How to Choose Your Grow System

How to Choose Your Grow System

There are a few different systems that you can grow your plants in. For a beginner, we highly recommend that you learn the basics of growing plants indoors by starting off with some saucers, and pots filled with soil or Coco Coir. Once you have mastered the basics of growing a plant and built up your confidence, you can progress onto a different type of grow-system. We'll take a look at the different types of system available for your future reference. 

How to Choose your Grow System

Our essentials kits contain the basic items that every indoor grower needs - a grow tent, a grow light, and an extraction system. This leaves the buyer to choose their grow system, medium and nutrients.

The type of grow system you go for will depend a lot on your priorities. The main choice to make is whether yield is your top priority, or whether crop quality is more important to you.

Many years ago, the size of a crop from a hydroponics system would usually far outstrip what could be achieved in an organic garden. On the flip-side, the quality of the final crop from an organic garden used to be greater than could be achieved using a hydroponics setup.

However, in recent years, advances in grow mediums and nutrients means that the size of the gap in differences has closed considerably. Organic growers can enjoy quite large crops that are only slightly smaller than a hydroponics grower's. Likewise, hydroponics growers can enjoy high quality crops which are fairly close to that which can be achieved in an organic garden.

It is worth noting that most hydroponics systems reduce the amount of work in a large garden. However, for a small garden then hand watering is usually the simpler option. If you are just starting out we would recommend hand watering in pots with which to learn to grow.

The reason for this is fairly simple - a hydroponics system usually involves a reservoir from which the plants are watered either continuously or periodically. For best results, and to really optimise yields, the nutrient solution in the reservoir should be checked pretty much daily to make sure that the nutrient strength and the pH are in the correct range, and then adjusted if necessary. However, the reservoir can supply nutrient solution to a large number of plants so this daily 15 minute job is quite time-effective when a large number of plants is taken into consideration.

Hand watering plants takes a bit longer but probably only needs to be performed once every 2 to 4 days on average. For 4-12 plants this doesn't take long. However, hand watering 50 plants can be time consuming!

Hand-Watering in Pots

This our recommended way of starting out.

For this you will need, unsurprisingly, some pots and saucers. We highly recommend air-pruning pots such as Superoots Air-Pots or Air-Pruner cloth pots. These help the plant to develop a much larger and effective root system than it will in a traditional pot. Roots are often called the engine of a plant, and a large root-system is able to supply water and nutrients to a bigger plant and allow it to grow larger fruits or flowers.

The pots can be filled with soil or coco.  Coco/clay pebble mixtures are less suitable for hand watering as they hold on to less water and tend to dry out relatively quickly.

Organic or Mineral

Choose a nutrient that fits in with your style of growing. If you are growing in soil and want a full organic grow then you won't go far wrong with the Biobizz range of nutrients and boosters. An excellent alternative is the Plant Magic Oldtimer.

If you are growing in soil but happy to use mineral feeds, then there is a big array of nutrients to choose from. If you feel bewildered by the choice then we can wholeheartedly recommend the Plant Magic Mineral Soil nutrients.

Coco can be a good alternative to soil. Due to the fibrous nature of it, it drains better and doesn't clod together like soil can. This means that plants will usually need to be watered more frequently. Soil makes an excellent home for beneficial microbes, from bacteria to mycorrhizal and trichoderma fungi. Due to the way that coco coir is produced, by the time it reaches the grower there might not be a large, diverse microherd ready to go straight out of the bag. There are lots of high quality coco nutrients on the market. If you find the choice bewildering then try out House & Garden Coco A&B - it's one of the best.

To take proper advantage of organic biological gardening it's a great idea to boost the microbe population numbers yourself. We can think of no better product for this than Ecothrive Biosys.

Also, don't forget to use Ecothrive Neutralise. Water companies add chlorine or chloramine to our tap water which kills/inhibits microbes and makes it safe for us to drink. Unfortunately, if we water our plants with un-neutralised tap water, the chlorine/chloramine will do the microbes in the soil or coco no good at all. Ecothrive Neutralise quickly gets rid of the chlorine/chloramine in the water which will allow your beneficial microherd to thrive. For a big additional organic boost, try Ecothrive Charge. It triggers a self-defence system in plants which leads to an increase in health, growth speed, and eventual yields.

Building in a bit of Automation

The traditional method of hand watering plants in pots works very well. However, it does involve patiently watering your plants quite frequently, and then lifting the pots off the saucers to get rid of the run-off. There are 2 systems that can reduce the workload. One is the Medusa drainage system. The other is the Autopot automatic bottom-feeding system.

The medusa system basically replaces your traditional pot saucers. Your pots of soil are instead placed on stands which are connected together by pipework on the bottom. The run-off from the pots is drained away without having to lift the pots up. This relieves a lot of the heavy lifting involved with hand-watering.

The valve does not open again until virtually all the nutrient solution in the tray has been used up. Apart from keeping the reservoir tank topped up, and checking the plants for pests, diseases or deficiencies, there is little else to do. Of course, regular checks of the strength and pH of the nutrient solution in the reservoir tank is very important.

The fact that the feeding/watering system is completely automatic means that this is, technically speaking, a hydroponics system. There is one main drawback - organic feeds (which are usually thick and contain particles) will often clog up the small diameter feed pipe. There is one exception to this which is Botanicare Pure Blend Pro. Mineral feeds, like Plant Magic Mineral Feed for soil, will work fine, also.

Stepping over to True Hydroponics

There's 6 main types of hydroponics system, one of which is the Autopot "wick" system described above. The other types are DWC (Deep Water Culture), Dripper, NFT, Aeroponics, and Flood & Drain. Let's take a look at what is probably the simplest one first, which is DWC.


DWC is basically where a bucket with a lid contains nutrient solution along with an airstone which bubbles air though it continuously. The lid contains a cutout for a net pot which contains clay pebbles into which the plant is rooted. The roots of the plant grow down into the bubbling nutrient solution.

Due to the high level of oxygenation in the nutrient solution, the root mass that this system encourages can be very impressive, often occupying most of the bucket. However, the root-system is key to crop size and DWC can deliver very fast growth speed and huge yields. Another advantage is that there is less waste to get rid of at the end of the grow-cycle as compared to most other systems.

The next type of system we will look at is Dripper systems. The most common dripper system of all is the Wilma System. This comprises a wide and comparatively shallow reservoir at the bottom. Plant pots sit on an especially fashioned lid cover. A pump pushes nutrient solution through drip-lines and out through dripper stakes which are pushed into the tops of the plant pots which are usually filled with clay pebbles, coco, or a mixture of both. The excess nutrient solution drains back into the reservoir through drain holes in the top tray. A timer is used to switch the pump on and deliver a timed watering a few times a day. One Stop Grow Shop gives the option to have root pruning cloth pots for some of the sizes of Wilma system. We highly recommend this.

NFT stands for Nutrient Film Technique. An NFT system comprises a reservoir system at the bottom with lid which has a gently sloping tray on it. A pump continuously draws nutrient solution from the reservoir and it then trickles down the tray. A criss-cross pattern on the top of the tray spreads the solution out along its width. Special spreader matting is laid out on the top tray which helps with spreading out the nutrient solution even more. The spreader matting also provides a surface for roots to grow onto. Plants are usually rooted into rockwool cubes before being installed into the system. They are then placed onto the spreader matting.

A cover made of correx is supplied which goes over the top tray and prevents light hitting the roots which would inhibit their growth and also encourage algae. It also keeps the humidity below the cover very high ( close to 100% - great for root growth) and it reduces water loss through evaporation from the top tray. The cover needs to be cut closely around the rockwool cubes. This system does not use pots which means that a lot of headroom can be saved. This system is also capable of delivering excellent yields with a low amount of waste at the end. As mentioned before, the pump needs to run 24/7. The roots can dry out very quickly if the pump is turned off or if it fails. It's a good idea to keep a spare pump handy as cheap insurance in case the worst happens.

Aeroponics is an interesting type of system. A good example of aeroponics is the Amazon System. Quite literally, the plant's roots grow into thin air! The system comprises of a reservoir tank at the bottom which contains the nutrient solution. A chamber which contains a delivery system sits on top of the reservoir. The plants sit in small net pots with clay pebbles in the lid of the chamber. A pump pushes nutrient solution up, out of the reservoir at high pressure and then through the delivery system within the main chamber. The delivery system feeds water through a network of very fine misting nozzles. The mist created in the chamber brings the humidity up to around 100%. In other words, the air inside the chamber becomes so saturated that it can literally hold no more water vapour.

The root-zone oxygenation in Aeroponics is about as high as it can get. Roots love this atmosphere and will grow astonishingly quickly into the humid air in the chamber. Another bonus is that the droplet size in the mist is tiny. This maximises water and nutrient absorption by the roots. Aeroponics is generally regarded as having the potential to deliver the largest yields possible. However, to make the most of this potential, ideally you need to be an experienced grower.

There is also very little waste to dispose of after the grow. However, just like NFT, the system is very vulnerable to the pump or timer failing. Stick with a quality branded timer such as one made by Grasslin, and keep a spare pump handy, just in case.

The last type of system is Flood and Drain (sometimes known as Ebb and Flow). Plants are rooted into pots containing clay pebbles, or a coco/clay pebble mixture. Periodically, the planter or pots is filled with nutrient solution from a reservoir which thoroughly wets the medium.

After a short time, the nutrient is drained back into the reservoir ready for the next timed feed. There are various configurations of flood and drain systems. For smaller setups the Vegigator Flood and Drain Systems are great. For bigger setups with multiple lights, a multi-pot IWS System would probably be a better way to go.

Now you know about the different systems and ways of growing, you can make an informed choice about which system, medium and nutrients to get to go with your new essential grow kit. Remember that we are always only a phone call away if you need help identifying the best system for you (01782 749955), or if you need help with it once you have got it home.

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