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Hydroponics Systems (II): Passive Setups

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We’re continuing our overview of different hydroponics setups. This time, we’ll go over some of the more common passive systems. The key to most passive hydroponics setups is the “capillary action” which draws water from a source (such as a reservoir), through the growth medium, and to a plant’s roots.

By Ildar Sagdejev CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

In this method, a plant’s roots are immersed completely in water. Usually this involves submerging a container of planting medium (such as rockwool or LECA pellets) in a larger reservoir. The reservoir must be aerated, usually with something like a waterfall or airstone bubblers. With access to all the water and nutrients it needs, a plant can grow extremely quickly in these conditions. However, care must be taken to ensure that the plant is healthy--unlike with soil, there’s no buffer for any nutrient changes, so if there’s something wrong with the solution a plant’s health can deteriorate quickly. With experience, a gardener can tell what adjustments need to be made to ensure optimal growth.

DWC systems can be purchased in pre-made containers, or can be made at home using common materials such as five-gallon buckets and drain trays.


If you’re looking for a simple way to set up your own hydroponics garden, this may be the method for you. All you need are normal plant containers filled with a growth medium and a tray to place them in. The tray is filled with hydroponic solution, and through capillary action the growth media in each plant container draws the water and nutrients needed for the plant.

The water in the reservoir must be be aerated or circulated, and like all hydroponics systems it must be kept at a suitable temperature (around 72℉). But the basic setup is simple enough that only a minimal outlay is needed to get it set up, and with a cover and some other modifications, this technique can even be used outdoors.


The wick system is similar to the reservoir setup discussed above, but instead of putting plant containers directly in a reservoir to draw up water, nylon rope “wicks” connect the water source to the plant containers. Though it uses the same principle of capillary action to move water from the reservoir to the plants’ roots, using a wick means the reservoir doesn’t have to be as exposed to the open air. Less water is lost to evaporation, and you won’t have to irrigate and rebalance the reservoir as often.

Wick systems are reliable and relatively easy to set up. Though you can purchase them pre-assembled, it’s worth considering putting one together using nylon rope and other readily available materials.  

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