How to Setup Hydroponics for Beginners at Home (Including Supplies & Equipment)

How to setup hydroponics  for beginners at home is a simple guide that will help you get started with your own  hydroponic garden.

I’ll show you the different equipment and supplies you need to get started.

 

What Do You Need for a Hydroponic System?

In this section, it’s time to take a closer look at the different parts of a hydroponic system. This will help you understand each of the different components and why you need them.

Knowing this will kickstart your ability to grow your own hydroponic garden. And, it will also let you be able to build your own DIY hydroponics eventually after you’ve gained a little experience with kits.

 

Lighting

Like all plants, hydroponic plants need light.

  • Outdoors. If you’re growing your hydro garden outdoors, then positioning it strategically where your plants get ample amount of sun is essential. This ensures that they get the proper amount of exposure. And, they receive the right quality of light as well.
  • Indoors. Most people set up their hydro systems indoors. In this case, you’ll need to supply supplemental lighting. The only exception is if you have a large south-facing window/wall of windows where you can set your systems beside. Or, a sunroof of some sort that allows light to come in.

When it comes to artificial lighting, your hydro plants will need between 12-16 hours of it. This is just about the same as many houseplants.

Of course, exactly how much will always depend on the kind of plants you decide to grow. Some can tolerate 6-8 hours of grow lights, while others need a lot more.

 

Best Indoor Lighting for Hydroponics

When it comes to grow lights, things can get very confusing very fast, especially for beginners.

I remember the first time I looked into buying one. It surprised me as to how many kinds there were. Some were white like those you use at home. Others had all sorts of colors.

So why are there so many types of grow lights?

That’s because these produce:

  • Different levels of light intensity
  • Color
  • Heat
  • How long they can run

All of which can affect how your plants grow. Just as importantly, some grow lights are ideal for promoting specific traits in the plants you’re growing. These can include:

  • Increased flowering
  • Increased vegetation (foliage growth)
  • Make plants taller or shorter
  • Better flavor
  • Affect the color/pigmentation of your plants
  • Better yields
  • Delayed or earlier flowering
  • Better nutrient delivery

So which is better for your hydro garden?

 

HID Lights

HID stands for High-Intensity Discharge. These are the newer kind of lights that most growers use.

Why?

They produce the most usable lights for plants. The key word here being usable.

Without getting into the technical side of it, which is another long discussion, plants need certain kinds of light for different things.

So, you can’t just use any light at home and expect it to help your vegetables grow or your flowers bloom.

HID lights are desirable because they produce the best yields, at least as of this writing.

That said, it’s important to note that there are 2 basic kinds of HID lights:

  • High-Pressure Sodium (HPS). These are ideal for plants that are starting to flower. That’s because the light they emit helps them bloom and fruit. HPS lights are an economical choice as far as high-intensity lights go. But, they produce a lot of heat. So, you’ll want to supply enough ventilation to keep them from scorching your plants.
  • Metal Halide (MH). These produce a more red-orange colored lighting. Thus, they work very well for plants that in their vegetative growth stage, i.e. producing foliage/leaves.

As you can see, using a combination of both these types of lights lets you cover different stages of plant growth. So, don’t think that you need to stick to one kind of light.

 

T5 Fluorescent Lights

This looks more like the long, white fluorescent lights you see in homes and offices. They produce very little heat which lets you put them closer to your plants without risking any scorching. Also, they’re low cost to operate since they’re not energy guzzlers. This makes them a popular choice for growing indoor plants, be it the beautiful flowers or vegetables.

From my experience, these are the easiest ones to start with. If you have space, then getting the tubes lets you cover more for more surface area especially if you grow a row of plants.

But, if you’re tight on space, the T5 ones may not fit because of their length.

In this case, you can use the compact ones that are like screw-on light bulbs that come with spiral-looking bulbs.

That said, it’s important to understand that they don’t produce as intense light as HID lights. So, they work better for crops that don’t need that much light like peppers.

 

LED Lights

LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode. This is basically the same technology that’s used in the screens of digital devices like your phone, table, and laptop.

LEDs are another option that works. They are popular because they’re energy-efficient. If you go down to the section on how much it costs to run a hydroponic system, you’ll know why cost efficiency, especially for lighting is important.

LED lights are easy to spot in the store. They’re the colorful ones with red and blue lights grouped together on some kind of board. Together, the colors help maximize photosynthesis.

While they’re not as powerful as HID lights, they do produce a lot less heat. Plus, they’ve got long running times (about 50,000 hours).

That said, while operating LEDs is cheap, the cost of the lights, especially good ones can be expensive.

 

Get a Timer

Since you’ll be running the lights for long periods of time daily, having a timer that schedules when they turn on and off goes a long way.

This saves you the hassle of having to do it manually. Plus, you’ll never run the risk of forgetting to turn then on or off.

 

Buy Your Lights Separately Or Get a Hydroponics Kit?

One thing worth noting is that you don’t always have to buy the lights yourself. Although, as you get more experience under your belt, it’s a good idea to do so.

But, in the beginning, it may be prudent to start with a hydroponics system kit.

These kits have everything you need to get started, including the lighting fixtures. This makes it easy to set things up.

More importantly, it cuts down the learning curve as well as the mistakes and extra costs that come with those mistakes.

Once you know how to work everything, you’ll be better equipped with the knowledge to piece your own hydroponics system together. Then, it will be easier to buy components separately.

 

Do Hydroponic Plants Need Sunlight?

No. At least not sunlight. While sunlight is the best source of light, there are artificial lighting options that you can use instead.

This gives you the ability to grow indoors in grow rooms as well as grow tents.

That said, almost all plants need light. More often than not, a good amount of it.

As such, if you can’t supply your plants with direct sunlight, purchasing grow lights is a good idea.

The downside is, depending on how big your indoor garden is and how much light they need, it will affect your electric bill. For more details about the costs of running hydroponic systems, check out the section on costs below.

 

Related

 

The Plants

Of course, you’ll need the plants. This one’s up to you. And, from the section on what plants can you grow with hydroponics, you have a good idea of what kind of system works best for different kinds of plants.

Often, hydroponics is used to grow crops. And, if that’s what you plan on doing, it’s important to consider what kind of vegetables or herbs you enjoy. This way, you’re growing crops that you want to eat.

Hydroponics is particularly useful here because it takes away the need for herbicides and pesticides. As such you know that there are not toxic chemicals used in growing your plants.

 

Reservoir

Besides the plants themselves, the reservoir is arguably the most important part of a hydroponic system. Why?

The reservoir holds the nutrient solution that’s used to “feed” your plants. Basically, the reservoir consists of fertilizer and water. And, it is where your plants will get their nutrition from.

The best thing about it is that mixing your nutrient solution is just like mixing powdered or liquid concentrate juice with water.

It’s literally just that. But, in this case, you’ll be using hydroponic nutrients to mix with water. The key is getting the balance right. Since each manufacturer will have its own solution and instructions, it’s important to read the label and follow the directions.

Just like iced tea or juice, too much or too little concentrate can mess things up.

The reservoir itself isn’t anything high-tech either. In fact, it’s often something that’s re-used or recycled. A large plastic container much like a basin, glass or a box made from wood works. The key is that it holds the liquid.

 

Growing Area

Just like choosing where to put your houseplants, deciding on where to position your growing area is important.

If you’re setting up your hydro system outdoors, then do consider how much sunlight the area receives. Here, it’s important to monitor the amount of sunlight (and its intensity) at different times of the day.

Too much direct sun during the mid-afternoon can be just as harmful as not enough light.

Similarly, take note of how much sun the area receives at different times of the year. As seasons change so does the intensity and duration of sunlight exposure.

Indoors, you’ll need to find a room where you’ll have enough sockets to plug your accessories. This includes grow lights, pumps and motors among other things.

Here are a few things to consider as well.

  • Space
  • How many plants are you growing
  • Tray/pot size
  • Irrigation (where your water is coming from and where you’ll dump used water)
  • Temperature
  • Humidity

Since you’ll be dealing with water (including when you clean the reservoirs), do consider where your sources of water are. It won’t be fun to carry pails of water back and forth every time you need to more.

 

Water & Water Quality

By now, you already know how valuable water is in a hydro system. It’s the life source of your plant since it’s where they’ll get their nutrients.

Just as importantly, if you’ve done some gardening, you also know that tap water may not always be the best water for your plants. It all depends on its composition.

  • Hard water is water that has high amounts of mineral content in it (usually calcium and magnesium). The higher the mineral content in your water, the less your plants can dissolve the nutrients you give it. As such, it’s important to test your water’s mineral content. If it’s high, then using a filter helps to remove these minerals. Similarly, there are nutrient concentrations that are developed for hard water. So, you can ask your garden center for them when buying.
  • Your water’s pH level plays an important role in healthy plant growth. Plants grown in hydro systems work best with pH levels between 5.8 to 6.2. Knowing your water’s pH level allows you to adjust it (using chemicals) to get the ideal levels.
  • Temperature of the water is likewise key. Plants don’t like cold water. This is why it isn’t a good idea to start too early in the spring when water in the ground is still cold. Ideally, you want to keep the nutrient solution between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows your plants to grow rapidly. Similarly, too high or too low temps can prevent them from growing optimally or worse, damage them. So, if your water is too cold, consider adding an immersion heater in the nutrient tank. And, try to keep it from getting past 80 degrees as well. It’s also worth considering that at lower temperatures, water holds more oxygen. As such, keeping it at around 68 degrees keeps water highly oxygenated holding about 9 ppm (parts per million) of DO (dissolved oxygen).

 

How Often Do You Need To Change Hydroponic Water?

One of the most common questions I get about hydroponics is how often do you need to change the water.

Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule. And, people hate it when I tell them that and go into the discussion of why.

So, if you want a quick and simple answer, then it’s about 2-3 weeks.

Changing the water in your hydro system is important to keep the nutrient balance and right pH levels. As such, when one or the other starts to skew away from your ideal range it’s time to take action.

That said, there are a few factors that affect how often you change the water in your hydroponic system. These include:

  • Rate of evaporation (more heat from lighting speeds up water loss)
  • How large your plants are
  • The water requirements of your plants
  • Size of your reservoir
  • The type of hydro system you’re using

 

Growing Medium

Houseplants and hydroponics don’t use soil. As such, you’ll need something else to put the plants in.

That’s your growing medium.

Growing media is made of different kinds of materials. But, their main goal is to provide a place for the roots to set and somewhere the plants’ roots can absorb moisture, nutrients and oxygen.

This way, your plant stands upright. And, it doesn’t topple over.

Just as importantly, you don’t want the growing medium to harbor any bacteria or other pathogens that can transfer disease.

This is why garden soil isn’t used for indoor plants.

Instead, houseplants use potting soil, which isn’t really soil at all.

Meanwhile, hydroponic systems use a wide range of growing media including rockwool, peat moss, coco coir and perlite just to name a few.

You’ll learn each in detail in the section on substrates and growing medium below.

 

Growing Media & Fertilizer

One of the most important things to remember with hydroponics and houseplants is that the growing media doesn’t provide any of the nutrients your garden soil does.

As such, the job of the fertilizer becomes more important.

That’s because it needs to provide your plants with all the nutrients they need to grow. In contrast, garden soil fertilizer only needs to prioritize on a few of the main nutrients, especially if your garden soil is high quality.

So, never forget that:

You can use hydroponic fertilizer for your garden. But, you should never use garden fertilizer for your hydroponic system.

Not only does garden fertilizer lack the nutrients, but it also has some ingredients that can mess up your hydro system. Components like manure, blood meal and bone meal will stink up your water.

 

Nutrients & Fertilizer

Nutrients are your plants’ fertilizers. From a gardener’s perspective, the two pretty much mean the same thing. Although if you want to be technical about it, they’re actually two different things.

  • Nutrients are the minerals that your plants need to grow.
  • Fertilizer are the actual formulations that contain these nutrients.

As such, it is fertilizer that you apply to your crops for them to absorb the nutrients.

In any case, plant nutrients are divided into a few categories.

  • Macronutrients (Essential Nutrients). These are nutrients that your plants need in large amounts. This is why they’re called “Macro”. The nutrients in this group can be informally divided into 2 categories.
    • Those you get from water and air. These include Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. All of these are essential components needed for photosynthesis.
    • Those you get from soil, fertilizer or nutrient solution. These include Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium.
  • Secondary Nutrients. These nutrients are needed in moderate amounts. Your plants do need quite a bit of them, but not as much as the 6 primary nutrients above. The secondary nutrients are Calcium, Magnesium and Sulfur.
  • Micronutrients. These are nutrients that plants need in minute or trace amounts. As such, very little of them is included. But, they’re still needed for optimum growth. These include Boron, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Chlorine, Nickel and Molybdenum.

Plant Nutrient Chart. Shows the macronutrients, secondary nutrients and micronutrients plants need alongside their functions and the signs of deficiencies and excess of minerals.

It’s worth noting that all of them are important. If you lack one or a few, even the trace ones, you’ll start seeing deficiencies in your plants. This is why just focusing only on the big 3 nutrients (N-P-K) isn’t always a good idea. You need to make sure that the rest are covered as well. Otherwise disorders, discoloration and deformities will start showing up.

In addition to how much of each nutrient is included in the fertilizer, it’s also important to consider its solubility and the pH level.

  • Solubility allows the compounds to dissolve in water in order for the roots to absorb them. One way to think about it is powdered juice that isn’t stirred well. As such, the particles are floating around. Lack of solubility prevents your plants from actually absorbing the nutrients.
  • pH Levels also affect how much of the nutrients are actually absorbed. As such, you could be giving your plants enough fertilizer but if the pH level is off, they may not absorb all of what you’re feeding it. You can think of it like taking medication with milk. Because calcium prevents your body from absorbing vitamins and medicine, you only get anywhere from 20-60% of the dosage you’re actually taking by drinking it with milk.

 

Regular Fertilizer vs. Hydroponic Fertilizer

You’ll probably hear me mention this more than once. But, it’s worth repeating.

Don’t buy or use garden soil fertilizer for your hydro system. Make sure to get fertilizers that are for hydroponic gardening.

That’s because regular fertilizer contains fewer nutrients. The reason being that soil contains some of the other nutrients. As such, you don’t have to cover all of them.

But, with hydroponics, you’ll need to supply all the nutrients because there isn’t any soil.

So, while it’s okay to use hydroponic fertilizer for your garden, you shouldn’t do the opposite.

Additionally, how nutrients are absorbed in your garden (via soil) is very different from that in hydroponics.

  • Under the ground, the roots extend outwards in constant search for water and nutrients. How much they’re able to get depends on what’s there, moisture in the soil, where the nutrients end up being and the pH level of the soil.
  • With hydroponics, you give it a constant supply of nutrient solution. So, it’s always available when it needs it, no searching is required. Ideally, you monitor the pH levels allowing it to absorb as much as possible.

By taking away a lot of the work and guesswork on the part of the roots, you’re able to increase your chances of higher yields with hydroponics.

 

Hydroponic Fertilizers

Hydroponic fertilizer is one of the harder topics when it comes to hydroponics. That’s because there are so many variations. And, there’s mixing involved.

I don’t know about you. But whenever there’s some kind of mixing involved I get a little cautious for fear of ending up with the wrong balance. And, with plants, you can’t take it back after they’ve absorbed it.

As a beginner, it can sometimes feel quite frustrating.

This is why many manufacturers try to make things as simple as possible as you’ll see below.

So, in this section, I’ll break down the different varieties you’ll see in order to demystify it a bit.

 

One-Part vs. Multi-Part Hydroponic Fertilizers

One thing you quickly realize with hydroponic fertilizers is that they come in 1, 2, 3 or more part solutions. That is to say, you may have 1 container that’s an “all in one” mix or you may need to mix a few of them together to get the formulation you’ll be using.

  • One part hydroponic fertilizer solutions. These are the simplest ones to use. They reduce potential mistakes and make it less intimidating to learn to apply. As such, they’re ideal for beginners. These are designed to grow most crops. They’re kind of a “one size fits all” nutrient solution.
  • Two-part nutrient solutions. These are great for those starting out, have a little experience under their belt or seasoned gardeners who’ve had previous success with the combination. They are a little more complex compared to one-part solutions, but still easy to learn. Their biggest benefit is they contain more micronutrients than the one-part solutions can’t. That’s because some nutrients like calcium can bind to others. When this happens precipitation And, you can end up with particles that look like sand at the bottom of your solution.
  • Multi-part mixes. Besides the 1- and 2-part fertilizers, you’ll also see 3-part mixes around. These are a little more complicated, especially when you’re starting out. Here, you need to read the instructions thoroughly and follow them. Experience likewise helps. Because you’re mixing various amounts from 3 different bottles, over or underfeeding some nutrients can easily happen. As you would expect, you have more nutrients available with 3 or more part mixes. And, you also have the added benefit of being able to mix different ratios based on what your plants need at any given stage. But, you need to know what you’re doing. Otherwise, you can end up with the wrong combination, which is unlikely with 1-part mixes (since there’s only 1 bottle).

 

Liquid vs. Dry Hydroponic Fertilizers

Most hydroponic fertilizers come in either liquid or powder (dry) form. There’s no difference between them except in the form in which they come.

In fact, most liquid fertilizers are made from their dry versions and mixed with water. Then, bottled in containers. So, you’re actually getting the same thing.

But, they have differences as well.

  • It’s easier to use liquid fertilizers. Since they’re already in liquid form, mixing doesn’t involve dissolving. Thus, there’s less mixing needed on your part.
  • Liquid fertilizers are more expensive. In part, it’s because of the added shipping cost for more weight and the size of the container. But, in general, liquid versions, on a weight basis, costs more as well.
  • Liquid fertilizers are less concentrated. The dilution of the water before being placed in the container reduces the “actual amount” you’re getting.

So here, it all comes down to cost vs. work. It’s cheaper to get them in powdered form. But, you need to do the work yourself, where there’s risk of making mistakes.

 

Organic vs. Synthetic Hydroponic Fertilizers

In addition to dry and liquid formulations, you’ll also see variations based on what they’re made from. Here, it’s all about organic vs. synthetic hydro fertilizers.

Which is better?

Well, either works. Simply put, plants can’t tell the difference between synthetic and organic. What they experience is the nutrients (minerals) in the fertilizer.

So, it’s kind of like working out. Your body doesn’t really care if you work out at 5-star gym or at home or in the garage. What it experiences in the cardio and weight you carry during exercises.

So, you don’t really have to worry about synthetic, especially nowadays where their quality is just the same or even better than organic hydroponic fertilizers.

 

Electrical Conductivity: Measuring Fertilizer Concentration

Water conducts electricity. It’s why you should never step on water or wet puddles when there’s a live wire around or use appliances near sinks or bathtubs. And, why lifeguards will tell you to get out of the pool when thunderstorms occur.

Interestingly, the mineral content that’s in water increases its conductivity. As such distilled water has very low conductivity because it doesn’t have mineral content.

In contrast, adding fertilizer to water increases the solutions mineral content because of all the elements in the product.

So, measuring the electrical conductivity of the nutrient solution in your reservoir is the easiest way to estimate how much fertilizer concentration it contains.

To do so, all you need is an EC meter.

 

What Do Plants Need to Grow?

In addition to the different components of your hydroponic system, you also need to consider what your plants need. As such, setting up your hydro system where it received the right amount of each of these components is key. Here, it comes down to a few basic things.

  • Relative humidity.
  • Temperature
  • CO2 levels
  • Air Circulation

 

Relative Humidity

Humidity refers to how much moisture or water vapor there is in the air. More importantly, it affects how your plants grow.

It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that the amount of humidity in your home or room affects how cool or warm it is there.

  • The higher the humidity, the warmer it will feel.
  • The lower the humidity (given the same temperature), the cooler it will feel.

As such, humidity will affect room temperature which is another factor involved in plant growth (see the next item below).

In general, the ideal relative humidity for plant growth ranges from 50 to 70 percent. You’ll want to be able to measure this by using a hygrometer. That way you can adjust your room’s level as if it goes too high or too low.

So why such a wide range?

That’s because different plants prefer different levels of humidity.

Just as importantly, as plants grow, their requirements also change.

  • Seedlings (and Cuttings). Very young plants like higher levels of humidity (70-80 percent RH). This helps them develop roots and foliage. As a result, proper humidity levels let them grow faster and develop a healthy root system.
  • Vegetation. As their foliage grows, they’ll enjoy slightly lower humidity (50-70 percent RH). Proper humidity allows plants in their vegetation stage to transpire. Transpiration allows them to release water through their leaves. It is also when water and nutrients are carried up from the roots.
  • Flowering. During this stage, buds form and you’ll start seeing the flowers appear. Here, lower humidity (40-60 percent RH) is ideal.

If you noticed, its humidity requirements gradually decreases as the plant matures. As such, it’s a good idea to match the growth stage with the humidity in your grow room.

 

Temperature

Like relative humidity, different plants enjoy varying temperatures. As such, you’re going to get a wide range as well here.

Ideally, keeping the room temperature between 65 to 80 degrees works best. Additionally, plants are used to having slightly cooler night-time temperatures as the sun goes down and the surroundings get colder at night. But, not by much (5-10 degrees lower than day time).

Here’s a breakdown of crops that enjoy warmer and cooler temperatures.

  • Warm-season crops. These include peppers, herbs, eggplants and tomatoes. All of them enjoy temps at the higher end of the range – about 75 degrees during the day time and 65 degrees at night.
  • Cool-season cops. Crops like lettuce, celery, cabbage and carrots enjoy temperatures at the lower end of the range (65 degrees down to 60 degrees). At night, their temperature preference drops another 5 degrees or so.

As you can see, it’s a good idea to consider what you’re actually planting as opposed to taking the figures in the ranges as they are.

 

 

Air Circulation

In addition to temperature, it’s also important that air is able to circulate throughout your room.

Like us, plants need fresh air to breathe. But, unlike you and me, they breathe in CO2 and release oxygen. In any case, the constant supply of breathable air allows them to grow.

Additionally, moving air allows the temperature in the air to balance out. This way, it’s fairly uniform across the area instead of being different in one section compared to another.

This is why you’ll see larger grow rooms equipped with duct fans as well as circulation fans.

 

 

CO2 Enrichment

Plants breathe in carbon dioxide. More importantly, more CO2 has been shown to increase crop production.

To give you an idea, normal CO2 is about 400-410 ppm (Parts Per Million). Studies show that boosting it up to 800-1200 ppm allows you to get as much as 20% more yield.

This is why you’ve probably seen some commercial growers install CO2 generators in their grow rooms.

That said, if you do use any form of CO2 enrichment system, make sure to monitor the CO2 levels. The easiest way to do this is with a handheld tester.

 

Hydroponics System Equipment You’ll Need

So far, we’ve discussed the things plants need to thrive as well as the components of hydroponic systems (in general). Now, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty.

That is the actual equipment that you’ll need to create your own hydroponic system.

But, before getting into it, it’s important to understand that the tools you’ll need and use will vary depending on the type of hydro system you’ll set up or use.

While some are similar, you’ll see differences in many of the components depending on the type of system you’ll be using.

 

Irrigation

At the very core of hydroponic systems is its irrigation system. If the word irrigation sounds intimidating, don’t be. All it means is watering.

And, when it comes to your hydro system, it’s all about the:

  • Pump – that will push the water
  • Tubes – which will carry the water from the reservoir to the rest of the system

 

Water Pumps

These are very much like the water pumps you have in and around your home. Their basic purpose is to move water from one area to another.

But, how much water they move, how strong the rate of the water is, the actual amount of water and the height they need to carry the water upwards all affect how they perform.

Basically, the higher up (more height) water needs to get pushed, the slower a pump will be able to do it. For example, if a pump pushes 400 gallons per hour at 5 feet, it will only be able to push a fraction of that up 10 feet.

As such, the size of the tubes, how high the tray is above the reservoir and how powerful your pump is all affect how much water solution it’s actually able to push, i.e. deliver to your plants.

And as a general rule, go for a larger (more powerful) pump than a smaller (weaker one) if you have a choice.

 

Air Pumps & Air Stones

Air pumps keep the water solution aerated. In effect, they do almost the same thing for hydroponics as they do aquariums. But, in addition to that, air pumps also help mix the nutrients in the reservoir.

So why do plants need oxygen?

I thought they breathed in CO2, and “exhaled” oxygen. If that’s the case, then there’s already oxygen present, right?

Plants need oxygen for respiration, which is the process when they turn food into energy. Just as importantly it allows water to move through the plants’ roots, without which it can start to wilt.

Air Stones are the sponge-like looking things at the end of the tube that’s connected to an air pump. The pump itself produces the air. But, it can’t be submerged into the water.

On the other hand, air stones disperse that air into the water.

As far as air stones go, you’ll find all sorts of designs and styles.

 

Tubing

Both air and water are delivered via a tubing system set up in your hydroponics. While the tubing for your air pump is very simple, the irrigation tubing can vary depending on what type of hydo system you have.

  • Black vinyl tubing. You’ll see a lot of systems use black vinyl tubing because they work. They’re sturdy, don’t break or tear easily and connect well to fittings. You also get to choose from different sizes, from as little as 0.25 inches wide to 1 inch in diameter.
  • Clear tubing. Aesthetically, clear tubing is the most popular because it’s see-through. That’s why most aquariums use them. But, they’re not the best choice for hydroponics because they’re prone to algae growth.

 

Fittings

Fittings function in different ways. Plus, they come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll find tubing connectors in L-shapes as well as T-shapes among others.

There are also stoppers and grommets to limit or seal the water from moving. Then, you’ve also got shut-off valves and other kinds of fittings as well.

However, all of these will ultimately depend on the type of hydro system you have and its specific set up structure.

 

Pots

Most photos of hydroponic gardening will show you plants growing in small pots. These allow you to grow them individually. And, space them apart.

In addition to the stand or set up that holds them, you’ll also need to get pots to keep the plants in place.

Here, there are a few options you can go with.

  • Net pots. Net pots look like your laundry baskets but smaller. They can be round or square in shape, are made from plastic and have holes on sides. The holes allow for better drainage and airflow. Depending on the size of your system and what crops you’re growing, you can choose between 2-inch pots to 10-inch ones.
  • Plastic pots. These are similar to net pots but without the holes. Circular pots are very popular and the ones you’ll likely see the most. Square pots maximize the space since they have corners which circular pots don’t. Their shape also makes them a good match for grow trays.
  • Fabric pots. These pots work just as well because the fabric is porous. As such, it allows for good drainage without having the growing media fall out.

 

Grow Trays and Reservoirs

Grow trays and reservoirs are two different components. But, they are somewhat similar in that they look like trays. The latter however, is much deeper since it holds the nutrient solution.

  • Grow trays are where your pots and plants stay on. They’re often rectangular in shape but can vary significantly in size, color and depth. Depending on the types of plants you plan on growing you can go for shallow trays which are 4 or so inches deep or deep trays that go up to 8 inches in depth.
  • Reservoirs hold the water that will provide the nutrients to your plants. In most cases, it will be positioned under the grow tray. They typically come in sizes between 20 to 110 or so gallons. You can also opt to use large plastic containers instead of buying these.

 

Additional (Optional) Equipment That’s Useful

At this point, you already know the main pieces of equipment your hydroponics system and plants will need.

In this section, I’ll cover a few other helpful accessories. Some are optional depending on the room conditions you have. Others are essential because you’ll need them to monitor the exact levels of different things in your system.

 

Meters

You’ll get to know a lot of different kinds of meters once you start doing hydroponics. That’s because everything from the water to light and temperature all needs to be kept at ideal levels. Of course, you can do without them.

But, having them on hand lets you quickly adjust conditions to make them optimal for plant growth.

 

Electrical Conductivity (EC) Meters

This is a very useful tool for any hydro gardener. Like all the other equipment in this section, it’s optional. That is, you’ll be able to grow hydroponics without them.

But, it definitely makes the process so much easier, not to mention more accurate.

EC meters allow you to measure how much concentration of fertilizer there is in your nutrient solution.

It’s a very simple looking device. And, fairly cheap as well. Of course, if you tend to throw or drop your equipment around, you may want to go for a higher quality one that can withstand more abuse.

 

pH Meters

pH meters measure the pH levels of your nutrient solution. As you already know by now, pH affects how much of the nutrients your plants actually absorb.

So, keeping the pH levels at the ideal range not only helps your crops produce better yields, but it also saves you money.

Like the EC meter, you don’t necessarily need to get one. Although, I do recommend it, especially when you’re starting out.

I can’t tell you how many times it has saved me from being left dumbfounded not knowing what’s wrong with a specific plant. pH meters can help you diagnose which nutrient deficiency your plant has.

Unlike the EC meters, you’ll need to do a little more work with pH meters. For one, you’ll need to make sure it’s properly calibrated. Otherwise, you won’t get an accurate measurement. Also, you’ll want to take care of it.

It’s not as robust as EC meters. And, they can easily break or become inaccurate when abused.

Finally, it is also worth noting that another option to pH meters are pH control kits. These come with a pH up and down solutions to help you determine pH levels. They’re more affordable and do work. But, they’re not as accurate as the meters.

 

Light Intensity

At some point, you’ve probably wondered to yourself how do I know if my plant is getting too little or too much light?

Or, you may be thinking, how can I tell how much light it’s actually getting from my HID or LED lamps?

Well, that’s where light intensity meters come in.

Make no mistake, measuring how much light you’re giving your plant is hard. And, it’s not an exact science.

More importantly, there are tons of methods you can use. In fact, a friend of mine showed me how he does it using his DSLR camera. It was super cool to see. But, also way too technical for most gardeners to even want to bother. (Yes, quite a bit of numbers, conversions and math).

In any case, here are some ways you can easily measure how much light your plants are getting.

 

Lux Meters

These are the most affordable options. Lux is defined as the illumination that’s equal to one lumen per square meter. Basically, it’s the intensity of light that’s perceived by the human eye.

Unfortunately, because our eyes are more sensitive to the colors yellow and green, it’s not the best choice for this purpose. That’s because plants are more sensitive to the red and blue colors in the light spectrum.

For this reason, light suggestions for growing plants is often based on PPFD (photosynthetic photon flux density).

That said, if you already have a lux meter and don’t want to spend for a PAR meter, you can use the conversion chart below to estimate how much light your plants actually get based on the kind of grow light you’re using.

 

Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) Meters

PAR meters or Photosynthetically Active Radiation Meters, measure PPFD. These are more expensive compared to lux meters. But, they’re better for this purpose.

That’s because PAR light falls within the section of the light spectrum (wavelength) that plants use for photosynthesis. As such, you’re better able to measure the “kind” of light your plants are getting that is useful to them.

 

Daily Light Integral (DLI) Meters

One of the trickiest things about the relationship between plants and light is that they need a lot of it.

PPFD measurements tell you the intensity of light at that given point in time on that specific area. Thus, it’s very useful.

But, if you want to be able to gauge how much total light your plant gets for an entire day (24 hour period), a DLI meter is a better option.

Basically a DLI meter totals all the PPFD readings throughout the day. Although in most cases these devices will record data every few seconds or so, then impute it to get a total for 24 hours.

As such, you can think of PAR meters as taking pictures or photos (which are static for a specific given moment.) In contrast, DLI meters are like cameras or camcorders that record throughout the day.

So which should you get?

 

Indoors

If you’re growing indoors, and have a fairly steady, consistent light, like those from grow lights, you can get one PPFD reading then:

  • Multiply it by 60 seconds (to get the amount of light for 1 minute)
  • Then, multiple by another 60 to get the total amount of light for 1 hour
  • Finally, multiply that amount by the number of hours you keep the lights on, ex. 14 hours a day.

Because the units of a DLI meter is different from that of PPFD readings, you’ll need to divide the total by 1,000,000 to get the total light for a given day.

 

Outdoors

Outdoors is much harder since the light isn’t consistent. The movement of the sun affects how much light your plants receive for different times of the day. And, the changes in the weather, sunlight, cloud formations affect the intensity as well.

So, a DLI meter is your best option here.

All you need to do is position it where you want to measure the light and leave it for 24 hours.

That said, it only measures the light received in that space. So, if you want to estimate other areas in your garden you’ll need to do the same thing for each of the locations.

 

Temperature Monitoring Equipment

Since you’ll be measuring the temperature of water (solution), using an aquarium thermometer is the way to go here.

You can set it up in your reservoir to monitor how warm or cool the water is. Ideally, hydro systems work best between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you want to save money, consider picking an EC or pH meter first. Most come with water thermometer features. That’s because they use temperature to get the EC or pH readings. As such, picking one that allows you to view the water temperature reduces the number of devices you need to buy.

 

Measuring Humidity

Similarly, you can get a hygrometer, which is a device that measures relative humidity. But, do a little research while you’re at it as well. Many thermometers come with hygrometers.

As such, you don’t have to buy the item separately.

Since humidity affects temperature, the two are often combined together in many devices.

Both humidity and temperature are key to getting the most out of your crop. They’ll allow you to monitor the readings without staying in the grow room or greenhouse all day.

More importantly, make quick adjustments based on the readings you record.

 

Humidifier or Dehumidifier

Depending on whether the humidity in your grow room is high or low, you may opt to get a humidifier or dehumidifier.

  • Humidifiers increase the humidity in the air. They do so by reducing the dryness in the air by emitting water vapor. As such, if you’re experiencing too low humidity levels, adding a humidifier helps.
  • Dehumidifiers do the opposite. They’re ideal if your room or home’s humidity levels are too high.

 

Vents and Fans

Finally, you can add fans and vents to improve air circulation. Above, we’ve already talked about the importance of fresh, circulating air for your plants.

So, if you’re growing in a closed space, you may want to add a fan or exhaust system.

 

Self-Contained Equipment for Growing Indoors

As mentioned above, hydroponics can be grown both indoors and outside. But in most cases, hydroponic gardens are set up indoors.

While neither is better (or worse) than the other, each one provides its own set of conditions.

More specifically, when growing indoors, you’ll need to figure out how to get enough lighting, provide the right temperature, humidity and air circulation for your plants.

Since different homes have varying setups and environments, it’s not easy to provide a “one size fits all” solution.

This is why you might need a few other equipment to help you control indoor growing conditions.

 

Grow Tents

Grow tents are like big fabric closets with zipper closures. But, they’re more specialized than that. These large devices are useful if you don’t have a specific room designated for your plants. It’s also ideal for people who rent since you don’t need to modify the house or apartment in any way.

All you need to do is set up the tent and work to grow your garden inside.

 

Lighting

Grow tents are designed to keep light in. As such, they’re well sealed at the seams to ensure that none of the light from inside escapes.

This works well for both you and your plants. Since your grow lights can run anywhere from 12 to 20 hours a day, you probably don’t want it getting in the way of your sleep time.

In addition to that, they’re often lined with reflective material on all sides of their interior. This allows it to optimize the light that’s emitted by your grow lights.

 

Enclosure

In addition to keeping light in, the closed conditions also allow you to control the environment. It keeps the temperature and humidity constant.

Being closed off also keeps all the dirt away from your home’s interior. Similarly, it keeps all the insects, pests and other unwanted critters away from your plants.

In case you need to spray your plants, it keeps the chemicals inside the grow tent as well.

 

Climate Control

Another aspect that grow tents provide is climate control. Because they’re fully enclosed, you’re able to set up the indoor conditions to what your plants need.

To do so, you’ll be using fans, vents, and exhausts. One thing you’ll notice with grow tents is that they come with holes (ports) on the sides. Depending on the one you choose, the holes can have different sizes, shapes and be located in different positions.

But, they all serve the same purpose, allow for air circulation.

That said, some are for intake (air coming in), while others work as exhaust (allow air to exit).

Depending on how much space you have in the grow tent, you may decide to set up your fans inside or outside it.

The fans help provide air circulation. And, they also help keep the environment cool, considering that grow lights can increase the heat inside the tent.

In some cases, you may also want to install HEPA filters to keep bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms from getting into your grow tent.

 

Grow Lights

I’ve discussed grow lights above, including the best options for hydroponic gardens. So, you can check out the section above for more details.

That said, it’s worth noting that most grow tents come bare. That is, all you get is the tent itself along with the fabric and its metal structure. The fans, lights and plants, you’ll need to supply yourself.

If you prefer something that may come with some of the accessories, do consider a grow cabinet, which is more like a refrigerator. By that I mean, it’s made of hard material with doors that open and close as opposed to the more fabric style grow tents have.

But, as you would expect, grow cabinets are much more expensive.