Hydroponics systems

 Use of solid substrates.

Can be open or closed - Trench Technique - Hanging Bag Technique - Grow bag Technique - Pot Technique - Vertical Pot Technique


Closed Systems

This system is based on circulation of nutrient solution, where the solution is pumped through the root system and the excess collected to be used again 1. Nutrient Film Technique A true hydroponics system. The root system is exposed to the nutrient solution. The nutrient solution is in the form of a thin film moving through the pipes. The seedlings are put on a stand and surrounded by sponge or rockwool in openings made in the pipes.

Non-circulating hydroponics system

Circulating hydroponics system

Kealakehe Chapter

Deep Flow Technique

In this system the nutrient solution is allowed to flow 2-3 cm below in a PVC pipe of 10 cm diameter. The solution is passing through perforated plastic cups with the seedlings grown on growing media. The bottom of the cups touches the nutrient solution running in the pipe. The tube length is 5-10 m with a slope of 1/50-1/75. the nutrient solution is pumped at the rate of 2-3 liters/minute. Support should be provided to tall plants

Closed systems (cont) ŹThe growing medium can be pitmus or rockwool. A plastic net can be used to prevent the growing medium from falling into the nutrient solution Ź when the nutrient solution is circulated it is saturated with oxygen. The pipes should have aslope of 1 cm for every 30-40 cm pipe to facilitate the movement of the solution ŹPipes can be painted white to reduce heat

Open Systems ŹThe system pumps the nutrient solution through the root system and the excess solution is discarded. Several techniques are available: 1. Root dipping technique in this method the plants are grown in small pots filled with a growing medium and placed such that 2-3 cm of it are immersed in the nutrient solution and the rest is in air above the solution to absorb Oxygen, this method is simple and cheap. 

Floating Technique

ŹThis method is similar to the root dipping technique, except that here shallow containers are used (10 cm deep). Plants are placed in holes made in Styrofoam or similar material. The board is allowed to float on the nutrient solution. Oxygen is supplied artificially.

Capillary Action technique

Źplants are grown on a mixture of a growing medium and sand in pots placed on the nutrient medium. Aeration is very important in this method. Good for ornamental and house plants

Solid Substrates In this technique solid growing media are used like Vermiculite, saw dust, sand, rockwool,«etc However, the substance used should be: - Inert. Does not react with the nutrient elements and have neutral PH. - With good porosity to allow drainage and aeration - Free from toxic materials, pests and diseases

Specifications of solid substrates
- Easy to use - Cheap - Allow several uses and easy to dispose off - Should be sterilized before use

Trench Technique 
In this technique plants are grown in a narrow

trench made in the soil or a brick or cement made trench.  The trench should be made with a 1cm slope for every 50-75 cm towards the center of the house where the nutrient tank is located.  The trench should be 15 m long. A wide trench will allow planting 2 rows of plants  Depth of trench depends on plant type, 30 cm minimum

Trench cont 
The trench lined with a water proof

substance like poly ethylene to separate the plants from the bottom of trench.  The nutrient solution is supplied to the plants by a submersible pump in a drip irrigation system,Excess solution is returned back to the tank by a drainage pipe.

Hanging Bags 
By using poly ethylene bags (white color

preferred)  Bags are filled with a suitable growth medium and hanged vertically  Seedlings are placed in holes made at the sides of bags  Nutrient solution is added at the top of bag  Excess solution is collected at the bottom and recycled

Planting in Bags 
Bags of of 1-1.5 m are filled with growth medium and

placed flat on the ground leaving alleys

Nutrient Solutions 
These are solutions containing all the nutrient elements

necessary for plant growth and are used for irrigation of hydroponics Ź There is no ideal solution for all crops. ŹThe water used for making the nutrient solution should be free from salts as much as possible (EC< 0.6 ds/m) and Na concentration < 50ppm)
Crop/Ec (ds/m)
Onions Beans Peas Radish 1.4 77 88 77 91 2.4 39 55 53 68 3.4 39 22 54 4.4 28 16 38

Nutrient Solutions Essential elements Carbon, Oxygen and Hydrogen Ŷ They form the skeleton of organic mater (carbohydrates, proteins«etc). Plants get C from CO2 in the atmosphere. CO2 in the atmosphere is 0.03% Ŷ Plants get H2 from irrigation water and O2 from CO2 Photosynthesis: 6CO2 + 6H2O in the presence of light and chlorophyll will yield carbohydrates (C6H12O6) + 6O2

The Essential Elements
Criteria for essentiality Omission of the element must result in abnormal growth, failure to complete its life cycle or premature death The element must be specific and not replaceable by another The element must exert its effect directly and not by some indirect effect


2. 3.

Limiting Concentrations for some Nutrient elements in Some Nutrient Solutions (ppm)
Element N As Nitrate As Ammonium K Ca Mg P S 0.14 to10 0.007 to 5 0.4 to 6 0.04 to 4 0.02 to 22 0.05 to 6 0.003 to 4 3 to 70 0.03 to 25 10 to 39 1.1 to 5 0.24 to 40 o.2 to 2.6 0.007 2.6 1.3 20 to 200 0.4 to 100 0.03 4 49 to 210 0 to 154 59 to 300 80 to 200 24 to 60 15 to 192 48 to 224 Deficient Adequate Toxic Common range in NS

Micro elements
Deficient Adequate Toxic range in nutrient solutions
110 to 550


0.55 to 71

0.55 to 2.3

16.5 to 3.85


0.65 to 3

3.25 to 16

195 to 390

0 to 550





0 to 10

Essential elements
Ŷ Nitrogen

Concentration in plants 2 to 5 % of dry weight. - Proteins - Chlorophyll - Hormones N deficiency Yellowing of the middle of the leaf in monocots Yellowing of whole leaf in dicots Reduced growth Lower leaves first (mobile element)

N excess  As bad as N deficiency - Dark green color - Fast rate of growth - Few flowers and fruits - Greater sensitivity to changing environmental changes - Reduced fruit quality

- Forms of Utilization - NO3- and NH4+ - NO3 is better absorbed in acid media - NH4 is better absorbed in alkaline media - Equal uptake at PH 6.8 - Toxicity (with heavy use of NH4+ fertilizers)

Ź N can be lost from the soil by deep percolation (NO3-) and denitrification ŹNH4 is adsorbed by clay, transformed to NO3 by micro organisms and lost

Concentration in NS 
In most NS range is 100 to 200 ppm  if using both NO3 and NH4 the ratio of NO3 to

NH4 should be about 3 to 4  Start with a low level and increase the concentration as the plant grows  Good management of N is essential in soilless growing systems.

N fixation Ɣ Rhizobia spp (root bacteria) fix atmospheric N in Legumes. Ɣ In the field, legumes should be inoculated by the proper strain of Rhizobia Ɣ Some bacteria can mineralize organic N, like Azotobacter, Colostridium.

Important Sources 
Ca(NO3).4H2O; KNO3; HNO3 For NO3-N  NHNO3 For both sources  (NH4)2SO4; NH4H2PO4

for NH4-N  Urea is not recommended as N source in hydroponic formulations as its hydrolysis produces NH4

Importance Content in plants 0.2 to 0.5% of dry matter. - Nucleic acids (ATP. ADP, RNA) (Energy transfer) - Enzymes - Lipids P deficiency (on older leaves) - Dark purple color on leaves in monocots - Dark red color on the veins in dicots - Slow growth - Few flowers and fruits

Excess P Mostly indirect effect Fe, Mn and Zn deficiency Early maturity Uptake
H2PO4- (dihydrogen phosphate, (PH 5.5-6.5) HPO4 (monohydrogen phosphate) PO4--- (phosphate)

Ź Most element absorbed by plants (luxury

consumption) Plants contain 1.25 to 3.0 K (dry wt bases). Some plants contain more e.g. bananas. Fruiting plants like tomato cucumber and pepper require more K other crops Uptake high during vegetative stage and decline at fruiting stage Importance - Nucleic acids synthesis - Enzyme activation - Cell division - Water uptake - Stomatal function

Deficiency Ɣ Reduced turgor (wilt easy) Ɣ Yellowing of leaf margins (old leaves, mobile element) Ɣ Leaf scorch (burning) Ɣ Uneven maturity Ɣ Slow growth

Balance among cations 
A critical balance exists among K+, Ca2+ and Mg2+  When K is high in comparison with Ca or Mg, Mg

deficiency will occur Ca deficiency may also occur in some cases  Concentration in NS is around 200ppm

Importance - Content in plants 0.5 to 3.0% (DWB) - Cell wall Deficiency appear on young leaves first. - Yellow green color, brown or black leaf tip - Poor leaf expansion, brown roots - Blossom end rot Ɣ Most available in soils (PH>7)

In NS concentration is about 200ppm.  Major source: Calcium Nitrate  Calcium sulfate (poor solubility)  Calcium chloride (excess chloride is toxic)

Leaves contain 0.2 to 0.5% DWB Importance - Chlorophyll formation - Catalyst in enzymes function Deficiency Results mostly from imbalance between K, Ca, Mg and NH4 -Interveinal chlorosis on old leaves (mobile) -Mottling -Yellow spots - Susceptibility to fungal diseases

Most hydroponics solutions contain about 50 ppm  Sources  Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4.7H2O)  Natural water contain a lot of Mg (quantity

contributed by water should be determined)

In leaves 0.15 to 0.5% DWB Importance Constituent of some amino acids (cystien, cystine, methionine, thiamine (Vit B1) Deficiency Similar to N deficiency Yellowing of new leaves

In hydroponics solutions concentration should be

about 50 ppm.  Sources  K2SO4, MgSO4.7H2O, (NH4)2SO4 «etc  Plants can tolerate excess S

Micro nutrients 
Zn  Fe  Cu  Mn  Mo B  Cl

Calculation of Concentrations 
Example 1: Calculate the amount of Ca and N in

100 Kg of Ca(NO3)2  Solution:  Atom #of atoms  Ca 1  N 2  O 6 ŹMW =

At Mass 40 (40) 14 (28) 16 (96) 164

% 24 17 58 

Therefore, In 100 kg of Ca(NO3)2 there is:  17 kg N  24 kg Ca  Example 2  Calculate the amount of N in 100 kg of NH4NO3  Solution:  Calculate MW

Calculations (cont)
N: 14x 2 = 28  H: 1 x 4 = 4  O: 16 x 3= 48  MW = 80  N = 28/80 x100 = 35% ŹIn 100 kg of NH4NO3 there are 35 kg N. 

Calculations (cont) 
Example 3  (NH4)2HPO4  MW = 28 + 9 + 31+ 64 = 132  N: 28/132 x 100 = 21%  P: 31/132 x 100 = 23%  In all calculations we assume pure grade (Reagent

grade). However, in commercial fertilizers there are usually impurities and additives.

Calculations (cont)
correction for impurities;  If we have 10% impurities then multiply quantity by 110/100  Example4: If Ca(NO3)2 in the 1st example has 10% impurities then the quantities will be as follows: 17 x 110/100 = 18.7 kg  And N will be: 24 x 110/100 = 26.4 kg

Calculations (cont) 
Example 5  Calculate the amount of Ca(NO3)2 to be added to a

nutrient solution to get 200ppm of Ca, if the fertilizer used is 90% pure?  (i.e. we want 200 ppm Ca in every liter of water)

1. In every 164 mg Ca(NO3)2 there are 40 mg Ca

(164 is the MW of Ca(NO3)2)  MW of Ca(NO3)2 = 40+2x14+6x16 = 164  2. In X mg Ca(NO3)2 we have: 164 X 200/40 = 820 Ca(NO3)2 ŹIf we dissolve 820 mg Ca(NO3)2 in one liter of water we get 200 ppm Ca.

Solution (cont)
To correct for impurities: 820 X 110/100 = 902 mg  At the same time, some N is added. This should be calculated as follows:  In 164 mg Ca(NO3)2 There are 28 mg N  Therefore, in 820 mg Ca(NO3)2 there are x mg N: 820 X 28/164 = 140 mg N

Calculate the amount of fertilizer source needed to give a solution containing: 1. 100 ppm K using KNO3 2. 150 ppm S using MgSO4.7H2O 3. 200 ppm P using Ca3(PO4)2 4. 2 ppm B using H3BO4 Molecular wts: K (39), P(31), O (16), N (14), Ca (40), H (1), Mg (24), S (32), B (10). 

Exercise (cont) 
Calculate concentrations of N, Mg, Ca in ppm in

the above sources.  Repeat the exercise assuming 5% impurities in the source fertilizer.

Preparation of NS 
The use of a particular NS should be based on 3

factors: 1. Hydroponics growing technique 2. Frequency and rate of NS dozing of plant roots 3. Crop nutrient element requirements


The making of NS requires considerable quantities

of water  Most waters contain substances and elements that affect (positively or negatively) plant growth. Sizable quantities of Na, HCO-3, Ca and Mg can be present in under ground water  Therefore a complete analysis of water to be used is essential

Maximum mineral concentrations for irrigation water used for hydroponics Element/ion Cl Na CO3 B Fe Mn Zn Maximum concentration (ppm) 50 to 100 30 to 50 4.0 0.7 1.0 1.0 1.0

Water quality guidelines for irrigation water for NS
Characteristic EC TDS (mg/L) Na, SAR Cl B NH4,, NO3, mg/L HCO3 No problem < 0.75 < 480 <3 < 70 1.0 <5 < 40 Increasing 0.75 to 3.0 480 to 1920 3 to 9 70 to 1920 1.0 to 2.0 5 to 30 40 to 520 Severe > 3.0 
1920 9 345

2 to 10 

> 520

Water (cont) 
Any suspended material should be removed by

filtering through sand bed  Sometimes, surface or pond water contain disease organisms or algae which can produce problems  Filtering and other treatments are required in such cases. 

The PH of NS  Depends on the content of the NS  Temperature  Concentration of CO2

The Ph of Ns affects uptake of nutrient elements Continuously monitor PH. Add acid or alkali depending on situation

Effect of root medium PH on nutrient uptake

Water quality (cont)
ŹOrganic substances such as pesticides and herbicides are very dangerous and can affect plant growth if present in the NS even in very low concentrations!! ŹPathogens may inter the system Water from surface wells or from surface water should be analyzed for those before use

NS (cont.) 
Nutrient elements concentrations will change over

extended period of time (more than 7days?) 
Take samples, analyze and replace spent


Useful conversions 
1.0 pound (lb) = 454 grams (g)  2.2 pounds = 1 kilogram (kg)  1.0 gallon (gal) = 3.78 liters (L)  1.0 liter = 1000 milliliters (mL)  1.0 gram = 1000 milligrams (mg)  1.0 milligram/liter = 1 part per million (ppm)

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