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.

Answer: 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 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!

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(10 week update below)

Find out the cheapest and easiest ways to garden productively in this article.

Hi everyone, Jason from Jason's Indoor Guide here. When I got started with hydroponic gardening more than 24 years ago, my first garden used rockwool cubes and B.C. Nutrients....and I remember thinking to myself yeah, sure, there may be a lot of advantages to gardening with hydroponics, for example there are very few pest problems, therefore very little pest control, no weeding, no plowing or tilling the soil, no soil testing or having to add things into the garden soil, no watering the garden....but for someone who just wants to grow their own vegetables and have more control over their food supply and the quality of the food that they eat, the cost of constantly having to buy grow media and hydroponic nutrients makes this an expensive hobby for most people...

Epic Nutrient Change

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)...

Homemade Cloner

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 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 production system.

And when I say decrease operating costs, I mean decrease them to almost ZERO, especially if you are producing your own nutrients...

High Efficiency

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--->


Click Here to learn more!

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.

Produce garnden vegetables AND fish together. Eliminate fertilizer costs!

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!

If you've found this site helpful at all, I would really appreciate it