Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Hydroponic Garden

With a hydroponic garden, you can grow food in the tiniest of spaces. But this revolutionary way to grow plants isn’t new. In fact, it dates back to the ancients. You can take a page out of the history books and explore this eco-friendly way to garden in your own kitchen. Growing your food with a hydroponic system allows you to skip the grocery store, saving you time and money.

In this guide, we’ll talk about what hydroponic gardening is, how it works, and some of the exciting benefits of this type of gardening. You’ll also learn how a hydroponic system differs from aquaponics — another popular and nature-friendly gardening system — as well as a few tips for starting your own garden. 

What Is a Hydroponic Garden?

Hydroponic gardening has existed for centuries. Both ancient Babylonian and Aztec hanging or floating gardens were a form of hydroponic gardening. The term hydroponics comes from the Greek word for “working with water.” It involves growing plants in a nutrient-rich liquid instead of soil, which gives it several advantages over typical gardening.

For starters, you can garden year-round with a hydroponic grow system. There’s no fussing with extending growing seasons or protecting your plants from harsh weather and freezing temperatures. An indoor hydroponic garden is also safe from bugs, making it a cinch to keep your food free of pesticides. The soil-free nature of hydroponic gardening means you don’t have to stay on top of soil quality either. 

The benefits of hydroponics don’t stop there. Compared to traditional gardening, hydroponic gardening systems are more water-efficient, using up to 90% less. The growth rate of hydroponically grown plants can be doubled, and you can expect to produce at least three times the amount of food in the same amount of space. How’s that for efficiency?

Learning About Hydroponic Growing Systems

Small garden pods

Hydroponic growing systems are self-contained, so you can use them in various climates and grow plants just as well indoors as you can outdoors. 

With a typical garden, you have to manage soil quality, stay on top of pest control, and be wary of temperature changes and light exposure. While those aren’t concerns with hydroponics, they do come with their own set of needs. 

Part of what makes a hydroponic system so efficient is that it provides plants precisely what they need around the clock. A grow light (LED and fluorescent work great) provides the light exposure they need. As long as there’s enough oxygen getting to the plant’s roots, they can stay healthy and absorb nutrients.

Speaking of nutrients, one of the most essential parts of your home hydroponic system comes down to your nutrient solution, which can make or break your garden. While your growing medium (more on that in a minute) provides plenty of nourishment for your plants, you’ll want to fertilize them regularly. 

Be sure to choose a fertilizer specifically for hydroponic gardens. Your local Home Depot or Walmart Garden Centers may have one, so be prepared to follow the label’s directions when you get it. Keep in mind that pH levels are vital here, so pick up a pH meter so you can monitor your nutrient solution levels.

There are several types of growing mediums you can use in your hydroponic garden. Also known as a substrate, you want to choose materials that keep oxygen near the roots while retaining a layer of nutrients around the plant so it can thrive. Some popular choices growing mediums are:

  • Perlite
  • Vermiculite
  • Rockwool
  • Clay pebbles
  • Coconut fibers
  • Sand 
  • Glass marbles
  • Gravel 

Even if it seems like there’s a lot to learn with this type of gardening, we promise it can be super easy to get started!

Different Types of Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic garden pods

Now that you’re more familiar with what hydroponic systems are, you can decide which type of hydroponic system is right for you. Some are straightforward and simple, while others require a little more leg work. 

While we won’t get into the details of every available hydroponic system, we want to cover the basics. Most hydroponic setups can be classified as being either active or passive systems. 

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, active systems rely on pumps to circulate the water while passive systems use gravity or some kind of wicking method to draw moisture into the plant’s root system. 

  • Wick System: Wick systems keep it simple and are essentially self-watering. A water reservoir underneath your plants supplies nutrition through a cotton or nylon rope. This system is perfect for herbs and plants that don’t require a lot of water.
  • Ebb and Flow System: Ebb and flow systems function by supplying plant roots with water regularly throughout the day. While you can do this process by hand, it’s pretty simple to install a pump and get it set up on a timer too.
  • Drip System: Drip systems are just what they sound like. A drip line gives each plant a continuous water supply that drains into the water reservoir and is recirculated by a pump system. 
  • Nutrient Film Technique (NFT): Unlike wick, ebb and flow, and drip systems, the nutrient film technique doesn’t use any growing substrate for plants. Instead, plants sit in net pots in horizontal troughs, which allow their roots to be submerged in a nutrient solution that’s aerated by an air pump, as you see in aquariums. 
  • Deep Water Hydroponic System: Like NFT, deep water hydroponic systems don’t use a growing medium, and plant roots are submerged in the nutrient solution. Instead of being in a trough, you can create styrofoam rafts that float on the surface of the water. If you’d like to grow leafy greens, this hydroponic setup is worth looking into.

While you can always create a DIY hydroponic growing system, the easiest way to start is with a kit that’s ready to go. You can then expand your garden by a little or a lot. You can stick with a hydroponic plant system, but it might be fun to try out an aquaponic system too.

Back to the Roots Water Garden Duo lets you switch back and forth from a hydroponic system to an aquaponic system. With the addition of a fish friend (or two), your water garden becomes a self-cleaning fish tank. The fish waste provides the necessary nutrients for your plants while the plants clean the water for the fish. You’ll even get a STEM curriculum on aquaponic and hydroponic eco-systems with every purchase! 

Gardening in Small Spaces

Kids with hydroponic garden

Just because you’re working with a limited amount of space doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy growing veggies and other plants and herbs. Hydroponic growing systems are perfect for indoor gardening, even if you only have a small balcony or kitchen window to work with.

Like traditional gardening, you can choose between buying seedlings and transplanting them or starting from scratch with seeds. If you’re going to transplant into a hydroponic system, be sure to rinse the plant’s roots with plenty of water beforehand. Remember, one of the advantages of hydroponic grow systems is no soil, so you don’t want to introduce potential contaminants into the environment. 

If you’re going to start with seeds, make sure you choose the best quality you can find. Keep an eye out for companies that are transparent about how their seeds are grown or where they come from, like Back to the Roots 100% USA-grown organic seeds.

All of Back to the Roots seeds are always 100% USDA organic and always grown domestically in the United States, so you know you’re buying from a company that values the well-being of you and your family as much as you do. 

Try getting started with an herb garden. Choose a favorite herb or go with a variety pack of seeds so you can grow a perfect mix of cilantro, basil, parsley, oregano, and mint. 

If you’d like to add a bit of greenery but aren’t interested in starting with plants and veggies quite yet, hydroponic growers are still an excellent choice for succulents or other low maintenance houseplants. With some creativity, you can make hydroponic gardening work for any lifestyle. 

Get Started With a Hydroponic Garden

Indoor hydroponic gardening is ideal for small spaces. It makes it easy to grow your own food or indoor plants at any time of year. And if you love traditional gardening in the spring and summer, consider using your own hydroponic or aquaponic system to keep your fridge well-stocked through the colder months. 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro and would like to explore a different form of gardening or you’re getting started with the world of plants, hydroponic gardening is a fun and easy way to bring nature indoors.

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