In this instructable video I will go over my "Deep Water Culture" hydroponic system and show how I modified the process to deal with all stages of plant growth including seed starting.
DWC hydroponics is a very efficient system while being extremely beginner friendly. Parts cost is quite low and the system easily scales in size.
This is a very basic overview of DWC hydroponics but is a system that can easily be expanded or reduced to suit your growing needs. Personally I wanted a system that would provide fresh greens all winter long while requiring very little human intervention. As it currently stands this system has fully automatic lighting and irrigation (mechanical timer based), the only aspect I need to be involved with is the initial seed planting and water changes. After that its simply a waiting game until harvest :).
In the video below I will go thru all aspects of my system which should answer all of the major questions regarding DWC hydroponic growing.
Once you've made your way thru the video I've also included a small Tips/Tricks list in the following pages to help clear up the confusion a beginner will encounter when moving into the field of hydroponic growing.
Enjoy, and many thanks!
Step 1: The Basics Answered
There are 3 major aspects to a hydroponic system: Light, Water and Air. Here I will briefly explain the way to setup your system to make best use of these 3 elements.
For your first system stick with fluorescent light fixtures (color temp of ~5000K to 6000K for vegetative growing), or CFL based bulbs. These are cheap, readily available and safe. Keep the lights on for about 18Hr / Day followed by a 6 Hr dark period. Plants that bloom or run thru a fruiting cycle (tomatoes) will tax fluorescent systems but will still grow, just not as well as they could with more powerful lighting options. If your wanting to grow larger more nutrient hungry plants a nice value to shoot for is about 50W/sq ft. of lighting, vegetative crops (like herbs and lettuce) can usually grow with far less light then that. Once your feet are wet with cheap lighting systems then look into more powerful setups such as high pressure sodium bulbs, and mercury-halide lamps. These are HID style lights and produce many more lumens per watt but also come with a higher price tag as well as operating costs. LED's are an option but are even more expensive when compare to the lumens/watt of conventional HID lighting. Light color as well as light duration also play more of a part in plants that bear fruit so we will not get into that with this guide.
Right from the get go I strongly suggest going with R.O (reverse osmosis) water. This will not only ensure you have little to no chlorine in your water, it will also ensure that your ppm ratios for dissolved solids is very low. Chlorine in tap water can be worked around fairly easily, and the pH can be adjusted, but for the raw rookie going with simple R.O water from your supermarket is going to help produce positive results without needing to invest in expensive testing gear. The absolute best option is to use rain water in your hydroponic system (assuming your in an area where acid rain isn't a common occurrence). Keep the water in your system at room temperature and keep your mitts out of the water tanks! Tanks should also be dark to reduce light transmission and keep algae growth to a minimum.
Get yourself a cheap aquarium pump. On most hydro systems the water pressure your dealing with against the airstone is relatively low when comparing it to an aquarium they are designed for. Air volume is of slightly more importance, but most small hydro systems won't need more air then even the smallest pumps can provide. If you have some extra cash to burn and are building a system larger then ~5gal. go with a dual output pump. If your pockets run deep this is the one aspect of the DWC system you really can't overdo, bubbles are good. In other words you really cant provide your plant with too much air...within reason.
Clean clean clean! Anything you put into your system needs to be clean. The plastic containers that I used had a very slight film of oil on them from the molding procedures at the factory. Wash everything with hot tap water (I'd leave soap out of the equation). Anything that needs disinfecting can be cleaned with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water. You can sterilize your grow media with this peroxide solution when they start looking a little dirty (obviously not during growing)! Anything that is porous (the cotton balls in my setup) must be thrown out after growing as they will harbor evil that can make its way into future plants...thankfully cotton balls are CHEAP!