Hydroponic Wick System, continued

Different wick materials.  One of the benefits of DIY systems is that you can experiment with whatever you happen to have.  In addition to the purchased materials above, people have also used strips of cloth, towels, candle wicks, lamp wicks, etc.  Materials can be natural or synthetic.  you may want to test different wick materials to see which ones work the best, because each wick's material, density, diameter/width, length etc will change the performance.  One caution: the wick should be shaded from sunlight, or it runs the risk of cultivating moss or algae, either of which can interfere with the wicking action.

You are on Page 5 of our six page series on hydroponic wick system section. Click on any of the below pages to jump to that page.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6

Estimated Cost

Wicking systems are generally considered to be one of the lower-cost hydroponic options, primarily because a lot of the active nutrient delivery systems aren’t necessary.  That being said, a grower would still need to come up with containers, growing media, a nutrient tank and wick materials.  A recirculating pump for the nutrient reservoir is not necessary, but is often recommended to keep the nutrient solution from stratifying.  Similarly, an air pump to deliver oxygen to the nutrient solution is optional, but recommended to improve the nutrient solution’s dissolved oxygen.

One of the benefits of the wick system is that while some materials are required, most of these materials can be sourced inexpensively, and/or repurposed from other uses.  For instance, a container can be a bucket, a tub, a conventional planter, etc.  The nutrient solution reservoir can similarly be any household container which will hold water.  The wicking material can be created from any number of household materials, including old textiles such as sheets, towels, denim, and other fabrics which have been cut or torn into long strips. 

The one material which should be sourced or purchased specifically for this system is the growing media.  This is the one place where a grower needs the best possible performance, and household materials probably will not be sufficient.  This may also pose the single biggest cost to any wick system.  Given that growing media cost will play an unusually large role in the overall system budget, experimenting with a variety of wick material/growing media is time and effort well spent.  Determining in advance which growing media will work best for any given system, will save replacement costs or crop failure costs down the road.

Do It Yourself Potential

Wick systems lend themselves very nicely to DIY projects.  Compared to other hydroponic systems, wick systems are mechanically very simple, often relatively small, can be built with re-purposed materials and don’t require a lot of complex maintenance over time.  Another advantage of the wick system is that multiple containers and/or nutrient reservoir combinations can be used together, even when they are dissimilar in size, shape, source, etc.  The only expertise required on the part of the grower is the selection of growing media + wick to provide the best performance for the given crop and system setup.


I'll start by saying, it depends.  The main determinant is whether a grower is a hobbyist, and/or the system is intended for classroom demonstration, versus a system for a commercial grower.   Since most wick systems are for the first two categories, we'll focus our attention there.  Notes about commercial growers are at the bottom.

If/when a system grows in size, that DIY potential remains relatively stable thanks to the overall simplicity of the design.  The one design feature which might make the wick system more complicated is the connection between the container and the nutrient solution reservoir.  Many experimental and hobbyist wick systems will have a 1:1 relationship between the two.  In other words, each container will have its own reservoir.  With that design layout, then expanding (or reducing) the system size would simply require more (or less) container/reservoir combinations. 

Things get a little more complicated if any given reservoir hosts more than one container.  This happens if a few containers each have wicks dipping into a single reservoir.  In that system design, scaling a system either up or down will need to be done incrementally.  For example, if a grower has 15 containers being fed by three reservoirs, then the system has a 5:1 ratio (five containers for every one reservoir).  If the grower wanted to expand the system by only one or two containers, either the system design would need to change, or the grower would have to add a reservoir large enough for another five containers.  This might be considered a disadvantage for someone who is trying to minimize costs, or it could be considered simply an investment in future growth, where one or two containers can be planted immediately, with three more available whenever the grower wants to use them.

The only complications in the above scenarios would come from optional equipment such as recirculating and/or aeration pumps.  Those would be not only tied to the number of reservoirs, but also to the power available to the system.  A simple example is that if a small grow system is set up on a porch with a standard household two-place outlet, an air pump and/or recirculating pump would take up one or both of those receptacles.  If the system is then expanded, suddenly any additional pump(s) would need additional electrical supply.  While this particular example is easily solved with something like a power strip, the principle needs to be kept in mind.  For small systems, not a big deal.  For larger systems, it could pose a larger problem.  Similarly, a large system which uses power in some way, would then have costly infrastructure laying around if the system is downsized at some point in the future.   Granted, most wick systems are used by hobbyists and as such, will never face large scale issues anyway.  Yet growers should keep these issues in mind when contemplating either starting or scaling a wick system.

For commercial growers who are designing a production system suitable for produce sales, a wick system is an unlikely candidate for reasons we've already covered.  That being said, if a commercial grower is already using a wick system for commercial sales, then he/she has already worked out issues such as the wick material, the growing media material, and which crops do and do not work in his/her particular system.  Under those conditions, the scalability of a wick system is somewhere between easy and moderate.  While the grower already has critical information on what works and what doesn't, the fundamental design of the system, namely one or more containers in extremely close proximity to a reservoir, will have implications on how easily that system can be expanded.  Assuming all the design details have been worked out for an existing crop and the grower just wants more growing area for that particular crop, those designs will have to be very carefully replicated.  On the other hand, if the grower wants to add a new crop, then the design process starts over almost from scratch, and the grower will have to proceed carefully with a whole new set of variables to be determined.  Given that commercial-scale wick systems are almost unheard of, most of that experimentation will be in the "breaking new ground" category, rather than replicating someone else's good results.  In that sense, wick systems are a relatively risky way for commercial growers to expand, and require a fair amount of time investment.

You are on Page 5 of our six page series on hydroponic wick system section. Click on any of the below pages to jump to that page.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.