NFT or DWC??
by Jerry Morse
(Vicksburg, MS - USA)
I want to try hydroponic food, or flower, growing...again. What plant should I try? Which system is most successful? Which system is the least troublesome, both for leaks, for monitoring, for clean up and for gnats? Thanks, Jerry Morse.
Jerry- I'm glad you asked this question...many people just starting with hydroponics grapple with the same questions. Let me deal with the "most successful" system question first. The truth is, every different type of system is capable of producing excellent results. Your results have more to do with maintaining your nutrient reservoir
properly than with what type of hydroponic system you are using.
Another thing your success will depend upon is providing your garden with enough light. I have a very complete section on lighting tips
here. Many plants will not flower or produce fruits unless they receive 12 hours of un-interrupted darkness at the same time night after night. This is called forced flowering
. Finally, you must keep the temperature in the grow room below 80*F or it will have negative effects on your plants, especially the ones directly beneath the light.
Your success will depend on the things above, no matter what hydroponic gardening system you decide to use.
Now let me talk about fungus gnats for a minute. Whenever you have water, nutrients, and light, you will have algae growth. Algae growth leads to dead algae, which leads to fungus, which leads to fungus gnats. So, the whole trick for eliminating fungus gnats is to keep light from hitting your nutrient solution, no matter what kind of hydroponic system you are using! This is one reason why I avoid top-feed drip system. It is also why you want a dark colored nutrient reservoir.
Now for the best part... what kind of system is going to make YOUR life easier? You're talking about a low-maintenance system with a lot of problem solving features already built into the design. I have been tackling that same question myself for years, each time I build a homemade system making improvements. Remember what I said above....your success depends on maintaining your nutrient reservoir properly. Therefore, the system that is the least troublesome is one that is convenient to do a nutrient change on. Obviously, you also want a system that isn't going to leak. As long as you choose a system with a low pressure pump, or no pump at all, monitoring the system will be very minimal. In fact, the most monitoring you will have to do is maintaining the nutrient reservoir properly.
With all of that in mind, I have a couple of ideas. First, consider the hydroponic system on my how to grow hydro lettuce
page. No moving water means NO CHANCE OF LEAKING. The system is very light proof, so you should have no problem with fungus gnats. If you manufacture two reservoirs, nutrient changes will be very easy.... simply remove the top part (with the plants) and move it to the other reservoir (with fresh nutrients). You could make a bigger version of this system using plastic storage totes, just keep in mind how big the plants in the lid are going to get...at some point they will be hard to move from one reservoir to another.
If you want to make a bigger version, but are concerned about having lots of plant growth in the lid, you could figure out a way to install a drain in the reservoir part....or you could find a large reservoir that already has a drain....or you could buy a small aquarium pump for nutrient changes and simply pump the nutrient solution out of the reservoir (refilling it fresh when done).
These systems are known as Deep Water Culture systems. Because they use no water pumps, there is practically no chance of them leaking. They are easy to maintain and simple to use. In my opinion, it is the perfect system to start out on... it allows you to focus more on keeping the grow room environment just right and maintaining the nutrient solution properly (rather than worrying about leaks and other things).
As far as what plants to grow, I suggest something simple to begin with. Herbs, like basil, sage, thyme, and rosemary, do not require as much light as other food crops. They also do not require a 12 hour dark period in order to grow the parts you intend to eat. Finally, they only require 1/2 strength nutrient solution. The same is true for any type of lettuce you might grow.
Once you get more comfortable with maintaining your system, you may want to increase the light in your garden, make the proper accommodations for a dark period, and switch to a garden crop (like tomatoes or strawberries). For larger crops, you may also want to check out a larger hydroponic system, such as my most successful homemade system
. Keep in mind the growth habit of the plants you choose. Tomatoes, for example, will require more height in the grow room than strawberries will. I hope this helps, and if you get stuck, feel free to write me again with your questions!