As a hydroponics novice, decisions made will have a lasting and domino-like effect on the future success of your garden. But fail or succeed, it’s as much about the experience as it is the result.
With endless possibilities of growing medium, some option—at some point—will grab your attention. So you’ll cave in to curiosity and give it a go.
Choosing the water pump is another decision—arguably the most critical. This is a customized choice. Consider the type of system, the variety of plants and just how much sweat equity you’re willing to invest. Quality is vital—the water pump is the foundation of your entire system.
A decision tree will get you there, but contrary to the organic nature of hydroponics. Gathering advice feels much more suited to the project. It’s an established community with valuable experience, happy to share advice.
With hundreds of options—hundreds—it’s inefficient to try them all. With personal goals in mind, process of elimination will help dwindle down the list of viable options.
Just a few to consider…
Coconut Fiber—the perfect choice for a community focused on sustainability. As powdered husks of the coconut it is a waste product that otherwise serves no purpose. With a greater oxygen capacity than most growing mediums and with better water retention—it’s ideal for gardens with intermittent watering cycles. With increased root stimulating hormone, coconut fiber expedites plant growth—caveat—be careful of low-grade product that contains a high level of sea salt. Again, quality counts.
While Perlite and Vermiculite are used alone, most growers find them more effective when combined.
Perlite, a form of volcanic glass, is inexpensive and a solid choice for wick-type hydroponic systems. Due to poor water retention, without supervision plants can dry out quickly. Another drawback to consider—the dust is bad for health, so a mask is a must.
Vermiculite, on the other hand, is inexpensive but can retain too much water if used alone.
A 50/50 mix of Vermiculite and Perlite is effective for both ebb and flow and drip systems. Combining the two mediums ensures the ideal water and nutrient retention, and enough oxygen supply for roots.
Also known as grow rocks, clay pellets—with their tiny air pockets—offer good drainage but poor water retention. Clay pellets are an ideal growing medium for ebb and flow systems and any design that requires consistent watering.
Although more expensive than other mediums, clay pellets can be reused if cleaned properly between cycles. Salt accumulation and drying out can be an issue, so regular flushing is recommended.
Packing peanuts, brick shavings—even hay bales—can serve as growing mediums. Plants depend on a small volume of growing medium to do the job—so, whatever the choice, make an educated decision.
Before choosing a pump, pick your system design. From that single choice, most decisions can be determined.
To choose a water pump for an Ebb and Flow system, calculate the number of gallons your container will hold. This will give you the water volume needed.
With the water volume determined, now figure out the height the pump will need to pump the water above the water line in the reservoir. For this, determine the position of both the system and reservoir.
How high the water will need to be pumped from the reservoir is a critical factor in choosing a water pump.
Drip systems are basic structures with hundreds of hybrids. The same two determiners—water volume and the height the water will need to be pumped—will help narrow down which water pump is most suited for the job.
Which water pump will be required for a drip system is more difficult to calculate but also more forgiving. Soaking time can be easily adjusted with a timer.
To identify the correct water pump for a drip system, calculate the water pressure. The more plants and drippers, the more water pressure you’ll require. Submersible pumps don’t provide pressure ratings (psi), only gallons per hour (GPH) and head height—the maximum height the water can be pumped. The higher the head height the more water pressure the pump will have.
The water depth of an NFT system is shallow and does not require a large volume of water to be pumped through it but does require a constant flow.
This system is constructed with long tubes, angled so the water flows downhill. The angle of the tube and the speed in which the water flows will dictate water depth. The pump should keep up with the water flowing from the tubes.
Hydroponic enthusiasts recommend that whichever pump you choose, pick a pump that moves twice the water than the minimum GPH of what is necessary for your system. This allows flexibility in setup and future adjustments. Water flow can be reduced if needed—most pumps have a built-in flow restrictor.
Even enthusiasts who have endured cycles of success and failure still encounter a decision or two. It is the nature of hydroponics to experiment and push boundaries.
So pause and take a deep breath. Save time and money—do your research and avoid pitfalls only the unprepared succumb to. And—don’t forget to have fun.