Hydroponic gardens have been around for quite some time, and although they may sound intimidating, they do come with some benefits. You can buy a hydroponic garden setup from a DIY or gardening store, but they can be expensive, not to mention that you won’t feel the satisfaction of building your own hydroponic garden setup.
Here we are talking about growing small veggies and herbs using the hydroponic method. For those of you who don’t know, a hydroponic garden is a special type of garden that uses mostly water to grow crops — they aren’t grown in soil.
All the nutrients needed to sustain growth come from the water. Crops grown this way are shown to grow up to 50% faster, thus effectively doubling yields. Let’s go through a step-by-step process on how to build a hydroponic garden at home.
How to Build a Hydroponic Garden
Step 1: Building a Flood Table
The first thing that you are going to need here is a flood table. This is a fancy word for the water reservoir that your hydroponic setup will rely on for growth. In simplest terms, it’s a rectangular or square container that holds water.
You can use treated lumber, a plastic liner, and some staples and screws to make your own flood table, but if you are not the handiest person, you can also choose to get a big plastic container.
As long as the container you are using is watertight, will not leach any substances into the water, and can hold anywhere from 10 to 20 gallons of water, you should be fine. Exactly what you use for the flood table is up to you.
Step 2: Preparing a Floating Platform
Keep in mind that the plants will be placed in a very small amount of soil, just enough for the roots to take hold, and each plant gets its own small pot. To prevent the roots and the soil from rotting, because they will be sitting in water, you will need to build a floating platform.
To build your floating platform, get a sheet of Styrofoam that is about 1.25 to 1.5 inches thick, and just slightly smaller than the container you used for the flood table. The Styrofoam should not touch the edges of the flood table, or else it will not be able to float properly.
Using the small pots you will be using to house your crops, saw holes into the Styrofoam. Make sure that the pots can fit very snugly into these holes, and make sure that the bottoms of the pots cannot protrude more than 1/16 of an inch below the Styrofoam.
Step 4: Adding Drip Emitters
Drip emitters are little devices, kind of like valves, that will allow a certain amount of water to drip out from the flood table. This will allow the water to cycle, so it never gets stagnant, something that you don’t want happening. You can find these at hardware and garden stores.
Keep in mind that they come in various drip rates, and for a standard hydroponic garden, you want the flood table to hold around 5 gallons of water per hour, so getting two drip emitters with flow rates of 2 gallons per hour will be fine.
Make holes in the bottom of the flood table and push the drip emitters through, then seal up the holes using waterproof epoxy.
Step 5: Elevating the Flood Table
The next step is to put your flood table on a stand or on legs — it needs to be elevated. Once you have done this, place a bucket or waterproof container below the drip emitters.
You need something to catch the water which drips out of the flood table. Now that you have done this, you can fill up the flood table with water, enough to fill it halfway. If this is not enough water, you can always add more once you have added your crops into the mix.
Step 6: Setting Up the Lights
Your crops are going to need light. So, you can set this hydroponic garden up outdoors if you choose, as long as it is somewhere that it can get at least 6 to 8 hours of light per day. You can also build your setup indoors, in which case you will want to some high-quality grow lights. Sodium bulbs or metal halide bulbs will work best for plant growth.
Step 7: Adding Plant Food
You will need plant food that is specifically formulated for hydroponic gardens. Follow the instructions on the packaging and make sure to add the right amount of plant food for the amount of water you are using.
Step 8: Choosing the Crops
Now it is time to choose the crops you want to grow. For hydroponic setups, herbs and leafy greens tend to work best. Anything that requires a lot of soil is not going to work. For instance, you won’t be able to grow potatoes this way, especially for small setups.
Step 9: Making the Potting Mixture
Remember that you need a bit of potting mixture for the roots to take hold in, but here you are not using soil. You are using perlite and coco fiber. Use about 8 parts perlite to 1 part coco fiber.
This will allow your plants to absorb the right amount of moisture and air, and will prevent them from flooding. If you live in a dry climate, use more coco fiber.
Now, take this potting mixture and put it in small 4 inch pots that have holes in the bottom. Only fill the pots about one third of the way with this mix.
Step 10: Insert the Plants
The best way to go about this is not to just plop the seeds into the potting mix made in the previous step. You want to germinate the seeds using special seed sprouting soil cubes. Once you have small seedlings, just take the cubes and the seedlings, and place them on top of the potting mixture.
Once this is done, fill up the pots to just below the rim with the potting mixture, while being careful not to bury the seedlings. Now you have effectively completed the process.
All that is left to do is to take the small pots with the seedlings in them, and place them in the floating platform inside of the flood table. Ensure that the roots of the plants are no deeper in the water than 1/6 of an inch. This will ensure that they get enough water without getting flooded.
While building a hydroponic garden is more work than building a normal garden, the results are usually much better in the end. The simple fact that plants in a hydroponic system grow between 30% and 50% faster than in soil should make you consider this option if you’re looking for high yields.