Here's why I love hydroponics: with just a little imagination, you can design a custom hydroponic system for just about any application — large or small.
In this series, I’m going to highlight one of the most popular hydroponic growing methods: the ebb and flow system.
You’ll learn about the advantages to ebb and flow systems, as well as their downsides, and I’ll even show you how to build one on a budget.
Before we get started, take a look at my video tutorial:
What is an Ebb and Flow System?
An ebb and flow system is just a different way to irrigate your plants hydroponically. In a typical setup, your plants will be in a tray, in individual containers filled with a growing medium of your choice.
Unlike deep water culture, ebb and flow systems do not keep a plant’s roots permanently suspended in the nutrient solution. Instead, they fill a table with the nutrient solution a set number of times per day, delivering the food and moisture to the root systems in specific doses. When the table is dry, the roots have a chance to absorb oxygen, ensuring that they don’t drown.
When draining, the pump simply turns off and gravity draws the nutrient solution back down into the reservoir - an elegant solution.
Why Use an Ebb and Flow System?
This is one of the simpler hydroponic systems you can build and use. This makes it an attractive system to use for commercial growers, but also means it's great for beginners as well. It's a flexible system, because you can easily take plants out of it and transplant into deep water culture, soil, or any other system you'd like.
If you're growing shorter plants, like herbs, head lettuce, or even smaller flowers, you might find ebb and flow to be the best fit. The horizontal layout allows for optimal light coverage, especially if you're using the right reflectors.
Maintaining an Ebb and Flow System
To grow well in this system, you must plan and prepare accordingly. A simple irrigation timing error can wipe out your plants completely. On top of that, plants grow fast in an ebb and flow setup due to how efficient it is, so you have to monitor it constantly.
Ebb and Flow Benefits
I would consider deep water culture to be an even lower maintenance system than ebb and flow setups – but ebb and flow has some specific advantages. First, you can have a greater surface area to grow your plants by going the ebb and flow route. Because your reservoir is not directly connected to your plants, you can expand the size of your flood table. In DWC, your reservoir is also the container you grow your plants in. So, if you want a larger growing area, you have to enlarge your reservoir. Pretty soon you end up with an extremely heavy setup, which can be a real hassle.
It’s also easier to control the temperature of your nutrient solution when it doesn’t have to be in the same container as your plants. I’ve noticed that I have some trouble with DWC systems if I use them outdoors, because the reservoir simply draws in too much heat from the sun. Pretty soon I’ve created an ideal growing environment for a lot of different pathogens and my plants’ roots are absolutely hating me. Not a recipe for growing success.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what my ebb and flow table looks like. Like any other hydroponic method, there are many ways you can build one. I decided to purchase a 2’x2′ ebb and flow table from HydroFarm. The rest was built out of materials I bought at Home Depot and Petco.