Several types of hydroponic systems are readily available for educators to use. Each system described below has its strengths and limitations. This comparison looks at physical space requirements, set up and maintenance, costs, and accommodations for different plant types.
AeroGarden3 System distributed by MiracleGro and available for online viewing and comparisons at: AeroGarden.com. This system is available in different colors, comes with a 3-pod seed pod kit system, liquid nutrients, and fluorescent plant grow lights. All components are delivered in an easy to set up boxed system that’s ready to go (with water and minor set-up) right from the boxed package. The dimensions for this table top system are: 9.5 in. W x 11 in. D x 14-20 in. H. This is an excellent start-up system that is ready to go out of the box. Start-up costs are between $60 and $80. Plant growth is limited to three pods. Larger more expensive, but more adaptable systems are available.
Bucket Bubbler Plant Growth System – a DIY system that’s easy to build and can be made for under $20. The Bucket Bubbler system is a simple, portable model of a hydroponic system the can be easily modified and adapted to fit space, lighting, and crop preferences. Some time and tools are required to set up this system. Separate lighting is required, if the system is not located near a source of high levels of natural lighting. The Bucket Bubbler system is a great teaching tool for introducing basic concepts of hydroponics, plant growth and development, and sustainable systems. This system is discussed in more detail with DIY instructions as part of the Grow It To Go! Design Challenge.
Emily’s Garden is very similar to the bucket bubbler system, but includes six containers and comes as an “out of the box” system ready for easy installation. Similar to the bucket bubbler system, Emily’s garden uses an external pump to circulate oxygen-rich nutrient liquid to the plant roots. Flowers, herbs, or vegetables can be grown in the Emily’s garden system. This kit includes the nutrient system for vegetables and flowering plants, a pH test kit, pump, nutrient flow tubing, and a nutrient system reservoir, as well as the six containers with appropriate vented bottoms for the plant growth systems.
The NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) 4-6 Channel System distributed by CropKing. This system allows a class to grow up to 36 plants at a time. Once lettuce (or other plant varieties) have been germinated and seedlings are mature enough and have an established root system, they can be transported in their rock wool or other medium onto the NFT channel system. The NFT involves a fairly complex set up and should be thoroughly tested with water flow before setting up the nutrient system and installing plants. Leaks may occur, which can be addressed with aquarium grade silicon. The system includes (6) 4′ Channels. The dimensions are 55″ length x 55″ width x 31″ height. The channel system sits on a square aluminum support table with adjustable legs for leveling. The NFT provides an enclosed system, including both spouted and smooth end caps to avoid algae growth. The caps and channel system tops are removable top caps for easy cleaning. The nutrient feed line plumbing and drain lines as well as a submersible pump are included. Assembly can be done with a crescent wrench.
A detailed report comparing these and other hydroponics systems for educations is available upon requrest. Please email Dr. Laurie Ruberg [Email: plant lessons @ gmail.com] for a free copy of an extended report comparing five hydroponic systems. Read more about Hydroponics for Appalachian Schools.