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Hydroponic Drip Systems

what is a hydroponic drip system?

Drip systems use a reservoir of water, that is pumped up into your plants in a slow drip format. It uses a water pump and small tubes or drip emitters to dispense a controlled amount of water and nutrients into the plants. This system is often used in gardens and in commercial operations, as it’s suitable for large plants. It’s an incredibly water efficient way to grow as you are able to control the nutrient levels and frequency of water going through the pipes. 

Hydroponic drip system diagram

how does a hydroponic drip system work?

At the bottom will be a water tank or reservoir, which should have an air pump and air stone to help provide oxygen to the water. There is also a water pump, that will push the water up through a central pipe.

At various intervals there will be smaller tubes connected to the main pipe, which will be put into each plant. Every plant needs at least one drip emitter. The nozzles on these drip emitters can be changed to either increase or decrease the flow of water. This is great if one plant needs more water than the other.

To control the amount of water going through your plants, the hydroponic system is connected to a timer, which will deliver the nutrients to your plants in intervals. This gives you a great deal of control over how much water and nutrients your plants receive. 

drip emmiters
Drip Emitters (D-Kuru-Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0).

different types of drip systems

Recirculating

The roots of the plants will not always soak up all of the water. In a recirculating hydroponic system, the excess water is left to run back down into the reservoir. While this will save you water, you do have to keep in mind that the water flowing back into the system can affect the pH levels and nutrient strength of the reservoir water. You will need to check the pH and nutrient levels regularly. This type of system is most popular with home growers.

Non-Circulating System

In a non-circulating system, the excess water does not go back into the reservoir but is allowed to drain out of the system. You won’t need to check the pH levels of the nutrient solution so regularly, but you will have to be mindful of water waste. Using a timer to control the water flow can be helpful to minimalize water wastage (although generally not too much is wasted anyway). This is a popular system for commercial growers. 

Drip_irrigation_system
(CC BY-SA 4.0)
drip_irrigation_at_work
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

advantages of using a drip system

  • They are environmentally friendly by either recycling water or having minimal water waste
  • Water and nutrients are delivered efficiently and easy to control
  • The system can be budget friendly to set up, using DIY materials
  • Once set up, it is very low maintenance
  • It can be easily scaled up, if wanting to increase the amount of plants 

disadvantages of a hydroponic drip system

While beginner growers should not be put off, note that it’s not the easiest system to set up. It will also require a thorough cleaning around once a month, to get rid of any residue in the tubes. If using the circulating system, you will also be required to keep on top of the pH levels of the water. As with the non-circulating system, you may have some water wastage. 

what you need for a hydroponic drip system

Here are the basic materials required for making your own drip system:

  • Reservoir- This can be a large bucket or plastic storage container and a dark colour to protect the nutrient solution from sunlight.
  • Water Pump- Most pumps should be fine as it does not have to be high powered (300 GPH minimum) and try not to use 1 pump for more than 8-10 plants.
  • Air Pump- This is important to increase the oxygen levels in your reservoir
  • Air Stone- This will produce oxygen bubbles, which the air pump will push through the water.
  • PVC Tubes- These will be the main water tubes. 2-inch tubes should be fine for home systems.
  • Spaghetti Tubing- These small tubes will connect the main tube to the drip emitter.
  • Drip Emitter- Each plant will need a drip emitter. There are many different types of these (look for ones that can control the water pressure).
  • Grow Tray- This is the tray that will go underneath your plants. Any excess water will drip off from the plants, into the tray and back into the reservoir.
  • Net Plant Pots- These are what your plants will go into.
  • Growing Medium- Your plants will need to grow in something, such as coco coir or clay pellets.
  • Digital Timer- This will be used to time the distribution of water and nutrients at different intervals.
  • PCV Cutter or Drill- You will need something to drill the holes into your main tubing. 

how to set up your drip system

Putting together your system can seem a little confusing to begin with but there are numerous YouTube videos that show you how to set up. These can be really useful. So here are the basics of setting up your system:

  • Cut 3 holes in the lid of your reservoir- the first one is so the water from the plants can run back into the reservoir, the second hole is for the air pump cord and the third is for the water pump cable.
  • Cut a hole in the bottom of one end of the grow tray or overflow tray (where your plants will be placed). This will allow excess water from the plant roots to fall into the reservoir. The hole should be covered with a furnace filter, to stop the growing medium falling into the reservoir.
  • Fill the reservoir, put the air stone at the bottom of the reservoir and connect the air pump to it.
  • Measure out your main PCV tubing and cut holes in intervals where you want your spaghetti tubing to connect to the plant. Or use one central manifold.
  • Place the submersible water pump at the bottom of the tank and connect the PCV tubing up through the lid of the reservoir
  • Fit the spaghetti tubing into the main PCV tube or manifold.
  • Place your individual drip emitters at the ends of each spaghetti tube.
  • Insert a tube from the grow tray going down into the reservoir.
  • Fill your plant pots with growing medium, insert the plants and then put plant pots into the grow tray
  • Make sure to check the pH levels and nutrients of the water in your tank.
  • Set up a timer to the pump, to help control the water flow.
  • Turn on the water pump to start the system.

After your system has started running, be sure to check it regularly. If you have a circulating system, you will need to check on the pH and nutrient levels. You will also need to watch for clogging in the tubing and drip emitters. Flushing through the system every month can help keep everything in working order.