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Hydroponic gardening is the practice of growing plants without soil.
Hydroponic systems instead soak the roots of the plants with a carefully designed nutrient solution. The artificial conditions that hydroponic plants grow in encourage good health and rapid growth. If you wish to try your hand at hydroponic gardening then the first thing you need to do is choose which system to purchase or build. There are many different hydroponic systems, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The basic aggregate system makes an excellent starter system.
It is the simplest type, making it the easiest to build and the cheapest to buy. This system is little more than a flower pot filled with a hydroponic growing medium such as gravel, coarse sand, perlite or rockwool. The plant’s roots are supported by this growing medium. The nutrient solution is poured into the flower pot from a regular watering can. You can even replace the flower pot with a 2 liter plastic soda bottle, if you cut the top off. Though cheap and easy to assemble, this system can only support one plant at a time.
Another simple system is the water culture system.
This consists of a reservoir, such as a 5 gallon bucket, that holds the nutrient solution. Plants are suspended over the solution by net pots, styrofoam holders or chicken wire. Their roots sit in the solution and draw their food and water from it. The nutrient solution is kept aerated by a standard aquarium airstone and pump. This system is easy to make and low-cost, though a little more complex than the basic aggregate system. It utilizes common equipment, and can support multiple plants. However, many plants respond poorly to having their roots wet all the time. This is another good system for beginners to gain experience with.
Large aggregate systems are much like basic aggregate systems.
Larger systems use large growing trays instead of flower pots and can hold several plants at once. They also usually have automated watering systems for the nutrient solution. These can be simple gravity fed drip systems or electric pump systems. Runoff nutrient solutions usually exit the growing tray via a drain and are captured in a storage reservoir for reuse. These large aggregate systems eliminate the need for manual watering, and recycle nutrient solution, saving on long term costs. However, they are more expensive and complex than other systems. This style of hydroponic gardening is an efficient means of growing plants, but best tried only after you have gained some experience.
NFT, or Nutrient Film Technique, systems are complex and expensive, and not well-suited for beginners. They are, however, both efficient and effective. With NFT hydroponics, the plant roots extend into a network of pipes through which the nutrient solution is regularly pumped. This arrangement keeps the roots well aerated and wastes none of the solution.
Hydroponic gardening can produce larger, healthier plants than soil gardening.
It can be a largely automated process. These things do not mean that it is easy, however. In general, use small simple systems until you get the hang of hydroponic gardening basics. They are easy to use and can often be made from items you already have around the house. Once you have an idea of what kinds of problems to anticipate you can invest in a larger system that is capable of growing more plants with less attention from you.