Below, different homemade hydroponics designs are compared to each other in general terms of cost, maintenance, reliability, their likelihood to leak, and their ability to produce results. Every system is a little different, and it has taken more than 14 years of hydroponic gardening experience to form these opinions. Understanding the common problems with hydroponic systems will help you better understand the information below.
Three things are needed at the root level to produce healthy plants- water, nutrients, and oxygen. Each section includes a link to learn exactly how each system works to provide your plants with these things.
Deep water culture systems (DWC) and nutrient film technique systems (NFT) use low pressure pumps, and therefore are less likely to leak. The DWC/NFT design is more affordable than others to build. These systems are reliable and low maintenance, needing to be checked only once a day. Both systems can be designed to use a reusable grow medium, such as expanded clay pellets in netted pots. These homemade hydroponic systems are capable of producing excellent results. Learn more about DWC systems and NFT systems.
Flood and drain systems also use low pressure pumps, making this another affordable homemade hydroponics design to build. If roots or debris get into the drain, it could lead to a flooding situation. This problem can be mostly eliminated by locating the drain at least 12 inches from the nearest plant in the system. In general these systems are low maintenance, needing to be checked once or twice a day.
These homemade hydroponic systems can be designed to use a reusable grow medium, such as expanded clay pellets in netted pots. Clay pellets need to remain submerged 20-30 minutes every two hours to remain sufficiently wet. This involves using a timer to control the hydroponic pump. Because of the timer (which could fail) and the possibility of clogged drains, this design is just slightly less reliable than DWC or NFT systems. Flood and drain systems are also capable of producing excellent results. Learn more about flood and drain systems.
The use of drip heads, spray nozzles, and high pressure pumps make these systems more costly to build than other homemade hydroponic systems. The use of a high pressure pump also makes leaking a greater possibility. Drip/spray heads moving out of their set positions may also cause leaking. Drip/spray heads are notorious for clogging, making system maintenance more of an issue. These systems need to be checked 2-3 times a day to prevent leaks and to make sure every plant is getting nutrient solution.
These systems can be designed to use a reusable grow medium, like expanded clay pellets in netted pots. Because of the leaking and clogging risks, these homemade hydroponic systems are less reliable than DWC and NFT systems unless given the extra attention/maintenance. These systems are capable of producing excellent results if nozzle clogs are caught and corrected in a timely manner. Learn more about drip systems.
Aeroponic systems are spray systems that grow plant roots in an empty air space without any other grow medium. Aeroponic systems use high pressure pumps, which make the system more likely to leak. The use of spray heads and a high pressure pump make this design more expensive to build. In addition, spray heads are likely to clog at some point.
With no grow medium to protect plant roots, a clogged spray head can lead to a dead plant in less than an hour. A pump failure or power outage can result in all of your plants dying within an hour. This makes the aeroponic system design high maintenance- these homemade hydroponic systems should be checked 4 times a day or more. If given the demanding amount of attention and maintenance, these systems are capable of producing excellent results. Learn more about aeroponic systems.
I suppose when you take into consideration how much money you save NOT
having to buy food at the grocery store, it is surely cheaper to grow
your own food hydroponically even with the cost of high quality
nutrients. Nevertheless, I didn't have a whole lot of money to work with
and I needed to make my efforts as affordable and effective as
possible....and in the last 24 years I HAVE learned a thing or two!
As you browse through Jason's Indoor Guide, you will notice all of the systems that I use personally are homemade systems. As I got 3 or 4 years of experience under my belt, I quickly adopted a preference to standing water systems and systems that use expanded clay pellets or lava rock, because the media is re-usable and it eliminates a huge operating expense. So once a hydroponic system is built, garden maintenance is minimal- check and adjust the nutrient solution daily, and to change it completely every 2 weeks....and the biggest operating cost is the hydroponic nutrients. (and the electric bill, lol)...
And, regarding the cost of the nutrients....I experimented for about 3 years with making different compost teas and nutrient teas, but there is still a lot of expense $$$ associated with making high quality nutrient teas....like kelp meal, liquid seaweed, rock dust, bat guano, un-Sulfured molasses, worm castings. You can eliminate a lot of this expense by becoming an expert at making high-quality colloidal humus compost, and use your properly made compost as the basis of your hydroponic nutrient solution.
Unfortunately, I have been gardening for over 24 years and I have only
just recently mastered this difficult skill....and even then, only
because I happened to find a very easy to follow, high quality technique
and decided to follow the instructions to the letter. I produced more
high quality compost in just one week than I was able to use in a whole
year! If you can master the technique, I highly recommend it. It is one of the top 3 things you can do to
increase the productivity of your food production efforts, while at the
same time decreasing the amount of effort required to grow all of your
own food, and decreasing the total cost of operating your food
And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients...
The ultimate solution to eliminate the cost of your hydroponic nutrients: Imagine a hydroponic system that does not require you to buy any nutrients, does not require you to make your own compost, and does not require you to brew your own nutrient tea. Seriously! No cost and no effort as far as providing nutrients to your plants! Plus, at the end of the gardening cycle you harvest all of your garden vegetables, PLUS YOU HARVEST FISH from the system--->
This solution is aquaponics. If you are serious about producing all of your own food and being self-sufficient, this is the ultimate solution for reducing expenses (as much as possible), reducing the total amount of work required, and maximizing the productivity of your gardening efforts. I have been gardening for over 24 years, and it is the perfect food production solution in my opinion.
Besides mastering how to make high quality compost, learning aquaponics is one of the top 3 things you can do to increase your garden productivity, reduce your total costs, and reduce your total work. The product that I learned from is called Aquaponics4you. With all of my hydroponic gardening experience, the first time I came across the Aquaponics4you product I knew immediately that it was something very special! Place an aquaponics system outdoors and use the sun instead of grow lights, and you have reduced every garden expense to nearly ZERO!
The Same System/ 10 Weeks Later!