this way in your backyard, get something going on your deck, or plant a wall of herbs in your kitchen. The possibilities are really endless.