The working principles behind the hydroponic drip irrigation system are that they are relatively easy to setup hence their popularity. The drip system consists of a grow tray holding several grow cups and is separate from the solution reservoir.
A Submersible Water Pump pumps nutrient-rich solution from the reservoir through a drip irrigation network to the grow cups. Each drip line ends at the base of each plant thereby emitting the solution next to plant reducing moisture wastage.
The grow tray has a draining outlet allowing the system to recycle excess nutrient moisture. The excess nutrient solution drains back into the nutrient reservoir making the system for efficiency. Drip Hydroponic System requires regular inspection as concentrations of nutrients diminish over time as they are gradually absorbed by the crops.
The beauty of this hydroponic farming system is that you can control the amount and rate of delivery of nutrient solution to different crops enabling you to grow different crops on the same grow tray.
Drip Hydroponic System Supplies or Starter Kits
1. Flood Tray
This is a large tray that holds the grow pots. The tray is used to collect excess nutrient most and drains it back to the nutrient solution reservoir. The size of the flood tray depends on the number of plants you intend to plant.
2. Nutrient Solution Reservoir
This can be any light-proof container big enough to hold the nutrient solution. If the container is transparent, paint it black leaving a transparent vertical line for monitoring nutrient solution levels.
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3. Submersible Water Pump
It’s a submersible water pump used to pump the nutrient solution to the manifold which in turn spreads it to the drip network. The power of the water pump depends on the size of the grow area. You should invest in a powerful pump if you are planning on expanding the size of the growing area in future.
The pump should be fitted with a water filter to prevent debris from clogging the drip network.
4. External Air Pump, Air Tube, and Air Stone
Although the nutrient solution is circulating, use of an air pump ensures that the nutrient solution is well oxygenated. An air stone is used to diffuse air into the nutrient solution. The size and number of the air pump and air stones depend on the amount of nutrient solution in the reservoir.
5. Drip Tubing and Manifold
These make the bulk of the hydroponic system and they include delivery lines, drip lines, drain line and connector manifold. It’s recommended you use half-inch light-proof black vinyl tubing to prevent the growth of algae which could eventually clog the drip system. The polyvinyl tubing uses simple barbed manifold connectors which fit easily and tightly using PVC cement. The length of the tubing should be equal to the distance from the water pump to the plants and the size of the grow area.
6. Water emitters/drippers
The water drippers allow you to control the amount of nutrient solution delivered to each plant. In simple systems, one can forego the emitters by drilling small holes on the delivery tubing. But if you intend to grow different crops on your system, it’s recommended you use emitters to ensure optimal nutrient delivery according to the individual crop’s needs.
7. Growing medium
Some suitable growing media for hydroponic drip system include rock wool, coco coir, perlite-vermiculite mix or hydroton rocks. These hold and support plant’ roots.
The choice of growing medium determines the drip irrigation cycle. For example, rock wool needs irrigation once every 3-5 hours while hydroton rocks are suitable for continuous dripping.
8. Drip System Controllers
These include pressure regulators, flow valves, and timers. It’s possible to get by without these in a simple beginners system, but they are critical in larger, more complicated setups.
Timers regulate the drip irrigation. It helps in automatically turning the pump on and off at regular time intervals.
The flow valves and pressure regulators let you monitor and control the flow rate of the nutrient solution throughout the system.
9. Hydroponic Nutrients
These can be either premixed or homemade organic essential water-soluble nutrients needed by the crops.
Temperature and pH test kit
Thermometer and pH test kit are used in monitoring the temperature and pH of the nutrient solution. This ensures the solution is in a conducive state for optimal absorption by the roots. PH adjusters are used to adjusting the pH of the solution either up or down as needed.
Other tools needed in setting up the drip system include drill cutters, furnace filters, shovels, tape measures, and PVC glue.
How to assemble a simple hydroponic drip system
- Using a drill cutter, drilling a hole on one end of the bottom of the flood/grow tray. This hole connects the drain line from the grow tray to a hole in the lid of the solution reservoir. Cover the hole with a furnace filter to prevent grow medium from falling through to the reservoir.
- Fill the grow tray with well draining media such as rock pebbles. The grow tray is placed in an elevated area to allow draining by gravity.
- Fill the grow pots with more water-holding media such as rock wool or perlite-vermiculite mix. Place a single plant in each of the grow pots and place them on them in the drain tray. Remember to use the recommended spacing guidelines.
- If the solution chamber is transparent, pain it black to make it light-proof. Remember to scratch off a vertical line which will serve as the level meter. Drill two holes on each end of the lid of the reservoir. One inch hole is for the airline from the air pump to the air stone and electric cord to the submersible water pump. The other hole is for the inch tubing is delivering the nutrient solution from the pump to the manifold. Cut out another hole on the lid of the drain line from the grow tray. The drain line holes can be as many as the drain pipes.
- Connect one long inch line from the water pump to the manifold. Connect each drip line from the manifold to the respective grow pots on the grow tray. The drip lines should already e fitted with water emitters.
- Fill up the reservoir with nutrient solution and then test and adjust the pH accordingly. Place the submersible water pump, air stone, and connect the lines accordingly.
- Connect the water pump to a power output to kick-start your drip hydroponic system.
Drip System Hydroponics irrigation Maintenance Tips
- The most common problem with the system is clogging. Clogging is caused by debris in the drip system. This is solved by cleaning and flushing your water filters and drip lines. The water filters should be replaced regularly to ensure optimal functioning.
- Since the system relies so much on external power output, prolonged power outages or rationing can starve the crops to death. This shouldn’t affect you much as a small beginner, but large commercial systems require an automatic alternative power source such as a generator.
- Monitor the nutrient solution regularly. Check the temperature and pH and adjust accordingly. Refill the reservoir as frequent as needed and occasionally replacing it with a fresh batch.