How to set-up a simple Hydroponic DWC (Deep Water Culture) gardening system.

A floating vegetable garden in your kitchen – Hydroponic DWC aka Deep Water Culture. A hydroponic, as well as an aquaponic method of growing plants, wherein plant roots are suspended in nutrient-rich, oxygenated water.

Spinach growing in an eco-friendly DWC grow bed at CityGreen’s Urban Gardening Research Centre

I can say, DWC is one of the cheapest and most straightforward methods of hydroponics, to grow your leafy veggies like lettuce, Spinach, coriander, fenugreek, and herbs, etc. Due to its simplicity, we are also trying to grow cherry tomatoes, green peas, cucumber and bottle gourds using DWC and they are responding well to the system. In today’s post we will teach you how to set up a low-cost basic DWC system.

Components of DWC

  • Grow Bed – To set up this system in your kitchen garden, all you need is a tub or tray like container which can hold the nutrient solution. You can go for any household item like unused tubs, buckets, etc. In CityGreen’s Urban Gardening Research Center, we created customized multi layered, eco friendly, wooden grow racks.

Customized, eco-friendly, vertical grow racks for DWC

  • Lid or Cover – can be the normal lid of container or paint bucket or the tub you are using. In our set-up since we started ground up, we used Styrofoam sheets.

We used Styrofoam sheets to cover our grow beds

  • Nutrients – since the grow medium here is water, it becomes essential to provide plant nutrition externally. We rely on our in-house range of nutrients for same. We use all of these in our Research Center but my personal favorite is CG Symphony Combo Pack as it gives me enough freedom to control plant’s nutritional plan according to it’s lifecycle needs.

CityGreen’s Symphony Liquid Plant Nutrient

  • Air pump – Along with water and nutrients, plant’s roots need Oxygen as well. Thus an air pump is needed to Oxygenate water. A normal aquarium pump can do the job pretty well. You can also skip this an manually oxygenate the water by giving it a gentle shake (or stir or bubbling air through it using a straw) everyday.

Normal aquarium air pump

Steps to set up a Hydroponic DWC system
In the following section we will elaborate how we went about setting up the Hydroponic DWC system in CityGreen’s Urban Gardening Research Center. You can follow on similar lines to set up your own system. If you happen to be in Bangalore, you can also visit our research center to experience it first hand.

Step 1 – Germinate the seeds. You can go with germinating in standard seed germination trays or net-pots. Advantage of using net-pots is that you will not need to transplant the sapling (and hence minimize the chances of damaging roots or transplant shock) while shifting it to the grow bed.

Seeds germinated in net-pots using CityGreen’s Seed Starter Kit

Step 2 – Prepare grow beds or containers in which you will be growing the crops. Ensure that the container or bed is waterproof and there is no leakage. (Unlike the normal pots with drainage holes, in DWC, you want water to stay in the pot and used up completely).

Do test the grow bed for any leakages using plain water

Step 3 – Make sufficient number of holes in the container lid. The hole size should be such that it can easily hold the structure that will be housing the sapling. You can go for standard 2 inch net-pots for same. To keep costs low, you can also go for common household sponge.

Make holes in the lid as per your requirement

Step 4 –  Prepare nutrient solution by adding the nutrients to water as per manufacturer’s instructions. If you are using our nutrients, add between 1 – 2 ml of solution per liter of water.

Step 5 – Fill the grow container with nutrient solution. Fill it to a level that it just touches the base of structure housing the sapling (net-pots or sponge). This will ensure that plan roots get the water through wicking action and you don’t have to worry about watering daily.

Fill the grow container to such a level to ensure that plant roots never go dry

Slowly roots will emerge out of net-pot down and even if water level is going down, you will not need to worry about watering as roots will still be submerged in water.

As the nutrient solution level goes down, roots go further down to draw water thus eliminating the need for frequent watering

Step 6 – Transplant the sapling to your grow container and you are done. Your Hydroponics DWC set up is alive and kicking.

Saplings transferred into grow bed

And here follows the results we got. We opened our center for interested hobbyists and gardeners to visit and all our produce got sold in less than a week.

Spinach growing in multiple racks without use of any LED grow lights or chemical pesticides.

Regular Maintenance / Up-keep of DWC set up
Once the system is up and running, it will require little maintenance. Following are the few things you will need to look for on periodic basis:-

  • Managing pH Level – plants roots can absorb nutrients only if the pH of nutrient solution is in a specific range (between 5.5 to 7.0 for majority of plants, depending upon plant variety and species). You can use a simple pH meter or chemistry lab pH strips to measure the pH. For managing it you can go for CityGreen’s Organic Origin pH Perfect solution. This is an industry first and only organic alternative available for managing pH of nutrient solutions.

 

  • Topping up the nutrient solution – as plants will absorb nutrients from the solution, the level of various nutrients available will keep going down. So a periodic (weekly or bi-monthly) top up of nutrient solution may be required.

 

  • Oxygenating of nutrient solution –  as pointed out earlier in this post, periodic oxygenation of nutrient solution will be required for good growth.

 

  • Look out for pests –  Last but not the least, do look out for pests or any distress symbols in your plants.

If you need any assistance at any stage, feel free to seek our support through WhatsApp +91 831 031 2660 and our Agri Experts will be more than happy to help you out.

HappyGardening!

Sushma completed her B. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Hiriyur and M. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Bengaluru. She is an avid gardener with expertise across soil based and soilless gardening techniques using substrates.

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