Beginner’s Guide to Hydroponic Grow Kits
Best Hydroponic Kits
Hydroponic growing in layman’s terms is to grow plants without soil, instead placing the plants roots in a liquid nutrient. You can grow flowers, fruits, and vegetables in pots placed in trays, hanging or as runners (similar to vines). Basically you put your plant in a pot with the roots exposed (no soil) and allow the roots to sit in a solution. Instead of soil a medium like Rockwool is used to keep the plant moist and insulated. Now there isn’t just one way, there are six main ways of setting up a hydroponic system. For those who are short on time, and don’t want to run around to different shops purchasing air pumps from one place, fertilizer from the other, I have rated my top 10 complete hydroponic grow kits. Don’t jump to my number one rated product; first you need to decide what method is right for you. After some background on the different methods you will see the buying guide which will summarise each method on the below features. This guide to hydroponic starter kits is designed to give you all the information you need, but at the end of the day the choice will be yours.
Before reading on you should ask yourself:
- What do you want to grow?
- What garden space do you have available/want to use?
- What is your expertise level?
- What is your budget?
I’ll give you a little sampler of each method. Just the basics. don’t worry.
But first there are components you will see in most hydroponic systems, and for the sake of minimising repetition they include:
- Water Reservoir: where the nutrients are dissolved. Your plants need to eat!
- Growth Medium: as hydroponic systems are also known as “soilless” you need something to replace this, such as simply cotton. There are many types, and there will be some that will be more practical for specific methods or specific plants.
This is the most simplistic method of hydroponics, simply because there are no moving parts. Meaning there is no need for any electronics, no air pumps, no need for timers or any annoying extension cords! This method is also known as the “passive system” meaning no moving parts; the nutrients are simply transported through the wicks to the plants. This system is best known to grow lettuce, perfect for a home project with the kids or for the beginner hydroponic gardener just starting out. The only downside of this method is that it does require large volumes of water.
What you will need:
- A raised grow tray where your plants sit in their growth medium
- A water reservoir sitting separately underneath
- Multiple Wicks, depending on your grow tray size, which look similar to ropes connecting the grow tray (attached to growth medium not plant roots) to the water reservoir. See the figure below
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
In terms of “active” hydroponic systems (that require moving parts i.e. air pumps etc.) this would have to be the most popular, the most inexpensive and the most simplistic of the remaining five “active” hydroponic methods. This system is a step up from the Wick System, although similarly limited to lettuce and other leafy greens. This system, as it name suggests, is characterised by its deep-water reservoir where pots are submerged. Air pumps are connected to the reservoir providing oxygenation that allows the roots to breathe, which is unnecessary in the Wick method.
What you will need:
- Several plant pots filled with a growth medium to be submerged into the nutrient solution
- A large water reservoir which will become the deep-water nutrient solution
- Air pump/s (depending on size of tank) to oxygenate the roots separate to water reservoir
Ebb & Flow System
Also known as the Flood and Drain Method, this method is just as the name implies. This system works by flooding the grow tray (where the plant pots sit) and then draining the grow tray, which is repeated continually. The nutrient solution is within the grow tray, and the pots, with the plants inside, are submerged with only the roots exposed to the reservoir. There is a pump that creates the flooding and draining action and is usually automated with a timer for convenience.
What you will need:
- Several plant pots filled with a growth medium to be placed within the grow tray
- Elevated grow tray setup with a drain and air pump connection
- Separate water reservoir to create nutrient solution
- Water pump/s (depending on size of tray and number of plants located within water reservoir)
Now we are heading towards the more intermediate end of hydroponic systems. Many sources say this is the most popular choice in the world due to the variety of plants you can grow; this system can either be a recovery or non-recovery system. At first glance this method appears similar to the Wick System setup with a couple of extra components. It might be easier to refer to the figure below as you read about how this method works. The name of the system indicates this method of simply watering your plants, with a few other things occurring behind the scenes. Let’s start with the basics: you have a grow tray and separate water reservoir. A hose runs through the grow tray attached to what appears to be multiple irrigation arms suspended above your plants. Now for the pumps: this hydroponic system includes a nutrient pump (within the water reservoir) and an external air pump. The nutrient pump will transport nutrients from the water reservoir to the drip lines. The air pump is primarily to ensure the water is properly oxygenated.
Now let’s get to specific methods. The recovery method has an overflow drain which runs straight back into the water reservoir. The non-recovery method does not collect the overflow. Depending on what method you use, the pH level maintenance and timer settings will differ. The non-recovery method is less maintenance and the pH will remain stable, whilst the recovery method will save water but will require frequent testing to maintain the right balance of nutrients in the reservoir after overflow water returns.
What you will need:
- Raised grow tray with overflow drain (direction depending on method) and growth medium
- Separate water reservoir tank
- Nutrient pump and hose to transport nutrients through to the irrigation drip framework
- Irrigation drip framework with drip lines
- External air pump to oxygenate the water
Nutrient Film Technique (N.F.T.)
This is the most readily recognised method of hydroponics; when people hear the words “hydroponic growing” many will picture this method. This is the only method out of the six that does not require a growth medium. This system involves having a constant flow of nutrients (no timer needed) straight to the roots of the plant. The raised grow tray is placed on an angle where a hose drips the nutrients from the reservoir, which returns to the reservoir by the drain and repeat. The plants are placed in a netted pot with the roots exposed and the very tips coming in contact with the water from the reservoir. There is a nutrient pump placed within the water reservoir transporting water up the hose to the grow tray. There is also an external air pump for the oxygenation of water.
There are some difficulties with this method, and I personally would not advise a beginner to start with this method. You have to be very careful as the roots dry out rapidly if the flow of water is interrupted.
What you will need:
- Several netted plant pots
- A raised grow tray with an overflow drain
- Separate water reservoir
- Nutrient pump with drip hose
- Separate Air pump
Easily the most high tech method of hydroponic growing, this method includes growth medium but it still shares similarities with the N.F.T, as the roots of the plant remain suspended. The plants are placed in pots with the roots exposed; the roots are then misted with nutrient solution every few minutes powered by a nutrient pump. The grow tray is suspended above the water reservoir with an inbuilt mister which has several arms to reach each plant’s exposed roots. This method requires a very short cycle timer as per the N.F.T you have to be cautious in case the misting cycle is interrupted, as that would cause the roots of your plant to dry out quickly.
What you will need:
- Several plant pots with growth medium
- Grow tray with water reservoir built in below
- Nutrient pump powered mister framework (with several arms)
- Separate air pump
Top Rated Hydroponic Kits
Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Bucket Kit By PowerGrow
This product is neat and small, perfect for growing leafy greens or flowers for those who have limited garden space. It’s also inexpensive; perfect for a beginner who wants to start small and is building their very first hydroponic garden. Everything fits into a 5 Gallon bucket, which requires little maintenance and ensures your garden space (however small) remains tidy. This kit does have a downside, for those whose garden does not have access to natural light; this kit does not include a grow light. Don’t let that discourage you, as hydroponic grow lights are relatively cheap, especially for the size required for this small-scale hydroponic setup. PowerGrow has dominated the hydroponic kit market;, as you can see, they have two products within my top 3. They do offer products beyond the DWC method, but are more renown for this hydroponic system, receiving rave reviews and leaving many happy customers.
In short, this kit includes a 5-gallon bucket, an air pump and hose, growth medium (Rockwool) and nutrient solution to keep your plants happy and healthy. This system is best for growing lettuce and annual vegetables.
HydroFarm Jump Start Germination Station With Heat Mat
This is a well-known brand that is most popular for its sale of hydroponic grow lights, but it does specialise in all other things hydroponic. This product is a little different, not your tradition all-in-one hydroponic grow kit, that’s for sure. It’s a little more specialised; it’s true purpose is to provide successful germination. Germination is integral for those back to basic hydroponic gardeners; as such, it’s an important process for those who want to start at the very beginning, with seeds. A germination mat helps seedlings establish leaves. It is widely used to stabilize veggies or flowers growing out of season. Some may choose to transplant seedlings to another hydroponic system whilst others will simply turn off the heat and take the cover off. This product is very, very popular and the only reason it didn’t make my number one is due to its untraditional nature. This product is affordable ($30), very effective, and easy to use, perfect for beginners who want to start fresh. This kit can be used for practically any seeds or can be used for herbs and leafy greens until harvest time.
This germination station Includes:
- 72 cell seedling insert
- A watertight base
- A waterproof heat mat with lid to ensure your seedlings remain safe from scavengers
Deep Water Culture Hydroponic Bubbler Bucket Kit By PowerGrow
Another PowerGrow product, this is only a slightly more extensive DWC set-up, but don’t be discouraged. A little more complicated than the all in one 5- gallon bucket, this kit is perfect for the transitioning hydroponic gardener who wants to up the scale of their plant size or range. This is a significantly larger set-up, multiply the single bucket DWC (that made first place in this list) by four. Don’t be discouraged by the size, as PowerGrow seems to have kept the construction and instructions simple. You will need to have a medium-large garden space with access to sunlight, or will need to invest in some hydroponic grow lights. You will need larger grow lights than the single bucket product by PowerGrow, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be overly expensive. You can easily purchase a T5 grow light, which will provide a full spectrum light for a very reasonable price. This hydroponic starter kit is best for growing lettuce, annual vegetables and, with proper support, tomatoes and peppers.
This kit includes:
- Air pump
- 4x 5-gallon buckets with baskets
- Water culture kit
- Oxygen dispersing air stones
- Liquid fertilizer
Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Ultra LED Indoor Garden By AeroGrow
This would have to be the most simplistic, low-maintenance hydroponic kit on the market. It does not come cheap, but its high-tech features do not fail to impress. This kit is the most popular out of indoor grow kits of any size, and for good reasons; this hydroponic kit is small enough to fit in any garden space and includes absolutely everything you will need and a few extras. There are a range of Miracle-Gro AeroGarden models, differing in size and price. This product, though not the cheapest of the range, is easily the most popular. This kit pretty much does everything for you; it has an automated timer, which allows it to adjust light for each particular growth stage. It also has an alarm to remind you when it’s time to feed your plants. This product is modern, with LCD controls, and needs practically no construction. This product comes with a highly efficient and, high intensity LED grow light that can be adjusted in height as your plant grows. This product is popular for growing herbs or vegetables, and comes with the option of 7 different herb seeds and 7 kinds of vegetable seeds.
This kit includes:
- Highly efficient high intensity LED grow light with automated timer
- LCD screen for controls with alarm for feeding
- Liquid fertilizer
- 7 Seed pots
ECO-Cycle Aquaponics Kit By ECOLIFE Conservation
This product is not only extravagant centrepiece but also a highly self-sufficient ecosystem. This product is very, very, popular and well reviewed; favored by the environmentally conscious grower, or for educational use in classrooms. This product uses the DWC method and is self-sufficient: naturally cycling water and nutrients by the relationship between the fish and plants. The fish provide nutrients for the plants and in return plants provide clean, oxygenated water for the fish.
This product does not come cheap, but it allows you to grow leafy greens and herbs whilst enjoying the satisfaction of having fish. This kit has absolutely everything you need for a hydroponic set-up and fish tank.
This kit includes:
- Adjustable hanging T5 grow light
- Grow tray
- Netted pots
- Nutrient solution
- Aquarium accessories: filter, bio-filter brick, pellets, air pump & hose
Hydrofarm Hydroponic MegaGarden
Some traditional hydroponic gardeners would expect this well-known brand to feature higher, but due to its size, its popularity with beginner gardeners is hindered. This product is designed for a more intermediate hydroponic gardener with lots of garden space, boasting a 15 pot, 4-foot square set-up best for growing small to large vegetables and flowers.
Click & Grow Smart Herb Garden
A small easy hydroponic kit that fits in any kitchen, perfect for the windowsill, this is a kit that requires zero effort. This kit includes 3 basil cartridges, and an LED grow light, proven to inecrease your plant growth to sprouts in 1-2 weeks, full size in 1-2 months. It includes all the necessities: nutrient solution, grow tray, grow light etc. that a wick system needs.
Back To Roots Water Garden
This kit is more for the kids; best for creating a fun herb garden of lettuce leaves above your fish tank. It is not only inexpensive but can be educational, functioning as an example self-sufficient ecosystem where the fish feed the plants and the plants provide clean water for the fish. This kit includes all the regular hydroponic plant equipment and everything you need for a fish tank except the fish!
General Hydroponics EcoGrower Drip system
This kit is at the higher end of the spectrum, more complex and marketed for the more serious hydroponic grower, for larger plants. This product is run by the hydroponic drip method, a little more complicated than the introductory wick or DWC method. This system boasts a 17-gallon water reservoir and includes 6 pots, pumps and other necessary accessories.
You should have all the information you need to make your decision about which hydroponic grow kit works for you. My top 10 rated hydroponic kits are more targeted for beginner hydroponic growers who may not be confident or have all the information they need to set-up a hydroponic system from scratch. However I have also included some intermediate, large-scale options, which are a little more advanced and high-tech.
Don’t forget to base your choice on:
- What you want to grow
- Your Garden space available
- Your expertise level
- Your budget
You may also realise that I have not included all hydroponic methods in my top 10 rated hydroponic kits; this is simply due to popularity and consumer reviews. Beginners don’t seem to utilise NFT or Aeroponic systems. I have still included these methods in my summary table below.
$33 - $100
Ebb & Flow
$150 - $500
$25 - $120*
$30 - $225
Vine plants, leafy
$18 - $175
*Note that I have generalised, with the limitations of space in the columns, boiled down to which all-in-one hydroponic kits aimed at beginners are available on the market.
Product images sourced from Amazon.com