Deep Water Culture Hydroponics 101
Deep water culture (DWC) systems are transforming the way that people grow plants. These systems are different from the traditional hydroponics systems that growers use in small spaces to grow under controlled conditions.
What are DWC Hydroponic Systems?
A DWC system uses hydroponics to grow without a substrate, or any dirt or other material necessary to grow plants. Instead, the roots of the plant use water and liquid nutrients to help them grow.
DWC hydroponics receive nutrients through the following:
- Nutrients added to the water
- Oxygen pumped into the water
Since advanced pumps are used, the water is oxygen-rich and allows for the liquid nutrients added to the system to be optimally absorbed by the plants you grow. In short, these systems are highly advanced and will enable you to grow plants in small spaces and without the need for an outdoor garden.
Let’s look a little deeper into how deep water culture hydroponics works.
How a DWC System Works
Plants often need just the right amount of water for them to grow properly, so it can be very confusing when someone hears that growing in deep water culture is possible. However, the proper setup, even with large quantities of water, can thrive.
The way the system is built (more on this below) contributes to the optimal growing environment needed for plant growth.
Deep water culture systems work like this:
- Plants sit above the water
- Roots remain deep in the water
- Oxygen is pumped into the reservoir
- Plant food and nutrients are added
The high levels of oxygen allow the roots of the plant to uptake large amounts of nutrients optimally. Additionally, you’ll control the temperature of the water and the lighting.
Fast growth is promoted, thanks to the liquid nutrients in the system.
Special solutions, using either air bubbles or falling water, are used for the nutrient system to dissolve the nutrients fully in the reservoir. Since these solutions are crucial to the function and operation of a deep water culture system, we’re going to cover them more in-depth below.
If the system isn’t built precisely, the plant’s roots can become waterlogged, which will prevent the roots from absorbing oxygen.
DWC systems are advanced, well-planned hydroponic setups. However, they have both advantages and disadvantages, which will dictate whether or not this is a good choice for the plants you want to grow.
Advantages of DWC Hydroponics
Why would you choose to run a DWC system? These systems offer:
- Fast growth environment that encourages rapid, healthy growth in less time than conventional growing methods
- Highly controlled growing environment to grow plants all year round
- Improved cell growth for healthier plant growth
- No fertilizer necessary to grow the plants
- Low-maintenance design concept
- Depending on the type of plant, growth can occur 50% – 100% faster
- Easy to fix due to very few moving parts and components
For growers who want to grow plants in as simple of a way as possible, a deep water culture system is best. You’ll eliminate the changes in temperature and environment so that you can grow plants in and outside of seasons.
Disadvantages of a DWC System
DWC hydroponics is excellent for most uses, but there are occasions when they’re not optimal for growing. A few of the disadvantages that you must know about are:
- Temperature control can be difficult in basic systems if a non-circulating system isn’t used
- Entirely reliant on the air pump, so it’s ideal to keep an additional pump available as a backup
- Nutrient and pH levels can vary, so you need to be cautious when growing multiple plants at once
DWC systems offer an easy way to grow plants, and even with the reliance on the air pump, it’s a simple way to begin growing plants.
3 Main Elements of a Deep Water Culture System
With a DWC system, the roots of the plants are suspended in a nutrient- and oxygen-rich water solution. These are the main elements of the system:
#1 – Water
Water is the heart of every hydroponic system. It’s what holds the nutrients and carries oxygen to the plant. Think of it as your soil replacement. Because your plant’s roots are suspended in water, you never have to worry about watering your plants.
#2 – Oxygen
For a hydroponic system to work, the water must be oxygenated. Otherwise, the plant will drown. In a DWC system, oxygenation is accomplished via falling water or an air stone and an air pump.
#3 – Nutrients
With traditional gardening, soil contains micro and macro nutrients that plants need to grow and thrive. But with a DWC system, there is no soil. So, you’ll need more than just oxygenated water to grow your plants. You’ll need to add nutrients to your water to ensure that your plants are healthy and growing strong.
DWC Hydroponic System Components
Now that you understand the elements of a DWC system, you can purchase the components you need to build your system.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 5-gallon bucket
- Air stone
- Air pump
- Net pots
- Airline tubing
- Growing media
- pH measuring kit
- Hydroponic nutrients
- PPM meter
While this may seem like a lot of components, the system is easy to set up.
- One end of the tubing connects to the pump and the other to the air stone.
- The air stone sits in the bucket.
- Fill the bucket up with water.
- Measure the pH level.
- Add nutrients.
- Start growing your seeds.
It won’t be long before your seeds start germinating and the roots find their way into the water. Plants grow quickly and fiercely because they don’t have to work through pockets of soil to find water. Instead, they can soak up all the nutrient- and oxygen-rich water they need.
Building an Advanced DWC Hydroponics System
The basic DWC system listed above works well for most growers. But if you want to take things to the next level, you may want to set up a recirculating deep water culture system, or RDWC.
RDWC systems are designed for growers who want to scale their operations. Instead of investing in 10-15 different bucket systems, you have one main reservoir that feeds the nutrients across all of the buckets.
With this type of system, you can also eliminate the need to have multiple air stones. Spray nozzles move the water from one bucket to another, naturally oxygenating the water in the process.
The great thing about a setup like this is that you don’t need to add water, calibrate and oxygenate each bucket individually. Instead, you can do it all from one central bucket – the main reservoir.
Deep Water Culture Aeration
Although most beginners start with an air stone to oxygenate their water, this isn’t the only method for aeration.
In fact, there are two methods for aerating and oxygenating your nutrient-rich water.
The air bubbles method is the one you’re familiar with and the most common method used by home growers. An air pump and air stone work together to aerate the water.
Air stones are porous by nature, which helps create little air bubbles that float to the water’s surface.
Soaker hoses are a great alternative to air stones, and they produce a similar effect. However, the bubbles are even smaller with a soaker hose compared to an air stone.
The smaller the air bubbles, the better. Tiny bubbles provide better aeration.
The falling water method isn’t common with at-home DWC hydroponics, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. This method uses agitation for aeration.
The greater the volume of water, the higher the water will need to fall for proper aeration.
The falling water method is more popular with commercial hydroponic operations because they require a lot of water.
DWC hydroponics is an effective and simple way to grow plants at home. Now that you understand how the system works, its benefits and the components you need, you can start building a system of your own.