If you’ve just stumbled upon the idea of DWC hydroponics, welcome! DWC systems are some of the easiest ways to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs indoors. If you’re looking to learn more about what DWC entails, or want to get started on building your own system, these are the best tips on DWC hydroponics for beginners.
This guide will cover everything from how DWC’s work to what you need to build one, and even alternatives in case this type of system doesn’t work for you. The world of hydroponics can get overwhelming with so many different options and strategies, so we’ve broken it down to make it easy to understand.
What Is A DWC System?
DWC is one of the most basic types of hydroponic systems. Hydroponics in general is a great option if you’re looking to grow plants, but don’t have access to an area with enough soil to do so. A small hydroponic system like a DWC can easily fit inside your living space, and can even grow from the natural sunlight that comes through your windows.
DWC stands for Deep Water Culture. This basically means that the roots of your plants will be submerged in a reservoir full of nutrient-rich water, and your plants will grow by absorbing nutrients from the solution.
A DWC hydroponic system is often a good option for hydroponics beginners, as DWC systems are some of the easiest to set up and maintain. You can even buy a DWC kit with everything you need to get started!
How Do DWC’s Work?
DWC’s give plants everything they need to grow in a pretty simple system. The plants take in the nutrients and water they need from the nutrient solution. An air pump in the reservoir provides your plants with all of the oxygen they need. The final ingredient is a light source that gives the plants the energy they need to photosynthesize.
If you’re planning to build your own DWC system, you may want to find a more in-depth guide to the setup and build process, but for now, we’ll break down the basic setup and what you’ll need.
Parts Of A DWC
These are the parts that will go into a standard DWC system. There are a variety of options of extra parts and alternative methods you can use in your system, but it all starts from here.
This is the container your nutrient-rich water will sit in. If you’re growing a small system with just one plant, you can use a five-gallon bucket from a hardware store. You can also use a variety of other containers if you’re growing a bigger system with more plants included.
When choosing your reservoir, it’s a good idea to pick a dark-colored container to prevent light from leaking into your system and warming up the water. It’s also best to have a light-colored lid (or paint the lid white) to prevent it from absorbing heat.
Air Pump System
In most DWC systems, this is a must because it keeps your plants from suffocating. There’s not enough oxygen in the water alone for your plants to survive, so the air pump system will give them a little extra boost.
This system generally consists of an electric air pump, an air hose, and an air stone. It can also include a check valve to keep water from seeping into the air pump if the power turns off.
Of course, every plant needs a light source, but in a DWC system this can be as simple as placing your plant in the sunlight. You can put the system outside or near a window that gets a lot of sun.
If you don’t have consistent sunlight in the space where you’re planning to grow your plants, you can also use an artificial light source such as an LED board or other grow light. You can look into different options for light sources based on what your space looks like, as well as how big your system is.
DWC systems generally use net pots, or plastic pots with mesh around the bottom and sides. This design allows the roots to come out of any part of the pot, rather than being limited to just the bottom part of the pot.
These pots will also generally have a lip at the top, which makes sure that they can rest on top of your reservoir lid and not fall into the system.
You can grow any type of plant in a DWC hydroponic system. The key is to make sure that all your plants will fit comfortably in your container with plenty of room for the roots to grow.
Once you decide which plants you’re growing, it’s a good idea to research the specifics of growing those plants. Different types of plants have different requirements, so the general guidelines can only take you so far.
You can use any form of mineral nutrients in your DWC, including dry or liquid nutrient solutions. Experienced hydroponics growers have different preferences about exactly which nutrients to use, but for beginners, the General Hydroponics 3-part liquid flora solution is always a good bet.
Once you have the basics down, you can try incorporating more complex parts into your DWC system. This can include buying a grow tent to maximize the efficiency of your system and create a better environment for your plants. You can also add parts such as temperature regulators or fans to control the heat, airflow, and other aspects of your system.
You may need to purchase some of these extra parts if you find yourself running into problems with your system. For instance, if you’re having trouble keeping the temperature down, you can look into different additions to help you solve that issue.
What Are The Different Types Of DWC?
Most DWC systems use the same basic equipment and principles, but there are some different options and methods you can try to create the DWC system that works best for you.
The Kratky Method
This is an even simpler variation on your standard DWC system. It uses all of the same parts except for the air pump. This means that you don’t need any electricity for your system, but it also means you’ll want to be a bit more exact about the water level.
Without an air pump, the Kratky method makes sure there is still enough oxygen in the system for your plants by leaving a larger gap in between the waterline and the top of the container. This way, there is enough oxygen in the system overall to make sure the plants aren’t suffocated.
In this system, it’s best to use plants that have roots already, so that you can make sure the roots come in contact with the water while still leaving a gap to keep the air inside.
This setup is pretty similar to your standard DWC system, but with an upgrade. A bubbleponics system uses all the same parts as a standard DWC, but with an added water pump.
The water pump will go out the top of the reservoir and over the top of the pots, pumping water out of the reservoir and into the plants through the top of the pots. The nutrients then fall back into the reservoir and are recycled.
Using a bubbleponics system can be especially helpful in the seedling and germination phases of your plants’ growth. In these phases, the plants’ roots don’t extend much into the water, so it can be harder for them to take in nutrients.
Once your plants progress beyond those beginning stages, there’s no longer any significant advantage to this method. If the roots are large enough, they can take in water just as easily from the top as from the bottom. However, the extra part can be worthwhile to speed up those slow early stages.
This is a more major upgrade of the standard DWC system that can be especially helpful if you’re looking to scale up your system and grow more plants. In a recirculating DWC (RDWC) system, the nutrient solution is kept in a central reservoir.
The central reservoir is then connected to the containers where the plants grow through pipes. An RDWC system uses a water pump to pump the nutrient solution through all of the containers.
Much like standard DWC systems, you can either buy pre-made RDWC kits or build your own. The DIY approach will be more customizable, but it will definitely require more time and skills than your standard DWC build.
The main advantage to this type of system comes when you’re growing a number of different plants in multiple containers. Instead of having to refill the nutrient solution in each container, with an RDWC, you’ll only have to regulate the central reservoir, and the circulation system will deliver the necessary oxygen, water, and nutrients to each individual container.
What Are The Benefits Of A DWC?
Hydroponics experts often recommend a DWC for beginners, and this type of system comes with a number of advantages for any grower.
High Yield And Quicker Growth
In the natural world, most plants have to take nutrients up from the soil. In a DWC system, the nutrients are placed directly in the water, removing the intermediary and allowing your plants to take in the nutrients they need much more quickly and efficiently.
This will lead to both a higher crop yield for each individual plant and quicker growth for your plants overall. This is especially helpful if you’re looking to grow crops in a small space with limited resources.
Easy To Build
This is one of the main reasons that hydroponics pros recommend the DWC system for beginners. Even with a DIY approach, the most significant procedures you’ll need to do are cutting holes in your container’s lid and putting the air pump together. With a premade DWC kit, you can make this even easier.
Of course, you can always add more parts to customize your DWC and maximize its efficiency but if you’re just starting out it’s good to stick to the basics so that you can focus on your plants.
Easy To Maintain
This is the other primary advantage that makes DWC’s a great option for beginners. If you’re not used to growing hydroponics, you may not always remember all of the steps to maintain your system. Luckily in a DWC, there aren’t that many.
The only maintenance you’ll need to do in a DWC system is to change the water and nutrient solution and top off your reservoir to keep the water level steady. You may want to check on your plants more regularly, in the beginning, to make sure all of the components are working correctly, but once you have that down you can leave them for days at a time.
This advantage mainly comes from the fact that your plants are sitting in water, so you won’t need to water them regularly as you might with other types of hydroponic systems.
A DWC system is also a great option for beginners because you can start at the most basic level and build from there. You can even start by growing one plant in a bucket by your window, and slowly expand your hydroponic system as you get the hang of it.
DWC’s potential for multiple garden sizes makes it great for growing in urban spaces. Whether you have a window area in a tiny apartment or an entire basement for your garden, you can create a DWC system that will fit your needs.
If you’re looking to level up your DWC system beyond the standard bucket or container, you can look into buying a grow tent or even building your own grow box to create an ideal environment for your plants.
What Are The Downsides Of A DWC?
Of course, no system is perfect. Although DWC’s are a great option to create a simple garden in your home, they do come with some risks that you have to watch.
Low Temperature Is A Must
This may or may not be a downside based on where you live and what temperature your space generally is. If you do have a warmer space, though, you’ll need to watch the temperature of your system.
The roots of your DWC system have to stay at a temperature below 72 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that they stay healthy and continue to grow.
If you do find yourself having issues with the temperature, you can always take extra steps or buy extra parts to regulate the heat around your system and keep everything cool.
The Air Pump Is Everything
This is generally not a problem, but if your air pump breaks or your power goes out, you’re in trouble. You’ll have a very short time window to get it fixed before your plants suffocate from a lack of oxygen in the water.
Of course, if you’re using the Kratky method, this doesn’t apply as the oxygen is built into your system and doesn’t require any additional power.
Everything Must Be Exactly Right
Having a tiny hydroponic system that can fit anywhere in your home has its downsides too. The smaller your system, the more easily it will be affected by changes in any factor, including water level, nutrient concentration, and pH.
You can avoid these problems by checking your system more regularly and paying attention to the correct conditions that will allow your plants to thrive. If you’re able to get this right, the rest should be smooth sailing.
If you do start to notice problems with your plants, such as yellowing or dried-out leaves, you can do further research to find out which conditions may be causing it. These problems might take a little time to diagnose, but most of the time you can solve them by just readjusting the conditions of your system.
How Often Do You Change Water In A DWC?
This will really depend on the specifics of your system. You may need to change the water anywhere from every week to every three weeks.
How often you need to change the nutrient solution in your system depends on what type of plants you have, how big your system is, and what phase of growth the plants are in. Once you decide which plants you’re going to grow it’s a good idea to look into those specific plants to find out what they need.
In addition to changing all of the water in your reservoir, you’ll need to top up the nutrient solution more often to maintain the water level. This is just to make sure that the plants’ roots are always in the water, and they are always getting fresh nutrients.
How Deep Does A DWC Need To Be?
Again, this will depend on the type of plant you’re growing. For most plants, you’ll need at least 8 inches of water to grow them successfully, although for some plants with fewer roots you may be able to grow them with less water.
In general, though, the deeper the water, the more stable your system would be, so it’s best to go with more water rather than less.
How Do You Start A Plant In A DWC?
Set up Your DWC
In a basic DWC system, this will typically start with cutting a hole in the lid of your container that’s just big enough for your net pot to sit in, but not so big that it falls in. You’ll also want to set up your system under your light source because it can get very heavy once you put the water inside.
You’ll also need to drill a hole for your air hose to go in, and set up the air pump system by connecting the air stone, air pump, air hose, and check valve if your pump has one.
Add Water And Nutrients
Next, you’ll want to mix up your nutrient solution (based on how much water you’re using) and fill your bucket or container with water.
It’s also a good idea to check the pH of your water at this stage, to make sure it’s at a safe level for your plants and adjust it if not.
Now you’re ready to add the plants and complete the setup of your DWC. If you’re planting seeds, Rockwool plugs are probably the easiest and most effective method. Simply place the seed in the plug, put the plug in the pot and make sure the water level comes up to the bottom of the plug.
What Will You Need To Know To Grow Plants In A DWC?
Some tips, pointers, and general rules to get you started.
In general, you’ll want to imitate the light that plants would naturally get from the sun. This can be as simple as putting the plant outside in sunlight or in a sunny window space.
If you’re using artificial lights, you’ll need to base how much light you get off the size of your system and the type of plants that you’re growing. It’s also important to remember to turn your lights off for 8 hours per day to imitate the cycle of natural light and give your plants some rest.
You can get more information on this from the nutrient solution that you use. It’s generally a good idea to have a level below the suggested dosage mix to make sure you don’t overwhelm your plant. Then watch your plant’s response, and you can always adjust this as you go.
The ideal pH for different plants as well as different growth phases of plants can vary, so it’s a good idea to check the specific type of plant you’re looking to grow. In general, though, most plants should have a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
The temperature at the roots of your plant should be around 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit and the air temperature should be around 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a DWC system, this is essential. Having the wrong temperature in your environment can kill your plants, so if you start to struggle with this, it’s a good idea to look into solutions for controlling your temperature.
As a general rule, the bottom of your pots should be at least ¾ inch underwater. You’ll need to top off your water pretty regularly to keep up this water level, but make sure not to submerge your entire pots in water, as this can suffocate your plants.
What Are Some Beginner Friendly Alternatives to DWC’s?
Ebb And Flow
This is another type of reservoir-based system that is a little bit more complex than the standard DWC system, but still relatively doable for beginners.
In an Ebb and Flow system, you place your plants in a tray, which sits above a reservoir. A pump in the reservoir periodically pumps the nutrient-rich water into the grow tray. Similar to the DWC system, your plants will get all the nutrients they need from this solution, and it will eliminate the need to water your plants regularly.
Another advantage of the Ebb and Flow system is that it recycles water and nutrients. The nutrient solution will fall back down into the reservoir to be pumped back up again when it is needed.
This system is also relatively simple to maintain and uses relatively little electricity and water to grow the plants.
This method is relatively similar to the Ebb and Flow technique, with a grow tray and a water reservoir below. It also uses a water pump to bring water up to the grow tray, and a drain pipe that allows the unused water and nutrients to flow back down into the reservoir.
The main difference in this system is that it is set up to allow the nutrient solution to continuously flow over the roots. The grow tray is angled downwards so that the water flows down from where it is released by the pump, and into the drainpipe. This allows for greater movement and circulation of the nutrients.
This is a great system for lightweight, smaller plants. Since the roots are not submerged, it is harder to support the weight of larger plants, but it can help plants grow and provide harvests quickly.
In general, DWC systems are a fantastic option for hydroponics beginners. They’re easy to set up, can fit well in any living space, and are relatively low maintenance. As a bonus, they provide a variety of options for upgrading and expanding your system as you go.
To get started with your first DWC, simply buy one of the many available kits online or in your local hydroponics store, or get working on your own. Decide how many plants you want to grow, what kinds, and get started.
A DWC system is a perfect way to incorporate some green into your life if you’re a city dweller. Who knows, you may even get to eat fresh fruits and vegetables grown in your own indoor garden!