One of the most seldom talked about topics when people discuss hydroponic gardening is the cost that’s associated with.
In this article, I’ll explain how much do hydroponic systems cost including setup and maintenance.
This way, you know what you are getting into before you start and whether or not hydroponic gardening is in your budget.
How Much Does It Cost To Run a Hydroponic System?
For the indoor gardener, the constant use of high-powered lighting, fans, air conditioners, and pumps directly converts into bigger electric bills.
Furthermore, there are several hidden expenses within the everyday operation of a hydroponics garden: rent, water, materials, and nutrients. For the prudent cultivator, it is possible to break down these costs into quantifiable expense categories—giving them insights into their operational overhead.
Cost of Space
Whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors, you’re going to need space for your hydro garden.
That said, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be counting how much this costs since you’ll be using part of your home.
If you’re renting space, then it’s more of an issue.
But, as a home gardener, you’ll likely just section off one area to use for your plants.
So, this one’s up to you. That is, you may or may not count it as an expense.
Electricity is one of the extra costs that hydroponics comes with that traditional gardening doesn’t.
That is, unless, you’re growing an indoor garden using artificial lighting.
It’s also the most expensive cost of hydroponic gardening once you’ve got everything set up. This includes rent or mortgage for the floor space your garden takes up if you decide to take that cost into account.
Like space, how much your electricity bill comes out to will depend on how much you’re growing. Basically, the larger the grow room, the more lights, pumps and motors to run them you’ll need. So, the costs go up with it.
Indoors, you can expect to run your LED or HID lights anywhere from 12-16 hours a day or more. That’s because artificial lights are not as efficient as the sun. As such, you’ll need to provide more of it to compensate for lower quality light.
Also, depending on the kind of hydroponic system you’re using, you may need it to operate the water and air pumps as well.
All in all, this can cost anywhere from $200 up to $1,500 depending on the size of your grow room, how much lighting you need to supplement (from the sun), the kinds of plants you’re growing and the type of hydro system you’re using.
Water isn’t going to be as expensive as your electricity costs. But, you’ll want to consider it as well.
If you have a medium-sized lawn that needs regular watering, you’ll be surprised to know that hydro gardens, for as much water as they seem to use, actually save you water.
That said, it all depends on a few factors.
- Evaporation. Indoors, you’ll experience less evaporation. That is unless you’re got hot grow lights hovering over your plants. Outdoors, the sun and weather can zap as much as 25% of the water you use.
- Your plants. Some plants require more water than others. Also, larger plants will need more water than smaller ones. So, crop choice comes into play.
- What stage of growth your plants are in. Faster growing plants also consume more water. This means an additional few dozen gallons of water every few days or so, depending on how many plants you have.
- Water changes. Like your aquarium, you can’t just fill your reservoirs and leave them be. You’ll need to monitor your water levels, its pH and a few other things. The section above on measurement tools & meters goes into more detail about this. This is very important because water is what nourishes your plants. So, you want to keep the nutrients balanced for what you’re growing, keep the water in the proper pH levels and have enough water. As a result, cleaning your reservoir every 7 days or so is needed. It also means using another 50 to 100 or so gallons of water depending on the size of your hydro systems.
That said, considering that:
- An 8-minute shower uses about 17 gallons of water
- And, about 10 gallons of water is used for toilet flushes daily (if you use the newer low flow toilets)
You’ll probably be spending about as much water for your hydro garden as you do these two things each week.
Seeds aren’t going to cost much. But, it’s important to consider them when growing any garden. This helps you keep track of your costs.
As far as seeds go, it comes down to much you need, what plants you want to grow and where you buy them.
From the section about substrates and growing media above, you already know that there are many kinds of options available.
Each is different. And, as you would expect, costs vary as well.
Much like seeds, it will depend on a few factors. But, unlike seeds, you’ll be spending quite a bit more money here.
For an average space, you can expect to spend about $100 to $300 worth for growing media.
This is another ongoing cost that you should consider.
The biggest challenge with nutrients, especially if you’re starting out is it’s hard to tell one from the other.
Thus, you’ll likely need to rely on what the garden center recommends, your budget and the instructions that come with the label.
As such, it’s a good idea to start with something affordable and not just jump to higher quality products. And don’t worry, cheaper products work.
Over time, you’ll be able to adjust the feeding schedule as you go. And, you’ll be able to distinguish which products are best for you and your plants. Then, you can start moving up to better quality products.
This is a good way to keep your costs manageable in the beginning.
For a good-sized hydro garden, you can expect to spend about $100-$200 per month on nutrients depending on the quality you buy.
CO2 enrichment isn’t a requirement. As such, I don’t recommend you spending money on it when you’re just starting out.
Once you’ve got a good handle on growing hydroponics and are comfortable with your costs, you can experiment with it if you want.
In general, CO2 enrichment can boost your yield. But, use it cautiously because it can get very expensive.
Filling a 20-gallon tank costs anywhere from $25 to $35. And, it will last between 3-5 days depending on the size of your room and how well it’s sealed.
So, if you use it regularly, you can end up spending $400 to $600 every 2-3 months.
Pest & Disease Control
One of the advantages of indoor gardening and hydroponics is you’re less prone to pests and disease. But, they still do happen.
Since you’re not using garden soil in either case, you eliminate the things that come with it. This includes some pests, insects, and critters. Plus, potential pathogens as well.
As such, this significantly reduces the amount you’ll need for both.
These are other smaller accessories you might need along the way. Things like support structures if you’re growing something like tomatoes.
Similarly, you may need other accessories as well.
The good news is, these things usually cost anywhere from $5 to $20. And, you won’t need to get them too often.
- How to Setup Hydroponics for Beginners at Home (Including Supplies & Equipment)
- Hydroponic Growing Media and Substrates Guide
- What is Hydroponics and How Does a Hydroponic System Work?
- Best Plants (Vegetables, Herbs & Fruits) for Hydroponic Systems
- Different Types Of Hydroponic Systems And How They Work
Hydroponic System Maintenance
Most discussions on hydroponics talk about the different types of systems and what you can grow with them. But I feel that one item that’s always left out is how to manage these systems.
Just like in your garden, a lot of things happen after you start growing.
But, because of the nature of hydroponics, the maintenance duties involved are very different from that of a traditional backyard garden.
Managing Nutrient Solution
One of the most important things you should know about the nutrient solution is that it needs monitoring and adjusting. It’s not like a juice concentrate where you follow the instructions on the bottle or packet and you’re good to go.
With hydroponics, because there are so many things happening, you’ll need to keep track of different things like the temperature, pH levels and a few other stuff. That’s why having the meters above really helps. They take the guessing and extra work out of the equation.
Flushing is the process of getting rid of all the nutrient solution in your system and replacing it with fresh (plain) water, before adding fertilizer again later on.
Removing Salt Build Up
Plant nutrient uptake isn’t an exact science. As such, one of the things you’ll notice with your hydro system is the buildup of salt, debris and excess nutrients.
Salt build-up is the main reason why most gardeners flush their systems. It happens when the moisture of nutrient solutions that contain dissolved salts evaporate faster than your plants’ roots are able to absorb the minerals.
So, with the moisture gone, the salt is left.
Additionally, some growing media are more susceptible to salt crusting that others.
The problem is, this build-up can cause salt burn damage.
Allowing Plants to Absorb Excess Nutrients
Similarly, excess nutrients left in plant tissues can affect how your crop smells and tastes. For example, if there is too much potassium and phosphorus in a plant’s tissues, it will produce a more metallic taste.
Flushing at the end of a cycle allows the plants to use up the excess nutrients stored up in them. This reduces the risk of tasting the minerals so you get fresh smelling and tasting produce.
Cleaning Out Your System
Flushing is also used to clean out a system. Like your aquarium, you need to clean your hydro system to keep debris, bacteria, algae and fungi from growing. That’s because many parts of your system stay wet. And, moisture invites these microorganisms.
The simplest way to do this is to use dishwashing soap. Plus, it’s safe.
You do need to remove all the growing media and plants before you do so. And, try to get started when the system is still fairly wet. It’s easier to get rid of stains and other items stuck to it when it hasn’t dried yet.
Of course, disconnect all the pumps and electrical items connected to your system.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick way to clean your system. Much like an aquarium, the best way is to take out the pieces and separate them so you can clean them one at a time.
Fixing Nutrient Imbalances
Because plants “consume” different nutrients at different rates. Just like your body, it’s able to use some vitamins quickly and other minerals more slowly. As a result, some of the nutrients in your system will get depleted faster, while others still have quite a bit left.
This results in imbalance.
More importantly, it’s not easy to tell which exact nutrients are depleted. Measuring electrical conductivity (EC) helps a lot in terms of telling you how much nutrient content is still in your reservoir. But, it can’t tell you the amount of each nutrient that’s left.
Of course, you can send samples to labs to get the precise amount of each nutrient. That’s what large commercial facilities do. But, it’s costly and impractical for the home gardener.
And, even if you’re able to tell the exact amount per nutrient, replacing the depleted nutrients one by one is tedious.
Not to mention that you need to very accurately measure each “refill” for a nutrient. Otherwise, you might end up adding too much or too little, which doesn’t help at all.
So, an easier way is to flush it.
That is, to completely remove all the nutrients in the reservoir and replacing it with new plain water. This way, you start from zero, i.e. no nutrients. Then, start adding back fertilizer after a short period later.
How Often Should You Flush Your System?
It depends on a lot of factors. This includes the system you’re running, the fertilizer you’re using, how much of it, your water’s quality, what you’re growing and the conditions in your system, among other things.
As such, there’s no one size fits all answer.
The good news is, you don’t need to throw away the “used” nutrient solution. Instead, many gardeners use them for their potted plants and garden.
This works because of what we talked about above, that hydro fertilizers contain more nutrients than those of regular soil fertilizers. As such, you can use the “leftovers” for your garden.
The Downside of Flushing
As you would guess, clearing the reservoir of all the nutrients and replacing it with plain water means that your plants temporarily don’t receive any nutrition.
While fresh water helps wash your plants’ root system of any excess buildup of minerals, salts, and contaminants, it also starves the plants of “food”, i.e. fertilizer.
As a result, it reduces your yields.
This is why timing and frequency are key when it comes to flushing.
Let’s Get Started
Now that you’re up to speed on what hydroponics is, what you need to get started and how to set things up, it’s time to take action.
Don’t worry about starting small. It’s that perfect first step that will let you get your hands wet. Once you get the hang of things, you can then move up to bigger systems and more difficult crops.