How to set up a wick hydroponic growing system
The wick hydroponic growing system is a passive soilless technique that does not need a water pump or mechanical movements to deliver nutrients to the plants’ roots. Unlike in other systems, nutrients move from the nutrient reservoir to the root system using a wick in a process known as capillary action.
In the wick system, the plants in the growing containers sit just above the nutrient solution reservoir to enable efficient wicking. The roots hang above the reservoir leaving a space above the nutrient solution level to prevent water logging and allow enough air circulation.
Since the wick system relies so much on capillary action, there is no mechanical movement of the nutrient solution and this results in diminished oxygen levels. An air pump is usually required to pump air into the solution thus providing enough oxygen to the plants.
Out of the six major hydroponic growing systems, the wick system is the easiest to set up. Besides not requiring any mechanical ability, all of its tools and equipment can be found in home equipment stores in your area or online on platforms such as Amazon.
Tools required in setting up a wick hydroponic growing system
These are net /mesh pots that house the growing medium and the base of the plants for support. The size of the planter’s pots depends on the size of the crops to be planted.
This container holds the nutrient solution. The container should be big enough to hold the nutrient solution and to prevent it from drying out. The container should also be light-proof, preferably painted black to prevent algae growth.
Once the solution is wicked up, make sure the excess doesn’t drain back into the reservoir or you would be required to top up the fresh solution to the correct level.
Since the nutrient solution is stagnant in the reservoir, microorganisms might start growing in the food rich solution hence the need to clean and replace the nutrient solution once in a while.
The wick itself is the most important part of the system since it ‘transports’ the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the plant root system.
The ideal wick material is absorbent and resistant to rotting.
Common materials used for wick systems include propylene felt strips, tiki torch wicks, fibrous rope, nylon rope, braided polyurethane yarn, mop head strands, cotton rope or even strips of old fabrics and blanket.
It’s important to use the type and number of wicks that allow efficient water usage. This will depend on the distance between the roots, the solution level, the type of plant you intend to grow, and type of medium used.
This is the inert growing medium that is housed in the growing pots and offers support to the growing plants. The type of medium used in a hydroponic wick growing system is very crucial because the entire system depends on its ability to hold moisture.
The ideal growing medium should be absorbent in order allow efficient nutrient moisture delivery to the plant root system from the wick. The medium material should also be able to hold air pockets for sufficient air circulation in the root system.
Some of the commonly used media used for hydroponic wick systems include coco/coir, vermiculite, perlite, rock wool, grow rocks, and water-absorbing polymer crystals.
Since the nutrient solution sits stagnant in the reservoir, oxygen (critical in plant root development) is quickly diminished hence the need for an air pump to aerate the nutrient solution.
In addition to aerating the nutrient solution, the continuous bubbling keeps the solution circulating thus the nutrients are continuously evenly mixed. This continuous mixing prevents nutrients from settling at the bottom, far away from the plants’ roots.
Airstone (oxygen diffuser)
This is a porous material usually found at the bottom of the nutrient solution. When the air pump sends air into the airstone, the latter absorbs it and releases it in evenly distributed air bubbles.
Air tubing delivers pumped air from the air pump to the submerged airstones. Their size and length depends on the type of pump and the distance from the reservoir respectively.
Hydroponic growing nutrients
These include grow fertilizers, bloom fertilizers, and supplements which are premixed essential nutrients required for plant growth. They are available in farming stores and online stores.
The type of nutrient premix depends on the type of plant you are growing and their growth stage.
Besides being useful as a top cover for the reservoir, it can also serve as a solution level indicator or as a growing platform.
This applies if you intend to set up the wick system indoors. The size of the garden and the plant growth phase determine how many light fixtures and how much wattage is needed. The common types of lighting used include
The common types of lighting used include high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps during the growth phase and high-pressure sodium (HPS) during bloom to maximise yields and grow denser flowers.
This is for painting the solution reservoir black in order to make it light proof.
Other basic tools required include tape measures, marking pencils, and sharp cutting tools such as a knives.
How to prepare the wick hydroponic growing system for set-up
Before building up your hydroponic system, it’s important to first prepare the various equipment used in the actual setup.
- Prepare the solution reservoir. If the container is transparent, paint it black to prevent light penetration. After the paint has dried, use a sharp tool to scratch out a vertical line which is usually used to monitor the nutrient solution levels.
- Prepare the floater/Styrofoam. Using a tape measure, note the width and length of the container reservoir and use the measurements in cutting out the Styrofoam a quarter-inch smaller than the size of the reservoir. The Styrofoam should fit accordingly with enough space left to adjust with the solution level changes.
- Cut out the holes for the net pots on the Styrofoam. This is done by placing the net pots on the Styrofoam according to the recommended spacing depending on the type of plant. Using a pencil trace the bottom of the pots and cut out the holes for the pots. On one edge of the Styrofoam, cut a hole for the airline.
Setting up the wick hydroponic growing system
- Fill the reservoir tank with the nutrient solution to the required levels.
- Connect the air pump to the airstone and place the airstone in the nutrient solution.
- Place the Styrofoam in the tank taking note to pass the air tubing through the proper hole.
- Fill the growing net pots with the appropriate growing medium and place one plant in each of the pots.
- Place a wick in each pot. The wick is buried in the medium to prevent it falling into the solution reservoir. The wick hanging from the bottom of each pot should be long enough to allow it to go deep in the solution.
- Place the pots on the designated holes on the Styrofoam ensuring that you leave a space between the bottom of the pot and solution.
- Turn on the air pump and start growing with your homemade hydroponic wick system.
Although the wick hydroponic growing system is easy to set up, it requires proper and regular maintenance for optimum functioning.
Here are some tips to help keep your wick hydroponic system in tiptop condition.
- Maintain correct solution levels in the reservoir by refilling it when needed.
- Regularly flush the growing medium with clean water to prevent toxic accumulation of excess nutrients.
- Maximize nutrient moisture delivery by adding more wicking material.
- You may add another airstone to increase oxygen delivery and stir up the nutrient solution.
- In the indoor systems, you need to constantly monitor, regulate, or change the lighting accordingly for optimal plant development.
- Temperature and humidity monitoring is important in the indoor system to prevent the crops from dying out.