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There are two main kinds of system: active and passive. Passive types deliver nutrients via the growing medium, but active systems use a pump. An active system will cost more and take more to maintain, but may get better results.
This method is probably the most high-tech type of hydroponics gardening. These systems use little to no growing medium. The roots hang in the air and are misted with nutrient solution. The misting is usually done every few minutes. Because the roots are exposed to the air, the roots will dry out rapidly if the misting cycles are interrupted. A timer controls the nutrient pump much like other types of hydroponic systems, except the Aeroponics system needs a short cycle timer that runs the pump for a few seconds every couple of minutes. Other types of Aeroponics systems run constantly, requiring no timer.
This is the simplest of all active hydroponics systems. Plants are in a basket of grow rocks, suspended over a container of aerated nutrient solution. An air pump supplies air to the air stone that bubbles the nutrient solution and supplies oxygen to the roots of the plants. Water culture is the system of choice for growing leaf lettuce, which are fast growing water loving plants. Very few plants other than lettuce will do well in this type of system, although it can work well for the vegetative stage of flowering plants. A very inexpensive system can be made out of an old aquarium or other water tight container. This kind of system is that it doesn't work well with large plants or with long-term plants.
Probably the most widely used type of hydroponic system in the world. Operation is simple; a timer controls a submersed pump. The timer turns the pump on and nutrient solution is dripped onto the base of each plant by a small drip line. In a Recirculating Drip System the runoff is collected back in the reservoir for re-use. The Water-to-Waste System does not collect the runoff. The advantage of Water-to-Waste is that the nutrient solution in the reservoir has never passed through the system, so it is unchanged. In a Recirculating System, the nutrient solution can fluctuate in both nutrient concentration levels and pH levels. With quality nutrients and a good soilless mix, a Water-to-Waste Drip System can be one of the best ways of gardening with lights.
Works by temporarily flooding the grow tray with nutrient solution and then draining the solution back into the reservoir. This action is normally done with a submerged pump that is connected to a timer. When the timer turns the pump on nutrient solution is pumped into the grow tray. When the timer shuts the pump off the nutrient solution flows back into the reservoir. The disadvantage of this system is that with some loose types of growing mediums, there is a vulnerability to power outages as well as pump and timer failures. The roots can dry out quickly when the watering cycles are interrupted. This problem can be relieved somewhat by using growing media that retains more water.
N.F.T. systems have a constant flow of nutrient solution so no timer is required. The nutrient solution is pumped into the growing tray and flows over the roots of the plants, and then drains back into the reservoir. The plant is supported in a small plastic basket full of grow rocks, with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution. N.F.T. systems are very susceptible to power outages and pump failures. The roots dry out very rapidly when the flow of nutrient solution is interrupted. There is usually no growing medium used other than air, which saves the expense of replacing the growing medium after every crop. Normally the plant is supported in a small plastic basket with the roots dangling into the nutrient solution.