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Hydroponic Systems:

The Basic Parts of a Hydroponic System

Reservoir                          Watertight container holds the nutrient solution

Growing chamber          Container (needs drain holes) that holds the plant
or tray

Growing medium           Non-soil substance plants grow in

Nutrient solution           Essential ingredients in all hydroponic systesm;                                                             contains 16 essential elements for plant growth and                                                     can be purchased (organic or not) or made

Submersible pump        Helps bring nutrient solution from the reservoir to                                                        the growing chamber

Delivery system              Tubing or wick that carries the solution from the                                                           reservoir to the growing chamber

Simple timer                   Controls when the pump and/or lights come on

Air pump                          Supplies oxygen to plant roots; optional, except in                                                        water culture systems

Return pipe                     Nutrient solution fed at one end and drained                                                                  through return pipe; returned to the reservoir tank

Lights or sunlight          Optimal 8 to 10 hours of daily light; system should be                                                  in sunny window or under full-spectrum grow lights

Basic parts of a system.

Any given hydroponic system can have some or all of these parts.

A reservoir, a pump, a timer, a growing chamber, tray or table etc. growing medium, delivery system, drain or return, nutrient solution, air pump with air stones and natural or electrical lighting.

Different types of systems:


These usually have only a pump, reservoir, lid, spray or mist system, sometimes with a lid for cloning and sometimes an air pump with a couple of air stones.

Nutrient is added to the reservoir and is taken up by the roots which are hanging in the oxygen rich air.

The advantage to this is a larger uptake of oxygen and CO2 by the roots which helps with photosynthesis in turn taking up more nutrient and growing faster.

Many DIYers have built working aeroponic system that work quite well.

Ebb and Flow or Flood and Drain system:

The flood and drain system works by using a pump and a timer to pump nutrient from a reservoir to the table or grow channels on a timed cycle so that each time the table fills, it draws in oxygen rich nutrient through the medium and across the roots.

Then, as it drains it pulls oxygen from the room down through the medium until the next cycle when it begins all over again.

This system is easy to set up and maintain.

They are also easily DIY.

This is a commercial flood and drain system.

Drip systems:

A drip system is very much the same as the flood and drain setup only the nutrient is usually fed to each plant or the top of the medium through a delivery system restricted by drip emitters or pressure valves to the exact needs of the plant.

A timer is not needed for the pump on this system as the nutrient flow is usually constant.

This is a great way to ensure a steady flow of oxygen rich nutrient gets to the roots by pulling oxygen down through the roots with the nutrient.

This is a drip system but is also called a Dutch bucket system.

It appears that this one is using only perlite as a medium.

You can see the main feeder line and the drip lines into the buckets.

They each have a drain that runs back into the pipe that goes to the reservoir.

It can be very effective under the right conditions.

DWC or Deep Water Culture:

First of all, never set your air pump on the floor as in this picture.
If the power fails the nutrient could siphon back into the pump.
Then of course when the power came back on, the pump would fail.

This is a very simple and forgiving type of growing, especially if using rock wool or a high-water retention medium because there is only one component that might fail under normal conditions and that is the air pump.

This could give you many hours or even days before needing to replace or repair the pump if it fails.

However, I would personally never recommend that any type of reservoir be without an air pump and at least one air stone to keep as much oxygen in the nutrient solution as possible at all times. Without enough oxygen, plant roots die and soon the entire plant will be gone.


This type of system can be set up in a bucket, table or trays of almost any kind.

It can be used with most type of mediums as well and is a very simple and easily maintained system.

Many commercial growers use this system as a raft type system where plants are floated in the nutrient solution held there by usually Styrofoam rafts.


Highly oxygenated nutrient solution is a must because the plant roots are totally or at least partially submerged.

RDWC or Recirculating DWC:

The only difference between DWC and RDWC is instead of the plants setting in their own reservoir, the water is circulated from a reservoir to the plants and back again.

So, it’s really a DWC with a drip system.


A great advantage to this system is only having one source of nutrient solution to check many plants at the same time for temperature, nutrient and pH levels rather than having to check each bucket or reservoir. 

A circulating pump of some sort must be added but this system is also forgiving in the event of a pump failure because usually each bucket has a reserve of at least a gallon or two with an air stone to keep them well fed and oxygenated during a prolonged down time.

And my personal favorite,

NFT or Nutrient Film Technique:

This type of growing was designed by Allen Cooper in the 1960s in England.

This has a pump and either a drip or more commonly a constant feed delivery system.

The nutrient runs through the bottom of the channel or tube as and is normally very shallow with the container being tipped at a slight angle, so the water runs back to the reservoir or falls into the next channel below it and continues down to the reservoir. An air pump is always placed in the reservoir in this system as well.

A very easily maintained system and that really grow a large amount of product in a small amount of space.

One drawback is that if the pump fails, there isn’t a lot of time before you need to have a backup in place.


If this type of growing appeals to you and you would like to learn more about the design and nutrient needs of this type of system I would recommend the book “The ABC of NFT”. I don’t know if it’s still being published but you can get it through the library.