Build Your Own Drip Hydroponics System
Drip Hydroponics system are the most used hydroponics systems. It is the preferred system for home gardeners and commercial gardeners because of its simplicity and ease of use. Drip systems have only a few parts and are extremely versatile. There are multiple ways to implement a drip system, the possibilities are endless. Drip systems work just like it sounds, water is dripped onto the growing medium to keep it moist to eliminate the need for hand watering.
Hydroponic drip systems are easy to design and can be configured in a myriad of ways. You can build both large and small systems depending on the available space. Drip systems are most valuable when growing larger plants with larger root masses. You don’t need large volumes of water as the drip lines can be placed over larger spaces to provide better coverage of the roots. You can keep larger volumes of growing medium at the proper moisture rate and the more growing medium the more forgiving it is to any possible PH mistakes and watering schedule. Keeping the growing medium moist using a drip hydroponic system keeps plant stress levels low which makes for a more healthy garden overall.
Parts needed to build a simple drip hydroponics system:
A container for the plant’s roots to grow in.
A container (reservoir) to hold the nutrient solution.
A submersible fountain/pond pump.
A light timer to turn the pump on and off.
Some tubing to run from the pump in the reservoir to the plants (and/or the drip lines if you use different sizes).
Tubing (PVC or flexible tubing) to run the return lines for the extra nutrient solution from the plants back to the to the reservoir.
(optional) You can use drip emitters, or you can just poke small holes in the tubing with a hot paper clip for the nutrient solution to drip out of like we like to do.
Growing media for the plants roots to grow in and help support the plants weight.
How a hydroponic drip system operates is simple. Water (nutrient solution) is pumped up from the reservoir through tubing to the top of the growing media (where the plants roots are), from there it drips out of the tubing onto the growing media. The nutrient solution drains down soaking both the roots and growing media all the way to the bottom of the container. From there the nutrient solution flows through an opening/s, and gravity allows the nutrient solution to flow downhill through tubing all the way back to the reservoir. It’s important to remember that the plants growing container needs to be at least 6-8 inches or so above the top of the reservoir, so that gravity can drain the excess water back do the to it (water wont flow uphill without a pump).
Recirculating Drip Hydroponics System
For home growers the recirculating drip systems are by far the most commonly used. The recirculating drip systems is like it sounds, it simply refers to reusing/cycling the used nutrient solution after it has wet the roots back to the reservoir where it can be recirculated through the system, and used over and over again. Recirculating systems are also called recovery systems because it refers to recovering the used nutrient solution so it can be recirculated through the system again.
Like any hydroponic system that recirculates, a recirculating drip system’s nutrient solution can change in both the pH as well as nutrient strength levels as the plants use up the nutrients in the water when it circulates over and over. Because of this, recirculating systems require that you periodically check and adjust the pH as needed, as well as change the nutrient solution regularly to maintain a balanced nutrient solution for the plants.
Standard or Non-recirculating Drip Hydroponics System
For commercial growers the non-recirculating/non-recovery drip systems are most common. While it sounds like a waist of water and nutrients not to recover and reuse it, commercial growers actually waist very little. They do this by precisely timing their watering cycles. Using special “cycle timers” they can adjust the watering times down to the minute, or even second if they need to. They water just long enough to wet the growing media. So the water (nutrient solution) they drip onto the plants is absorbed and held in the growing medium where the plants roots access it, and very little if any runs off. From time to time they flush the growing medium with plain fresh water to avoid nutrient build up in the growing medium over time.
The nutrient solution in non-recirculating/non-recovery drip systems tend to be less maintenance, mainly because of the fact that none of the used nutrient solution is recycled back into the reservoir. This means that you can fill the reservoir with a balanced, pH adjusted nutrient solution and it won’t change, so you don’t need to keep monitoring it. As long as you keep the water in the reservoir slowly moving/circulating so that the heavier mineral elements don’t settle at the bottom, it will remain a balanced pH adjusted nutrient solution.