Hydroponic systems are extremely adaptable to different spaces, different setups, and even artistic expression. The above system combines elements of vertical gardening with hydroponic lighting and NFT nutrient solution delivery. Image originally from Epic Gardening.
One of the biggest decisions to be made about hydroponic production, is which hydroponic system(s) to use. A variety of systems have been developed over the years, each with their pro's and con's. Some are extremely simple in theory but become rather complex in practice. On the other hand, others may seem very complex at first yet offer very simple day-to-day operation. On this page, we'll attempt to offer a summary of all the systems and the performance details associated with them. As we more fully develop this website we'll provide comprehensive descriptions of each approach.
We've put together the following comparison table as a way to illustrate different hydroponic systems and how well they address real-world concerns. This is definitely a qualitative comparison only, based on our experiences and the experiences of other hydroponic growers we've spoken with. The variables we've listed describe those features which growers have repeatedly described as being part of their decision-making when selecting and keeping any given design. The terms we use can be defined as follows:
|Description||Complexity||Estimated Cost||DIY Potential||Scalability||Nutrient Distribution|
|Flood and Drain (Ebb and Flow)||A shallow container of growing media, which is regularly flooded then drained with nutrient solution.||simple to moderate||low to moderate||high DIY potential||very scalable||even distribution|
|Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)||individual plants housed in cups which sit in an irrigation channel.||low to moderate||low to moderate||high DIY potential||low to moderate scalability||uneven|
|Deep Water Cultivation (Raft)||Individual plants housed in cups, which are inserted into a raft floating on surface of nutrient solution reservoir, such that the roots are suspended in the nutrient solution.||low to high||moderate to high (unless a large reservoir is already available)||limited DIY potential (unless a large reservoir is already available)||not very scalable||even (but nutrient solution should be circulated)|
|Bucket System (container)||Individual plants housed in a container large enough for plant roots, with nutrient solution delivered to each container.||low to high||low to high||moderate to high DIY potential||very scalable||even, but potentially complex|
|Vertical Farming||Housing individual plants in vertical trays, racks, cylinders or other vertical framework. Nutrient solution delivery varies with each system. Term may also refer to architectural styles or layouts which are designed to house such systems.||moderate to high||low to high||low to high DIY potential, depending on size||very scalable||uneven and complex|
|Growbox||A completely enclosed growing environment of various sizes, offering not only containers but also lights and temperature/humidity control.||moderate to high||moderate to high||moderate to high||not very scalable||even but complex|
|Wick System (passive system)||A nutrient delivery system which moves nutrient solution to plants via a wick.||low to moderate||low to moderate||moderate to high DIY potential||lot to moderately scalable||even distribution|
I have tried to include those variables which seemed to be most likely to be important considerations for someone trying to decide between different hydroponic systems. A few other variables, such as "which system is more productive than the rest" would be impossible to even estimate, because so much depends upon any given system's ongoing management. Hopefully the above table will at least give some guidance as each system, and allow some side-by-side comparison. We will also be writing up individual pages and/or sections devoted to each of the system types listed above. In the meantime, this Colorado State University PDF provides a wonderful summary of the various hydroponic systems, along with summaries of various growing media and nutrient solutions.
If there are systems not listed which you'd like to see included in the table, please Contact Us.